How long would Batman’s identity remain secret?

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

If Batman were to operate in real life, how long would it take for his identity to be revealed?

In the Legends of the Dark Knight story Prey, which takes place about 18 months into Bruce’s career as Batman, Hugo Strange figured out Bruce’s identity through some basic investigative work, similar to how Ra’s al Ghul claimed to have discerned Bruce’s identity in the Bronze Age.

  1. Examining the remains of equipment that Batman left behind at various scenes allowed Strange to deduce that Batman was well funded and had lots and lots of access to capital as well as fabrication resources.
  2. Batman’s targeting of criminals from all walks of life indicated to him that Batman has a sincere grudge against the underworld, likely because he felt wronged by Gotham’s criminal element, and likely suffered a great loss at their hands.
  3. First hand accounts of Batman’s athletic prowess and visage provided him a fairly reasonable physical profile to go on: White male, age 20-40, excellent physical conditioning.

From there Strange skimmed though police reports of notable murder cases in the GCPD’s archives for 0-40 years searching for persons of interests who could fit those criteria today, before finally arriving at the conclusion that it was Bruce Wayne.

Another significant clue that Strange didn’t consider but probably should have was that Bruce Wayne’s much publicized return to Gotham roughly coincided with the first reported appearance of the Batman.

And that was basically just one guy working on his own. If it were real life I think Bruce would also have the full attention and might of every alphabet soup agency in the country on his ass 24/7 trying to track him down.

Another take:

Exactly one month after being coming to the attention of the Federal authorities.

A crazed vigilante is riding around an American city using military grade weaponry and committing crimes against civilians on a record scale? It would not take long at all to deploy the necessary resources to the scene.

Several Blackhawks and Little Birds from the BATF and FBI be orbiting on shifts doing surveillance, waiting for a signal that the unsub has begun activity.

He would leave to patrol in the Batmobile, and as soon as his distinctive black vehicle’s turbine-driven heat signature was located, a Predator drone would be re-tasked to orbit and follow. That tango in question is very versatile, active, and potentially lethal when engaged so nothing would be done that night, however every illegal activity he performed would be caught on IR-enhanced video, including the multitude of assaults, breakings and enterings, trespasses, abuse of public property, use of prohibited weapons, substances and hazardous materials, perhaps even failure to register a motor vehicle and violating speed restrictions, and several counts of obstruction of justice.

His citizen’s arrests would be logged and the suspects duly charged in any and all assaults against him, as well, however a few suspects will likely be audited for their willingness to testify both against their compatriots and the vigilante.

At some point his most recent crime spree will end and he will head for home. The Predator will follow, a barely visible line in the inky black Gotham sky, camera eye recording the Batmobile’s every move.

Of course the Batmobile will disappear into some rocky outcropping or waterfall or some other land feature and it’s destination will be unknown.

The very next day special operations elements of the DoJ will be at the location, planting temblor sensors and concealed cameras. This is Batman so it will be a few days before he uses the same entrance again, but he will, and when he does, the triggering of the sensors will activate the cameras, and FBI analysts will see the long stretch of tunnel inside the entrance and start doing calculations.

The length of the entrance tunnel until loss of focus or a turn will be calculated, and the direction and distance of that stretch of the tunnel will be known. Immediate records will be pulled for every building in the area, and every microsecond of the next day will be spent sifting through the possible combinations of owners, buildings, knowledge wealth and access to technology.

This will continue with each of the Batman’s movements, and piece by piece a picture of his activities will become known. Information, bits and pieces will be gleaned from his victims, the various residues from his smoke bombs, gases and shark repellents will be analyzed, the Batarangs and grappling hooks researched down to the atomic scale.

Once there is a database of products and substances, the FBI will start rifling through purchase orders and BATF registrations for shipments of the necessary fuel for his Batmobile, and the explosive charges for his bat-grapples, and the avionics for his missile’s warheads, amongst the other detritus he leaves after his battles.

Eventually the source of gear will be deciphered: Wayne Industries, and at that point, the cat is out of the bag. Wayne’s home is within the perimeters of the Batmobile disappearances, and a thermal flyby will reveal he’s using the same electricity as an small industrial plant does when only two or three people ever live in that mansion. Analysis of company records will reveal the massive levels of graft and embezzlement required to hijack all these prohibited and classified materials to the mansion, and the deliveries of the materials will tagged and traced.

The is enough evidence to present Bruce Wayne with a warrant for his arrest based on the very least on corporate malfeasance, embezzlement, falsification of tax records, Illegal trafficking of prohibited agents, weapons and substances falsified BATF filings, and aiding and abetting multiple criminal acts.

Since he is an important personage in the city, they’ll do him the favor of sending one very polite agent armed with a single piece of paper, to wait in his office. What happens after that is up to him.

Conversely a team of agents and a ground-scanning radar van will arrive on the grounds of Wayne Manor and present Alfred with a warrant for his arrest and a search of the premises.

This will occur at the exact same time as Tim Drake, Jason Todd, and Dick Grayson are brought into custody, and James Gordon upon getting notification of a pending warrant against his daughter, will take the day off to go try and convince Barbara to turn State’s witness.

All identified suspects that were encountered during the surveillance will be swept up as well on that day.

Wayne’s excellent lawyer will have him booked and released on bail, at which point mysteriously enough a limo from the Themiscyran embassy will pick him up and he will not be seen again until he submits his US passport and a letter revoking his citizenship, and announces himself a citizen of the city-state of Atlantis.

When asked, they will plainly refuse extradition.

A dissenting opinion:

No No No. You’re describing how they’d catch some regular guy who was using military grade gear every night like a punk, not batman.

You’re disregarding his super power. Superman flies, batman plans. Superman can see through walls, Batman sees through YOU.

Those drones you suppose will find the batmobile for you so handily? I guarantee those drones are Wayne Electronics Products, Running Wayne Industries OS. They will report whatever batman tells them to report.

In fact Wayne Enterprises is the biggest corporation in the DC universe, bigger then lex corp, bigger then google+facebook+sony+3m.

Wayne Industries runs their own mines and R&D labs and everything else batman needs to build the batmobile from scratch and have it come out of untraceable thin air. Who’s to say that 12 tons of steel were smelted and not 10 as the books say? Who’s to say exactly how much fuel was refined when it all came out of the ground just yesterday? Compared to global scale commerce, a few tanks of jet fuel aren’t even worth writing off as loss. I bet more evaporates during transport. I bet more sticks to the side of the shipping containers.

Wayne shipping handles billions of tonnes of freight each month, Wayne Yards builds Aircraft carriers for the Navy. This man can make whatever he needs, and I guarantee it would be child’s play for him to simply not report to the ATF. BATF registrations are what punks who buy too much fertilizer have to worry about, not Batman.

And lets not forget, the bat computer already has access to everything the intelligence networks get, and more. He has his own satellites, his own drones, he runs analytic s the NSA hasn’t invented yet. The minute the government starts paying any serious attention to gotham city not to mention himself the bat-computer will alert his heads up display with 20 countermeasures.

Planting cameras everywhere will never catch batman. He can access your networks. Using technology just makes it easier for him to watch you. He can feed you false video, he knows what you know.

As for using his victims as informants? Ridiculous. These guys won’t snitch on the Joker, they would definitely be too afraid to snitch on Batman. They’re a superstitious and cowardly lot. Besides what can they say except they got beat up by a man dressed in a bat suit?

All that is just Batman’s built in advantages. Then he’ll run countermeasures.

  1. Political, Through his copious connections in through the Wayne Foundation your boss’ boss’ boss will start getting serious heat from some senators about wasting funds chasing Batman when there are criminals to find.
  2. Hacking, All your gear will betray you. Your drones will find Batmobile everywhere, your cellphone will start dropping calls, your requisition forms will fail to make its way through the bureaucracy… Wild goose chases ensue.
  3. Psych ops … don’t get me started. Batman loves to mess with your mind. He’ll make you sit on stake out until your mind goes numb. When you’re going completely crazy from boredom he’ll convince you your fellow agents are on his side, he’ll convince you your fellow agents are Batman! Paranoia! After that he’ll make you believe the Joker is after you personally. Panic! Then He’ll convince you you need to become Batman to save yourself. Then when you try, he’ll end up saving your life.
  4. Decoys. Everyone has been a batman decoy. Robin, Nightwing, Commissioner Gordon, even Superman did it, not to mention the robots… Did you know there are two batcaves ? (there’s another one under the Wayne foundation building). The FBI/ATF are not ready for this.
  5. PR. People mostly love batman. The only serious complaints come from uptight law enforcement types. Pray Pray Pray the Penguin doesn’t try to take over the city during your investigation. The press will eat you alive.

In the end the investigation will become an expensive fail, and the plug will be pulled from higher up. Not before some federal agents learn some valuable lesson about themselves and the need for the Dark Knight.

The Lawless Hellscape Colorado Has Become

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Here’s the lawless hellscape Colorado has become six months after legalizing weed:

In March alone, taxed and legal recreational marijuana sales generated nearly $19 million, up from $14 million in February. The state has garnered more than $10 million in taxes from retail sales in the first four months — money that will go to public schools and infrastructure, as well as for youth educational campaigns about substance use.

According to his latest budget proposal, Gov. John Hickenlooper expects a healthy $1 billion in marijuana sales over the next fiscal year. That’s nearly $134 million in tax revenue.

[...]

By removing marijuana penalties, the state is estimated to save somewhere between $12 million and $40 million, according to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.

According to government data, the Denver city- and county-wide murder rate has dropped 42.1% since recreational marijuana use was legalized in January. This is compared to the same period last year, a time frame encompassing Jan. 1 through May 31. Violent crime in general is down almost 2%, and major property crimes are down 11.5% compared to the same period in 2013.

[...]

An October 2013 Gallup poll found that 58% of adults favored legalizing marijuana for adult use.

In 2013, 52% thought that marijuana should be legalized, with 45% opposed. According to Pew, this is a 13-point jump from 2010, when 41% thought it should be legalized and 52% opposed. The year 2010 was when Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana in California, was defeated with only a 53% majority. And of course, this is a dramatic swing from 1969, when nearly 8 out of 10 Americans opposed legalization.

Ending prohibition saves money. Since 1970, the government has spent $1.5 trillion on “drug control,” though addiction rates remain constant.

How Poor Young Black Men Run from the Police

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Sociologist Alice Goffman writes about how (and why) poor young black men run from the police:

During the first year and a half I spent on 6th Street, I watched young men running and hiding from the police on 111 occasions, an average of more than once every five days.

Those who interact rarely with the police may assume that running away after a police stop is futile. Worse, it could lead to increased charges or to violence. While the second part is true, the first is not. In my first 18 months on 6th Street, I observed a young man running after he had been stopped on 41 different occasions. Of these, eight involved men fleeing their houses during raids; 23 involved men running after being stopped while on foot (including running after the police had approached a group of people of whom the man was a part); six involved car chases; and two involved a combination of car and foot chases, where the chase began by car and continued with the man getting out and running.

In 24 of these cases, the man got away. In 17 of the 24, the police didn’t appear to know who the man was and couldn’t bring any charges against him after he had fled. Even in cases where the police subsequently charged him with fleeing or other crimes, the successful getaway allowed the man to stay out of jail longer than he might have if he’d simply permitted the police to cuff him and take him in.

A successful escape can be a solitary act, but oftentimes it is a collective accomplishment. A young man relies on his friends, relatives, and neighbors to alert him when they see the police coming, and to pass along information about where the police have been or where and when they might appear next. When the police make inquiries, these friends and neighbors feign ignorance or feed the police misinformation. They may also help to conceal incriminating objects and provide safe houses where a young man can hide. From field notes taken in September 2006:

Around 11 AM, I walked up the alleyway to the back of Chuck’s house. Before I reached the porch, Chuck came running down the iron stairs, shouting something to a neighbor. Reggie followed him, also shouting. Their mother, Miss Linda, came to the top of the second-floor balcony and told me the law was on the way, and to make sure that Reggie in particular did not come back until she gave the green light. I recalled that Reggie had a warrant out for failure to pay court fees, and would doubtless be taken in if the cops ran his name.

I watched Chuck and Reggie proceed up the alleyway, and then Chuck turned and yelled at me to come on. We ran for about three blocks, going through two backyards and over a small divider. Dogs barked as we went by. I was half a block behind and lost sight of Chuck and Reggie. Panting, I slowed to a walk, looking back to see if the police were coming. Then I heard “psst” and looked up to see Chuck leaning out the second-floor window of a two-story house. A woman in her 50s, who I immediately guessed to be a churchgoer, opened the door for me as I approached, saying only, “Upstairs.”

Chuck and Reggie were in her dressing room. This quite conservative- looking woman had converted what is usually the spare upstairs bedroom into a giant walk-in closet, with shoes, purses, and clothing arranged by color on the kind of white metal shelves that you buy and install yourself.

Our getaway had produced a mild euphoria. Reggie brushed past Chuck to examine the shoe collection, and Chuck wiped his arm off dramatically, teasing his younger brother about how sweaty he was.

“Look at yourself, nigga! You don’t run for shit now with that little bit of shell in your shoulder,” Reggie responded, referring to the partial bullet that had lodged just below the back of Chuck’s neck when he was shot the month before.

Chuck laughed. “I’m in the best shape of my life.” He explained that his shoulder hurt only when he played basketball.

Reggie sat on a small leopard-print stool and said, “Name a fat motherfucker who runs faster than me. Not just in the ’hood but anywhere in Philly.”

“Oh, here you go,” Chuck complained.

Chuck joked about the extensive shoe collection, saying you’d never know Miss Toya was like that. Reggie pulled out a pair of suede high heels and attempted to get one onto his foot, asking me to do up the straps. ?He got on her computer and started browsing pit bull websites, then YouTube videos of street fights. Chuck cringed and exclaimed loudly as Kimbo, a well-known street fighter, hit his opponent repeatedly in the eye, revealing bloody and battered tissue that Chuck called “spaghetti and meatballs.”

I asked Chuck why he made me run, and consequently dirty my sneakers, when I’m not even wanted.

“It’s good practice.”?Reggie grinned and said, “You be taking your fucking time, A.”

“You’re no track star,” I replied.

“What!? I was haul-assing.”

Chuck got on the phone with his mother and then a neighbor to find out how many police were on his block and for whom they had come. Apparently they were looking for a man who had fled on foot after being stopped on an off-road motorbike. They didn’t find this man, but did take two others from the house next door: One had a bench warrant for failure to appear, and the other had a small amount of crack in his pocket. Into the phone Chuck was saying, “Damn. They got Jay-Jay? Damn.”

About an hour later, his mother called to tell Chuck that the police had gone. We waited another ten minutes, then left for Pappi’s, the corner store. Chuck ordered Miss Toya a turkey hoagie and BBQ chips and brought them to her as thanks. We then walked back to the block with Dutch cigars and sodas.

Running wasn’t always the smartest thing to do when the cops came, but the urge to run was so ingrained that sometimes it was hard to stand still.

We’re supposed to feel sympathy for people getting “harassed” by the police just because they have warrants out for their arrest.

Interesting things in the NYPD Annual Firearms Discharge Report

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

The Tactical Professor shares some interesting things in the NYPD Annual Firearms Discharge Report, including this anecdote:

On October 24, at 1837 hours, in the 46th Precinct, an off-duty officer was sitting in a parked vehicle with a friend, when he saw two men rob another man at gunpoint on the other side of the street. The officer got out of his car and approached the men. As soon as he identified himself as a police officer, the subject, one of the individuals involved in the robbery, turned and fired one round at the officer, striking him in the chest from about ten feet away. The men then fled on foot, while the officer went back to his vehicle, clutching his chest. The officer’s friend tried to drive away, only to get stuck in traffic behind a white Mustang which was stopped in front of them. The Mustang sped off and crashed up the street. Three individuals, including the subject, fled the Mustang. When the officer saw them, he pursued, still clutching his chest. The officer ordered bystanders to get down for their safety, and while taking cover behind a vehicle, fired eight rounds at the perpetrators, striking the subject once in the head and causing his demise. The other individuals who participated in the robbery were apprehended later. The subject had two prior arrests, for Robbery and Criminal Possession of a Weapon.

The officer did not die from his wound, he notes:

It’s hard to make that kind of stuff up, which is yet another reason I prefer to read the real reports rather than dreaming up my own scenarios.

Robbery Suspect Tracked by GPS and Killed

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Police officers in NYC tracked an armed robber by GPS:

The decoy bottle was among a cache of drugs taken in an armed robbery about 1:30 p.m. from HealthSource Pharmacy, at Second Avenue and East 68th Street, according to a police official, who was not authorized to speak about the investigation.

The suspect, identified by the police as Scott Kato, 45, of Mount Vernon, N.Y., was believed to have robbed pharmacies in New York City on at least four occasions since 2011, three times at the HealthSource drugstore. He served about 12 years in prison for a 1990 conviction for sexual abuse and robbery and spent an additional 16 months in prison after violating parole twice, according to state records.

The police official said the GPS device helped lead the police to the man, who was confronted as his 2007 Jeep was stuck in traffic on a service road beneath the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive at East 96th Street. As officers closed in, the man pointed a handgun in the direction of at least one of the officers; one or more of the officers opened fire, killing the man, the police said.

The episode is the first known case in New York City in which a decoy bottle helped the police identify a suspect after a pharmacy robbery.

The decoy bottles were introduced last year by the police commissioner at the time, Raymond W. Kelly, who announced that the department would begin to stock pharmacy shelves with decoy bottles of painkillers containing GPS devices. The initiative was in response to a sharp increase of armed and often deadly pharmacy robberies across the state, frequently by people addicted to painkillers.

While the New York Police Department was not the first in the state to use the decoy bottles, it was among the first to publicize the program, believing that the publicity could deter prospective robbers. Other police departments chose to keep the initiatives private, concerned that if robbers knew of the GPS devices, the risk to pharmacy workers could be greater.

I was surprised the decided to publicize the decoys.

#YesAllWomen

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

The Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen has led to toxic gender warfare, Cathy Young suggests:

For one thing, “misogyny” is a very incomplete explanation of Rodger’s mindset, perhaps best described as malignant narcissism with a psychopathic dimension. His “manifesto” makes it clear that his hatred of women (the obverse side of his craving for validation by female attention, which he describes as so intense that a hug from a girl was infinitely more thrilling than an expression of friendship from a boy) was only a subset of a general hatred of humanity, and was matched by hatred of men who had better romantic and sexual success. At the end of the document, he chillingly envisions an ideal society in which women will be exterminated except for a small number of artificial-insemination breeders and sexuality will be abolished. But in an Internet posting a year ago, he also fantasized about inventing a virus that would wipe out all males except for himself: “You would be able to have your pick of any beautiful woman you want, as well as having dealt vengeance on the men who took them from you. Imagine how satisfying that would be.” His original plans for his grand exit included not only a sorority massacre he explicitly called his “War on Women,” but luring victims whom he repeatedly mentions in gender-neutral terms to his apartment for extended torture and murder (and killing his own younger brother, whom he hated for managing to lose his virginity).

Some have argued that hating other men because they get to have sex with women and you don’t is still a form of misogyny; but that seems like a good example of stretching the concept into meaninglessness — or turning it into unfalsifiable quasi-religious dogma.

Of course, four of the six people Rodger actually killed were men: his three housemates, whom he stabbed to death in their beds before embarking on his fatal journey, and a randomly chosen young man in a deli. Assertions that all men share responsibility for the misogyny and male violence toward women that Rodger’s actions are said to represent essentially place his male victims on the same moral level as the murderer — which, if you think about it, is rather obscene. And the deaths of all the victims, female and male, are trivialized when they are commemorated with a catalogue of often petty sexist or sexual slights, from the assertion that every single woman in the world has been sexually harassed to the complaint that a woman’s “no” is often met with an attempt to negotiate a “yes.”

A common theme of #YesAllWomen is that our culture promotes the notion that women owe men sex and encourages male violence in response to female rejection. (It does? One could much more plausibly argue that our culture promotes the notion that men must “earn” sex from women and treats the rejected male as a pathetic figure of fun.)

Walter R. Walsh Dies at 106

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Legendary FBI gunfighter and competitive shooter Walter R. Walsh recently died at age 106:

Walter Rudolph Walsh was born in West Hoboken, N.J., on May 4, 1907, to Walter Brooks Walsh and the former Dolinda Invernizzi. When he was 12, his father gave him his first rifle, a .22-caliber Mossberg. He shot rats in the New Jersey Meadowlands and honed his skills on an aunt’s laundry clothespins.

At 16 he lied about his age, joined the Civilian Military Training Corps and received his first formal training with a 1903 Springfield rifle. He joined the New Jersey National Guard in 1928, won a spot on its rifle team and did his first competitive shooting at national matches at Camp Perry, Ohio.

[...]

He joined the F.B.I. in 1934, a short, feisty James Cagney tough guy fresh out of Rutgers Law School. A natural left-hander, he was already a dead shot who could cut the center of a bull’s-eye at 75 yards with a rifle and blaze away at moving targets with a pistol in each hand — an enormous advantage in a bureau that was just breaking in its first class of agents authorized to carry guns.

[...]

Mr. Walsh, who killed at least 11 gangsters in his F.B.I. days, competed regularly in national shooting tournaments and broke the world record for centerfire pistol shooting in 1939 at Camp Ritchie, Md., scoring 198 out of a possible 200. He also won the Eastern regional pistol championships in 1939 and 1940.

In 1942, after America’s entry into World War II, Mr. Walsh joined the Marines. For two years he trained snipers in New River, N.C. He requested combat duty in 1944, was sent to the Pacific and joined the invasion of Okinawa in 1945. At one point, with his unit pinned down, he killed an enemy sniper at 80 yards with one pistol shot.

After the war, he briefly returned to the F.B.I. but concluded that his days as an agent were over and turned increasingly to competitive shooting. On the United States Olympic shooting team at the 1948 Summer Games in London, he placed 12th in the world in the men’s 50-meter free pistol competition.

In 1952, he won gold and silver medals with the American team at the International Shooting Sport Federation championships. He won many F.B.I. and Marine Corps competitions and trained Marine marksmen until his retirement as a colonel in 1970. He was the captain of the United States team at the world muzzleloading championships in Switzerland in 1994.

He still did not need glasses.

Mr. Walsh’s most famous case ended the Brady Gang’s cross-country crime spree:

On Oct. 12, 1937, Mr. Walsh was in the sporting goods store Dakin’s in Bangor, Me., posing as a gun sales clerk and waiting for Public Enemy No. 1, Alfred Brady, and two gunmen, James Dalhover and Clarence Lee Shaffer.

Wanted for four murders, 200 robberies and a prison breakout, they had been in the store days earlier and were returning for Thompson submachine guns. But a large force of federal agents and state and local police officers were waiting in ambush, hidden in cars, storefronts and offices across the street.

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The gang’s car drew up at 8:30 a.m. Dalhover got out and entered the store. He was immediately seized and disarmed by Mr. Walsh and taken to the back by other agents. Shaffer and Brady, sensing something was wrong, emerged with guns drawn.

Mr. Walsh, meanwhile, approached the store’s front with a .45 in his right hand and a .357 Magnum in his left. But as he reached the door he realized he was looking through the plate glass at Shaffer. The glass exploded as both men fired simultaneously.

Shaffer fell, mortally wounded, to the sidewalk. Mr. Walsh, although hit in the chest, shoulder and right hand, stepped outside firing his Magnum at Brady, who was cut down in a thundering fusillade from all sides as he shot back wildly. Witnesses said he was still moving as Mr. Walsh put another bullet in him.

As Weapons Man notes, that remarkable obituary is all the more remarkable for appearing in the New York Times.

It’s time for a change

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

There was another mass killing this weekend, and it’s time for a change:

I realized that we can’t just keep going on like this. Something has to be done, and we have to be willing to sacrifice some of our Constitutional rights to protect people. It’s time for a change. It’s time to accept responsibility. It’s time to put reasonable limits on the 1st Amendment and restrain the mass media that enables this killers to achieve the fame and notoriety they so desire.

The Founding Fathers couldn’t have possibly imagined a world where 24-hour news networks streamed coverage of these mass killers non-stop; they couldn’t have predicted that talking heads on cable news would repeat the names of vile murderers over and over again. They never would have imagined something like the internet, where future killers could research and see how much glorious, sweet attention previous murderers had gotten.

So America, I say it is time for a change. It’s time to restrict those dangerous freedoms that are placing innocent lives in jeopardy. The first and most important action should be for Congress to limit news coverage of mass killings to no more than 1 per day, per network. You don’t need more media coverage than that, right? After that, a joint effort with google would force anyone who googles mass killers and their names to pass an online background check before they’re allowed to see their search results.

I know it’s a small step, and some people will be inconvenienced. But if it only saves one life, it must be worth it.

The Perfect Crime

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

If you want to kill someone and get away with it, hit them with your car — at least in New York City:

Dubner: Okay, let me be clear. I don’t actually want to kill anyone. And I don’t endorse the idea of wanting to kill anyone. But if I did, and I were looking for a way to do it and get away with it, how would I do it? I’d wait ‘til they were outside, walking down the street, maybe crossing at the light … and then I’d run them over in my car. Now, I’d have to make sure that no one knew I was trying to run them over. But they’d be dead and I, especially in New York City, would in all likelihood go scot-free.

Smith: There’s the case that happened with the little boy on the Upper West Side, Cooper Stock. He and his dad were crossing the street. And a driver was making a turn, and he just ran over the little boy, didn’t see him.

Dubner: Lisa Smith is a former prosecutor in the Brooklyn D.A.’s office; now she’s an assistant professor of clinical law at Brooklyn Law School.

Smith: So right now all that is is a summons to the driver for failing to yield. But it does not rise to the level of any kind of manslaughter or homicide charge. There was a study that showed that between 2008 and 2012 there were something like almost 1,300 fatal crashes in New York, and there were like 66 drivers arrested.

Dubner: Now, you might think that a place like New York, with so many pedestrians, would have particularly tough laws against running them over. But you’d be wrong. As Lisa Smith told us, only about 5 percent of the drivers who kill a pedestrian in New York are arrested.

Smith: Our neighbors have different vehicular laws than we do. Both Massachusetts and Connecticut have vehicular manslaughter statutes that punish traffic fatalities or serious injury that occurs because of simple negligence. New Jersey doesn’t have the same statute as Massachusetts or Connecticut, but even they have vehicular manslaughter statutes that encompass more behavior than what New York has, which is absolutely nothing other than drunk driving. So around the country in Iowa, Louisiana, Georgia, Nevada, Kansas, California, all over the country there are states with vehicular statutes that punish a failure to yield as a traffic fatality, that punish the driver.

Dubner: Smith says that New York has some of the narrowest standards for conviction in the country. It’s called the “rule of two” — you need two significant violations of traffic laws in order to bring a charge, including some incredibly reckless or criminally negligent act. Otherwise, it’s just … an accident.

Some interesting facts:

According to NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, only about 25 percent of the time is a driver’s “failure to yield” the official cause of a pedestrian fatality. In another 27 percent, the cause is unknown or unreported. Okay, so what about the pedestrians? Seventeen percent of the fatalities are the result of a pedestrian being “in [the] roadway improperly (standing, lying, working, playing).” Another 16 percent occur when the pedestrian is “not visible.” Nearly 15 percent come from the pedestrian “darting or running into [the] road,” and another 13 percent come from “improper crossing of roadway or intersection.” Now, again, keep in mind that this is according to data that usually comes from police reports – which, as Charlie Zegeer warned us, is bound to overweight the perspective of the driver who lived as opposed to the pedestrian who died. That said, here’s one other number that might get your attention: of the pedestrians killed in fatal crashes in the United States, 37 percent had been drinking, with a blood-alcohol concentration of .08 or higher. If you look at pedestrian fatalities among 25- to 34-year-olds, the drunk-walking number rises to 50 percent.

Pedestrian traffic fatalities have dropped from 16,000 per year, in the 1930s, to 4,000 per year. At Bellevue Hospital, in New York City, 25 percent of all trauma patients are pedestrians struck by motor vehicles, and another 10 percent are bicyclists struck by motor vehicles.

The interviewed doctor concludes, “From our data, I think all pedestrians should be wearing helmets. But who would really want to wear a bike helmet when they’re walking, when they’re going out for a date?”

Teen Crews

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

Teen crews linked to 40 percent of NYC shootings:

There are more than 300 of them in New York — violent crews of dozens of 12- to 20-year-olds with names such as Very Crispy Gangsters, True Money Gang and Cash Bama Bullies.

Police say these groups, clustered around a particular block or housing project, are responsible for about 40 percent of the city’s shootings, with most of that violence stemming from the smallest of disses on the street, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

“It’s like belonging to an evil fraternity,” said Inspector Kevin Catalina, commander of the New York Police Department’s gang division. “A lot of it is driven by nothing: A dispute over a girl or a wrong look or a perceived slight.”

The trend of smaller, younger crews has also been seen in Chicago and Northeast cities over the last few years as police have cracked down on bigger, more traditional gangs, experts said. While the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings still exist, operating such money-making schemes as drug dealing, their members are usually older and understand the timeworn mantra of organized crime: violence is bad for business.

I love the way that the defining feature of these crews is that they’re teens. And these crews are totally different from gangs.

The Truth About Chicago’s Crime Rates

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

The truth about Chicago’s crime rates is that they’ve been manipulated — even the murder rates:

We identified 10 people, including Groves, who were beaten, burned, suffocated, or shot to death in 2013 and whose cases were reclassified as death investigations, downgraded to more minor crimes, or even closed as noncriminal incidents — all for illogical or, at best, unclear reasons.

[...]

Granted, a few dozen crimes constitute a tiny percentage of the more than 300,000 reported in Chicago last year. But sources describe a practice that has become widespread at the same time that top police brass have become fixated on demonstrating improvement in Chicago’s woeful crime statistics.

And has there ever been improvement. Aside from homicides, which soared in 2012, the drop in crime since Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy arrived in May 2011 is unprecedented—and, some of his detractors say, unbelievable. Crime hasn’t just fallen, it has freefallen: across the city and across all major categories.

Take “index crimes”: the eight violent and property crimes that virtually all U.S. cities supply to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its Uniform Crime Report. According to police figures, the number of these crimes plunged by 56 percent citywide from 2010 to 2013 — an average of nearly 19 percent per year — a reduction that borders on the miraculous. To put these numbers in perspective: From 1993, when index crimes peaked, to 2010, the last full year under McCarthy’s predecessor, Jody Weis, the average annual decline was less than 4 percent.

This dramatic crime reduction has been happening even as the department has been bleeding officers.

The examples are especially vivid.

Sam Harris on Violence

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

There are differences in temperament, Sam Harris has found, across which it may be impossible to communicate about the reality of human violence:

Thinking about violence is not everyone’s cup of tea. Again, I do not consider ignoring the whole business to be necessarily irrational (depending on where one lives, one’s degree of responsibility for the security of others, etc.) It is irrational, however, to imagine that such insouciance can pass for an informed opinion on how best to respond to violence in the event that it occurs. I have now heard from many people who have never held a gun in their lives, and are proud to say that they never would, but who appear entirely confident in declaiming upon the limitations of firearms as defensive weapons. Before proceeding, perhaps there is general rule of cognition we might all agree on: It would be surprising, indeed, if avoiding a topic as a matter of principle were the best way to understand it.

The choice to own a gun, he says, comes down to this:

If I hear a window break in the middle of the night, I want to be armed with more than my idealism.

Self-Defense and the Law

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

If you find yourself under attack, and you successfully protect yourself, what is the worst that can happen?

Steven Levine: The worst that can happen is that you go to prison for the rest of your life, especially if you kill somebody. In California, even if you have a valid self-defense claim, the DA’s office will typically still file charges on you. I recently had a client, a 50-year-old nurse, who was in her own home when her ex-boyfriend (for 26 years) came over. He’d moved out 7 months earlier. There was a small history of domestic violence. But in fact, he had recently assaulted their 22-year-old daughter by head-butting her. While they were discussing things downstairs in the living room, he picked up a sledgehammer. She grew worried, told him to leave, and retreated upstairs. He put down the hammer but followed her upstairs and told her he did not have to leave. Once upstairs, he was yelling at her. Finally, she grabbed her gun. She’s a cancer survivor. She’s had a double mastectomy. She’s half his size, and she told him to leave. He went for the gun, and she shot him. The bullet went through his rib cage and he died. She tried to save him by doing CPR.

The jury convicted her of murder despite the fact that she said that she was scared for her life. Again, the general principle is correct as far as the law is concerned: You can defend yourself as long as you’re scared of great bodily injury — and that’s not such a high standard. Great bodily injury could be pretty much anything. I was just at a preliminary hearing the other day where the complaining witness had been hit and received two bruises under the eye. This qualified as great bodily injury. But you have to realize there are standards that apply to the cops and to prosecutors, and there are standards that apply to ordinary defendants.

Most people do not succeed with self-defense claims in California, Levine says — but that’s not the whole story:

Rory Miller: In my experience, most of the people who claimed self-defense had been involved in a mutual fight and were rationalizing it as self-defense. One exception was a man who had shot two notorious dealers who broke into his home. When I got the story from him, he left out the part where he had robbed these guys at gunpoint a few hours earlier.

Some cases are unambiguous though:

Sam Harris: Steve, how do things change if a person is attempting to rob me? I haven’t been assaulted — but the other person is implicitly threatening me with the prospect of violence by saying that if I comply with his instructions, I won’t get hurt.

Steven Levine: If you’re being robbed, you can just kill the other person.

Sam Harris: Are you kidding?

Steven Levine: If you’re being robbed, you can take out your gun and shoot the person dead, and no one will prosecute you.

Sam Harris: There’s no requirement to drop your wallet and run, in the hopes of avoiding violence?

Steven Levine: None at all.

Sam Harris: Huh…

Steven Levine: The difference is, it’s clear: You are the victim of a crime. And people know that robberies often result in death.

Sam Harris: But are you assuming that the other person is armed?

Steven Levine: I don’t care if he’s just got his finger under his shirt.

Sam Harris: That is just… bizarre…. Let’s assume I can safely retreat, but I happen to be worried about other people in the area. Can I defend these people as I would myself?

Steven Levine: The defense of others is basically just an extension of your own right to self-defense, meaning that these people had better be in imminent danger of harm.

Sam Harris: So, I’m in a liquor store, and a man walks in and pulls out a gun and tells everyone to get down on the floor. As it happens, I’m standing near the door and can just run away. But I also have a gun — let’s leave aside the fact that we’re in California, and I shouldn’t have a gun on me in the first place. Can I legally shoot this person in the back of the head?

Steven Levine: Yes. Once somebody is engaged in felonious conduct, you can do whatever you do to stop him.

Sam Harris: I just find this astonishing — given the legal ambiguities that loom everywhere else. Threats of violence, or even an actual assault, seem open to endless caviling, but someone saying “Give me your wallet” magically clarifies everything and opens the door to lethal force.

[...]

Sam Harris: Steve, one final question: I know things get much clearer when we’re talking about home defense—leaving aside the case you mentioned at the beginning of the woman who shot her ex-boyfriend. If you confront a stranger in your home—a person who has no conceivable right to be there—the case for self-defense is much clearer, correct?

Steven Levine: Yes. If a stranger comes into your home, and you think he’s about to commit a felony against you, even if he is unarmed, you can shoot him.

Sam Harris: And that’s every bit as clear as it is for robbery?

Steven Levine: Yes, because it’s your home. Legally speaking, you don’t even have to warn the other person. I should say, however, that guns generally cause more problems than they’re worth. As an attorney, you don’t see that many good cases, and you see lots of bad ones. Kids get their hands on them, or criminals do. There are people who simply shouldn’t own guns. I’m speaking as a defense attorney who was a prosecutor for 13 years.

Sam Harris: No doubt. A person can talk about the Second Amendment all he wants, but keeping a gun in one’s home is a huge responsibility—which millions of people take far too lightly. And many people seem to believe that if you keep a gun for the purpose of home defense, there’s no way to store it safely and still have it available in an emergency. But the truth is that a gun stored in a combination safe or lockbox can be accessed nearly as quickly as one that is sitting unsecured in a drawer. We’re talking about a difference of less than a second. Anyone who buys a gun has a responsibility to get enough training to become truly competent with it. Otherwise, a person shouldn’t own a gun.

Uncle Leland

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Uncle Leland is quite a character:

Yee emigrated from China’s Guangdong province as a toddler, grew up in San Francisco and earned a doctorate in child psychology. His political career began in 1986, first on the San Francisco school board, then the city’s board of supervisors, the state Assembly and, in 2006, the Senate.

Over the years, he burnished an image of a good-government advocate, crusading for gun control, government transparency and campaign finance reform. In 2012, the California Clean Money Action Fund named him a Clean Money Champion. His penchant for biting, no-B.S. quotes made him a media darling. Less than a week before his arrest, the Society of Professional Journalists honored him for confronting the governor and his own party on behalf of open public records.

Yet Yee also had a reputation for pushing some ethical boundaries.

While on the school board, he was caught registering his children under a fake address so they could be enrolled in better public schools. On a Hawaii vacation, he was arrested for shoplifting suntan lotion. Twice, San Francisco police stopped him on suspicion of soliciting prostitutes in the city’s Mission District. In each case, he denied wrongdoing.

Gun Crimes Down, Public Unaware

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Firearm violence receives national attention, despite the fact that it has fallen by half from its peak two decades ago:

According to a new Pew Research Center survey, today 56% of Americans believe gun crime is higher than 20 years ago and only 12% think it is lower.

Crime Rates from 1993