More than an Off-Duty Police Officer

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

The “off-duty police officer” who stopped the jihadi knife attack in Minnesota was more than an off-duty police officer:

He owns a firing range and firearms training facility called Tactical Advantage. He’s considered an expert in firearms training and education and has helped teach classes on law enforcement skills at St. Cloud State University for nine years, his company website says.
He’s a member of the United States Practical Shooters Association and has won medals in various shooting competitions.

Yeah, he’s a USPSA shooter. I don’t want to say he’s living the dream, but…

Open Prisons

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Norway’s open prisons sound comically Scandinavian, but they work — there:

Wiggo was right; it did look like summer camp. Mottled leaves fell on cyclers ? yes, cycling prisoners ? and a horse-and-carriage cantered by. Gingerbread houses dotted the landscape; they were dull yellow, with green trim and red roofs. I spied sheep and cows but no fence or barbed wire.

Bastoy is an open prison, a concept born in Finland during the 1930s and now part of the norm throughout Scandinavia, where prisoners can sometimes keep their jobs on the outside while serving time, commuting daily. Thirty percent of Norway’s prisons are open, and Bastoy, a notorious reformatory for boys converted in 1982 to a prison, is considered the crown jewel of them all.

[...]

“I started skeptical. That changed quickly. More prisons should be open ? almost all should be. We take as many as we can here, but there isn’t room for everyone.” Prisoners from around the country can apply to move to an open prison like Bastoy when they’re within three years of release. The island is home to about 115 men overseen by over 70 staff members, and there is a waiting list of about 30.

“There’s a perception that, ‘Oh, this is the lightweight prison; you just take the nice guys for the summer-camp prison.’ But in fact, no. Our guys are into, pardon my French, some heavy shit. Drugs and violence. And the truth is, some have been problematic in other prisons but then they come here, and we find them easy. We say, ‘Is that the same guy you called difficult?’ It’s really very simple: Treat people like dirt, and they will be dirt. Treat them like human beings, and they will act like human beings.”

[...]

“It’s not about running a prison but running an island,” Tom explained. “Agriculture is a big part of our philosophy. We are humane, ecological. Animals have a social function too, teaching empathy. Everyone works the land.”

This is a nature reserve, growing about 25 percent of its food. Most vehicles are electric, and everything is recycled.

Learning from Attica

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

Adam Gopnik looks back at the Attica prison riot of 1971:

What’s striking about the uprising is not the collisions of intractable ideological positions but, rather, the sheer confusion, missed opportunities, personal squabbles, and absurd procedural wrangles that governed it. The saddest irony is that the New York State Commissioner of Corrections, Russell Oswald, though later treated as one of the villains of the episode, was largely responsible for extending the occupation and allowing the prisoners the media megaphone that makes their voices still heard today. Oswald is a kind of caricature of the sixties liberal who infuriated conservatives (and often other liberals), someone so determined to do good that he can’t see past his own folly. He was a committed prison reformer — shortly after accepting the job, he had written a memo to Governor Rockefeller saying that having men locked “twelve or more hours a day in their cells is unacceptable to them and me.” And yet he managed, in four days, to enrage the inmates, exasperate his colleagues, and, probably, prevent the forces of order from taking back the prison when it still could have been done in a more or less orderly way. Since any imaginable modern state in any imaginable circumstance was always going to feel duty-bound to retake a prison after a mutiny, a forcible reconquest needed to be done either quickly or not at all: had it happened the next morning, when state troopers stood ready and the prisoners hadn’t yet dug in, it might have been much less violent. Trying to placate everyone, he only exacerbated everything.

[...]

Negotiations tend to be remarkably consistent in form, whether the subject is Iranian nukes or prisoners’ rights. Both sides arrive with obviously ridiculous demands; the act of meeting marks the rejection of those demands but also shows that there is enough good will for a deal to be made; the shape of the agreement swiftly appears; and then, often, the two sides get trapped in tiny details pointing to the tribal instincts that brought the conflict on in the first place. Certainly the negotiations at Attica took this shape.

[...]

The uprising at Attica was, in the not very long run, one of the things that stopped prison reform dead in its tracks.

[...]

In broadly democratic countries, violence frightens the “masses” as they really are—i.e., the majority of citizens—much faster than reformers can persuade them to change. Nonviolent episodes of protest are extraordinarily efficient in creating social change in democratic states; violent episodes undo the good work of change with astonishing rapidity. As the Princeton political scientist Omar Wasow has shown, in an important new empirical study, the spectacle of urban violence probably did get Richard Nixon elected. (“In public opinion polls between 1950 and 1980, a majority of subjects identified ‘civil rights’ as the most important problem facing America at the same time that nonviolent black protest activity peaked,” he observes, “and, likewise, responded with ‘law and order’ when black-led violent protests were most active.”)

[...]

Evil exists. Prisons, punishment, segregation, exile: even the most enlightened state needs some way of sorting the truly dangerous from the sadly criminal and the sadly criminal from the merely unlucky. I eventually discovered that the erudite inmate who arraigned me for not attending to my Foucault had committed the most horrible crime of which I ever hope to hear. (In the midst of a custody battle with his estranged wife, he called her on the phone, had her hold the line, and then murdered their two daughters while she listened and they pleaded.) No sane society can survive if the state, however fair, however free, cannot enforce order and hold a monopoly on legitimate violence.

Stop trouble before it starts

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

Riots might not begin at all if authorities could overwhelm “action nodes” as they developed:

Experience has shown that the National Guard is not well adapted to the mission of early containment of a riot. It takes the Guard several days to get into action because when it is called, it is not merely foot soldiers that are summoned but their entire apparatus of logistics and command that must be mobilized as well. Moreover even the hint that authorities are thinking about calling out the National Guard could be seen as a provocative acknowledgement of a riot’s incipiency. Public appeals that the Guard be summoned may therefore amount to a sort of focal incident and do almost as much to choreograph the beginning of a riot as to deter its occurrence. Of course once it gets into action the Guard does seem to pacify full-blown riots fairly swiftly. This fact suggests that sheer numbers of anti-riot personnel may be more important than tactics, training or other variables in quietening civil unrest.

For this reason cities might well consider the benefits of using a civilian auxiliary to reinforce and supplement the police force. Such a force could be deployed rapidly and demobilized just as fast once the trouble had died down because its command infrastructure, that of the municipal police, is always up and running. Of course it is out of the question for police departments permanently to maintain as many full-time officers as might be required by peak load demand. An analogy might be drawn to volunteer fire fighters, who receive training, though far less than their full-time professional counterparts, to enable them to meet contingencies too remote to justify commissioning full-time personnel. The original idea of the militia, as envisioned by the drafters of the United States Constitution, reflected something of the notion that ordinary citizens bore the final responsibility for the security of the communities in which they lived (Dowlut 1983: 93). When not burdened with a command and control superstructure but simply used to supplement law enforcement resources already in place, a modem equivalent to the militia might well serve to stop trouble before it started.

Brutality can terminate riots promptly

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Once it gets started, rioting is difficult to stop by authorities as constrained as American police forces are:

Of course authorities prepared to resort to brutality can terminate riots promptly. Buford gives the example of how the Sardinian police militia smothered a soccer riot during the 1990 World Cup matches. Hundreds of rowdy English soccer fans had flown in on chartered planes, and were determined to find trouble. The police did not try to cover every action node at once; this would have left them outnumbered everywhere. Instead, following textbook military strategy, they massed forces and surrounded first one, then another group of hooligans inglisi, rendering each in turn hors de combat by beating them senseless with truncheons. Few of the Englishmen actually had to be arrested (which would have been very time-consuming for the police). Nevertheless, because they were not allowed to innocently transpire through police lines to re-appear at some less well-defended action node, the riot soon collapsed.

The Japanese Zoning System

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Alex Tabarrok explains the Japanese zoning system:

Japan has 12 basic zones, far fewer than is typical in an American city. The zones can be ordered in terms of nuisance or potential externality from low-rise residential to high-rise residential to commercial zone on through to light industrial and industrial. But, and this is key, in the US zones tend to be exclusive but in Japan the zones limit the maximum nuisance in a zone. So, for example, a factory can’t be built in a residential neighborhood but housing can be built in a light industrial zone.

[...]

In addition, residential means residential without discrimination as to the type or form of resident.

On that last point, one commenter notes that the Japanese do not have to worry about crime, and Steve Sailer added that “Americans have replaced discrimination by race with discrimination by cost, which works pretty well, but, of course, it’s very expensive.”

Schelling Incidents and Schelling Points

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

Any of several major intersections, parks, or schoolyards may have seemed the natural place for a large number of riot-disposed people to gather following the acquittals in People v. Powell (the original Rodney King beating case) — which amounted to a Schelling incident, at least in part because it had been advertised as such for weeks by TV and newspaper accounts of the trial:

One can hardly doubt that many residents of South-Central bent on making trouble arrived at places they expected to be “focal” only to find them largely deserted. But Schelling’s work implies that a substantial number of others would have guessed right — would have gone to a major intersection, Korean strip-mall parking lot, or other public space and found the crowd they had expected to find nearing its critical mass — waiting for some of the outliers from non-viable focal points to find their way to more promising locations.

But here is a problem. Those who selected a non-viable focal point — in other words, those who guessed wrong — would now have to find out where everyone else went in order to join them. How did they get this information? Los Angeles’ television stations’ aggressive news coverage of the disturbance from its very beginning seems to have played a key role. Within minutes after the verdicts were announced in Powell, minicam crews were doing news “live from the scene,” letting everyone in town know where the trouble was. Innocents thus learned what neighborhoods to avoid; but non-innocents, who wanted to take part in the looting, also found out where to go.

Although inadvertently, the stations lowered the search costs for aspiring rioters. Without TV, other techniques would surely have been used by people hying to find out where to go in order to loot and burn with little fear of arrest. But the broadcast media are by far the best way to get accurate information to many people at once. Especially in spread-out places like Los Angeles, rioting would be less likely to occur if information about the location of viable focal points were harder to come by.

Inadvertently.

Understanding Riots

Friday, August 26th, 2016

David D. Haddock and Daniel D. Poisby wrote Understanding Riots after a previous breakdown in law and order:

After the Los Angeles riot in spring of 1992, almost every pundit in the country took a turn at explaining why riots occur. The conventional wisdom on the subject went something like this: certain dramatic events such as political assassinations or unpopular jury verdicts crystalize riots from social rage. So to understand riots, one must understand the causes of social rage, usually said to be racism, poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and why people who experience this rage manage it in such a destructive manner. The usual suspects include breakdown of the family, television, and a generalized cultural disorientation.

All of these explanations have some truth in them, but are evidently incomplete. First, they explain too much. The predisposing social conditions are with us all the time, yet riots are episodic. Second, they explain too little. Many mob actions, like European soccer riots or the increasingly predictable civil meltdowns in the home cities of National Basketball Association champions, are triggered by good news, and not obviously related to social injustice or existential anomie. Indeed, during the Los Angeles riots, anyone with a TV set could see that jubilation rather than fury best characterized the mood of the people in the streets. It is hard to credit that these exhilarated looters with their new VCR’s and cameras were protesting the juiy system, the state of race relations in Southern California, or anything else. They were, in fact, having a party. Moreover, many of those who risked life and limb opposing the more outrageous excesses of the rioters were themselves poor, unemployed, and victims of racism.

Conversely, a crowd is not an incipient riot merely because it assembles a great many people with the predisposing demographic characteristics. For example, every Fourth of July in Chicago’s Grant Park there is a fireworks display that usually attracts about a million spectators. In certain parts of the grounds, people are packed together like sardines, so that individuals substantially lose their ability to decide where to go. One goes where the crowd goes. Going against it is impossible, and even leaving it (unless one is near the edge) may be difficult. Some people dislike the experience, but whatever its discomforts, the Fourth of July crowd at Grant Park is not a riot in the making. The crowd is big, it is loud, it is unmanageable, it is filled with people who have suffered from racial discrimination and economic deprivation, it has, in aggregate, drunk a lot of beer (which is legally for sale at dozens of kiosks at the event); but it is only a crowd, not an incipient riot.

Day in and day out in any big city, police blotters will reflect the existence of a fairly steady background supply of theft, mugging, arson, and homicide. But this jumble of criminal mischief does not amount to a “riot”; riots are the coordinated acts of many people. If they are coordinated, who coordinates them? Authorities looking for ways to explain why trouble has broken out on their watch sometimes ascribe exaggerated organizational. powers to “outside agitators.” While, as we explain, there is definitely a leadership niche in the ecology of a mob, it seems to become important only after the crowd has assembled. Riots are not, as a rule, plotted and scripted affairs.

How Many Americans Have a Police Record?

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

Approximately 30% of American adults have an arrest record.

Gun Moll

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Have you ever wondered where the term gun moll came from?

A gun moll (aka gangster moll) is the female companion of a male professional criminal. In some contexts, ‘gun moll’ more specifically suggests that the woman handles a firearm.

When the term came into usage in the first decade of the 20th century, “gun” was not derived from the firearm, but from the Yiddish word meaning “thief,” variously transliterated into English as ganefthe, gonif, goniff, or ganof, itself derived from Hebrew “Ganav”. However, this distinction gradually disappeared, especially when such women became associated with gangsters noted for their frequent use of guns.

“Moll” derives from “Molly”, used as a euphemism for “whore” or “prostitute” and attested at least since 17th century England.

In the U.S., the term has mostly been applied to a woman associating with an American gangster of the 1920s and 1930s, and in most cases remarkable only because of his notoriety. Extended use of the term without awareness of the Yiddish root, however, has invited interpretations of “gun” as suggesting more than simply criminal associations. Bonnie Parker and Blanche Barrow were gun molls in this stronger sense, and especially notable examples in general, because of their accompanying the rest of the Barrow Gang to the planned locations of violent crimes, and, in Parker’s case, apparently directly assisting at least to the extent of loading guns in the midst of shootouts.

(Addendum: This came up when Bill Christensen, aka @Technovelgy, tweeted, “Also adds interest for the old term ‘gun moll’ — which could now mean women who buy guns for their boyfriends.”)

Guns Used in Crimes

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

Lawful gun owners commit less than a fifth of all gun crimes — which is still more than I would’ve expected, to be honest:

In the study, led by epidemiologist Anthony Fabio of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, researchers partnered with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police to trace the origins of all 893 firearms that police recovered from crime scenes in the year 2008.

[...]

More than 30 percent of the guns that ended up at crime scenes had been stolen, according to Fabio’s research. But more than 40 percent of those stolen guns weren’t reported by the owners as stolen until after police contacted them when the gun was used in a crime.

[...]

It’s also likely that many guns on the black market got there via straw purchases — where a person purchases a gun from a dealer without disclosing that they’re buying it for someone else. This is illegal under federal law. One potential sign that straw purchasing is a factor in the Pittsburgh data: Forty-four percent of the gun owners who were identified in 2008 did not respond to police attempts to contact them.

[...]

Additionally, past research has demonstrated that a small fraction of gun dealers are responsible for the majority of guns used in crimes in the United States. A 2000 report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found that in 1998, more than 85 percent of gun dealers had no guns used in crimes trace back to them. By contrast, 1 percent of dealers accounted for nearly 6 in 10 crime gun traces that year.

Better Surrender Technique

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

Everyone is talking about police violence against African-Americans, Scott Adams says, but there isn’t much discussion about practical solutions:

In the short term, the most productive approach probably involves teaching citizens how to surrender better.

You’ve probably seen tutorials on the correct way to handle a traffic stop by police. You should put both hands on the top of the steering wheel, fingers open and outstretched, and wait for the police officer to give you permission to reach for your wallet. If you have time before the officer gets out his car, your wallet should already be out and on the dashboard so you don’t have to reach for it in a suspicious-looking way. That’s good surrender technique, and I think it would work for many situations.

But I think we can simplify it even more.

[...]

Communication experts will tell you that a message is only as credible as the sender. Your first interaction with a police officer will tell him – accurately or not – who you are. So if the first impression looks like rebellion, the officer will interpret everything that follows according to that model. If the first impression is obvious concern for mutual safety, you put the officer on your side from the start. Once you have established yourself as a respectful citizen who is primarily interested in safety, any ambiguous communication on your part will be seen through that filter.

Jocko discussed the same thing in a recent podcast.

Of course, many people already “surrender” just fine, and others don’t, and one might notice certain patterns…

Why Gun Control Can’t Be Solved in the USA

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

Scott Adams has some fun explaining why gun control can’t be solved in the USA:

On average, Democrats (that’s my team*) use guns for shooting the innocent. We call that crime.

On average, Republicans use guns for sporting purposes and self-defense.

If you don’t believe me, you can check the statistics on the Internet that don’t exist. At least I couldn’t find any that looked credible.

But we do know that race and poverty are correlated. And we know that poverty and crime are correlated. And we know that race and political affiliation are correlated. Therefore, my team (Clinton) is more likely to use guns to shoot innocent people, whereas the other team (Trump) is more likely to use guns for sporting and defense.

That’s a gross generalization. Obviously. Your town might be totally different.

So it seems to me that gun control can’t be solved because Democrats are using guns to kill each other – and want it to stop – whereas Republicans are using guns to defend against Democrats. Psychologically, those are different risk profiles. And you can’t reconcile those interests, except on the margins. For example, both sides might agree that rocket launchers are a step too far. But Democrats are unlikely to talk Republicans out of gun ownership because it comes off as “Put down your gun so I can shoot you.”

Let’s all take a deep breath and shake off the mental discomfort I just induced in half of my readers. You can quibble with my unsupported assumptions about gun use, but keep in mind that my point is about psychology and about big group averages. If Republicans think they need guns to protect against Democrats, that’s their reality. And if Democrats believe guns make the world more dangerous for themselves, that is their reality. And they can both be right. Your risk profile is different from mine.

Germany Gun Numbers

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

The German Firearms Register records almost 5.5 million private guns belonging to 1.4 million people — but the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung estimates that there are also 20 million illegal firearms in Germany.

Those 20 million illegal firearms don’t seem to be put to much use. There were 57 gun homicides in Germany in 2015, up from 42 the previous year — compared with 804 in 1995.

Guns are a big issue, but crime is not

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Tyler Cowen is “confused that for the Left ‘guns’ are a big issue, but apparently ‘crime’ is not.” But there’s a simple explanation, which Steve Sailer provides:

“Guns” means white. “Crime” means black.

So you are supposed to constantly talk up the terrors of gun violence, but downplay crime.

In reality, “gun violence” isn’t some peculiarly white thing. Blacks are even more inclined toward homicides by gun than toward homicides in general. According to the Obama administration’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, the approximately 13% of the population that is black made up 52.5 percent of overall homicide offenders, but 56.9 percent of killers who used guns. So blacks on average are about 8.8 times more lethal with guns than is the rest of the population.

The main practical reason for why Democrats support gun control laws is in the hope of disarming black criminals. But white Democrats can’t come out and say that they want help from their fellow whites in keeping blacks under control. So they constantly lecture the rest of us that the true danger is those vicious rural straight white men with their hunting rifles.

Not surprisingly, this Democratic political strategy of insulting potential allies has proved less than all-conquering over the past 50 years. But Democrats would rather die than tell the truth about whom they actually fear.