Public opinion polls typically find a preference for tougher treatment of defendants in the criminal-justice system. However, few polls attempt to disaggregate types of crime. When laypeople are asked what they think should be done with “criminals,” their responses are likely based on the relatively unusual violent and sexual offenses that dominate media coverage of crime. However, punitive attitudes toward such offenses may not necessarily indicate that similar attitudes prevail more generally.
In order to develop a better understanding of the extent to which public attitudes differ based on crime type, I collaborated with Professor Darren Wheelock of the Marquette Social and Cultural Sciences Department on a set of questions in the most recent Marquette Law School Poll. Rather than asking respondents about crime in general, we posed questions regarding violent crime and property crime. Our results were consistent with the expectation that members of the public see these two types of crime in a rather different light.
Continue reading “Violent Crime Versus Property Crime: Marquette Law School Poll Reveals Differences in Public Attitudes”
To judge by some of the political rhetoric last fall, violent crime must be surging in our nation’s cities. Is that true? The answer may depend on which city you are talking about, and which neighborhood within that city.
Consider the contrast between Chicago and New York. The Windy City had about 762 homicides in 2016, while the Big Apple had just 334. The difference is shocking, especially when you consider that New York has three times Chicago’s population.
To some extent, the contrasting figures from 2016 reflect longstanding trends. Although murders did spike in Chicago last year, New York has been doing better than Chicago on this score for a long time. The two cities had essentially identical per capita homicide rates in the late 1980s, but New York’s fell much faster and further than Chicago’s in the 1990s. New York has maintained a wide advantage ever since.
Still, the dramatic widening of that advantage in 2016 should be of great concern to Chicagoans. The chart below indicates the trends in recent years, based on FBI data. Note that the two cities moved in sync from 2013 through 2015: homicides down the first year, basically unchanged the next, and then up a little in 2015. However, in 2016, even as Chicago’s homicides shot up, New York’s dropped back down to where they had been in 2013 and 2014.
One should not get the sense, however, that one faces a dramatically elevated risk of violence throughout the Windy City. Continue reading “Chicago, New York Heading in Opposite Directions on Crime; Where Does Milwaukee Stand?”
I now have a publication date for my new book: January 17. The excessively long, but nicely descriptive, title is Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-on-Crime Era: How Judges Retained Power and Why Mass Incarceration Happened Anyway. More information (including how to order a copy) is available through the University of Wisconsin Press. I’ll be doing a release event at Boswell Books in Milwaukee on January 17 at 7:00 p.m.
In the Marquette Law School Poll conducted earlier this month, fifty-nine percent of registered Wisconsin voters agreed that marijuana “should be fully legalized and regulated like alcohol.” Only thirty-nine percent disagreed.
Support for legalization in Wisconsin follows the recent decisions to legalize marijuana in Colorado and Washington in 2012, and in Oregon and Alaska in 2014. Nationally, support for legalization has grown steadily since the early 1990s and finally crossed the fifty-percent threshold in 2013.
In the Law School Poll, respondents were asked which arguments for legalization they found most convincing.
Continue reading “Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization in Law School Poll, But Results for Other Drugs Harder to Interpret”
Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a voluminous report on uses of deadly force by the Philadelphia Police Department. In recent years, there has been a drop in both violent crime and assaults on police officers in the City of Brotherly Love, but officer-involved shootings (OISs) have remained stubbornly high. Amidst media coverage of rising OIS numbers in 2013, the Police Department requested assistance from the DOJ in order to assess the problem.
The new report, authored by George Fachner and Steven Carter, finds there were 394 OISs in Philadelphia between 2007 and 2014, for an average of 49 per year. The suspects were unarmed in 15% of the cases. Fachner and Carter provide a wealth of data regarding the 394 OISs and dozens of recommendations for the Department.
One recommendation is, “The PPD should publish a detailed report on use of force, including deadly force, on an annual basis. The report should be released to the public.”
I’m pleased to say that we are already doing such annual reports here in Milwaukee. How do the numbers compare?
Continue reading “Deadly Force in Philly (and Milwaukee)”
Earlier this week, the United States Department of Justice released a scathing report on police and court practices in Ferguson, Missouri. Figuring prominently in the DOJ’s criticisms, Ferguson criminal-justice officials were said to be overly concerned with extracting money from defendants. For instance, the DOJ charges:
Ferguson has allowed its focus on revenue generation to fundamentally compromise the role of Ferguson’s municipal court. The municipal court does not act as a neutral arbiter of the law or a check on unlawful police conduct. Instead, the court primarily uses its judicial authority as the means to compel the payment of fines and fees that advance the City’s financial interests. This has led to court practices that violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process and equal protection requirements. The court’s practices also impose unnecessary harm, overwhelmingly on African-American individuals, and run counter to public safety. (3)
I don’t know how fair these particular criticisms are, but they echo numerous other criticisms made in recent years about the increasing tendency of the American criminal-justice system to rely financially on a burgeoning array of fines, surcharges, fees, forfeitures, and the like.
Professors Wayne Logan and Ron Wright have a fine recent article on this subject, appropriately entitled “Mercenary Criminal Justice” (2014 Ill. L. Rev. 1175). Continue reading “Mercenary Justice?”
Last week, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission released its annual report on police uses of force for 2013. The report counts 895 incidents in 2013, employing a very broad definition of “use of force” that does not require either an injury or the use of a weapon. To put that number into perspective, the Milwaukee Police Department made more than 30,000 arrests in 2013. For each arrest in which force was used, there were about thirty-six arrests in which force was not used.
In nearly three-quarters of the use-of-force-incidents, no weapon was used by the police officer. In the remaining incidents, the most commonly used weapons were Tasers and pepper spray. Firearms were used on forty occasions, most commonly on dogs. Firearms were used against human subjects in fourteen incidents; eleven of the subjects were hit.
Data from previous years indicate that Taser and pepper spray use is in sharp decline. Continue reading “Milwaukee Arrests Rarely Involve Force, But Incidents Are Concentrated in Some Districts”
Last week, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission (of which I am a member) released the results of its first-ever survey of citizen attitudes toward the police. Although the survey identified a few areas of concern, the overall tenor of citizen attitudes seems positive.
Conducted for the FPC by UWM’s Center for Urban Initiatives & Research last summer, the survey involved telephone interviews of 1,452 Milwaukee residents. As detailed in the CUIR’s report, the survey respondents were reflective of the city’s diversity in racial composition and in other respects.
The report’s lead finding is that about three-quarters of Milwaukee residents report that they are at least somewhat satisfied with the Milwaukee Police Department, while only about nine percent said they were “not at all satisfied.” These findings are notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that fully one-quarter of the respondents reported being stopped by the police in the past year. One might suppose that this group would be predisposed to negative evaluations of the police. However, the vast majority (71%) of those stopped felt that they were treated fairly. The MPD has significantly increased its number of stops in recent years, but it does not appear that involuntary contact with the police normally leads to hard feelings by the person stopped.
Given recent racial tensions in Milwaukee and nationally regarding policing practices, it is especially important to note the racial patterns in survey responses. Continue reading “Milwaukee Residents Give Solid Marks to Police”
We expect a lot from our criminal-justice system, and we don’t seem very impressed with the results we are getting. These are two of the notable lessons that emerge from the most recent Marquette Law School Poll of Wisconsin residents, the results of which were released earlier today.
In one part of the survey, respondents were asked to assess the importance of five competing priorities for the criminal-justice system. As to each of the five, a majority indicated that the priority was either “very important” or “absolutely essential.” The five priorities were:
- Making Wisconsin a safer place to live (91.6% said either very important or absolutely essential)
- Ensuring that people who commit crimes receive the punishment they deserve (88.1%)
- Keeping crime victims informed about their cases and helping them to understand how the system works (81.0%)
- Rehabilitating offenders and helping them to become contributing members of society (74.1%)
- Reducing the amount of money we spend on imprisoning criminals (51.2%)
The especially high level of support for “making Wisconsin a safer place to live” was notable in light of the much smaller number of respondents (21.4%) who said that they or an immediate family member had ever been the victim of a serious crime. This is line with results from last July’s Poll, which indicated that more than 85% of Wisconsinites feel safe walking alone in their neighborhoods at night. Still, making the state safer remains a high priority for more than 90% of Wisconsin residents.
Respondents were separately asked how well the system was performing along five separate dimensions. Continue reading “Wisconsinites Give Criminal Justice System Poor Marks, Especially for Offender Rehabilitation”
My most recent posts in this series have compared violent crime data from different cities. However, focusing on a single crime-rate number from a city may mask wide neighborhood-to-neighborhood variations within the city.
Consider Milwaukee. A helpful on-line data tool permits interesting comparisons among the city’s seven police districts. The data reveal that rates of violent crime vary within the city by about as much as they do across cities. Here, for instance, are the homicides per 100,000 district residents since 2010:
District 5, encompassing the north-central portion of the city, has easily had the highest homicide rate each year, while Districts 1 (downtown and northeast) and 6 (far south) have easily had the lowest. (District boundaries are described in more detail here.)
Robbery rates reflect a similar pattern: Continue reading “Violence in the Heartland, Part VI: Cities Within the City”