The Sheriff Must Run the Jail, But How Do You Know Whether a Facility Is a Jail?

Last week, the Circuit Court in Milwaukee County rejected the effort of Sheriff David A. Clarke to maintain control over the County Correctional Facility South.  (Judge Van Grunsven’s ruling is available here.)  Although the CCF-S (formerly known as the House of Corrections) was run for decades by a superintendent who was independent of the Sheriff, the County transferred control over the CCF-S to the Sheriff in 2009 as a result of security concerns at the facility.  However, the new management proved less than satisfactory to some important stakeholders.

Conflict over Clarke’s administration of the CCF-S seems connected to a wider ideological conflict between Clarke and other County leaders over the incarceration of relatively low-risk criminal offenders, with Clarke taking a very critical position regarding various criminal-justice initiatives that might be grouped under the heading “evidence-based decision making.”  (Background on the conflict is here; my critique of some of Clarke’s views is here.)  Clarke has been unsupportive of treatment programs and alternatives to incarceration, and his administration of the CCF-S has apparently reflected this perspective.  Finally, through its 2013 budget, the County Board decided to transfer control of the CCF-S back to a superintendent.  Clarke’s control over the downtown jail, which has been his all along, remains unaffected.

Clarke sued the County in order to block the transfer.   Continue reading “The Sheriff Must Run the Jail, But How Do You Know Whether a Facility Is a Jail?”

Comparing Police Stops of Citizens in New York and Milwaukee, Part II

As I discussed in my previous post, frequent police stops of citizens may ultimately prove counterproductive to crime-fighting objectives.  In this regard, I also suggested that who is targeted and how they are treated may actually matter more than the sheer quantity of stops.  If that’s right, then several aspects of the New York stop data are troubling.

Racial disparities are one concern.  Black and Hispanic males between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for more than 40% of the stops made by the NYPD in 2011, even though they amount to less than 5% of the city’s population.

Continue reading “Comparing Police Stops of Citizens in New York and Milwaukee, Part II”

Comparing Police Stops of Citizens in New York and Milwaukee, Part I

Last week, the New York Civil Liberties Union released a report on police stops in New York City, prompting a New York Times editorial yesterday that was quite critical of the police.  As the Times put it, “The mounting evidence reveals a pattern of abusive policing that warrants the attention of the Justice Department, which should be using its broad authority to investigate these practices.”  The newspaper’s criticisms focused particularly on racial disparities in the NYPD’s stops and related uses of force.

Apparently by coincidence, the Milwaukee Police Department also released data last week on police stops, covering both subject stops (the topic of the NYCLU report) and traffic stops.  The data indicate that the MPD and the NYPD have both significantly increased their numbers of stops in recent years.  Although New York had far more subject stops than Milwaukee in 2011 in absolute terms, Milwaukee is actually in front of the Big Apple on a per capita basis.

Continue reading “Comparing Police Stops of Citizens in New York and Milwaukee, Part I”

Should Police Be Required to Equalize Arrest Rates in Poor and Middle-Class Neighborhoods?

When police choose to arrest a resident of a particular neighborhood for committing a crime in that neighborhood, the decision produces certain costs and benefits for the neighborhood.  And when police concentrate resources in certain neighborhoods, or adopt different enforcement strategies in different parts of a city, the costs and benefits of arrests will be distributed unequally among neighborhoods.  Such distributional consequences of policing strategy are the subject of an interesting new article by Nirej Sekhon, “Redistributive Policing,” 101 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 1171 (2011).

It seems self-evident that policing strategies should not be regressive, that is, exacerbate preexisting socioeconomic disparities among neighborhoods.  Rather, the ideal should be to distribute the benefits and burdens of arrests evenly across neighborhoods.  The problem, of course, is that crime rates are not distributed evenly.

Sekhon’s solution is to tie neighborhood arrest rates to neighborhood crime rates:

The obligation to distribute policing costs equitably ought to require police departments to make arrests in proportion to the rate of specific criminal misconduct in specific areas. Police departments should not arrest offenders in one community while allowing those in another community to engage in similar conduct with impunity.  (1220)

This might have a large impact on drug enforcement, for instance.  Since the rates of drug use appear no less among well-off whites than among poor minorities, Sekhon’s approach would seem to require police to intensify enforcement in middle-class neighborhoods, deescalate enforcement in poor neighborhoods, or both.

Continue reading “Should Police Be Required to Equalize Arrest Rates in Poor and Middle-Class Neighborhoods?”

Police Stops Go Up, Citizen Complaints Go Down — What Gives?

The Milwaukee Police Department has just released some new data on traffic and subject stops. There is a fascinating story here on policing strategy. Since 2007, Milwaukee has experiened a dramatic increase in the number of stops: both traffic and subject stops are up close to 250%. This has been part of a deliberate strategy to increase the number of police-citizen contacts, especially in high-crime neighborhoods. (The MPD has also been very active over the past four years in promoting uncoerced police-citizen contacts, too.) The objectives are to gather intelligence, disrupt criminal activity, and enhance community perceptions of safety in public spaces.

As hoped, crime has indeed gone down considerably since 2007: violent crime is down 24%, and property crime is down 21%. Whether and to what extent the increased-stops strategy has caused the crime drop is uncertain — the MPD has also made some other significant changes in the past four years, and, in any event, crime has been dropping nationwide — but the causal claim strikes me as at least facially plausible. Providing some additional support is a month-by-month breakdown of auto theft and robbery data: in general, in months when stops have lagged, auto thefts and robberies have spiked; in months when stops have spiked, auto thefts and robberies have dropped.

But safety has a cost.

Continue reading “Police Stops Go Up, Citizen Complaints Go Down — What Gives?”

New Report on Contacts Between Police and the Public: Numbers Generally Look Good for Police, But Racial Disparities Are Also in Evidence

As I’ve noted here before, there is a substantial body of social psychological research suggesting an important connection between crime levels and the way that police treat citizens — basically, the more that police are perceived to be fair and respectful, the more that citizens, in turn, will feel respect for the law and a sense of obligation to cooperate with the police.  With that background in mind, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ brand-new report Contacts Between Police and the Public, 2008 makes for some very interesting reading.  The data are based on a national survey of U.S. residents that BJS has conducted every three years since 2002.

On the whole, police should regard the report as good news.  Here are some of the basic findings.  Nearly 17 percent of the population had face-to-face contact with the police in 2008.  This is down from 21 percent in 2002.  The most common reason for contact with police in 2008 was being a driver in a traffic stop (44 percent of contacts).  Despite the overall drop in police contacts since 2002, the number of drivers stopped actually increased by five percent over the 2002-2008 period.  (Query whether this reflects a more widespread adoption of the Milwaukee Police Department’s recent strategy of deliberately increasing this sort of police-citizen contact.)

What has really driven the overall drop is a huge decrease in the number of people reporting crimes to the police or otherwise requesting police assistance.  Presumably, this is a reflection of declining national crime rates, although (a less positive interpretation for the police) it may also partially reflect less confidence in the police to respond effectively to calls for help.

Here’s the really good news, though.  First, nearly 90 percent of those who had police contacts felt that police acted properly.  Second, an even slightly higher percentage felt that police acted respectfully.  Third, nearly 85 percent of drivers who were stopped thought that police had a legitimate reason for the stop.  Finally, fewer than two percent of those with police contacts reported that police used or threatened the use of force against them.

Despite the good news, police ought to take note of some racial disparities in the responses.

Continue reading “New Report on Contacts Between Police and the Public: Numbers Generally Look Good for Police, But Racial Disparities Are Also in Evidence”

Which Cities Do Best (and Worst) at Breaking the Poverty-Violence Link?

The Milwaukee Police Department recently supplied the members of the Fire and Police Commission (including yours truly) with some quite interesting data on violent crime rates within the nation’s 50 poorest cites.  As one might expect, the very poorest cities on the list generally tend to have the worst rates of violent crime.  The correlation, however, is far from absolute.  Several cities on the list impressively over-perform or under-perform relative to their poverty rates.  To focus on this, I present below a much simplified version of the table prepared by the MPD, which is based on 2009 data.

Poverty Rank Violent Crime Rank
Detroit, Michigan 1 2
Cleveland, Ohio 2 7
Buffalo, New York 3 6
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 4 21
St. Louis, Missouri 5 1
Miami, Florida 6 14
Memphis, Tennessee 7 3
Cincinnati, Ohio 8 13
Philadelphia 9 11
Newark, New Jersey 10 24
Toledo, Ohio 11 18
New Orleans, Louisiana 12 29
Tuscon, Arizona 13 35
Dallas, Texas 14 28
Pittsburg, Pennsylvania 15 23
Fresno, California 16 38
Minneapolis, Minnesota 17 20
St. Paul, Minnesota 18 31
Columbus, Ohio 19 33
El Paso, Texas 20 49
Atlanta, Georgia 21 15
Stockton, California 22 9
Chicago, Illinois 23 n/a
Phoenix, Arizona 24 45
Baltimore, Maryland 25 5
Houston, Texas 26 17
Bakersfield, California 27 36
Indianapolis, Indiana 28 12
Santa Ana, California 29 47
Los Angeles, California 30 37
San Antonio, Texas 31 43
Tulsa, Oklahoma 32 19
Long Beach, California 33 34
Tampa, Florida 34 32
Sacramento, California 35 26
Denver, Colorado 36 42
Ft. Worth, Texas 37 41
Corpus Christi, Texas 38 27
New York, New York 39 44
Austin, Texas 40 46
Washington, D.C. 41 10
Oklahoma City 42 25
Louisville, Kentucky 43 39
Lexington, Kentucky 44 40
Nashville, Tennessee 45 16
Oakland, California 46 4
Boston, Massachusetts 47 22
Aurora, Colorado 48 48
Kansas City, Missouri 49 8
Albuqueque, New Mexico 50 30

So which cities do best and worst?

Continue reading “Which Cities Do Best (and Worst) at Breaking the Poverty-Violence Link?”

Milwaukee Homicide Numbers Take Turn for the Worse

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports today that the number of homicides in Milwaukee so far this year has already matched last year’s total (72).  It’s hard to know what to make of this news, though.  Is Milwaukee becoming a more violent place?  Probably not — other categories of violent crime have continued their long-term decline as homicides have gone up, and even the number of shootings is down.  Have the police become less effective in preventing homicides?  I’m not aware of any reason to think that is true.

Homicide is a relatively rare crime, and a certain amount of year-to-year variation is surely a matter of random chance that reveals nothing about the underlying state of the city and its police force.

More generally, the recent crime numbers in Milwaukee present a glass half-empty versus half-full scenario.  Continue reading “Milwaukee Homicide Numbers Take Turn for the Worse”