Psychopathic violent offenders’ brains can’t understand punishment

Friday, April 24th, 2015

Psychopathic offenders are different from regular criminals in many ways:

“Regular criminals are hyper-responsive to threat, quick-tempered and aggressive, while psychopaths have a very low response to threats, are cold, and their [aggression] is premeditated,” added Dr. Nigel Blackwood, who is affiliated with King’s College London. “Evidence is now accumulating to show that both types of offenders present abnormal, but distinctive, brain development from a young age.”

[...]

While inside the brain scanner, the violent offenders and non-offenders completed a task that assessed their ability to adjust their behaviour when the consequences of their responses changed from positive to negative. The task was an image matching game — sometimes points were awarded for correctly pairing images, sometimes they weren’t. “When these violent offenders completed neuropsychological tasks, they failed to learn from punishment cues, to change their behaviour in the face of changing contingencies, and made poorer quality decisions despite longer periods of deliberation,” Blackwood explained.

The researchers also examined activity across the brain during the completion of the task. “We found that the violent offenders with psychopathy, as compared to both the violent offenders without psychopathy and the non-offenders, displayed abnormal responding to punishment within the posterior cingulate and insula when a previously rewarded response was punished. Our previous research had shown abnormalities in the white matter tract connecting these two regions. In contrast, the violent offenders without psychopathy showed brain functioning similar to that of the non-offenders,” Blackwood explained. “These results suggest the violent offenders with psychopathy are characterized by a distinctive organization of the brain network that is used to learn from punishment and from rewards.”

Deciding on what to do involves generating a list of possible actions, weighing the negative and positive consequences of each, and hopefully choosing the behaviour most likely to lead to a positive outcome. “Offenders with psychopathy may only consider the possible positive consequences and fail to take account of the likely negative consequences. Consequently, their behavior often leads to punishment rather than reward as they had expected,” Hodgins said. “Punishment signals the necessity to change behaviour. Clearly, in certain situations, offenders have difficulty learning from punishment to change their behaviour.”

(Hat tip to Peter Turchin.)

Marijuana Taxes

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

Colorado’s marijuana tax collections are not as high as expected:

In February 2014, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office projected Colorado would take in $118 million in taxes on recreational marijuana in its first full year after legalization. With seven months of revenue data in, his office has cut that projection and believes it will collect just $69 million through the end of the fiscal year in June, a miss of 42 percent.

That figure is consequential in two ways. First, it’s a wide miss. Second, compared with Colorado’s all-funds budget of $27 billion, neither $69 million nor $118 million is a large number.

There are lessons for other states:

Because of low public support for marijuana prohibition, many jurisdictions have intentionally lax enforcement around illegal marijuana markets. This often shows up as a wink-wink culture around medical access. (See, for example, “Medical Kush Doctor” signs that once adorned storefronts in Venice, Calif.) After legalization, that culture of lax enforcement can be a barrier to tax collection.

Another lesson is that marijuana taxes should be “specific excise” taxes per unit of intoxicant. In most states, cigarettes are taxed by the pack and alcohol by the liter. Marijuana could similarly be taxed by the gram (either of plant or of T.H.C.), which would protect states from revenue declines if pretax prices fall.

Taxes on intoxicants are meant to offset the negative social effects of intoxicant use; the size of those effects should not be expected to vary with market price.

But even if Colorado got all this right, improved revenues would not be among the most important effects that marijuana legalization has on the state.

“Tax revenue is nice to have, but in most states is not going to be enough to change the budget picture significantly,” Mr. Kleiman says. “The stakes in reducing criminal activity and incarceration and protecting public health are way higher than the stakes in generating revenue.”

The Mind of Those Who Kill, and Kill Themselves

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

Erica Goode looks into the mind of those who kill, and kill themselves, and writes — without irony, in the New York Times — that such killers seek fame, glory, or attention:

Before Adam Lanza, 20, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter, killed 20 children, six adults and himself in 2012, he wrote in an online forum, “Just look at how many fans you can find for all different types of mass murderers.”

Robert Hawkins, 19, who committed suicide after killing eight people at a shopping mall in Omaha in 2007, left a note saying “I’m gonna be famous,” punctuating the sentence with an expletive.

And Dylan Klebold, 17, of Columbine High School fame, bragged that the goal was to cause “the most deaths in U.S. history…we’re hoping. We’re hoping.”

“Directors will be fighting over this story,” Mr. Klebold said in a video made before the massacre.

Yes, let’s repeat their stories in the most important newspaper in the country, maybe the world.

The standard comic-book supervillain motivation — “a towering narcissism, a strong sense of grievance and a desire for infamy” — seems to describe these killers surprisingly well:

Serious mental illness, studies of mass killers suggest, is a prime driver in a minority of cases — about 20 percent, according to estimates by several experts. Far more common are distortions of personality — excesses of rage, paranoia, grandiosity, thirst for vengeance or pathological narcissism and callousness.

“The typical personality attribute in mass murderers is one of paranoid traits plus massive disgruntlement,” said Dr. Michael Stone, a forensic psychiatrist in New York who recently completed a study of 228 mass killers, many of whom also killed themselves.

“They want to die, but to bring many others down with them, whether co-workers, bosses, family members or just plain folk who are in the vicinity.”

Murder-suicides are rare — maybe 1,000 to 1,500 deaths per year — and murder-suicides involving strangers are rarer still — and different in character:

In domestic cases, depression does appear to play a significant role. A recent psychological autopsy study of murder-suicides in Dallas, most of which involved domestic violence, found that 17 of the 18 perpetrators met the diagnostic criteria for major depression or some other form of the illness.

The study, conducted by Dr. Knoll and Dr. Susan Hatters Friedman, a forensic psychiatrist at Case Western, found that a majority of the killers also abused alcohol or drugs. Four had a family history of suicide. The study has been submitted to a scientific journal.

Domestic murder-suicides are almost always impulsive — committed in fits of rage or jealousy, often enabled by the presence of a firearm. In contrast, killers who take groups of strangers as targets plan their crimes carefully, waiting for an opportunity to act.

Continue reading the main story
And while domestic murder-suicides are frequently fueled by alcohol, people who plan ahead to kill themselves and others seem concerned about keeping a clear mind for the task ahead.

Stopping Crimes Before They Start

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

“Would-be criminals tend to rethink their nefarious plans when there’s an airship hovering overhead”:

Gotham Police Airships

They aren’t talking about Gotham, but Los Angeles, and they’re not talking about actual airships, but helicopters — and they’re not really talking about stopping crimes before they start in some kind of precog sense, either, just patrolling hotspots:

The Los Angeles Police Department began exploring the deterrent approach a few years ago with a new model called predictive policing that deployed officers and patrol cars to areas where data suggested crime was more likely to occur.

Criminologists say the use of helicopters is a natural, if highly unusual, expansion of that policing strategy.

So far, LAPD officials say, the stats show the strategy is having a positive effect. Months of data show that the number of serious crimes reported in the LAPD’s Newton Division in South L.A. fell during weeks when the helicopters conducted more flights.

The Dark Science of Interrogation

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

Five years ago, President Obama created the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which has funded studies into the dark science of interrogation:

Not too long ago, as part of a test designed by psychologist Melissa Russano, a young woman in a tank top sat at a table with a look of growing apprehension, hunched protectively over her handbag. A student, she had just taken an exam, and a test administrator was accusing her of cheating: Her answers, he said, matched up with those of another student. The administrator said he had just called the professor running the study and reported that he was not at all happy. “He may consider this cheating, I don’t know,” the man said, with sympathy. “I’m sure you didn’t know it would be such a big problem to be sharing. I probably would have done the same thing if I were in your shoes…. It would ease my professor up if you were seen to be cooperating.” He slid a piece of paper toward her with a confession written on it.

“I don’t think I should sign it. I didn’t do anything,” said the student. Shaking her head, her face pursed in disgust, she signed. As it turned out, she was innocent.

A decade ago, Russano, a professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, set out to design a study that would replicate the social and emotional dynamics of a real interrogation in the lab, where conditions could be controlled. And where, unlike in the messy world of actual cases, the truthfulness of confessions could be easily evaluated. Her study had subjects take a cognitive ability test in a room with another student. Half the time the second student, who was actually working for Russano, would ask for help. The test subjects knew it was against the rules, but most would willingly share their answers. Later, after the test administrator had ostensibly looked over some of the results, he would come back, say there was a potential issue, and leave the subject to stew alone in a room for five minutes. Then some version of the interaction above, taken from a video of one subject, would unfold.

Russano was interested in testing what have long been the twin poles of interrogation styles: “minimization” and “maximization.” They’re forms of coercion that correspond, roughly, to “good cop, bad cop.” Minimization plays down the significance of the crime and offers potential excuses for it — “you just meant to scare her” or “anyone in your situation would have done the same thing.” Maximization plays it up, confrontationally presenting incriminating evidence and refusing to allow any response except a confession. The two are the most widely used tools in the American police interrogator toolkit. The Army Field Manual, which governs all military interrogations, lists approved maximization methods such as “Emotional Fear-Up” and “Emotional-Pride and Ego-Down.”

[...]

“Guilty people are more likely to confess” when minimization and maximization are used, she says. “The problem is, so are innocent people.” Minimization alone nearly doubled the number of cheaters who confessed in her studies. But it tripled the number of noncheaters who falsely confessed. The videos of those false confessions make for fascinating viewing. Some are angry, some resigned. One young woman keeps her composure until the test administrator leaves the room with her signed confession, then dissolves into tears.

[...]

Russano is still running versions of that first interrogation study, changing the script to see how it affects the outcome. In one iteration, she explored whether minimization could be purged of the implicit offer of leniency. She had her interrogators be sympathetic, even flattering — saying things such as, “I am sure you are a good person, and no one wants to be accused of cheating or breaking the rules” — but without playing down the seriousness of the offense or its potential punishment. They got just as many true confessions that way, but far fewer false ones.

Research has also found that the biggest difference between professional and amateur lie detectors is that professionals are much more confident in their abilities — despite the fact that they’re no better at it.

The End of South Africa

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Things are very bad in South Africa:

When the scourge of apartheid was finally smashed to pieces in 1994, the country seemed to have a bright future ahead of it. Eight years later, in 2002, 60 percent of South Africans said life had been better under apartheid. Hard to believe — but that’s how bad things were in 2002. And now they’re even worse.

When apartheid ended, the life expectancy in South Africa was 64 — the same as in Turkey and Russia. Now it’s 56, the same as in Somalia. There are 132.4 rapes per 100,000 people per year, which is by far the highest in the world: Botswana is in second with 93, Sweden in third with 64; no other country exceeds 32.

Wait, Sweden?

The Swedish police recorded the highest number of offences – about 63 per 100,000 inhabitants – of any force in Europe, in 2010. The second-highest in the world.

This was three times higher than the number of cases in the same year in Sweden’s next-door neighbour, Norway, and twice the rate in the United States and the UK. It was more than 30 times the number in India, which recorded about two offences per 100,000 people.

On the face of it, it would seem Sweden is a much more dangerous place than these other countries.

But that is a misconception, according to Klara Selin, a sociologist at the National Council for Crime Prevention in Stockholm. She says you cannot compare countries’ records, because police procedures and legal definitions vary widely.

There are other factors, too.

Anyway, back to South Africa:

Before the end of apartheid, South African writer Ilana Mercer moved, with her family, to Israel; her father was a vocal opponent of apartheid, and was being harassed by South African security forces. A 2013 piece on World Net Daily quotes Mercer as saying, with all her anti-apartheid chops, that “more people are murdered in one week under African rule than died under detention of the Afrikaner government over the course of roughly four decades.” The South African government estimates that there are 31 murders per 100,000 people per year. Or about 50 a day. That would make South Africa the tenth most murderous country in the world, outpacing Rwanda, Mexico, and both Sudans. And that’s using South Africa’s official estimates — outside groups put the murder rate 100 percent higher. Choosing not to trust the South African authorities is a safe bet — South Africa’s government, which has been led by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress since the end of apartheid, is outstandingly incompetent and corrupt.

Of course, de facto one-party rule doesn’t promote integrity. Unemployment is 25 percent, but President Jacob Zuma, of the ANC, recently spent $24 million of public money to add a pool and amphitheater to his private home. Not long after the story broke, he was elected to a second five-year term. Think-tank theorist Leon Louw, who helped defeat apartheid, calls the crime and corruption “a simple manifestation of the breakdown of the state. The government is just appallingly bad at everything it does: education, healthcare, infrastructure, security, everything that is a government function is in shambles.”

He adds — citing “anecdotal data” — that “most people don’t bother to report crimes.”

It appears that South Africa is about the most dangerous place you can be outside a war zone. What’s more worrying is the chance that it might become a war zone. Nelson Mandela was able to hold the “rainbow nation” together, but he’s passed on. Now, according to the human-rights organization Genocide Watch, South Africa is at pre-genocide stage 6 of 8: “Preparation.”

Genocide? Of which tribe?

With the country skidding toward anarchy, naturally, the people want to know whom they should blame. In 2010, a prominent member of the African National Congress named Julius Malema revived an old anti-apartheid song whose lyrics — says Genocide Watch — call for genocide: “Shoot the Boer, shoot, shoot.” “Boer” means “farmer” in Afrikaans; colloquially, it means “white South African.” Malema was ejected from the ANC and convicted of hate speech; he has since formed a new opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, which is currently the third largest party in parliament. Seven months after Malema’s conviction, President Zuma sang the genocide song himself, leading a crowd in a musical chant: “We are going to shoot them with machine guns, they are going to run… The cabinet will shoot them, with the machine gun… Shoot the Boer, we are going to hit them, they are going to run.” Watch the video on YouTube — it is surreal. Nelson Mandela’s successor, the president of South Africa, addresses a crowd of — according to the Guardian — tens of thousands, in a giant stadium, and calls for the murder of what amounts to about 10 percent of his constituents. Among the audience, uniformed members of the military dance.

According to Genocide Watch, the murder rate among South African white farmers is four times higher than among South Africans en masse. That rate increased every month after President Zuma sang his song, for as long as accurate records are available: The police have been ordered to stop reporting murders by race. The police have also disarmed and disbanded groups of farmer-minutemen, organized to provide mutual security. Consequently, says Genocide Watch, “their families” have been “subjected to murder, rape, mutilation and torture.” Meanwhile, “high-ranking ANC government officials… continuously refer to Whites as ‘settlers.’”

Josh Gelernter recommends that the settlers form their own Singapore-style city-state.

Bushwick, Brooklyn 2015

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Bushwick, Brooklyn has changed over the years:

Charlie Hebdo Simulation

Friday, January 16th, 2015

What happens when you run an office-shooting simulation, with two tactical trainers, armed with ARs, as the shooters, and random volunteers as the victims? Watch the (NSFW) video:

In a previous simulation of a school shooting, they found that an armed defender was almost always able to either kill the attacker or to prevent them from entering the classroom and killing more students.

In this case, not so much. Two trained attackers, operating as a team, are more than a match for one untrained defender with a handgun — most of the time:

In one of the early scenarios, a relatively new shooter decided that instead of trying to confront the armed terrorists she would use her gun to cover her retreat and give her co-workers time to escape. This plan worked perfectly, and she was able to escape from the room while returning fire towards the attackers, allowing nearly everyone in the room to escape before she too turned tail and ran.

In the face of overwhelming numbers and firepower, it appears that this tactic using the firearm as a means to give everyone else time to escape is extremely effective. There was only one person who used this tactic, but they used it to great effect.

Protester Running through Police Simulation

Friday, January 16th, 2015

Reverend Jarett Maupin, who led protests against a police shooting of an unarmed man in Phoenix, was invited to participate in a use of force simulation. This is the video from a GoPro camera attached to Maupin’s vest.

The Effect of Police Body-Worn Cameras

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Researchers studied the effect of police body-worn cameras on use of force and citizens’ complaints against the police and the results were stark:

We found that the likelihood of force being used in control conditions [no camera] were roughly twice those in experimental conditions [with a body-worn camera]. Similarly, a pre/post analysis of use-of-force and complaints data also support this result: the number of complaints filed against officers dropped from 0.7 complaints per 1,000 contacts to 0.07 per 1,000 contacts.

An order-of-magnitude drop in complaints sounds good.

Commenter Nicholas Marsh shared two explanations for the drop in complaints:

The first is that the camera wearing police are deterred from abusing their authority. The second is that members of the public are less likely to make false complaints.

If the public believe the former and police the latter there might be wide support for cameras.

Mobs

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Chris Hernandez answers some questions about Ferguson and how police handled the shooting:

[Why would Wilson be allowed to wait a week before making a statement?]

My guess, and it’s just a guess, is that Wilson did what most cops do after a shooting: he gave a brief statement to investigators summing up the reason he fired, then gave a full statement after conferring with his attorney. The way I’ve seen it done, the officer says “I fired because he was pointing a gun at me, now I’ll wait for the union lawyer before I make a full statement.” That’s what police union attorneys suggest we do, and that’s what a lot of lawyers who take self-defense cases advise private citizens to do after a shooting. I don’t think Wilson had access to all the statements from witnesses, alleged witnesses and forensic evidence; after only a week, the evidence wouldn’t have been analyzed and witnesses were still coming forward. On its face, the claim “he waited a week to make a statement” sounds bad, but in reality it’s what all people involved in self-defense shootings are told to do: give only the bare facts, then wait until you confer with your lawyer.

[This case was not handled differently because Wilson was a cop?]

There are a couple of important facets to that question. First, you’re right that police shootings are handled differently, because police are a “known quantity”. When the officers arrived on the Wilson shooting scene they knew Wilson’s level of training and experience, knew he was responding to a reported crime, and knew he had identified two suspects and called for backup. So going into it, they wouldn’t have reason to suspect it was a random execution.

Second, an accusation screamed by a crowd is NOT considered credible by itself. Mobs get whipped into a frenzy pretty easily, and people start repeating what they’ve heard others say.

Hernandez gives two examples of mobs behaving badly:

My friend arrived on a rollover accident. A local young man had been ejected and killed. Officers blocked the road and started working the scene. Word spread, and the man’s friends and family started arriving. After the officers had been on the scene several minutes, someone in the crowd started yelling, “He didn’t die in a wreck! The cops killed him!”

The accusation started being repeated through the crowd. Officers had to hold a perimeter to keep people from trying to get the body before it was loaded into a hearse (this was a small town where bodies went straight to a funeral home). When the hearse was loaded and started driving away, people in the crowd ran to their cars and drove after it. Several police cars had to escort the hearse to the funeral home and then block the doors to keep people from forcing their way inside. The spontaneous outburst started with one person screaming a false accusation, which then spread. The fact that numerous people were repeating it did not make it credible.

My experience: I was at a murder scene at a huge club. When we arrived there were over a thousand people in the parking lot, and it was a near-riot. A man had been killed in the parking lot and was still there. We cleared the area around him, called for EMS and checked him for vital signs. He was DOA. A large and aggressive crowd surrounded us and tried to break through to the body. People started yelling “Why haven’t you called an ambulance?” and “They aren’t calling an ambulance because he’s black!” In the meantime, an ambulance had arrived but couldn’t get through the crowd. This was one of the most frustrating, ridiculous experiences of my career: being screamed at by enraged people for refusing to call an ambulance, and no matter how loud I screamed back, “Turn around, the ambulance is behind you!”, I couldn’t even get them to turn and look. As far as they were concerned we didn’t care enough about a dead black man to even call an ambulance, and weren’t interested in hearing or even seeing anything to the contrary. Their loud and repeated accusations weren’t credible.

Tyranny of the Minority

Saturday, January 10th, 2015

Theodore Dalrymple discusses the potential tyranny of the minority in France:

The shots in the Paris street that were seen and heard around the world killed Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim policeman going to the defense of Charlie Hebdo: a reminder that by no means all Muslims in France, far from it, are France-hating, Allahu-akbar-shouting fanatics, and that many are well-integrated. I go to a Muslim boulanger in Paris whose French bread and pastries are as good as any in the vicinity; and, if anything, I have a prejudice in favor of patronizing his shop precisely to encourage and reward his successful integration. And he is only one of many cases that I know.

Unfortunately, this is not as reassuring as it sounds, because a handful of fanatics can easily have a much more significant social effect than a large number of peaceful citizens. There is more to fear in one terrorist than to celebrate in 99 well-integrated immigrants. And if only 1 percent of French Muslims were inclined to terrorism, this would still be more than 50,000 people, more than enough to create havoc in a society. The jihadists now have a large pool from which to draw, and there are good reasons to think that more than 1 percent of young Muslims in France are distinctly anti-French. The number of young French jihadists fighting in Syria is estimated to be 1,200, equal to 1 percent in numbers of the French army, and probably not many fewer than the number of Algerian guerrillas fighting during much of the Algerian War of Independence.

Air France Flight 8969 GIGN Raid

Friday, January 9th, 2015

If you’re suddenly interested in France’s elite GIGN force, this video of their raid in response to the 1994 Air France Flight 8969 hijacking should more than meet your approval:

Never Allowed out of the Hood

Friday, January 9th, 2015

A promising “Black Ivy” football star got shot in a home-invasion robbery — he and his friends were doing the invading — and the Z man blames racial solidarity:

The explanation for this that jumps out to me is the extreme racial solidarity in black America. In white America, keeping the good kids away from the bad kids is the focus of everyone. Even back in the paleolithic when I was coming along adults had no trouble culling the defects from the herd. Somewhere around puberty, the stupid and uncontrollable ended up in “special” classes, away from the rest of us. That is not permitted in black culture.

The result is Terrance gets to hang with Jakobi as an equal, but they are not equals. Jakobi, I’m guessing, is high status in the hood. His ghetto name is what I’m going on here. In the white world, Dakota is not allowed anywhere near Dwayne and that was the case from about the fifth grade. By the time Dakota is at college, Dwayne is long gone. In black America. Terrence is never allowed out of the hood. He has to “keeps it real.” Otherwise, he runs the risk of being a “Tom” or acting white.

Until blacks drop the racial solidarity, this story will be a common one.

(Hat tip to our Slovenian Guest.)

The End of Gangs

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Los Angeles gave America the modern street gang — yeah, thanks, LA! — but now it’s witnessing the end of gangs:

In 2014, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that gang crime had dropped by nearly half since 2008. In 2012, L.A. had fewer total homicides (299) citywide than it had gang homicides alone in 2002 (350) and in 1992 (430). For the most part, Latino gang members no longer attack blacks in ways reminiscent of the Jim Crow South. Nor are gangs carjacking, assaulting, robbing, or in a dozen other ways blighting their own neighborhoods. Between 2003 and 2013, gang-related robberies in the city fell from 3,274 to 1,021; gang assaults from 3,063 to 1,611; and carjackings, a classic L.A. gang crime born during the heyday of crack, from 211 to 33.

New York City police commissioner Bill Bratton became chief of the LAPD, and he brought along CompStat and the “broken window” emphasis on addressing even small problems, because they tend to beget bigger ones.

The LAPD also began to use the gang injunctions, essentially bans on gang members hanging out together in public, and RICO prosecutions against gang leaders and their foot soldiers:

To my eye, the effects of most RICO prosecutions against Southern California gangs have been dramatic, as if a series of anthills had been not just disturbed but dug up whole. Hawaiian Gardens has seen a 50 percent in drop in violent crime since the prosecutions of 2009. The neighborhoods that spawned Azusa 13 and Florencia 13 seem completely changed. I’ve seen similar post-RICO transformations across Southern California.

Gentrification has also done its part:

This has created the only-in-L.A. phenomenon of commuter gangs: guys who drive a long way to be with their homies at the corner where the gang began. (In the 204th Street neighborhood in the Harbor Gateway, I met gang members who drove in from Carson, the San Gabriel Valley, and even Palm Springs.)

Meanwhile, Latino home-buyers have been replacing black populations in Inglewood, Compton, and South Central Los Angeles. Like many other migrant groups, blacks have moved out, to the Inland Empire, 50 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, or to Las Vegas, or to the South. Compton, the birthplace of gangster rap, was once 73 percent black and is now nearly 70 percent Latino. This has often meant that Latino gangs replaced black gangs, and, while that might seem like nothing more than one violent group displacing another, the central role of the Mexican Mafia has often made these newer gangs easier to prosecute.