Cameras. Lotsa cameras.

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

To restore faith in the police, Chris Hernandez recommends cameras — lotsa cameras:

Many cops don’t like having cameras in their car or on their body. I understand why. Even in cases where we do everything right, police work can still be ugly. There is no nice, gentle, eye-pleasing way to take down a violent suspect. And the language of the street ain’t too pretty either. Cops are human, and there are cases (lots of cases) where we use bad language during a high-stress incident. Some police actions just look bad on video, no matter how right we might be. And it’s a bit unreasonable for someone to watch a video of a violent struggle between a cop and criminal and say, “Just because that PCP addict attacked an officer with a tire iron, there’s no reason for the officer to curse. The officer should have called him ‘sir’.”

Video doesn’t always tell the whole story, either. An officer in the middle of a critical incident may miss something that’s readily apparent on video. There are good reasons for this: an officer may have been stunned by a blow, or had a brief visual obstruction, or may be suffering from physiological responses to stress such as tunnel vision. People watching video of an event might say, “Why didn’t the officer see that? It’s totally obvious!” And maybe it is obvious – to the camera. To the guy fighting for his life, it may not have been.

I hate comparing any real-life activity to sports, but consider how often players, refs and fans see something in an instant replay that they missed during the actual play. If someone never played sports and only watched instant replays, “what should have been done” might seem real obvious. It’s not so obvious to the guy playing the game. Video doesn’t capture everything, and even when it does it may not show what the officer saw.

Here’s an interesting example. A dash cam captured part of a fight between an officer and suspect, but didn’t capture the suspect hitting the officer. If the officer hadn’t been wearing a body camera, he would have been stuck trying to convince the public that he was assaulted.

Without question, video has its limitations. But even if it doesn’t tell the whole story, it still provides the public with critical information.

Consider this shooting, which superficially compares to the Ferguson shooting. An unarmed black male was killed by a white police officer. The officer claimed he was attacked and had no choice but to shoot. Without video, and absent any significant injuries, that officer would be hard-pressed to explain why a grown man with a Taser and maybe baton and pepper spray couldn’t defend himself against one unarmed guy.

The video shows just how big and aggressive that suspect was. It clearly shows the officer did not provoke the fight. It shows his Taser fail. It shows the first punch that floored him. In short, it removes the “he said/she said” atmosphere swirling around the Ferguson shooting.

Here’s another one. Officers kill a suspect trying to stab his girlfriend.

Two major points from this incident: officers accidentally shot the girlfriend in the arm when they killed her boyfriend, and the girlfriend says repeatedly “Y’all didn’t have to do that.” In many domestic violence cases, the victim will claim she wasn’t in any danger and the officers didn’t have to take the action they did. This woman insisted the officers didn’t have to shoot; however, in the video (at around 00:57) we see the suspect trying so hard to stab her that the knife blade actually bends from the downward pressure.

The officers were obviously justified. The video proves it. But imagine how it would have been reported without that video.

“White officers shoot black woman while allegedly trying to save her from her black boyfriend. ‘They didn’t even have to shoot him,’ woman says. ‘He wasn’t really trying to hurt me.’”

Cameras may not be perfect, but they give us a better option than expecting everyone to believe us just because we’re cops. The public doesn’t give us that much benefit of the doubt anymore. But if we all have car and body cameras, and the public hears us testify to facts that are backed up by video, we’ll start getting that benefit of the doubt when there is no video. We cops should start demanding that our departments provide cameras. They’ll save a lot of officers who might otherwise be going through the same thing Darren Wilson is.

Lose the Military Gear

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

The police are losing public support, Chris Hernandez notes, and the first step toward getting it back is to lose the military gear:

Even though I’m a minority and police allegedly want to murder me because of my skin tone, for some odd reason I’ve never been afraid of a police officer in America. And in another strange twist, neither I nor any of my dark-skinned friends or family members have ever been shot by a cop. I grew up lower middle class, obviously Hispanic, but never felt oppressed.

But I was scared of cops once. In another country. During a war.

In 2001, while I was working as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo, I had to stay overnight in neighboring Macedonia to catch a flight early the next morning. Macedonia was at that time embroiled in a civil war between the Slavic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians. The Macedonian military and police were run by Slavs, and they believed Americans were backing their Albanian enemies. Despite the war, borders were open and the capital’s airport was still running. One of my Albanian translators in Kosovo lived in Macedonia and invited me to stay with his family before the flight.

I had a very nice dinner with his family. Then the translator, his brother and I walked to the town square. Before we left the house they warned me: “If we get stopped by the police, don’t talk. Most of the police are drunk, and they hate Americans. You look Albanian, so if you don’t talk they won’t know.”

The town square was nearly empty because of recent fighting. We only spent a short time there before heading back. And as we walked back through a darkened neighborhood, we turned a corner and ran right into the police.

There were maybe four or five of them. The “police officers”, if you could call them that, looked exactly like soldiers. They were dressed in camouflage fatigues and black combat boots, wore chest rigs and carried AK-47s. They were closer to a fire team than a police patrol.

When they saw us they almost stopped, and glared hard at us. My heart rate quickened. One officer in particular, a small dark guy, focused on me. Crap, I thought, and looked away. I was unarmed, had no idea where exactly I was and had no realistic expectation of either fighting or escaping. If one of those guys decided it would be fun to throw an American in jail, into jail I’d go. And jails in semi-third world, former communist countries aren’t known for being pleasant.

My Albanian hosts gave the officers a friendly greeting in Serbo-Croatian. The officers mumbled back a reply. We turned toward the house, which actually put us in front of the police. I didn’t look back, but I expected to hear “Stop!” in Serbian any second. My friends whispered, “Just act like everything’s normal. I don’t think they figured out you’re American.” Eventually, several minutes later, one of them looked behind us. The coast was clear.

I relaxed, but it had been an odd feeling. I had never been scared of a cop before. I guess when police are geared up like soldiers in a war, and look like they hate you, they can be intimidating.

Anyone else ever seen a cop wearing so much military gear you literally couldn’t tell whether he was a cop or soldier?

I’ve been a Marine and Soldier longer than I’ve been a cop, and I served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I understand that military gear can be useful to cops. If some wacko with an AK is dumping rounds out his bedroom window, I want an MRAP there. If ISIS is attacking a school, I want SWAT teams to be fully geared out like I was overseas. Other than those extreme situations, why do we need to look and act military?

This is a fine line. We soldiers have learned a lot of hard lessons in the past 13 years of war, and anything we learn that can help make police safer, which then makes the public safer, is a good thing. But there has to be a balance. Yes, officers should carry tourniquets and pressure bandages, because those items save lives. No, officers don’t need to wear desert boots or camouflage uniforms on the street. And good God, someone please explain to me why a cop on duty in America would ever need to wear a shamagh (Arab head scarf).

Do desert boots, camo and shamaghs make us safer or help us do our jobs? No, but they do accomplish two other things: making us look like wannabe soldiers, and gradually eroding public respect for police. The cool gear some of us wear isn’t worth the bad feelings it generates.

People get why we cops do what we do. Most of them respect what we do. But they don’t respect us if we look like we’re trying to be someone else. A cop in all camo with desert boots, a shamagh, chest rig and carbine looks like he’s trying to be a soldier instead of a cop.

Americans don’t want soldiers patrolling the streets looking for combat. They want officers there to help people who need help and keep the community safe. They understand we need to fight sometimes, they understand we need to shoot sometimes. But they don’t want us all geared out unless the crap hits the fan. And that’s not unreasonable.

We’re not at war here in America. We don’t need to look (or act) like those “cops” I encountered in Macedonia. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have any military-type gear; on patrol I carried a carbine, plate carrier and helmet in my trunk for special occasions, and I broke it out several times. We should put that gear on when circumstances demand it. But we shouldn’t break it out simply because circumstances “permit” it.

Raids

Friday, September 19th, 2014

This early 1970s Federal law enforcement training film, Raids, seems positively quaint:

I couldn’t help but notice a few tactical details. First, everyone keeps their finger on the trigger. They don’t seem comfortable drawing or handling their revolvers, either. I love the way the raid leader switches his revolver to his left hand so he can knock on the door with his right.

I wouldn’t want my cover team armed with revolvers, by the way, twenty yards back, sitting in a catcher’s squat behind the car, either.

Ebola Education

Friday, September 19th, 2014

Eight bodies belonging to an Ebola education team have been found in the village latrine in Wome, a village close to the town of Nzerekore, in Guinea’s southeast, where Ebola was first identified in March:

[Guinea's Prime Minister Mohamed Saïd ] Fofana said the team that included local administrators, two medical officers, a preacher and three accompanying journalists, was attacked by a hostile stone-throwing crowd from the village when they tried to inform people about Ebola.

Three of them had their throats slit.

How Gangs Took Over Prisons

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

California had prisons for nearly a century before the first documented gang — or security threat group — appeared, but now gangs run prisons — and the street, too:

Another common misconception about prison gangs is that they are simply street gangs that have been locked up. The story of their origins, however, is closer to the opposite: the Mexican Mafia, for example, was born at Deuel Vocational Institution, in Tracy, California, in 1956, and only later did that group, and others, become a presence on the streets. Today, the relation of the street to the cellblock is symbiotic. “The young guys on the street look to the gang members inside as role models,” says Charles Dangerfield, a former prison guard who now heads California’s Gang Task Force, in Sacramento. “Getting sentenced to prison is like being called up to the majors.”

But Skarbek says the prison gangs serve another function for street criminals. In a 2011 paper in American Political Science Review, he proposed that prison is a necessary enforcement mechanism for drug crime on the outside. If everyone in the criminal underworld will go to prison eventually, or has a close relationship with someone who will, and if everybody knows that gangs control the fate of all inmates, then criminals on the street will be afraid to cross gang members there, because at some point they, or someone they know, will have to pay on the inside. Under this model, prison gangs are the courts and sheriffs for people whose business is too shady to be able to count on justice from the usual sources. Using data from federal indictments of members of the Mexican Mafia, and other legal documents, Skarbek found that the control of prisons by gangs leads to smoother transactions in the outside criminal world.

Gangs effect this justice on the inside in part by circulating a “bad-news list,” or BNL. If your name is on a BNL, gang members are to attack you on sight — perhaps because you stole from an affiliate on the outside, or because you failed to repay a drug debt, or because you’re suspected of ratting someone out. Skarbek says one sign that the BNL is a rationally deployed tool, rather than just a haphazard vengeance mechanism, is that gangs are fastidious about removing names from the list when debts are paid.

Neighborhood Deprivation

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Do bad neighborhoods cause crime? Nope:

Background A number of studies suggest associations between neighbourhood characteristics and criminality during adolescence and young adulthood. However, the causality of such neighbourhood effects remains uncertain.

Methods We followed all children born in Sweden from 1975–1989 who lived in its three largest cities by the age of 15 years and for whom complete information was available about individual and contextual factors (N = 303 465). All biological siblings were identified in the sample (N = 179 099). Generalized linear mixed-effects models were used to assess the effect of neighbourhood deprivation on violent criminality and substance misuse between the ages of 15 and 20 years, while taking into account the cross-classified data structure (i.e. siblings in the same families attending different schools and living in different neighbourhoods at age 15).

Results In the crude model, an increase of 1 SD in neighbourhood deprivation was associated with a 57% increase in the odds of being convicted of a violent crime (95% CI 52%–63%). The effect was greatly attenuated when adjustment was made for a number of observed confounders (OR 1.09, 95% CI 1.06–1.11). When we additionally adjusted for unobserved familial confounders, the effect
was no longer present (OR 0.96, 95% CI 0.84–1.10). Similar results were observed for substance misuse. The results were not due to poor variability either between neighbourhoods or within families.

Conclusions We found that the adverse effect of neighbourhood deprivation on adolescent violent criminality and substance misuse in Sweden was not consistent with a causal inference. Instead, our findings highlight the need to control for familial confounding in multilevel studies of criminality and substance misuse.

Adolescents Attacking Artists

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

“Adolescents” are savagely beating “artists” in New Orleans:

As he approached an interstate overpass, the division between St. Roch and his Marigny neighborhood, Martin heard laughter from a group of children, no older than 13 he believed. It was summer after all, and while dark, he didn’t think much of the roving group of middle schoolers, until he was struck from behind.

He was then thrown to the ground as the children kicked and slammed fists into Martin’s head and chest. Eventually, he was straddled by one of the kids and choked out until he fell unconscious.

While Martin is wary of calling the assault a hate crime, he does feel the rapid gentrification happening, in both the St. Roch and Marigny neighborhoods, could have something to do with his beating.

It was gentrification’s fault.

Bill Murphy, a local installation artist, was the second victim assaulted. He, too, was walking home when he was struck from behind, and knocked down. Murphy was then kicked and stomped on, similar to what happened to Martin, by a group of eight children.

“I don’t remember much,” Murphy said. “But when I woke up the next day I had a bunch of sneaker prints on my forehead.”

Another “adolescent” attack:

Coincidentally, he was on his way to support a Roots of Music Fundraiser, a local charity that helps at risk youth through mentorship programs and music education. And for years Brumfield himself had worked with elementary and high school students around that area as an art and ceramics instructor with, the now defunct Recovery School District.

Similar to the other two cases, it was completely dark when Brumfield heard a group of kids laughing, though he didn’t realize how much trouble he was in until he saw the dozen or so middle schoolers were armed with bats and large wooden sticks.

“Luckily I was paying attention and could run,” Brumfield said. “Once they caught me though, I had to crawl into the street to get away. They were hitting me the whole time.”

Brumfield’s pants were ripped down, in an attempt to emasculate him, and his feet and head were stomped on by the dozen or so teenagers, while others hit him with clubs. Before being knocked out, Brumfield even recognized some of his former students, from an elementary school he had taught at, perpetrating the beating. He was forced to crawl into oncoming traffic to get away, and the children only fled once they were confronted by the headlights of a passing car.

Weeks after the assault, Brumfield was still experiencing severe headaches and trauma and had moved to Baton Rouge to stay with family. He isn’t willing to write these children off as lost causes though and feels that poverty and systematic neglect have led to this escalation in violence.

“The real problem is that we’re failing the kids all over New Orleans. We’re failing them socially, educationally, in every way.” Brumfield said. “I’m watching kids in this city not get what they need again. It’s about poverty and it’s about kids and families that don’t have resources.”

We‘re failing them. They don’t have the resources to leave “artists” alone.

People Faster to Shoot White Suspects than Black Suspects

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

People are faster to shoot white suspects than black, a new study has found:

When confronted by an armed white person, participants took an average of 1.37 seconds to fire back. Confronted by an armed black person, they took 1.61 seconds to fire and were less likely to fire in error. The 24-millisecond difference may seem small, but it’s enough to be fatal in a shooting.

[...]

This behavioral ‘counter-bias’ might be rooted in people’s concerns about the social and legal consequences of shooting a member of a historically oppressed racial or ethnic group.

Defensive Gunplay

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Tom Givens of Range Master has had 64 students involved in defensive gunplay:

These were ordinary citizens, mostly white-collar and professionals, and only about seven percent “blue-collar” workers. The majority of our students are in sales, management, IT work, the medical field or other professional activity.

The majority of these incidents involved an armed robbery, which I believe is probably the most likely scenario for armed self-defense by private citizen. We’re talking about business stickups, parking lot robberies at gunpoint, carjackings and home invasions — all crimes likely to get you killed. The reason the bad guy uses a weapon is to create standoff and to terrorize the victim into compliance, before closing in to take the wallet, purse, car keys, etc.

The thug will, however, need to be close enough to his victim to communicate his desires and to easily close the distance and take the goods when the time comes. Thus the typical armed robbery occurs at anywhere from two or three steps, to roughly the length of a car — between the robber and his victim. That is, then, about three to seven yards typically, or say nine to 21? or so. This is the distance at which most of my students have had to use their guns.

I believe we should do the bulk of our training and practice at these “most likely” distances.

Only two of my students’ shootings occurred at contact distance. In one of those cases the physical contact was purely accidental. In the other case physical contact was intentional, but the victim missed a large number of cues before he was struck with a club.

At the other end of the spectrum we have had three students who have had to engage at 15, 17 and 22 yards. The other 92 percent of our student-involved incidents took place at a distance of 3 to 7 yards, with the majority occurring between 3 and 5 yards. The rule of thumb then is most civilian shootings occur within the length of a car.

Only about 10 percent of our student-involved incidents occurred in or around the home, while 90 percent occurred in places like convenience stores, parking lots and shopping malls. The majority of the incidents began as armed robberies or carjackings, with a few violent break-ins involved.

The success/failure tally among the incidents involving my students is 62 wins, zero losses and two forfeits. Every one of our students who were armed won their confrontation. Only three of those were injured, and those three recovered. To the best of my knowledge, two people have gone through training with us and subsequently were murdered in separate street robberies — but neither was armed. This is why we put a great deal of emphasis in our training on the necessity of routinely carrying your gun.

Based on this data, we believe the following are key skills the private citizen should concentrate on in their training:

  • Quick, safe, efficient presentation of the handgun from concealed carry.
  • Delivery of several well-placed shots at distances from 3 to 7 yards.
  • Keeping the gun running, including reloading and fixing malfunctions.
  • Two-handed firing. We train our students to use two hands if at all possible and most have done so in their fights.
  • Bring the gun to eye level. This is the fastest way to achieve accurate gun alignment. All but two of our students brought the gun to eye level, and as a result got good hits. Two had to shoot from below eye level due to unusual circumstances.
  • Some effort expended on the contact distance problem, including empty hand skills and weapon retention skills. However, these are secondary skills for the private citizen.
  • Some effort dedicated to longer shots in the 15- to 25-yard range.

One of the things we stress in our training is the likelihood of your needing a gun in self-defense is not a one in one million chance.

Most Americans Want to Criminalize Pre-Teens Playing Unsupervised

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

A whopping 83 percent of Americans think there should be a law that prohibits kids 9 and under from playing at the park unsupervised, despite the fact, Lenore Skenazy points out, that most of them no doubt grew up doing just that:

A whopping 68 percent of Americans think there should be a law that prohibits kids 9 and under from playing at the park unsupervised, despite the fact that most of them no doubt grew up doing just that.

What’s more: 43 percent feel the same way about 12-year-olds. They would like to criminalize all pre-teenagers playing outside on their own (and, I guess, arrest their no-good parents).

Some People Don’t Lock Their Doors

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

As hard as it is to believe, some people don’t lock their doors — even in New York City:

A 2008 survey by State Farm Insurance of 1,000 homes across the country reported that fewer than half of those surveyed always locked their front doors. And while people who habitually lock their doors are incredulous that others do not, those who don’t lock are surprised that anyone would be shocked by it.

[...]

According to the F.B.I.’s most recent annual Uniform Crime Report, of the estimated 2,222,196 burglaries committed nationwide in 2008, 32.2 percent were unlawful entries without force. And a spokesman for the New York City Police Department reported that of the 19,263 burglaries that took place in New York City in 2009, 5,041 did not involve forced entry.

These figures include commercial as well as residential properties, and burglaries without forced entry cannot be flatly equated with those that involve unlocked doors, because they may involve open windows; unauthorized use of a key; or theft by workers, family members or business associates. But unlocked doors are certainly a factor.

Inspector James Murtagh is the commanding officer of the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which includes Park Avenue doorman buildings, brownstones and apartment houses. In his precinct, he estimates that 25 percent of burglaries are a result of an open door or window.

While out-of-towners may cling to the notion of New York as a city of triple locks and metal bars bracing the door — an image common in movies from the 1960s and 1970s — that idea is dramatically out of date. According to the Police Department, there were 210,703 burglaries in the city in 1980, more than 10 times as many as there were last year.

And in some ways, Inspector Murtagh says, the city may be a victim of its own success — people may have become too comfortable.

Going Home

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Let us suppose, Fred Reed suggests, that you, the reader, are an average white cop in, say, Washington, DC:

Just as the public doesn’t like you, you will not much like the public. Cops do not see humanity at its best. The young woman hiking her skirt up at traffic stops. Couples screaming obscenities at each other on domestic-violence calls. “Why don’t you catch real criminals?” The lies. The excuses. The lame attempts at manipulation. The threats (“I know the mayor.”)

As a real cop on real streets, you learn never to smile, to maintain an implied aggressiveness. When riding with a reporter, you will joke and tell stories. With the public, you will learn to be wooden-faced and authoritarian. You can’t lose your dominance or you are useless.

A few months on the streets will take the bloom off your dewy rose of morn.

[Gruesome stories elided.]

As a reporter, I saw all of these things. Not similar things, but exactly these. They are not imaginary. They will change your attitude toward humanity. It won’t make you better company.

And nobody but another cop, or someone in the street trades — police, fire, ambulance–will understand. Your wife won’t, and this won’t improve the marriage. Divorce rates are high among cops.

With time, your views on police brutality will become ambivalent, or not ambivalent. You will see the pretty blonde rape victim, fifteen, about due for her first prom, screaming and screaming and screaming, sobbing and choking, while the med tech tries to get a sedative into her arm. And you will hear the cop next to you, hand clenching hard on his night stick, say in cold fury, “I hope the sonofabitch resists arrest.” Yeah, you may find yourself thinking, yeah. Social theories are nice. The streets are not theoretical.

And you will find that the perps are almost always black. If you are a good liberal, you won’t like this, but after three months on the street you will not have the faintest doubt. If you are a suburban conservative out of Reader’s Digest, you will be surprised at the starkness of the racial delineation.

All cops know this. They know better than to say it. This can be tricky for black cops, especially if former military who believe in law and order.

You will find that there are white cops who knock blacks around, who humiliate them. You will think it wrong, and so will many of your fellows, but you will decide not to turn them in. You have twenty more years on the streets with them. You will discover that black cops exist who also mistreat blacks, and this will confuse you.

You will find yourself contributing to bad race relations by enforcing laws you think stupid, pointless and unwise — hassling blacks for drinking a beer on the sidewalk with friends, rolling dice for quarters on the hood of a car, or smoking a joint. Never mind that a black city government made the laws.

Depending on your background when you, the reader, suddenly became a cop, you may or may not have some grasp of how guns work in the city. To begin with (if you think about it at all) you will realize that cops are not very competent with guns. In an entire career most will never fire their weapons on duty. To be good with a pistol requires hours and hours on the range and thousands of rounds. These cost money. Departments have higher priorities. Competent tactical shooting requires much more training. You won’t get it.

As a fresh cop, you will notice that the standard editorial notion, that cops are heavily armed brutes amid a helpless unarmed populations, isn’t quite accurate. When you are on the sidewalks of a bad neighborhood, where you know you are disliked by all and hated by many, you will become aware of your vulnerability. You have to pass close to people. Any of them could blow your head off from behind, stick an ice pick in your back, or brain you with a piece of rebar.

The second thing to know about the police and guns (though it sounds unrelated) is something you will hear often from your new colleagues: “I’m going home tonight.” This does not mean, “I’m going home instead of to the bar with buddies.” It means, “If some dirtball threatens my life, or credibly seems to be doing so, I will blow his sorry ass away before I’ll let my wife have to explain to the kids why Daddy is never coming home again.”

Ah, but how do you know when your life is in danger? Therein lies the rub. In a good department, you will get shoot-no-shoot training. It will surprise you. You stand in front of a very large screen, your weapon holstered. On the screen (for example) appears in video exactly what you would see responding to an armed-robbery call at a small store. A woman, the proprietor’s wife, frantically accosts you. “He robbed us! He has a gun! He went into the alley.” Gun in hand, you run down the alley, scared and breathing hard. A man with a gun turns the corner, gun in shooting position. You fire. You just killed the proprietor who also was chasing the perp with his own gun.

Back on the real street. A 250-pound guy crazy on PCP charges you with the clear intention of doing you harm. How much harm? He could kill you. It isn’t part of your job description to find out. You don’t have time in three seconds to try pepper-spray (which doesn’t work well on PCP heads anyway) or send for a Taser, or shout, “Halt in the name of the law, oh evil emissary of the forces of chaos!”

Bang. Maybe he was just going to give you a hug and a kiss.

It’s an old piece, not written in response to recent events.

But he was unarmed!

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Chris Hernandez offers a dose of reality for Ferguson, starting with a hard look at the cry, “But he was unarmed!”:

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard the term “unarmed teenager”. Yes, Brown was an unarmed 18 year old. He was also 6’4″ and 292 pounds. Anyone who thinks an unarmed, 6’4″, 292 pound man can’t be a threat has never been punched in the face. Unarmed people can be extremely dangerous.

In 2012 an unarmed 17 year old beat an El Paso police officer to death. The officer was 29 years old, a former Marine and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

An off-duty police officer in New York City was beaten almost to death by an unarmed man last November.

In July, an unarmed 21 year old “felt like killing someone” and beat a 56 year old random victim to death at a train station in San Antonio.

In 2012, an unarmed 24 year old man beat a man to death for raping his daughter.

Those chanting “but he was unarmed” are pathetically ignorant of the reality of violence. Unarmed people hurt or kill others on a regular basis. No, that doesn’t mean every unarmed person needs to be shot; it does, however, mean an aggressive, unarmed person can be a threat to your life. The bigger and stronger that person is, the bigger the threat.

Read the whole thing for the point of view of a cop who doesn’t claim to know what happened.

Police Brutality

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Criminologist Darrell Ross has studied “out of control” police:

First of all, it’s important to understand that between 1978 and 2003, the U.S. population age 13 and older grew by about 47,000,000 people. The police population in that period increased by about 235,000 officers. Yet despite a civilian population growth that is about 200 times that of law enforcement growth, police shootings have not increased. Indeed only a tiny percentage of police-citizen contacts — holding steady at about 1% — involve police using force of any kind. Even in arrests, use of force occurs only in about 3%.

From 1968 to 1975, an average of 483 persons per year were shot dead by police rounds. That average has dropped significantly since then. Overall, the annual average of lethal shootings is down 33% since 1968. Shootings by police that inflict injury but not death have decreased by 20-22%, Ross says. He credits a drop in violent crime, more restrictive court rulings (notably Tennessee v. Garner), better training and decision-making by officers and the availability of more less-lethal force options, including OC, Taser and beanbag ammunition.

Police shootings are related to UCR violent crime trends. Both tend to be highest in crime- and violence-ridden “hot spots” within a city. These areas are “catalysts” for officers being called and using force to deal with the situations they encounter there, Ross says. Like it or not, the areas with the highest concentration of violent crimes predominately are black. “Shootings are related to community safety and crime in the community,” Ross explains. In fairness, “you can’t ignore that and look at police shootings in a vacuum. If you don’t consider factors like this you aren’t looking at the true nature of the statistics.”

Given their representation in the general population (about 15%), blacks are disproportionately shot by police. But that figure is changing. In 1978, 49% of suspects shot by officers were black. By 2003 that had fallen to 34%. It’s relevant to note that there also is a racial disparity where the commission of violent crime is concerned. For example, “African-American males are eight times more likely to commit homicide than whites,” Ross points out. This involvement in violence and other behavioral choices make them more likely use-of-force targets. “The lifestyle of people who get shot is generally different from those who don’t. You can’t overlook that. Disparity in shootings does not equate with ‘discrimination’ in shootings.”

The race of the players in use-of-force scenarios is changing. The incidence of white officers killing black suspects has dropped since 1978, while the incidence of white officers killing white suspects is increasing. Most often black suspects are killed by black officers. All of this “dispels the myth of cops picking only on a certain race” when force is used, Ross says. “Research over the last 30 years repeatedly shows that lethal force used by police is NOT racially motivated.”

As to the charge that misguided police tactics provoke force encounters, Ross found no evidence of a pattern in which “the officer ‘created’ the danger and/or situation in which lethal force was required, nor did the officer take a ‘poor position’ that placed the officer in a situation necessitating the use of lethal force.”

Where both lethal force and nonlethal force are concerned, Ross’ research confirms that the measure of force officers decide to employ is “highly associated” with the degree of suspect resistance. In other words, force is not just arbitrarily and unjustly delivered. Indeed, he found that officers “routinely use lower forms of force than what could have been justified” (deploying OC, for example, when a baton or a neck restraint could have been employed). A significant indication of the move toward lower levels of force is a decline in the use of impact weapons and a corresponding rise in the use of pepper spray, Ross says.

As to the claim of widespread “brutality,” Ross cites the federal DOJ’s Use of Force Survey (1996 and 2000), the largest study of its kind ever made. Of all the hundreds of thousands of police-citizen contacts in which force of some kind was used, fewer than 1% of uses were considered excessive. In 68% of arrests, the subject did not sustain any injury, and in another 25% only a cut or bruise occurred. In fact, officers in force encounters are more likely than suspects to suffer an injury that requires hospital treatment!

How much does poverty drive crime?

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

How much does poverty drive crime? Not so much. Actually, not at all:

In Sweden the age of criminal responsibility is 15, so Mr Sariaslan tracked his subjects from the dates of their 15th birthdays onwards, for an average of three-and-a-half years. He found, to no one’s surprise, that teenagers who had grown up in families whose earnings were among the bottom fifth were seven times more likely to be convicted of violent crimes, and twice as likely to be convicted of drug offences, as those whose family incomes were in the top fifth.

What did surprise him was that when he looked at families which had started poor and got richer, the younger children — those born into relative affluence — were just as likely to misbehave when they were teenagers as their elder siblings had been. Family income was not, per se, the determining factor.

That suggests two, not mutually exclusive, possibilities. One is that a family’s culture, once established, is “sticky”—that you can, to put it crudely, take the kid out of the neighbourhood, but not the neighbourhood out of the kid. Given, for example, children’s propensity to emulate elder siblings whom they admire, that sounds perfectly plausible. The other possibility is that genes which predispose to criminal behaviour (several studies suggest such genes exist) are more common at the bottom of society than at the top, perhaps because the lack of impulse-control they engender also tends to reduce someone’s earning capacity.