Mass shootings are a bad way to understand gun violence

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

Mass shootings are a bad way to understand gun violence:

First, they’re rare, and the people doing the shooting are different. The majority of gun deaths in America aren’t even homicides, let alone caused by mass shootings. Two-thirds of the more than 33,000 gun deaths that take place in the U.S. every year are suicides.

And while people who commit suicide and people who commit mass shootings both tend to be white and male, suicide victims tend to be older. The median age of a mass shooter, according to one report, is 34, with very few over 50. Suicide, however, plagues the elderly as much as it does the middle-aged.

Second, the people killed in mass shootings are different from the majority of homicides. Most gun murder victims are men between the ages of 15 and 34. Sixty-six percent are black. Women — of any race and any age — are far less likely to be murdered by a gun. Unless that gun is part of a mass shooting. There, 50 percent of the people who die are women. And at least 54 percent of mass shootings involve domestic or family violence — with the perpetrator shooting a current or former partner or a relative.

The historical trends for different kinds of gun deaths don’t all follow the same course. While data suggests that the number of mass shootings similar to the Las Vegas event has gone up, particularly since 2000, homicide rates have fallen significantly from their 1980 peak and continued on a generally downward trajectory for most of the 21st century. Meanwhile, suicides are way up, with the biggest increases among women. The trends are different because the situations are different and the people are different. Maybe different solutions are warranted, as well.

Yet crime went up, not down

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

The history of academic criminology is one of grand pronouncements that don’t prove out in the real world:

In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, criminologists demanded that public policy attack the “root causes” of crime, such as poverty and racism. Without solving these problems, they argued, we could not expect to fight crime effectively. On this thinking, billions of taxpayer dollars poured into ambitious social programs — yet crime went up, not down. In the 1970s and 1980s and into the 1990s, as crime rates continued to spike, criminologists proceeded to tell us that the police could do little to cut crime, and that locking up the felons, drug dealers, and gang leaders who committed much of the nation’s criminal violence wouldn’t work, either.

These views were shown to be false, too, but they were held so pervasively across the profession that, when political scientist James Q. Wilson called for selective incapacitation of violent repeat offenders, he found himself ostracized by his peers, who resorted to ad hominem attacks on his character and motivations. Wilson’s work was ignored by awards committees, and criminological reviews of his books, especially Thinking About Crime and Crime and Human Nature, were almost universally negative.

[...]

Evidence of the liberal tilt in criminology is widespread. Surveys show a 30:1 ratio of liberals to conservatives within the field, a spread comparable with that in other social sciences. The largest group of criminologists self-identify as radical or “critical.” These designations include many leftist intellectual orientations, from radical feminism to Marxism to postmodernism. Themes of injustice, oppression, disparity, marginalization, economic and social justice, racial discrimination, and state-sanctioned violence dominate criminological teaching and scholarship, as represented in books with titles like Search and Destroy: African American Males in the Criminal Justice System, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse.

A quick perusal of Presidential Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Justice, bestowed by the American Society of Criminology (ASC), shows that the winners were primarily rewarded for their left-wing advocacy. They included a judge in Massachusetts who advocated abolishing the state’s death penalty, an FBI agent who successfully sued the organization for ethnic discrimination, and a former director of juvenile corrections in Massachusetts who closed the state’s juvenile reformatories and wrote a book alleging that the system hunted down black men for sport. The society also honored Zaki Baruti, a radical black activist in St. Louis known for his hatred of police and support for leftist causes.

[...]

Liberal criminologists avoid discussing the lifestyles that criminal offenders typically lead. Almost all serious offenders are men, and they usually come from families with long histories of criminal involvement, often spanning generations. They show temperamental differences early in life, begin offending in childhood or early adolescence, and rack up dozens of arrests. Their lives are chaotic and hedonistic, including the constant pursuit of drugs and sex. They produce many children with different women and rarely have the means — or inclination — to support them. Active offenders exploit others for their own benefit, including women, children, churches, and the social-welfare system. They commit many crimes before getting arrested, and they move in and out of the criminal-justice system for decades. Many also report enjoying acts of violence; the social-media accounts of martyred gangsters shot by police often illuminate this subculture. Perhaps not surprisingly, they see the police as another competing tribe that has to be manipulated, controlled, and sometimes confronted. In sum, the lives of persistent criminal offenders are often shockingly pathological. The nature of this world is hard to grasp without witnessing it firsthand.

[...]

When it comes to disciplinary biases, however, none is so strong or as corrupting as liberal views on race. Disproportionate black involvement in violent crime represents the elephant in the room amid the current controversy over policing in the United States. Homicide numbers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Supplementary Homicide Reports, 1976–2005 indicate that young African-American males account for homicide victims at levels that are ten to 20 times greater than their proportion of the population and account for homicide offenders at levels that are 15 to 35 times greater than their proportion of the population. The black-white gap in armed-robbery offending has historically ranged between ten to one and 15 to one. Even in forms of crime that are allegedly the province of white males — such as serial murder — blacks are overrepresented as offenders by a factor of two. For all racial groups, violent crime is strongly intraracial, and the intraracial dynamic is most pronounced among blacks. In more than 90 percent of cases, the killer of a black victim is a black perpetrator.

[...]

Reliable evidence tells us that the most effective strategies to reduce crime involve police focusing on crime hot spots, targeting active offenders for arrest, and helping to solve local problems surrounding disorder and incivility. Putting predatory, recidivistic offenders in jail or in prison remains the best way to protect the public — especially those who live in high-crime neighborhoods. Lower-level offenders can often be supervised in the community, and many benefit from programs that seek to modify drug and alcohol addictions that contribute to their criminal behavior. Despite our best efforts, though, most will re-offend and reenter the system at some point.

Arnold Kling notes that it was Robert Nozick who coined the term “normative sociology” as the study of what the causes of problems ought to be:

My fear about academic economics is that it will evolve in the direction of criminology. I foresee ever-increasing social pressure within the community of academic economists to undertake research that confirms left-wing biases.

Just 2 Seconds

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

Gavin de Becker’s Just 2 Seconds looks at assassinations — “attacks, near attacks, and incidents against at-risk persons all over the world from 1960-2007″ — and includes an appendix for bodyguards to provide their clients:

Just 2 Seconds Appendix 1.1

Just 2 Seconds Appendix 1.2

Just 2 Seconds Appendix 1.3

Just 2 Seconds Appendix 1.4

I may be screwing this person over

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

A recent Freakonomics podcast looks at civic-minded Harvard physician Richard Clarke Cabot’s long-running Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study, which matched troubled boys with mentors — versus a matched control group who received no mentoring:

They found a null effect. They found there were no differences between the treatment and control boys on offending.

When computers came on the scene and they could analyze the data in finer detail, they made an interesting discovery:

On all seven measures — we’re talking, how long did you live? Were you a criminal? Were you mentally healthy, physically healthy, alcoholic, satisfied with your job; satisfied with your marriage? On all seven measures, the treatment group did statistically, significantly worse off than the control group.

The lesson:

And that’s one of the important things people who are engaged in social interventions really don’t spend much time thinking, “I may be screwing this person over.” They are self-conscious about, “Maybe this won’t work, but I’ve got to try!”

Why has Italy been spared mass terror attacks in recent years?

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

Why has Italy been spared mass terror attacks in recent years?

Some experts say Italy has been able to combat the threat of Isis domestically by mastering legal and policing tools developed through years of experience in mafia investigations, which in turn were born out of the so-called “years of lead” — the period between the late 1960s and early 1980s marked by acts of political terrorism by left- and right-wing militants.

He fought the mafia and won. Now this mayor is taking on Europe over migrants

According to figures released by the Italian interior ministry, counter-terrorism authorities stopped and questioned 160,593 people between March 2016 to March 2017. They stopped and interrogated about 34,000 at airports and arrested about 550 suspected terrorists, and 38 have been sentenced on terrorism charges. More than 500 websites have been shut down and nearly half a million have been monitored.

Giampiero Massolo, who served as the director of Italian intelligence from 2012 to 2016, said there was not a particular “Italian way” to combat terrorism.

“We learned a very harsh lesson during our terrorism years,” he said. “From that we drew the experience of how important it is to maintain a constant dialogue at the operating level between intelligence and law enforcement forces. In fact, prevention is key to try to be effective in counter-terrorism.”

He added: “Another feature is to have a good control of the territory. From this point of view, the absence of [French] banlieues-like spots in Italian major cities, and …[the predominance] of small and medium towns makes it easier to monitor the situation.”

There are also more specific practices. Arturo Varvelli, a senior research fellow and terrorism expert at the thinktank Ispi, said the lack of second- and third-generation Italians who might be susceptible to Isis propaganda meant authorities instead focused on non-citizens, who could be deported at the first signs of concern. Since January, 135 individuals had been expelled, he said.

Italian authorities also rely on intercepted phone calls, which unlike the UK can be used in evidence in court and — in cases related to mafia and terrorism — can be obtained on the basis of suspicious activity and not solid evidence.

Much like the fight against Italian organised crime — the Camorra around Naples, the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, and the ’Ndràngheta in the south — infiltrating and disrupting terror networks requires breaking close social and even family relationships.

People suspected of being jihadis are encouraged to break ranks and cooperate with Italian authorities, who use residency permits and other incentives, Galli said. There has been a recognition, too, of the dangers of keeping terror suspects in jail where, much like mafia bosses before them, prison is seen as a prime territory for recruiting and networking.

“I think we have developed experience in how to deal with a criminal network. We have lots of undercover agents who do a great job of intercepting communication,” she said.

While Italians authorities are seen as having broad powers, police do not have special powers to detain terror suspects without charge. Terror suspects may be held for up to four days without charge, just like any other suspect. However, Italy has been criticised by the European court of human rights for holding defendants too long once they have been charged and are awaiting trial.

Galli said there was no groundswell of concern about whether Italy’s tactics violated civil liberties. The broad use of surveillance — including intercepted communication — is seen as sufficiently targeted to terror and mafia suspects, unlike public criticism in Italy of sweeping data collection methods used in the US and UK.

Outer appearance simply can’t imply anything about inner character

Monday, June 26th, 2017

Blaise Aguera y Arcas leads Google’s Machine Intelligence group in Seattle, and he has written a remarkably unscientific piece decrying physiognomy’s new clothes:

The practice of using people’s outer appearance to infer inner character is called physiognomy. While today it is understood to be pseudoscience, the folk belief that there are inferior “types” of people, identifiable by their facial features and body measurements, has at various times been codified into country-wide law, providing a basis to acquire land, block immigration, justify slavery, and permit genocide. When put into practice, the pseudoscience of physiognomy becomes the pseudoscience of scientific racism.

Rapid developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning have enabled scientific racism to enter a new era, in which machine-learned models embed biases present in the human behavior used for model development. Whether intentional or not, this “laundering” of human prejudice through computer algorithms can make those biases appear to be justified objectively.

Outer appearance simply can’t imply anything about inner character. That would be wrong.

He goes on to cite a Chinese study that sounds (literally) incredible, but the case that machine-learning is being used to “launder” human biases is rather weak.

Wu and Zhang’s criminal images (top) and non-criminal images (bottom)

He has fangs and the capacity for violence

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Josh Eells has written a rather unflattering piece on Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, the “Killologist” training America’s cops, for Men’s Journal:

After his talk, Grossman and I went for dinner at a nearby sports bar, where he told me about his life. He lives with his wife, Jeanne — his high school sweetheart — and their two dogs in a small town outside St. Louis, Missouri (as it happens, 45 minutes from Ferguson). He spends almost 300 days a year on the road, usually coming home one night a week for what he jokingly calls “a conjugal visit and clean underwear” before heading out again. His oldest son, Jon, runs a family-owned gunsmithing company; his youngest, Joe, helps manage the speaking business. His middle son, Eric, is an Air Force combat controller with nine combat tours and three Bronze Stars.

[...]

It was at Arkansas State that Grossman published On Killing, in 1995, to much acclaim. The Washington Post called it “an illuminating account of how soldiers learn to kill and how they live with the experience of having killed”; the New York Times called it “powerfully argued” and “full of arresting observations and insights.” The book even made fans in Hollywood: While promoting his World War II movie Fury a few years back, Brad Pitt told an interviewer, “If you want to better understand the accumulative psychic trauma incurred by our soldiers, read On Killing by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman.”

Though Grossman calls himself a behavioral scientist, he is not a researcher in the traditional academic sense. He wrote On Combat, a study on how soldiers and police officers cope with the stress associated with deadly conflict, using what he calls an “interactive feedback loop” — gathering stories from combat veterans, then presenting the information to people he trains. He’s more of a Malcolm Gladwell type, compiling anecdotes and fashioning them into a digestible narrative. As his chief qualifications, Grossman cites the “body of information I’ve crafted over the years” and his ability to “speak from the heart.” “I truly am one of the best people on the planet in a couple of areas,” he told me. “Whether it’s preparation for a life-or-death event or walking the sheepdog path, I really feel like I’m the preeminent authority.”

[...]

In his famous sheepdog essay, Grossman talked about how sheepdogs can sometimes accidentally scare the sheep. The sheepdog “looks a lot like the wolf,” he wrote. “He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot, and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed.”

Riot police embrace bicycles

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

American protest is changing in the digital age, and in response riot police have enthusiastically embraced a surprisingly low-tech mobility solution, the bicycle:

It was here in Seattle back in 1999 that Dyment himself first pressed bicycles into use for “crowd management”, when 50,000 people showed up to protest at a meeting of the World Trade Organisation. Their numbers overwhelmed the city’s mid-size police department – but this was also a more sophisticated group of protesters than Seattle had ever seen. They were highly mobile, and they used new technologies to coordinate their actions.

“They had great command and control,” says Dyment. “They used blogs and Nextels [a cellular phone with a “push to talk” function like a walkie-talkie]. Out of necessity, we used the bikes.”

[...]

“It allows you to be mobile as a group,” says Dyment. “Bikes also allow you to have constant presence with the group.”

This mobility is useful both in ordinary patrol and in first responder situations. In June 2014, when a shooter opened fire at Seattle Pacific University, “bike officers were one of the first ones there. They were the only ones who could make it through the downtown traffic.”

The bikes also turned out to be a highly effective – and cheap – tool for crowd control, allowing relatively few officers to form a relatively long line. “They provide a natural barrier,” Dyment says. “The European model is more on foot. The London Met or the NYPD can just throw resources at situations like that. For mid-majors like Seattle, this is a way of controlling large crowds with minimal resources.” (Historically, horses have played an analogous role, Vitale notes.)

A 2002 article written by the late Mike Goetz, a Seattle bike squad officer, describes manoeuvres including “the crossbow” and “the barrier technique”.

In the first, “the bike squad forms a double column behind the line, far enough behind so they can get a little speed up,” Goetz wrote. “On command, the line makes a gap in the center and the bikes ride through this gap.” In the second, officers focus on “lining the bikes, front wheel to rear wheel, across the area to be blocked or protected”.

Dyment also believes bike squads strike a less confrontational pose than massed platoons of officers in riot gear.

Seattle Bike Squad

There is certainly a Robocop feel to the outfits Seattle’s bike squad wear: despite the polo shirts and (optional) shorts, the officers wear Bell Super 3R helmets and body armour. Nor are the bikes themselves your casual BMX. They have a custom-built hardtail mountain bike frame from Volcanic, a company in Bellingham, Washington that specialises in catering to law enforcement.

The main weapon against rudeness

Friday, June 16th, 2017

Muscovites don’t always follow traffic and parking laws, but a polite request from the BodyMania guys can be very convincing:

Stigma-free consequences

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Kay Hymowitz hasn’t visited Cheltenham High, in the prosperous Montgomery County suburbs of Philadelphia, since she graduated “in the faraway American Graffiti era,” but a recent brawl there went viral and raised the issue of unsayable truths about the failing high school:

Students described rape threats, stalking, kids sent back to classrooms after menacing teachers or classmates, teachers walking past fighting kids, security guards looking the other way. The problems, students insisted, weren’t limited to the high school; they remembered thuggery in middle and even elementary school, too.

There was no way to chalk up these complaints to adolescent theatrics. A February survey of CHS teachers had already revealed a school that resembled Lord of the Flies. Cursing, yelling students roamed the halls, pushing, shoving, ramming each other into walls, sometimes “accidentally” colliding with teachers. Thirty-six out of 79 teachers surveyed believed that they were unsafe in the hallways, and those who didn’t acknowledged either being big enough to stare down students or practiced at minding their own business. “What are you going to do about it? You can’t do anything,” “Fuck off, crazy old motherfucker,” were some of the choice rejoinders they told of hearing. “If I feel uncomfortable by the language and noise level a student displays,” one teacher wrote, “I can 1) address it and open myself up to insubordination and/or a verbal retaliation for which no consequences will be delivered or I can 2) choose to ignore it which I struggle with ethically because then I feel complicit. It’s a complete ‘no-win,’ and I battle this every day.”

What could not be said out loud was that the problem kids were all black, though the district superintendent did delicately indicate that the school’s trouble is “racialized.” Like many inner suburbs, once predominantly white Cheltenham has become increasingly African-American over the past decades. Back in the day, only about 10 percent of the high school population was black; Reggie Jackson, who graduated two years before me, remains the school’s most famous alum. The large majority of my classmates were the sons and daughters of second-generation Jews who had followed the immigrant dream into Philly’s northern suburbs in the postwar years. (Yoni “Jonathan” Netanyahu, who would die in the 1976 Entebbe raid, graduated the same year as Reggie; his brother Bibi picked up his diploma three years later. Their unflattering view of their coddled American baby boomer classmates is the subject of this blunt 2015 Washington Post article.)

Today, the district is 53 percent black, though the demographics defy easy generalization. Most of those students are the children of a growing black middle class that had moved to Cheltenham for the same reason postwar Jewish families had: its relatively affordable, attractive homes and its highly regarded schools, the holy grail of American house-hunting parents of all races. A number of black parents at the meeting spoke poignantly of the hopes that had brought them to the district. “I moved heaven and earth to make sure my child had a chance,” one voluble mother of a 12-year-old pleaded. “I could have lived in a wonderful house in Philly. No way I’m sending my girl to those schools. I’d rather live in a box and let my kid get a good education.”

Some of Cheltenham’s arrivals are spillovers from nearby North Philadelphia, the city’s immense and long-suffering black ghetto. They have moved into aging apartment complexes on the district’s border, bringing with them the old neighborhood’s broken culture. Forty-five percent of the black children in Cheltenham are born to unmarried mothers; it’s jolting to realize that “illegitimacy,” as it was once called, was almost unheard of at the time my peers were piling into school bleachers to cheer Reggie Jackson. Poverty rates for these kids are well below the national average, but almost 30 percent of single-parent households in Cheltenham are nevertheless in the ranks of the poor or near-poor.

If those households are like the struggling single-parent homes studied by social scientists, then the children are experiencing radically different domestic lives than their middle-class black and white classmates—with few routines, disappearing fathers and stepfathers, and little adult interest in homework, teachers, and discipline. Researchers have repeatedly found that boys growing up in single-mother households are especially prone to “externalizing” behavior like fighting, impulsiveness, rudeness—in other words, precisely the sort of behavior that the community meeting was demanding the administration do something about.

This class and family divide, intertwined as it is with race, is off-limits to polite discussion, leading conversations like the one at the community meeting into a verbal traffic jam of contradictions and dodges. The student council president shed tears over the mayhem in one breath and in the next demanded an end to the black-white achievement gap and adoption of “data-driven solutions” like “restorative justice.” (Unsurprisingly, this popular education fad has yet to be subject to careful study.) The audience retreated to the familiar litany of policy fixes with a long history of uneven or meager results: more black teachers! More counselors! More mentors!

One solution is alternative schools, which would place the small number of students making education impossible for the majority into schools explicitly designed for kids unable to function in ordinary education environments. The February teacher survey showed that the vast majority of instructors supported the approach; several black parents also endorsed it at the meeting. (A white father reviled the idea as stigmatizing.) For three hours, parents and students demanded that the administration impose clear “consequences” for fighting and rudeness. The administrators have their self-contradicting marching orders: stigma-free consequences.

Murders in the US are extremely concentrated

Friday, May 12th, 2017

The United States can be divided up into three kinds of places: places where there are no murders, places where there are a few murders, and places where there are lots of murders:

In 2014, the most recent year that a county level breakdown is available, 54% of counties (with 11% of the population) have no murders. 69% of counties have no more than one murder, and about 20% of the population. These counties account for only 4% of all murders in the country.

The worst 1% of counties have 19% of the population and 37% of the murders. The worst 5% of counties contain 47% of the population and account for 68% of murders. As shown in figure 2, over half of murders occurred in only 2% of counties.

Murder-Map-of-US-Counties

Crime control is not actually a mystery

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

Crime control is not actually a mystery, Devin Helton notes:

In the long run, men follow incentives. That is not to say we calculate benefits and potential punishment before every action. But over time we build up intuition and a general sense of what we can get away with, what results in social sanction, what results in criminal sanction, what gets status among friends, and what results in success or failure with women.

When we compare the high crime and low crime poor communities, we see large differences in the incentives:

In low crime areas, disobedience at school results in harsh punishment — often corporal punishment.

In high crime areas, disobedience is either unpunished, or punished by suspension, which is hardly punishment to a kid who does not want to be in school anyways.

In low crime areas, the police are quick to crack down on even petty crime. If a gang is known to be harassing a certain area, they are not afraid to apply the billy clubs as needed until the gang is no longer a problem.

In high crime areas, the police ignore drug dealing for months at a time. Murders go unsolved. Police only enter areas when called in, if even then.

In low crime areas, men who lack motivation to work go hungry or enter a workhouse where they are isolated from their buddies and women.

In high crime areas, men who lack a commitment to work earn a living from side hustles, welfare, and living off of mom’s and girlfriends. They still get access to their friends and to sex.

In low crime areas, women are kept under the care of their parents until they are married off to a stable man. If a woman gets pregant out of wedlock and needs aid, she too would have to go the work house where she would be under curfew and discipline.

In high crime areas, women get pregant before locking in a husband, and have to raise their child alone. A rotating array of boyfriends often abuse the children, setting off a cycle of violence. (Non-father males in all human societies, and indeed, all primate societies, are often the most dangerous child abusers, as they have no genetic investment to the children).

In low crime areas, anti-social people are ostracised from the community. They lose access to friends, credit, and are shamed. Without a job, they must enter the workhouse, or they are in jail for their crimes.

In high crime areas, predators live in public housing for years, committing all sorts of crime, with no repurcussion.

(Note: I’m not advocating a return to Victorian era workhouses. I’m simply noting the obvious that if you want people to work a market job, then the “not-working” option has to be worse than the market job option. In the modern era, when we are much wealthier, there are many ways of doing this that wouldn’t entail the horrors of Dickensian workhouses.)

Does inequality cause crime?

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

It is often argued that inequality or poverty causes crime, Devin Helton notes, and that only by addressing these “root causes” can we reduce crime:

But as we know from Statistics 101, correlation does not prove causation. There are numerous variables that differ between countries or states that can have a correlated impact on inequality and crime: governance, ethnicity, culture, institutions, traditions, etc.

To avoid these confounders, another way to test the link between inequality and crime is to examine the treatment effect. If public policy choices increase inequality, does crime go up? If public policy choices decrease inequality, does crime go down?

From 1910 until the late 1970s, both England and America undertook concerted programs to reduce inequality. Both introduced progressive income taxes. Both changed laws to support unionization. And then in the 1980s both countries reversed course. Britain elected Thatcher, the U.S. elected Reagan. They lowered tax rates, made life more difficult for unions, and promoted business. Inequality rose in both countries for the next few decades.

I hope you see where this is going:

Turns out that inequality reduces crime, and equality increases crime. For every 10% decline in inequality according GINI coefficient, homicide nearly doubles! That is a very strong correlation. (You can download my spreadsheet here).

Does he actually believe this?

No. My results above are due to tricks and confounding factors.

[...]

In total, the statisical analysis above does not prove causation. But — all those studies using correlations to show the opposite, that inequality causes crime, are also bogus. They are also cherry-picked, confounded, and intellectually dishonest. With so many interlocking causal factors, anyone who calculates a correlation with regards to inequality and crime and tells you this proves X causes Y is either appallingly stupid or utterly mendacious.

Read the whole thing.

No cop had to deal with the trauma of killing him

Monday, May 1st, 2017

Reason looks at alternatives to deadly police force:

The man in the Camden, New Jersey, police video is practically begging to be shot. After using a knife to menace a cashier and a customer in a fast-food restaurant, he strides down a street slashing at the air as police repeatedly order him to drop his weapon. The man keeps walking, defiantly waving the knife.

Several cops form a ring around him and move along at a safe distance, block after block. This goes on for several tense minutes, as the viewer waits for shots to ring out. But they never do. Eventually, the man drops the knife and is collared.

It’s a reasonably happy outcome. Had the 2015 incident occurred a year earlier, before the department adopted new tactics, “we would more than likely have deployed deadly force and moved on,” Chief J. Scott Thomson told The New York Times. Instead, the offender survived, and no cop had to deal with the trauma of killing him.

If you can deploy multiple cops, and no one is in immediate danger, I suppose that works out — but I do have to wonder if someone who menaces random folks with a knife is going to “get better” with a little time away.

Berkeley criminologist Franklin Zimring takes the expected point of view in his book When Police Kill:

Police in America face a far higher risk of being killed on duty than police in Europe — because criminals here are far likelier to have guns. That difference accounts for the far higher rate of fatal shootings of police and by police in this country.

The risk an officer faces of being killed with a knife, by contrast, is the same on both sides of the Atlantic. In a typical year, the number of cops killed with knives in the United States matches the number killed in England and Wales: zero. Criminals kill more police with their hands and feet than with knives.

But people armed with nothing but knives get killed by cops all the time in the United States—as many as 165 times per year, or more than three per week. In England and Wales—where cutting instruments are no less available to criminals than they are here—there were only three fatal shootings of any kind by police from 2011 to 2015.

So, people armed with “nothing but knives” get killed by cops all the time in the United States, and the number of cops killed with knives in the United States is zero. Hmm…

A more comprehensive and devious approach

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

An enterprising group of hackers targeted a Brazilian bank with a more comprehensive and devious approach than usual:

At 1 pm on October 22 of last year, the researchers say, hackers changed the Domain Name System registrations of all 36 of the bank’s online properties, commandeering the bank’s desktop and mobile website domains to take users to phishing sites. In practice, that meant the hackers could steal login credentials at sites hosted at the bank’s legitimate web addresses. Kaspersky researchers believe the hackers may have even simultaneously redirected all transactions at ATMs or point-of-sale systems to their own servers, collecting the credit card details of anyone who used their card that Saturday afternoon.

“Absolutely all of the bank’s online operations were under the attackers’ control for five to six hours,” says Dmitry Bestuzhev, one of the Kaspersky researchers who analyzed the attack in real time after seeing malware infecting customers from what appeared to be the bank’s fully valid domain. From the hackers’ point of view, as Bestuzhev puts it, the DNS attack meant that “you become the bank. Everything belongs to you now.”