Police Issues

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Posted 4/27/24


Philadelphia’s D.A. eased up on lawbreakers. Did it increase crime?

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  The slugfest between academics kicked off in July 2022. That’s when Criminology & Public Policy published Thomas P. Hogan’s “De-prosecution and death: A synthetic control analysis of the impact of de-prosecution on homicides”. Mr. Hogan, a lawyer, has served as a Federal prosecutor and D.A. He holds a Master’s in criminology and is a skilled statistician. His deeply-researched article, which focused on Philadelphia’s purposeful throttling back of felony and misdemeanor prosecutions between 2015-2019, compared its criminal homicide numbers and case characteristics with those of the other largest 100 U.S. cities, applying elaborate controls on everything from demographics to prosecutorial policies and resources. He concluded that Philadelphia D.A. Larry Krasner’s policy of de-prosecution, which he instituted in February 2018, only a month after taking office, had caused a “historically large increase in homicides” of about 74 more per year.

     And yes, there was blowback. In an elaborate critique, “De-prosecution and death: A comment on the fatal flaws in Hogan (2022)”, researchers Jacob Kaplan, J.J. Naddeo and Tom Scott argued that methodological and data issues essentially nullified Mr. Hogan’s findings. In a prompt and mind-numbingly elaborate rejoinder, “De-Prosecution and A Cordial Reply to Kaplan, Naddeo and Scott,” Mr. Hogan countered that it was the critique that was fatally flawed. Among its other failings, it supposedly relied on severe undercounts of Philadelphia homicides. He insisted that once these (and many other) errors were corrected, the contrarians actually lent his conclusions even more weight. He also insisted that his findings were not surprising. After all, they're consistent with the classic model of deterrence, which is based on “swiftness and certainty of apprehensions, then leading to sanctions”

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     Concerns about the effects of de-prosecution have drawn the attention of other academics. A new essay in Criminology & Public Policy, “Do progressive prosecutors increase crime? A quasi‐experimental analysis of crime rates in the 100 largest counties, 2000–2020”, concludes that progressive prosecutorial policies led to a statistically significant seven-percent jump in property (but not violent) crime rates.

     Slugfest over “cause” aside, what’s not at issue is that the alleged “effect” – an increase in violence – did take place, and that Philadelphia’s steep rise has been more-or-less in sync with its progressive D.A.’s tenure. Elected in a community where “Blues” outnumber the “Reds” seven to one, Mr. Krasner took office in January 2018 vowing to tone down the harsh, punitive policies of his predecessors. He was re-elected in 2021, and his current, second term will end in 2026.

     We used Philadelphia PD data to build this graph. After a steep retreat in 2013, when murders reached a low of 246, criminal homicides began to increase. In 2017 there were 315, and by the end of 2018 – Mr. Krasner’s first full year in office – they reached 353. After remaining at that level through 2019, murders really took off. In pandemic-addled 2020 they numbered 499, a single-year increase of 41 percent. And they kept going up, reaching a decade-and-a-half high of 562 in 2021. Things then toned down, and by 2023 killings were “only” sixteen percent higher than in 2019.

     Full stop. The pandemic supposedly increased violence everywhere. Switching to murder rates per 100,000 population, let’s bring in two demographically similar, violence-prone places, D.C. and Chicago. Check out this graph (click here for Philadelphia stat’s, here for Chicago, and here for D.C.)

As one would expect, each city experienced a substantial uptick during 2019-2020. Chicago’s rates increased the most, by 10.4 points. Philadelphia came in second at 8.8 points, and D.C. was third with 4.3 points.  Murders in Chicago and Philadelphia have since eased back. But as we recently mentioned in “America’s Violence-Beset Capital City”, D.C.’s criminal homicide count shot through the roof.

     Note that killings in Chicago and Philadelphia track quite closely. Might that bring the “cause” behind Philly’s increase (de-prosecution) into question? Actually, Chicago’s experience lends support to Mr. Hogan’s thesis. You see, Kim Foxx, its elected D.A., has also come under severe fire for her progressivism. While the political blow-back has been most harsh from “Red” ideological sorts, former members of her own staff have roundly blamed her for the Windy City’s violence problem.

     Philly, meet Chicago!

     The reasons for Philadelphia’s sharp, post-2018 spike in violent crime was ultimately addressed by State legislators. Pennsylvania House Resolution 216, adopted during the 2021-2022 session, established a committee to “investigate, review and make findings and recommendations concerning rising rates of crime, law enforcement and the enforcement of crime victim rights.” Issued in October 2022, its “Second Interim Report” blamed  D.A. Krasner’s progressive policies. Among many other things, he had prohibited assistant D.A.’s from charging crimes relating to marijuana or prostitution, strongly discouraged them from prosecuting lesser retail thefts, and severely limited requests to impose cash bail. More than a few prosecutors had objected. Thirty-one were promptly fired:

    One of the 31 ADAs let go by DA Krasner in his first week in office told the Select Committee that DA Krasner’s mismanagement led to an office that is essentially full of defense attorneys who just want to get defendants out of jail.

     It’s not just Philadelphia and Chicago. Many current and former deputies have criticized Los Angeles County D.A. George Gascon for a “soft on crime” approach that, among other things, limits the use of sentence enhancements and prohibits transferring juveniles to adult court. Several sued alleging that he retaliated against them for opposing his policies; one was just awarded $1.5 million. Although a recall campaign failed, Gascon faces eleven challengers in the forthcoming primary. His prospects are decidedly uncertain.

     Posts in Police Issues’ “Neighborhoods” special topic frequently comment on the strong link between violence and poverty. Police precincts in economically downtrodden areas throughout the U.S. report substantially higher rates of murder, aggravated assault and robbery. For example, check out recent probes of D.C. (“America’s Violence-Beset Capital City”) and New York City and Los Angeles (“See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil”). Philadelphia is no exception. These graphs use Philadelphia’s official crime data to illustrate the relationship between poverty and criminal homicide during the first three months of 2013, 2018, 2023 and 2024 (each murder is a “dot”). Addresses were coded for their Zip’s, and Zip  poverty figures were drawn from the Census.

We computed the r (correlation) statistic between poverty and murder for each of the four three-month datasets. It ranges from zero, meaning no relationship between variables, to plus or minus 1, meaning a perfect association. In 2013 the relationship, r= .50, was of moderate strength. Generally, as poverty increased, so did homicide. By 2018 their link had become stronger, producing an r  of .69. And the correlations in 2023 and 2024 (.73 and .74) were even more substantial. Bottom line: residents of Philadelphia’s poorer areas were disproportionately affected by murder from the start. And things only got worse.

     According to Zipcodes.com, Philadelphia has 46 residential Zip’s. We broke them down into low- and high-poverty groups (less than or more than 20 percent poverty), then used population figures to compute homicide rates per 100,000 population for each:

One caveat is that a few Zip’s extend beyond the city limits, so some murder counts may be slightly understated. That aside, there is a profound difference in murder rates between better-off Zip’s and their economically-struggling counterparts. In 2013 the average murder rate for all 46 Zip’s was 3.5. But the average rate for the poorer (4.8) was two-and-one-half times that of the wealthier (1.9). And it got worse. In 2023 the disparity (1.5/10.5) was seven-fold, and in 2024 it was nearly six-fold (1.2/7.0). That’s why the r’s got so pronounced.

     Once again: residents of poorer areas got the short end of the stick from the very start. And things got worse over time. Much worse.

     No, we’re not blaming it all on de-prosecution. According to NIJ, “the likelihood of being caught and punished” are crucial to deterrence. That automatically brings cops into the picture:

    The police deter crime when they do things that strengthen a criminal’s perception of the certainty of being caught. Strategies that use the police as “sentinels,” such as hot spots policing, are particularly effective.

An article just published in Criminology & Public Policy, “Can increasing preventive patrol in large geographic areas reduce crime?”, concludes that “increased police presence and increased police patrols” (say, a so-called “hot spots” approach) led to statistically significant reductions in both property and violent crime. And when cops (perhaps driven by the likelihood that D.A.’s won’t prosecute) step back, the consequences can be dramatic. “When police pull back: Neighborhood-level effects of de-policing on violent and property crime” examined the effects in Denver. A post-Floyd decrease in traffic and pedestrian stops (there were 32,000 fewer in 2020) was significantly associated with an increase in violent crime. And the corresponding drop in drug arrests was tied to an increase in property crime.

     Bottom line: “de-policing” is probably more likely than “de-prosecution” to encourage misbehavior. After declaring “a public safety emergency” in January, Philadelphia’s new Mayor, Cherelle Parker asked that officers return to using “stop and frisk,” a practice they had apparently discontinued after complaints it was being abused. The desire for a more active police presence is also percolating through violence-beset D.C. On March 11, Mayor Muriel Bowser signed “Secure D.C.” One of the massive bill’s provisions directs police to designate “drug-free zones” in areas troubled by crime and disorder. Another stipulates that violent crimes, whether committed by adults or juveniles, carry a “rebuttable presumption in favor of pretrial detention”. And a brand-new law invokes heavy penalties for directing organized retail theft.

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     A desire for more policing has even made itself felt in…San Francisco! Faced with a steep rise in drug use and homelessness, the most progressive major burg in progressive California recently loosened its reins on the cops. By a 60-40 majority, voters set aside a bucketful of rules that severely restricted what officers do and how they go about doing it. For example, instead of limiting pursuits to the most aggravated circumstances, cops can now chase if they have a “reasonable suspicion that a person committed, is committing or is likely to commit a felony or violent misdemeanor” (emphasis added).

     Your writer is for immediately de-commissioning de-prosecution (so long, Mr. Krasner!). It’s a lousy concept, and has probably led cops to pull back as well. After all, if a D.A. won’t follow through, why bother? As a former law enforcement practitioner he also supports focused policing; i.e., the “hot-spots” approach. Still, as our posts often point out, cops are human. And when some badge-wearers encounter uncompliant citizens, they seem unable to set aside their inner monsters. So before returning to a more aggressive posture, we’d prefer a pause. Let’s make a concerted effort to refine mechanisms, including selection, training and supervision, that can help officers take on – and maintain – the perspective of a skilled craftsperson at every encounter. Then, and only then, crank it back up.


UPDATES (scroll)

4/29/24  Inspired by the George Floyd protests, in 2020 progressively-minded Chicago D.A. Kim Foxx announced a policy to not prosecute protesters for disorderly conduct or trespassing as long as they remained peaceful and non-violent. But last November she made clear that this policy will not be in effect during the Democratic National Convention, set for August. The Chicago Tribune’s editorial board recently questioned whether such decisions should be made public. Still, they agreed with the flip-flop.

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Special topics:  Neighborhoods     Bail & Sentence Reform     Craft of Policing

America’s Violence-Beset Capital City     See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil     Full Stop Ahead

Cause and Effect     Hot Spots

Posted 1/20/24


Washington, D.C. is plagued by, among other things, murder.
Has the President noticed?

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. “We need the National Guard in D.C.” Recently delivered to reporters for the Washington Post, Councilmember Trayon White Sr.’s sobering call to arms aptly conveyed how citizens and officials feel about the Capital District’s unending struggle against crime and violence

     Just how bad are things? Using numbers from the Census,  the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer and agency websites, here’s where D.C.’s 2010-2023 homicide rates per 100,000 population sit on Police Issues’ list of “usual suspects”:

Between 2010-2021, D.C. and each of its companions except the Big Apple experienced steady upticks in homicide. But things turned around in 2022 when all but chronically crime-ridden Detroit enjoyed a decline. That so-called “great crime drop” continued in 2023. This time it included Detroit, where the murder rate fell 18.5 percent. But our nation’s capital was sadly left out. During 2023 D.C.’s murder rate increased by an astounding one-third, winding up only two-tenths of a point short of Detroit’s. According to the Post, “the District was deadlier than 55 of the country’s 60 most populous cities, behind only New Orleans, Cleveland, Baltimore and Memphis.”

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     Alas, the Post didn’t publish its data. Usual suspects aside, where does the District sit, crime-wise, among the nation’s major cities? With many agencies, including our hometown LAPD, still not fully aboard the NIBRS, we turned to the Major City Chiefs Association (MCCA). According to its most recent tally, which reports violent crimes from January thru September 2022 and 2023, the news for D.C. really is all bad. Using population figures, we calculated homicide and robbery rate per 100,000 residents and the percent change between 2022-2023 for the MCCA’s fifty-eight member cities. Again, note that these are nine-month rates. Here are comparos between Jan-Sept. 2022 and Jan-Sept. 2023 for the ten cities at each extreme of the murder and robbery spectrums:

As of September 30, 2023, Washington D.C. was “only” seventh worst murder-wise. Note that its rate increased thirty-seven percent in 2023, the most recorded by any of its counterparts. Ditto its astounding 67.5 percent leap in robbery, which helped it land in third place, robbery-wise. (We left out aggravated assault. Our review of pre- and post-2019 NIBRS numbers suggested that some agencies have been defining it differently.)

     Police Issues is far less concerned with aggregate crime rates than with what’s happening in the neighborhoods where people actually live. As our Neighborhoods essays frequently point out – most recently, in “See No Evil – Hear no Evil – Speak no Evil” –  economically-challenged places have always absorbed most of the brunt. D.C. councilmember White had plentiful reason to speak out. D.C. has eight Wards, and his – the Eighth – happens to carry the distinction of being the most dangerous.

     Just how dangerous?

     We downloaded 2023 crime data from Open Data DC. Our graph and table on the left report full-year rates/100,000 pop. for Homicide, Robbery and Aggravated Assault. And the graph on the right displays 2022 poverty percentages for each of the District’s eight Wards:

Sure enough, the Eighth can’t be beat. Its homicide rate is twice that of its closest competitor, the Seventh. By a comfortable margin, the Eighth is also worst in aggravated assaults and comes in second to the Seventh in robbery. Now check out poverty. The violence-ridden Seventh and Eighth Wards also happen to be (by far) the poorest, while the crime-free Third Ward is (surprise!) the most affluent. These graphs depict poverty's unholy influence on violent crime:

And just like in our previous forays (see, most recently, “Good News/Bad News”), the relationship between poverty and the serious property crime of burglary is far less pronounced:

The r coefficient is used to depict the strength of relationships (r’s range from zero, or none, to 1, or a perfect, lock-step association). All the r’s are “positive” (+), meaning that crime rates and percent in poverty increase and decrease together. But while poverty and violent crimes seem very closely associated, the relationship between poverty and burglary is only moderate.

     None of this should come as a surprise to the District’s political establishment and its hard-pressed residents. While the national media gloats about the supposedly steep decline in America’s crime rates (check out, say, NBC and ABC), the Washington Post keeps running stories about the District’s problems with violence. And yes, they have suggestions. A few days ago its editorial board penned “A Crime-free D.C. Starts With Drug-free Zones.” It favors having police (once again) designate “crime hot-spots” where drug possession and use are forbidden. And keeping persons accused of violent crimes in jail from arrest through trial. And broadening the definition of “carjacking.” And having all cases involving “organized retail theft” classified as felonies. And even getting cops to enforce the civil laws against fare evasion.

     Indeed, these provisions (and more) were part of “Addressing Crime Trends Now Act (ACT Now)”, a D.C. bill that Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced last October. Touted as “New Legislation to Support Safe and Effective Policing”, it would supposedly enhance “accountability for those who choose to commit crimes and inflict fear in our neighborhoods.” Long-standing legal constraints that have “made it more difficult for police to keep the community safe and hold criminals accountable for their actions” would also be relaxed:

    The new legislation clarifies the distinction between a serious use of force and incidental contact with the neck, ensures officers can review their body-worn camera footage prior to writing their initial police report in certain circumstances, makes permanent clarification of vehicular pursuit, and defines what information will be posted publicly related to officer discipline and more.

      George Floyd forever altered the socio-political landscape in which cops work. One consequence was that police agencies across the U.S. abandoned long-standing practices such as stop-and-frisk. To be sure, after considerable fiddling, some cautiously returned them to the shelf. And as one would expect, there’s been blowback. Only two weeks before the Post’s editors championed “drug-free zones” its lowly reporters authored a story that concluded the Mayor and D.C. Council had “turned away from progressive strategies meant to ease the footprint of law enforcement in the community”. Hot-spots was back! (Officials, though, insist that its new, improved incarnation incorporates the very best aspects of “community policing”.)

     It’s not that we oppose being pro-active. After all, hot-spots does carry NIJ’s seal of approval. But several weeks ago, as we looked for something to write about, our attention fell on a Post reader’s skeptical reaction to the rebirth of “crime-free drug zones”:

    I don’t think incarceration is going to do much but just fill prisons. But I don’t think excusing it and never calling out family structure break-down, kids with no boundary setting parents, etc, is the answer either. Because it’s my neighbors and my neighborhood and my community that winds up carrying the brunt of all of this weaponized empathy

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    Bingo! Let’s get back to the basics. Really, no matter how well policing is done, it’s not the ultimate solution. As we often do, let’s self-plagiarize from “Fix Those Neighborhoods!”:

    Preventing violence is a task for society. As we’ve repeatedly pitched, a concerted effort to provide poverty-stricken individuals and families with child care, tutoring, educational opportunities, language skills, job training, summer jobs, apprenticeships, health services and – yes – adequate housing could yield vast benefits.

To be sure, the District would need a considerable chunk of change to give its needy neighborhoods a chance to prosper. Yet D.C. is America’s capital. It should exemplify our nation’s very best. Not, as things  stand, its very worst. (Well, almost very worst. Thanks, Detroit!). Perhaps Silly Circus (that’s what your author and his Federal colleagues called the Secret Service) could apprise the Chief of what’s happening all around him, twenty-four/seven. He obviously doesn’t know.

UPDATES (scroll)

5/24/24  D.C.’s violent crime problem has led to a “surge” of Federal law enforcement attention. DEA agents are targeting the traffickers that supply and the heavily armed gangs that establish and defend  open-air drug markets which supply fentanyl, crack cocaine and heroin to all comers. Dozens of violent crimes and numerous “bursts of gunfire” in a chronically beset neighborhood just led to the arrest of nine members of a drug trafficking crew who were dealing in drugs that originated in Trinidad. This case led to the execution of fourteen search warrants which yielded large sums of cash and numerous weapons.

5/7/24  Gun violence continues to beset D.C.  On Friday, May 3rd. one of the many bullets fired during an exchange of gunfire between a vehicle and persons on the street flew into a classroom at Dunbar High School. A 17-year old student was grazed in the head and wound up in the hospital. Two teens, one 17, the other 18, were arrested. Later that day, Ty’ah Settles was shot and killed when the SUV in which she was riding unexpectedly wound up in the middle of “a gun battle” near her home. Ty’ah was three.

4/22/24  Hundreds of young persons had gathered for a “senior skip day” at a county park 15 miles NE of Washinton D.C. when gunfire rang out. Five teens, ages 16 to 18, were wounded, one critically. The shooter, also young, fled. While overall crime in Prince George’s County is down, violent crime is up 9 percent, and youth violence has become chronic. Ninety-two juveniles were arrested on gun charges in 2023. This shooting came only two hours after a shooting in D.C. wounded three men and a 16-year old.

4/15/24  Despite a reported citywide easing in violence, residents of D.C.’s beset “Carver-Langston” area, in the Fifth Ward, continue to suffer. During the late afternoon hours of April 10, two persons exited a car with tinted windows and fired “dozens of rounds” as pedestrians, including children, strolled by. A 29-year old  man was killed and five persons, including a 9-year old and his 12-year old friend, were wounded. Their mothers said they plan to leave the area. The shooters managed to evade police.

3/26/24  It’s not just D.C. Its “closest suburbs” are reeling from years-long increases in violent and property crime. Carjackings are rampant. Prince George’s County had 86 in 2019 and a stunning 508 in 2023. Montgomery County had 19 in 2019 and 99 last year. A resident complained that “criminals are more brazen today.” Thieves recently tried to take the wheels off his son’s car. And security cameras didn’t keep his neighbor’s home from being burgled. But 2024 has brought some improvements, and officials are hopeful that the downward trend in crime will continue.

3/25/24  D.C.’s “drug-free” zones, which empower police to expel suspected drug users and sellers, are now in effect at three locations. By law they can last only five days. But it’s hoped that this provision of the District’s new “Secure D.C.” bill can help tackle the street crime problem. Many residents welcome the intrusion. But some worry of police overreach. And there’s also a concern that the zones will take the place of drug and mental health treatment.

3/20/24  Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced a substantial drop in crime between 2022-2023, including “an over 13% decline in homicides.” According to the Major City Police Chiefs Association, its 69 member cities reported slight to moderate decreases in violent crime. Our tabulation of its data shows a 10.4% decrease in homicides. Rapes declined by 8.3%, aggravated assaults fell 2.7%, and there were 0.8% fewer robberies. But some cities bucked the trend. For example, homicides increased 9% in Dallas, 22.6% in Seattle, and 35% in D.C.

3/13/24  D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed “Secure D.C.,” a comprehensive anti-crime measure that was prompted by her city’s problems with violent crime. Among (many) other things, it increases penalties for certain gun offenses and lesser thefts, broadens the definition of “carjacking,” relaxes restrictions on police chases and use of force, increases judges’ ability to detain potentially dangerous persons, and allows police to designate “drug-free zones”. Bill text

3/4/24  Both poverty and crime-wise, D.C.’s 6th. Ward is definitely on the privileged end of the scale. But its influential residents have also suffered some nasty encounters, and many “Blues” are upset with their liberal Councilmember’s progressive views about crime. Charles Allen helped slash the police budget, and he wants to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some violent crimes.  So they’ve mounted a recall campaign.

2/22/24  D.C. council-members representing the First and Sixth Wards have been targeted for recall by critics who accuse them of fueling the crime surge. Both, along with the rest of the Council, approved a 2020 budget that redirected police funding to “alternate justice programs.” They also backed a 2022 initiative - again, passed by the full Council - that, among other things, lessened mandatory penalties for violent crimes. But Congress blocked the latter move.

2/15/24  Three D.C. police officers were shot and wounded, none seriously, as they forced their way into a residence to arrest its occupant for animal cruelty. Thirteen hours later, their as-yet unidentified assailant was taken into custody. He had fired on the officers through the door. Two were struck in the lower legs and a third was shot twice in his ballistic vest. He was bruised but the bullets didn't penetrate.

1/31/24  According to a Washington Post columnist, a shortage of judges and an explosion in criminal case filings have caused a “docket jam” in D.C.’s court system. Juvenile crime has also increased and become more violent, and mental commitments and requests for protection orders are way up. Like issues beset domestic relations and probate and tax work. “Benches are empty. White House and Senate, do your part. Do your duty.”

1/29/24   DOJ has pledged a “surge” of Federal resources to fight spiraling violent crime and carjackings in D.C. “Lethal” and “non-lethal” firearms- related cases will also be a priority. Analytical tools are being deployed to help select cases that merit special attention, and Federal prosecutors will be assigned to help handle the increase in workload.

1/22/24  The slaughter on the streets of our nation’s capital continues as a 23-year old Catholic charities volunteer working to help struggling neighborhoods is shot and killed in a street robbery. Meanwhile, as he enjoys activities at a theme park in Florida, a 14-year old resident of D.C. recounts the funeral, a week earlier, for two friends, one 15, the other 17, who fell victim to gunfire. Mentors had brought Rashad Bates to Orlando for a respite.

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Neighborhoods special topic

De-Prosecution? What’s That?     Shutting the Barn Door     See No Evil – Hear no Evil – Speak no Evil

Good News/Bad News     Fix Those Neighborhoods!

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