The medication rattled as she set it on her desk

Friday, April 5th, 2024

Troubled by Rob HendersonWhen Rob Henderson got to Yale, he explains (in Troubled), he helped a female senior with some boxes:

We entered her room, and I set the boxes down. She opened the larger box and pulled out a large case of pills.

The medication rattled as she set it on her desk.

“Nice stash. Anything for sale?” I joked.

“Yeah, the Adderall is.” She didn’t appear to be joking.

I thought back to my first day in high school, and how my neighbor offered to sell me drugs. Now here I was at this fancy college, and this senior is offering to sell drugs, too. Later, I’d observe rampant drug and alcohol use on campus. This was at odds with the widespread belief, which I held at the time, that poverty was the primary reason for substance abuse.

Most American prisoners belong behind bars

Tuesday, March 12th, 2024

Contrary to the popular narrative, Rafael A. Mangual argues, most American prisoners belong behind bars:

Contrary to the claims in Michelle Alexander’s much-discussed 2010 bestseller The New Jim Crow, drug prohibition is not driving incarceration rates. Yes, about half of federal prisoners are in on drug charges; but federal inmates constitute only 12 percent of all American prisoners—the vast majority are in state facilities. Those incarcerated primarily for drug offenses constitute less than 15 percent of state prisoners. Four times as many state inmates are behind bars for one of five very serious crimes: murder (14.2 percent), rape or sexual assault (12.8 percent), robbery (13.1 percent), aggravated or simple assault (10.5 percent), and burglary (9.4 percent). The terms served for state prisoners incarcerated primarily on drug charges typically aren’t that long, either. One in five state drug offenders serves less than six months in prison, and nearly half (45 percent) of drug offenders serve less than one year.

That a prisoner is categorized as a drug offender, moreover, does not mean that he is nonviolent or otherwise law-abiding. Most criminal cases are disposed of through plea bargains, and, given that charges often get downgraded or dropped as part of plea negotiations, an inmate’s conviction record will usually understate the crimes he committed. The claim that drug offenders are nonviolent and pose zero threat to the public if they’re put back on the street is also undermined by a striking fact: more than three-quarters of released drug offenders are rearrested for a nondrug crime. It’s worth noting that Baltimore police identified 118 homicide suspects in 2017, and 70 percent had been previously arrested on drug charges.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating.

Training doctrines, levels of violent crime, and public scrutiny were very different back in the mid-1990s

Friday, February 23rd, 2024

In his 25-year police career, Greg Ellifritz pointed guns at lots of people:

Admittedly, in hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have pointed guns at all of those folks.

In my defense, training doctrines, levels of violent crime, and public scrutiny were very different back in the mid-1990s as compared to our modern age. We were taught to point guns directly at any felony suspect regardless of the level of danger they posed to us. It was just the way things were done. Back in the day, very few cops would have ever considered using a position like “low ready” to confront a potentially armed suspect. We took people down “at gunpoint.” That meant pointing a gun at the suspects’ chests and faces while demanding compliance.

Things have changed.

Most likely due to the fact that most cops now record every criminal arrest on body cameras, police administrators have demanded changes to use of force policies. Cops were pointing guns at too many people without a reasonable cause to do so. Sticking a gun in the face of an unarmed teenage kid in a stolen car looks bad when the bosses review the body cam footage.

The police bosses started cracking down on excessive gun play. Pointing a gun at someone was once considered a “threat” of force generally equivalent to harsh verbal language. At some point during the last decade or so, pointing a gun directly at another human being changed from a low consequence “threat of force” to a serious ”use of force” that was documented and investigated.

While some changes were certainly needed, I fear we might have gone too far.


Police bosses will argue “pointing a gun at someone meets the elements of the crime of aggravated assault.” That’s correct, in some cases. Putting someone in a painful wrist lock or throwing a person to the ground meets the statutory definitions for assault as well, yet cops do that all the time without issue. Handcuffing someone without their consent meets the statutory definition of “kidnapping” or “unlawful restraint.” Does that mean that cops shouldn’t handcuff people? That’s silly. Society recognizes that cops can legally use force to affect a lawful arrest so long as it is objectively reasonable to do so. I would argue that there are lots of scenarios cops face where it is reasonable to point a gun at someone even if it isn’t (yet) reasonable to shoot that person.


The thing that many police bosses fail to realize is that sometimes pointing a gun at someone compels compliance when all other tactics don’t work. Cops generally aren’t pointing guns at suspects just for fun. They often point guns as a last resort when all other tactics have failed. When an officer appears competent and points a gun at a suspect, that threat of lethal force often convinces the bad guy to go along with the program. The officer doesn’t have to physically hurt the suspect.

The whole thing includes some illustrative stories.

Ukraine’s criminal underworld once played a key role in distribution

Tuesday, December 26th, 2023

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has resulted in the overhaul of major narcotics routes:

Before the war, Russia served as a hub for cross-border flows of all types of illicit products, such as money, guns, drugs, and people throughout Europe and beyond. Ukraine’s criminal underworld once played a key role in distribution, Galeotti said during a presentation on his report on Monday.

But since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Galeotti said, Ukrainian gangsters had suddenly “rediscovered their patriotism” and were refusing to cooperate with the Russians. Ukraine’s cold shoulder, coupled with the closing of land routes in countries such as Finland, has forced Russian gangsters to find alternative drug routes.

The report found that in order to get products out of Russia and into other parts of Europe, traffickers were increasingly turning to Belarus as a new crucial transit hub.

Despite border controls set up throughout Europe, heroin, cocaine, and other narcotics were being smuggled out of Russia via Belarus, Galeotti said, while sanctioned items such as microchips and luxury goods were being smuggled in.

Galeotti said the larger criminal networks in Russia had suffered under the new dynamics, but smaller gangs once relegated to the backwaters of the Belarus border were suddenly reaping the rewards.

The war also appears to have impacted the demand for narcotics within Russia itself.

The report found that while some international drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, were still finding their way into the country from countries in Latin America, economic pressure on ordinary Russians’ pocketbooks due to wartime sanctions had changed the game.

Even before the war, cocaine was too expensive for most of Russian society, and the report said the use of heroin was on the decline throughout the country.

The report found that a lack of affordable drugs coupled with unreliable trafficking routes had led to a spike in synthetic drugs throughout Russia.

Galeotti said synthetic opioids were cheaper to manufacture and more accessible for ordinary Russians.

The report found the war had also sped up the use of synthetic amphetamines such as mephedrone — known as “salt” in Russian slang — because of increased consumption in cities such as Donetsk, where many soldiers were either based or taking leave.

A Royal United Service Institute report from May found that some Russian soldiers were being given amphetamines to lower their inhibitions while in combat. Meanwhile, a Russian news outlet in October reported soldiers were getting hard drugs delivered to their trenches to stave off boredom.

Iraqi criminal organizations and militia groups target convoys and containers for weapons and equipment

Tuesday, November 28th, 2023

American bases in Iraq and Syria are plagued by thefts of weapons and equipment:

Military investigations launched earlier this year found that “multiple sensitive weapons and equipment” — including guided missile launch systems as well as drones — have been stolen in Iraq. This follows hundreds of thousands of dollars in military gear that were purloined from U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria between 2020 and 2022, as reported earlier this year by The Intercept.

America’s bases in Iraq and Syria ostensibly exist to conduct “counter-ISIS missions,” but experts say they are used primarily as a check against Iran. Since the October outbreak of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, these bases have come under regular rocket and drone attacks as part of an undeclared war between the U.S. and Iran and its surrogate militias.

The U.S. has increasingly responded to those attacks. In Syria, the U.S. launched “precision strikes” on a “training facility and a safe house” allegedly used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The U.S. has since employed an AC-130 gunship against an “Iranian-backed militia vehicle and a number of Iranian-backed militia personnel” at an undisclosed location, following a ballistic missile attack on Al Asad Air Base in Western Iraq. “The President has no higher priority than the safety of U.S. personnel,” said Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, justifying U.S. strikes.


In February, military investigators were notified that 13 commercial drones, valued at about $162,500, were stolen from a U.S. facility in Erbil, Iraq, sometime last year. The agents identified no suspects, and no leads are mentioned in the file.

A separate investigation discovered that “multiple sensitive weapons and equipment” including targeting sight and launcher units for Javelin missiles — a shoulder-fired guided missile that locks on its targets — were stolen at or en route to Forward Operating Base Union III in Baghdad, Iraq. The loss to the U.S. government was estimated at almost $480,000.

Investigators did not believe the thefts were an inside job. “No known U.S. personnel were involved,” according to a criminal investigations file. The investigators instead refer to locals as the likely suspects. “Iraqi criminal organizations and militia groups target convoys and containers for weapons and equipment,” the document stated. “Further there have been systemic issues with U.S. containers being pilfered by these groups and local nationals outside of Union III, due to the lack of security.”

Logical reasoning and de-escalation won’t work

Wednesday, September 27th, 2023

Greg Ellifritz watched this video of a recent convenience store robbery, and it caused him to think about how common criminal attacks are fundamentally changing:

Multiple attackers: The attacks most people face are no longer from a lone drug user. In the attacks I’m researching, three attackers seem to be the bare minimum along with larger groups of 10 or more criminals working together on occasion. These criminals are organized and they have a plan to handle any resistance in the areas they are robbing. They also have lookouts and people assigned to confront witnesses and store security staff to ensure their robberies are unimpeded.

A merging of the distinction between process and resource predators: In the book Facing Violence, Rory Miller categorized predators as being two basic types. Resource predators are looking to take your things. It could be your watch, your purse, your car, or the goods stocked on a store shelf. Process predators aren’t interested in your stuff. They get pleasure out of the process of victimization. They revel in the act of causing pain and misery.

Historically, process predators have been comparatively rare. Most attacks were committed by resource predators. The bad guys wanted your stuff. They didn’t want to hurt you unless it was necessary to get what they were targeting. Today’s criminals seem to mix the two categories. They want your stuff, but they also take an obscene amount of pleasure in hurting you during the act of taking it.

Compliance will not guarantee your safety: Building on the point above, complying with the attacker will not necessarily keep you safe. In fact, it may embolden the criminals and make it more likely for them to physically attack or pepper spray you even after taking all your stuff.


The store clerk in that case did not resist at all. Despite the fact that she complied, the robbers selected one of their members to punch, kick, and stomp the woman for the duration of their crime.

Younger attackers; Today’s attackers are often young teens or even pre-teens. How would you feel about shooting or striking a 12-year old kid? Those kids know that you will hesitate more when attacked by a child. They also know that the court system isn’t likely to impose serious consequences for such young offenders. Are you prepared to shoot a kid if you have to?


Logical reasoning and de-escalation won’t work: Lots of police agencies and self defense classes are currently focusing on teaching verbal de-escalation skills. In my experience, verbal de-escalation seldom works in attacks involving group violence. Your singular efforts to de-escalate can’t compete with the efforts of several other group members who are trying to escalate. The group demands violence for its amusement. You likely won’t be able to prevent that violence no matter what magic words you utter.

On video: Everything you do will be recorded. The criminals are recording their own attacks for amusement purposes. Almost all commercial public areas are covered by surveillance cameras. Everything you do in the middle of the chaotic attack will be reviewed by people who don’t understand criminal violence and have weeks or years of calm contemplation to decide if you’ve made the correct choice.

Many prosecutors aren’t interested in filing charges against the violent kids who attacked your or stole your stuff. They won’t hesitate a bit to prosecute you if you make what they perceive is an unreasonable self defense decision.

Stop robbing the little delivery robots

Sunday, September 10th, 2023

Since Los Angeles and Greenville, North Carolina are not Japan, their residents must be asked to stop robbing the little delivery robots that bring groceries and meals to customers:

Los Angeles TV station KTLA5 has recently reported on a number of robot theft and vandalism incidents in West Hollywood, where some robots have been robbed of the goods they’re delivering, including food. The robots are used by local restaurants and are built by Serve Robotics, which pointed out to KTLA5 that despite some incidents the robots still have a 99.9% delivery completion rate.


Early on delivery robot developers have tried to allay commercial customers’ concerns over the potential for theft from robots, showcasing locked compartments and plenty of surveillance tech on the robots themselves, in addition to loud sirens. After a honeymoon period of sorts early on in the pandemic where robots were generally left alone, this is no longer the case, and sirens aren’t stopping acts of theft and vandalism in all cases.

But Los Angeles isn’t the only place where robots are encountering safety issues. The campus of East Carolina University has also seen instances of vandalism against GrubHub robots, made by Starship, earlier this year.


As with far more widespread instances of front porch package thieves or shoplifters, despite the volume of video evidence the robots can produce the police have to actually take some investigative steps to identify and locate the suspects.

Abusers give vice a bad name

Thursday, July 27th, 2023

According to our prevailing civic religion, Bryan Caplan asks, who are we supposed to resent, stigmatize, and punish in response to drug and alcohol addiction?

First and foremost, the producer. Anyone who makes money off of human misery.

Second and secondarily, the typical user. Sure, they rarely experience severe personal blowback. But they normalize deviant behavior. And they put money into the pockets of the vendors of sin, allowing them to flourish.

Last and least, the “abuser” or “addict.” Personally, they may disgust us. Yet the bipartisan position is that archetypal abusers are victims who deserve general sympathy and taxpayer assistance.

I say that these priorities are confused at best.

Visualize a world full of moderate users of every alleged vice. You might not approve, but what’s the big deal? The moderate users do their jobs, live in homes, take care of their families, and keep their friends. They’re not perfect, but who is?

The picture doesn’t change if you add thriving legal businesses supplying all these moderate users with their desired products.


The difference between me and normal observers: I don’t consider extreme abusers or “addicts” to be victims. I consider them victimizers. They aren’t a symptom of a greater social problem. They are the greater social problem. Abusers have and continue to make evil choices. Granted, it logically possible to end up on Fentanyl Row through tremendously bad luck. Empirically, however, everything I’ve read on poverty convinces me that the root cause of such residence is almost invariably extraordinarily irresponsible behavior.


Abusers don’t just mistreat their families, friends, neighbors, and passersby. Even worse, they give vice a bad name. Abusers inspire the indiscriminate, unjust “wars” on innocent users. They inspire prohibition, which takes production out of the hands of ordinary businesspeople and into the hands of criminals.


At minimum, you can impose the standard punishments for theft. Which is easy, because if you examine encampments, ill-gotten wares are in plain sight. Stealing shopping carts is a crime. Stealing bicycles is a crime. It’s crazy for cops to look the other way when shifty characters violate property rights in plain sight. And unless you oppose the very existence of public property, you can also consistently favor enforcement of laws against trespassing on, vandalizing, and defiling public property. Enforcing all of this doesn’t precisely make abuse illegal, but it comes close.


But in a strange sense, both gun control and prohibition grow out of softness. A system with the moral courage to harshly, swiftly, and surely punish violence would have little need of gun control. A system with the moral courage to harshly, swiftly, and surely punish abusers for stealing, trespassing, vandalizing, and defiling would have little need of prohibition. In both cases, we haphazardly punish millions of innocents because we refuse to decisively punish thousands of clear-cut criminals.

Most burglars enter a home through the most obvious paths

Tuesday, July 18th, 2023

You might be tempted to point home security cameras at the spots around your home that are difficult to see:

You might think these hidden areas are a burglar’s preferred place to break and enter. But the fact is, most burglars enter a home through the most obvious paths. According to data collected by security company ADT, 34% of burglars enter through the front door and 22% use a first-floor window. You might imagine that these are spaces where your eyes or your neighbors can spot any malicious activity, but they are also the most used-routes for break-ins.

You obviously don’t want to place a camera behind obstructions, but camera obstructions aren’t always so obvious:

Outdoors, this might mean allowing space for tree branches to swing in the wind. Be careful of quick-growing plants that will require you to move your camera every year or two.

Consider your camera’s range of view inside, too. Will your camera see everything you want it to when interior doors are opened and closed? You’ll also want to avoid placing the camera in a spot where a pet might interact with it. If you place it on a shelf, will your cat knock it off?

Burrola was fired from his job for supposedly violating the store’s policies against chasing after thieves or intervening in a theft

Saturday, July 8th, 2023

A King Soopers employee in Colorado was fired after he filmed three men stealing $500 worth of laundry detergent:

Santino Burrola, a former military police officer, filmed the three shoplifters stealing the items on Father’s Day June 18 around 6:40 p.m.

The video shows three men in a parking lot hastily transferring laundry detergent into a vehicle. Burrola approaches the vehicle with his phone recording, playfully taunting the thieves.

“Look at them stealing,” he says off-camera. “Really bro? You gotta resort to this? Economy’s not that bad.”

The shoplifters hop in the car and start to drive away. Burrola manages to pull off the aluminum foil covering the license plate. At no point does Burrola physically engage with the shoppers.

The now-viral video has been shared by the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office and rapper Snoop Dogg, who has more than 80 million followers on Instagram.

Burrola was fired from his job for supposedly violating the store’s policies against chasing after thieves or intervening in a theft.

Ted Kaczynski’s 1979 Autobiography

Monday, June 19th, 2023

When I finally read Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto, he didn’t seem like a mad genius. His 1979 Autobiography, on the other hand, raises some red flags:

I am told that I had three bad experiences before I was old enough to remember. I pulled a pot of boiling water off the stove and was scalded very severely. I fell on my chin with my tongue between my teeth, so that my tongue was badly injured and needed a great deal of stitching-up. I had an undiagnosed allergy to eggs, which caused me to swell up enormously all over my body. I was hospitalized for, I think, a week, with the allergy.

Apparently I took the hospitalization very badly. I am told that my parents were not permitted to spend much time visiting me, that I was much tormented (inadvertently) by inquisitive doctors, and that I was made extremely frightened and miserable by all this. My parents say that by the time I came out of the hospital I had become completely inert and would neither smile, nor cry, nor respond to attention in any other way. I conjecture that this experience is responsible for my stubbornness and for my high resistance to physical and especially to psychological pain…

When you don’t have kids hanging out on the street, there’s no one to shoot or do the shooting

Saturday, June 17th, 2023

In 2002, Bill Bratton took over as chief of the LAPD and applied what he had learned as New York City’s police commissioner:

Central to Bratton’s approach in New York was a system called CompStat, short for computer statistics. CompStat involved the real-time statistical monitoring of crime reports, giving cops, and their chain of command, data to which they could be held accountable. Bratton also believed in what has been called the broken windows theory, based on an argument (still much contested) put forward in 1982 by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, that broken windows or other forms of decay beget further deterioration, and that preventing serious crimes requires a focus on combating blight and petty forms of lawlessness.

When Bratton brought CompStat to the LAPD, it showed commanders where to deploy resources, and it meant the police, and especially division captains, could be evaluated according to reductions in crime in their territory. To fight chronic understaffing at the LAPD, Bratton lobbied for more hiring. Under mayors Richard Riordan and Jim Hahn, the LAPD had grown to 9,000 officers. Bratton and mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took it to 10,000.

The LAPD also began to make use of a tool that had previously been used sparingly: the gang injunction, essentially a ban on gang members hanging out together in public. The gang injunction spent much of the 1990s in court before being narrowly ruled constitutional, but law enforcement valued it. Today, Los Angeles alone has at least 44 injunctions against 72 street gangs. Gang members seen on the street together can be jailed on misdemeanor charges. Other towns and counties followed LAPD’s lead.

All this had a major effect: It drove gang members indoors. Drug dealing continued, and so did other forms of crime, including identity theft. Gang members became more adept at using the Internet to promote their gangs and belittle rivals. But boasting and threatening online doesn’t require the commitment or violence of classic L.A. street gang-banging, nor does it blight a neighborhood. “When you don’t have kids hanging out on the street,” says George Tita, the UC Irvine criminologist, “there’s no one to shoot or do the shooting.”


Prosecuting street gangs has meant abandoning the previous focus on kingpins. “‘Cut off the head and body dies’ just isn’t true” when it comes to Southern California street gangs, says Brunwin. “You have to go after everyone—anyone who had anything to do with, supported, or touched the organization. You have to have an effect on the structure, its daily operation. The only thing that works is adopting a scorched-Earth policy.”

They’re predictable and stable

Sunday, June 4th, 2023

In Social Order of the Underworld, David Skarbek argues that prison gangs arise naturally in mega-prisons:

The vast scale of mass incarceration in America makes the old informal social structure of prisons practically impossible. The Shawshank Redemption or prison shows like Orange is the New Black accurately capture the reality of prisons… from 40-60 years ago. A few hundred inmates with their own informal social structure, a community: it has interpersonal squabbles and the personalities aren’t the best, but there are old timers who’ve been there forever and who know everyone, and the reputational economy kind of keeps everything in line well enough. If a new guy came in and started smashing faces or started trying to run a protection racket on the smugglers or started maiming, everyone would know, and a conspiracy to deal with the problem would naturally form out of the more respected members of the community.

In a modern American prison in California or Texas you might not even notice a shark was amongst you until it was your skull they caved in. The modern super prison exceeds the Dunbar number by an order of magnitude, sometimes close to two. With 5-10k inmates in a single prison even knowing what’s going on or who the major players are becomes a nightmare. The annual or even monthly in and outflows alone exceed the number of people Andy, Red and Piper would have to keep track of during their entire stay…This is the major cause of the rampant racial segregation: its a natural division that can’t be faked, thus a white or black trouble maker can’t just slip in amongst the Mexicans and start stealing shit, the way they could if you used a non-visual division. This naturally allows the number of people an individual prisoner might have to track to be reduced from all 5-10k prisoners, to maybe 1/4th or 1/5th that, once everyone’s divided into Black, White, Latino, Asian, etc.

This however necessitates introduction of formal race based prison gangs. Because its only your race you can realistically keep track of and punish (if that), any group of enterprising aggressors from one of the other races could profit by stealing from you or fucking you up, and you’d never even be able to identify them… thus you need an armed structure amongst your own race to retaliate if members of another start aggressing, thus the racial division immediately becomes a race-gang cold war.


Prison gangs share all the characteristics of any other hierarchical org chart, whether monarchical or oligarchical… but whereas other org charts are properly and traditionally visualize as a pyramid with those entry level serfs at the bottom and the CEO or king at the top, the visualization embodying the aristocratic endeavor it aspires to be, a prison gangs are more properly visualized as a funnel or pit, with those entry level souls nearest escape while those in positions of commands most buried in its depths and held down by the press of the criminals they order above them, and the weighty realities of what they’ve done to achieve command.


The same way prison gangs selected for damned souls who have no hope for life on the outside or mere peace, and the Scottish crown selected for murderers and assassins, the US government it seems selects for careerists who don’t give a shit about the objective issues their department addresses and indeed seem to actively work against the explicit goals of the organization by their affiliated social problems worse in pursuit of greater funding.


The thing Skarbek comes back to over and over again in his assessment of prison gangs is that very uniquely in the criminal world they’re predictable and stable. On the streets gangs go to war with each-other or overthrow each-other and take turf, men change sides in a subtle dance of daring and betrayal… not in prison gangs.


The American civil service might be a horrifying nightmare beyond parody… but the old pre-war British civil service was widely regarded as one of the most efficient institutions in human history, engaged as it was in a multi-polar contest for dominance with contingency plans for war with every possible actor from the Germans, to the French, to the Ottomans, to the Americans… as well as potential regional conflicts as far afield as China, Iraq, South Africa, or Ireland.

Skarbek might call this market competition for governance, an Italian futurist might say “War is the hygiene of the world”, a musician might say a rolling stone gathers no moss, a survivalist that the quickest stream is the freshest…

But the phenomenon remains. the devil reigns in hell… because where else are you going to go?

Papers downplay the race of non-white offenders

Wednesday, May 24th, 2023

A Washington Free Beacon review of hundreds of articles published by major papers over a span of two years finds that papers downplay the race of non-white offenders, mentioning their race much later in articles than they do for white offenders:

These papers are also three to four times more likely to mention an offender’s race at all if he is white, a disparity that grew in the wake of George Floyd’s death in 2020 and the protests that followed.

The Free Beacon collected data on nearly 1,100 articles about homicides from six major papers, all written between 2019 and 2021. Those papers included the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, and Minneapolis’s Star-Tribune — representatives of each paper did not return requests for comment for this article. For each article, we collected the offender’s and victim’s name and race, and noted where in the article the offender’s race was mentioned, if at all.

The data suggest an alarming editorial trend in which major papers routinely omit information from news reports, presenting readers with a skewed picture of who does and doesn’t commit crime. These editorial choices are part and parcel with the “racial reckoning” that swept newsrooms in the wake of Floyd’s murder, which saw journalists dramatically overhauling crime coverage to emphasize the view that the criminal justice system is racist at the root — perhaps at the expense of honesty about individual offenders’ crimes.

1% of people were accountable for 63% of all violent crime convictions

Saturday, May 13th, 2023

A small minority of repeat offenders are responsible for a large fraction of all crimes:

Criminal and delinquent behavior approximately follow such power laws. It is observed for arrests, convictions and even self-reported delinquent behavior. For example, Cook et al. (2004) compared convictions in a UK study and self-reported delinquency from a US dataset and found that both were well-described by a power law. Other UK data show that 70% of custodial sentences are imposed on those with at least seven previous convictions or cautions, and 50% are imposed on those with at least 15 previous convictions or cautions (Cuthbertson, 2017).

But perhaps the most illustrative study is by Falk et al. (2014), who used Swedish nationwide data of all 2.4 million individuals born in 1958–1980 and looked at the distribution of violent crime convictions. In short, they found that 1% of people were accountable for 63% of all violent crime convictions, and 0.12% of people accounted for 20% of violent crime convictions.


Another notable fact: approximately half of violent crime convictions were committed by people who already had 3 or more violent crime convictions. In other words, if after being convicted of 3 violent crimes people were prevented from further offending, half of violent crime convictions would have been avoided.


It is clear that people tend to have many arrests before being incarcerated. The data show, among persons admitted to state prison, more than 3 out of 4 have at least 5 prior arrests, including the arrest that resulted in their prison sentence. Going further into the tail: 46% (almost 1 in 2) had 10 or more prior arrests, 14% (1 in 7) had 20 or more prior arrests, and 5% (1 in 20) had 30 or more prior arrests. Indeed, having 30 or more prior arrests when admitted to state prison was more common than having no arrest other than the arrest that led to the prison sentence (i.e., 1 prior arrest). Further, it was more common to have 9 or more prior arrests than it was to have 8 or fewer.


Data from New York City finds that a tiny number of shoplifters commit thousands of theft. The police stated that nearly a third of all shoplifting arrests in the city in 2022 involved just 327 people, who collectively were arrested and rearrested more than 6,000 times. Thus 0.00386% of New York City’s population (327 out of 8.468 million, 1 in ~26,000) accounted for nearly a third of all shoplifting arrests in the city. As illustrated by a different study, crime in New York City is not only disproportionately committed by few people, it also disproportionately affects specific local areas. They find that 14% of streets in the city produce 75% of property crime and 10% of streets produce 75% of violent crime.