Violence in the Heartland, Part VI: Cities Within the City

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”

Violence in the Heartland, Part V: Wisconsin’s Cities

Since 1985, Wisconsin’s seven largest cities have followed markedly different paths in their rates of reported violent crime.  Two, Waukesha and Appleton, have consistently had lower rates than the state as a whole, while two others, Milwaukee and Racine, have typically had rates that are two to three times higher than the state as a whole.  Kenosha and Racine have significantly reduced their rates of violence since the 1980s, while the other five cities have experienced sizable net increases.

Here are the overall trends, in the form of reported violent crimes per 100,000 city residents:

Cities year by year

In recent years, as you can see, Waukesha has easily had the lowest rates and Milwaukee the highest.  Earlier, Appleton used to compete with some success for lowest and Racine for highest.

Here are the net changes in the cities’ crime rates from 1985-1987 to 2010-2012:   Continue reading “Violence in the Heartland, Part V: Wisconsin’s Cities”

Violence in the Heartland, Part IV: The Biggest Losers (and Gainers)

Among the eleven biggest Midwestern cities, Chicago has experienced the largest drop in homicide rates over the past quarter-century, while Cincinnati has experienced the largest increase.  The other nine cities are scattered between the biggest loser and the biggest gainer, reflecting a range of markedly different urban experiences with lethal violence since the mid-1980s.

This rather messy graph indicates the annual number of homicides (murder and other nonnegligent manslaughter) per 100,000 residents for each of the eleven Midwestern jurisdictions with a population of more than 250,000:

homicides by 11 cities

Other than Detroit’s position as the region’s perennial homicide champ, it is hard to discern any patterns in the mass of lines.

The following table provides a clearer picture of each city’s trajectory.   Continue reading “Violence in the Heartland, Part IV: The Biggest Losers (and Gainers)”

Violence in the Heartland, Part III: City Trends

In earlier posts (here and here), I have explored state-level violence trends since 1960 in the seven midwestern states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  This post focuses on the data from the largest city of each of these states.  Since Chicago does not report its rape numbers in conformity with FBI standards, it is omitted from the analysis.

Here are the city trends since 1985 (reported violent crimes per 100,000 residents):

city data

What stands out most is the very wide, persistent gap between Detroit at the top of the chart and Des Moines at the bottom.   Continue reading “Violence in the Heartland, Part III: City Trends”

Alternatives to Incarceration: The Importance of Local Collaboration and Leadership

Last week, the Audit Services Division of the Milwaukee County Office of the Comptroller released a helpful new report, “Electronic Monitoring can Achieve Substantive Savings for Milwaukee County, but Only if Pursued on a Large Scale with Satisfactory Compliance.”  Although the voluminous report particularly focuses on electronic monitoring, it also provides a wealth of background information about the recent history of our local jail, House of Correction, and alternatives to incarceration.  The report documents a rich array of new or recently reinvigorated programs that are intended to divert defendants from the jail or House of Correction, either at the pretrial stage or post-adjudication.  The report also notes widespread support for these initiatives among nearly all major stakeholders in the County’s criminal justice system, with the most significant exception being Sheriff David Clarke.

Media coverage centered on the report’s finding that home detention and electronic monitoring of larger numbers of offenders might save the County more than $2.5 million in costs at the House of Correction.  The Office of the Sheriff responded to this finding in a characteristically derisive fashion, particularly criticizing the House’s current leadership for placing drunk drivers on electronic monitoring.

Although the war of words among County officials makes good copy, I think the real story in the report is the extensive and innovative collaboration that has been occurring for the past half-dozen years between court officials, elected leaders, prosecutors, public defenders, and various other stakeholders in order to address Milwaukee’s chronic jail overcrowding and to develop cost-effective alternatives to incarceration.   Continue reading “Alternatives to Incarceration: The Importance of Local Collaboration and Leadership”

Milwaukee Arrests, Part IV: Racial Disparity Story Similar in Chicago, Sort Of

In the first post in this series, I explored the persistent racial disparities in Milwaukee arrests.  How does Chicago compare?  In a nutshell, the overall disparity rates are remarkably similar in Milwaukee and Chicago, but the War on Drugs drives the disparities to a much greater extent in the Windy City than here.

Let’s start by taking a look at black and white arrest rates in Chicago since 2000:

Chicago Arrests

As is apparent, arrest rates have been coming down for both races, but white rates remain well below black.

Here is what has been happening in Milwaukee during the same time period:   Continue reading “Milwaukee Arrests, Part IV: Racial Disparity Story Similar in Chicago, Sort Of”

Milwaukee Arrest Trends, 1980-2011 — Part III: Chicago Comparisons

Chicago’s population is about 4.5 times larger than Milwaukee’s, but, surprisingly, the arrest totals in the two cities have been slowly converging for many years.  Here are the numbers reported to the FBI since 1980 (omitting a handful of years in which one city or the other did not report arrests):

two city totals


To some extent, the convergence may result from underlying crime trends in the two cities.

Continue reading “Milwaukee Arrest Trends, 1980-2011 — Part III: Chicago Comparisons”

Arrest Trends in Milwaukee, 1980-2011 — Part Two

In the first post in this series, I compared black and white arrest rates in Milwaukee over time. In this post, I present arrest data by offense type.

In 2011, the seven leading arrest offenses were disorderly conduct, “other assault” (i.e., not aggravated assault), drug possession, theft, vagrancy, vandalism, and weapons possession.  Together, these seven offenses accounted for more than 53 percent of all Milwaukee Police Department arrests.  This amounts to almost exactly ten times the number of arrests for the violent “index crimes” — the most serious violent offenses that dominate media coverage of the criminal justice system (homicide, robbery, forcible rape, and aggravated assault).  To get a more realistic sense of the day-in-day-out work of the system, it may be helpful to appreciate that for every homicide arrest you see in the news, there are 123 arrests for disorderly conduct and 47 arrests for simple drug possession — nearly all of which fly well below the media radar screen.  It is an interesting question to what extent these lower-level arrests contribute to public safety.

These offense distributions do not differ much by race.  The first pie chart below indicates the distribution of the Big Seven arrest offenses among blacks; the second provides the distribution among whites.   Continue reading “Arrest Trends in Milwaukee, 1980-2011 — Part Two”

Arrest Trends in Milwaukee, 1980-2011–Part One

Earlier this month, the ACLU released this interesting report on arrests for marijuana possession. The ACLU found a steady increase since 1990 in the number of arrests nationally for possession of pot. By 2010, arrests for this crime had come to account for nearly half of all drug arrests. Moreover, the ACLU also found that racial disparities in marijuana arrests increased right along with the number of arrests, even though surveys indicate that whites and blacks use marijuana at about equal rates.

Neither Wisconsin nor Milwaukee County performed well on the racial disparity front. Statewide, blacks are six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, which is considerably higher than the national average of 3.73. Milwaukee County’s disparity number was also above the national average at 4.7.

Coincidentally, at about the same time the ACLU released its report, the federal government’s Bureau of Justice Statistics unveiled a new on-line, interactive arrest-data tool, which permits detailed searches of arrest data from individual cities dating back to 1980. I thought it would be interesting to examine Milwaukee’s numbers over time. I focused on arrests by the Milwaukee Police Department, which differed from the ACLU’s focus on county-level data. (The MPD is only one of several law enforcement agencies in Milwaukee County, albeit the single largest.)

The first graph below shows the annual number of arrests by the MPD by race. Unfortunately, no data were available for 1986, 1998-2000, or 2004; otherwise, every year from 1980 through 2011 is included.   Continue reading “Arrest Trends in Milwaukee, 1980-2011–Part One”

Milwaukee: The Most Dangerous Size

Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics issued a new report compiling nearly two decades of data on gun crime, Firearm Violence, 1993-2011No doubt, many readers will pore over the report’s abundant tables and graphs looking for support for their views on gun control.  However, I was most struck by a breakdown of firearm violence based on population size (table 5).  Among the six size-based categories, the most dangerous places were cities of 500,000-999,999 — the category containing Milwaukee (pop. 597,867).  These mid-large cities not only have rates of gun crime that are about four times higher than cities of less than 100,000, but they are also forty-four percent higher than cities of one million or more.

More specifically, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, there were 4.6 nonfatal firearm victimizations per 1,000 persons age twelve or older in the mid-large cities in 2010 and 2011.  (Nationally, homicides constitute only two percent of all gun-related crimes, so the NCVS numbers would not change much if fatalities were included, too.)  The second-highest rate was 3.9, for cities with 250,000-499,999.

The numbers look very different today than they did in 1996-1997, when the Milwaukee-sized cities were tied for second place with 7.3 victimizations per 1,000, and the medium-sized cities (250,000-499,999) led with 10.3.

I have two reactions to the data.  First, the relationship of community size to gun violence is in some respects predictable, and in others quite puzzling.  Continue reading “Milwaukee: The Most Dangerous Size”