David Kennedy on reducing violence

We know how to do it. It doesn’t depend on random stop-and-frisk.

If you care about homicide, click through. Key points: We know how to reduce bloodshed, and violence suppression doesn’t depend on indiscriminate, intrusive use of police power. Again: We know how to do it.

Note to Radley Balko: Congratulations on your new gig at the Washington Post. Your criticisms of police excess – often spot-on – would have more cred if, just once, you celebrated police success, or noticed that liberty can be threatened by crime as well as by official misconduct.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

24 thoughts on “David Kennedy on reducing violence”

  1. “would have more cred”

    ” or noticed that liberty can be threatened by crime as well as by official misconduct”

    Wow, how very small of you.

    1. “Small”? To worry about the thousands killed by civilians and not only the dozens killed by police?

      1. 1. Everyone worries about crime. Few people hold the police accountable.

        2. Police brutality is worse than private violence. It is done in my name. It is a breach of public trust. It undermines cooperation with law enforcement. And when it goes unpunished, it attracts bullies into the police force and metastasizes.

        1. I agree. Committing murder, torture, or brutality under color of state authority is one of the worst things anyone in a democratic society can do.

        2. Seconding this – the press is generally OK with (unnecessary) police violence, as are the politicians, most church leaders, and a frighteningly high percentage of US citizens.

      2. It used to be protect and serve.Now it’s get home to your family at shift end.This may seem like a small point but it’s not.They talk about how dangerous their jobs are and yet they’re the ones with body armour and automatic weapons.All arrests are done with an armed and hyped up pack of military equipped teams.This was the rule long before there was a terrorist threat.This is a direct result of the war on drugs.Call it a war and it becomes one.Noone questions casualties in war.

    1. As usual, not a mention of crime control. Radley’s perfect police force would be like a car with terrific steering, great brakes, and no engine. I’m waiting for a post from him that celebrates the spectacular reduction in homicide, or worries about the damage done by criminals as well as the damage done by police.

      1. I really don’t understand this contrariness you that you have about people who write about a particular view.

        Would you also consider an advocate who specialized in the environmental activism to be disingenuous unless they also wrote some articles about the good things corporations have done for the environment?

        Or require a person who opposes war to recognize in their writing that there have been good things that have come from war?

        It’s not their job, just as it’s not the job of drug policy reformers to spend time discussing the potential of additional people being harmed from voluntary drug use under legalization, particularly when that is completely irrelevant to their argument, which is that prohibition is an evil that must be eliminated.

        I know Radley’s work well, and he’s a big fan of police done right, and recognizes and appreciates their value to society. Doing puff pieces about dangerous criminals that have been taken off the street due to the heroic efforts of police isn’t his beat. That doesn’t mean that he’s anti-police or pro-crime.

        1. “simple, whole-hearted endorsement of the idea that everything they think about police is 100% right in all cases, end of discussion.”

          Is that really what you and Kleiman believe Radley Balko’s journalism is? Merely an anti-cop circlejerk? The jealousy that wells up when an ideological opponent sees significant success can be very ugly. That whole comment is an embarrassment, along with the original post. “Why doesn’t Balko talk about XXX issue?!?!” Good lord, what is this, middle school?

      2. Mark,

        Audience capture is a real phenomenon, whether you are Balko or Fox News. If Balko wrote about the topics to which you point, he would anger all the readers who come to him to cheer on his repeatedly given the same message about policing every day. Many bloggers are in the same boat — they are not there to cover an issue, they are there to present an ideological viewpoint that their readers do not want to have questioned. If Balko presented facts that showed the complexity of police work and police performance, his fan base would not get the emotional rush they receive from a simple, whole-hearted endorsement of the idea that everything they think about police is 100% right in all cases, end of discussion. He’s comfort food, not food for thought, and that’s a business model that works (not to say that makes it right).

        1. Yikes. See my general response to Mark below.

          But additionally, Balko was covering police abuses before he had a large audience. Instead of assuming audience capture, perhaps it is a topic of interest for personal reasons?

          You seem to fail on “issue” by defining it as the way you want things covered. What is the “issue” on which you believe Balko ought to be reporting? He appears to be doing a great job on the issues of police brutality and police abuse. That is an issue which is deeply under reported compared to self promoted police success stories. It is an under reported issue for systemic reasons–police self publicize only one side of it, police organizations have lots of power, individual victims of police power rarely have institutional support comparable to the police department, popular media portrayals which are pro-police are much more frequent than the converse (compare the number of Law and Order, plus NCIS, plus CSI episodes to what the few seasons of the Wire or the Shield?).

          The pro police side of the argument is well occupied. If policy makers care about assessing police brutality vs effective policing, they have a deep well to draw from on the pro-police side. You aren’t going to get similar depth on the tracking police abuses side if you won’t even allow one reporter to specialize.

          1. Also, the notion that the police help prevent crime, and that criminals hurt people, fall under the “no duh” category. No one, never mind Balko, need write about them.

  2. I love David Kennedy, and I think the work he is doing is fantastic, but the techniques he speaks about cannot be the answer when crime has dropped everywhere.

  3. The article you link is great. Your comment on Balko is silly.

    A) do you believe the pro-police side is under reported?

    B) do you believe that Balko’s reporting is inaccurate?

    For purposes of discussion I’ll assume your answers are No to both questions. But I’m not straw manning. I’m anticipating. So if it turns out that you believe that cops and prosecutors can’t generally get a fair shake in the news media please say so. Or if you believe Balko is lying all over the place or inventing police brutality please say so.

    So if the pro-police side is extremely well covered, and Balko’s reporting is accurate, why does he need to be the person reporting police successes? Reporting takes time and effort. The police trumpet their own successes and hide their abuses. Why does Balko need to waste some of the time money and effort needed to uncover the very under reported abuses by also reporting well publicized and police self trumpeted successes?

    1. This isn’t about being pro-police. It’s about being pro-crime-control. Sometimes that means forcing changes in police procedures, for example to reduce the frequency of false conviction. I’m all for Radley’s exposes of police misconduct. I’d just prefer if he occasionally reminded his readers what the police are there for in the first place.

      1. You’re not really reading Balko, are you? It’s not police misconduct per se that he’s reporting. If readers are looking for just that, they’ll find plenty to read about at sites like this one.

        Balko reports societal misconduct, like how we are militarizing our police forces through inappropriate use of SWAT teams to serve petty-crime warrants and federal government programs that donate inappropriate military hardware to police departments, and the psychological effects that militarization and “war on x” attitudes have on those we must entrust to enforce the law. He regularly acknowledges the difficult, good and necessary work of policing. He doesn’t scapegoat individual cops for the things he’s reporting about how our society is choosing to equip and deploy it’s police forces. When he reports about the 90 year old grandmas getting killed in wrong-address drug raids, he doesn’t call the cops who did it a pack of goons, he points out that this is the sort of thing that all that militarization naturally leads to, and asks us to question whether or not that’s how we really want to police ourselves as a society.

      2. mr. balko does remind his readers what the police are there for in the first place. the fact that he does so with counterexamples does not reduce the effectiveness of what he does. i share the frustration of most of the commenters to this post with the remarkably jaundiced take both dr. kleiman and, apparently, dr. humphreys have on mr. balko’s reportage.

  4. Yeah, I don’t think this is fair to Balko at all.

    It’s a bit like people screeching at Glenn Greenwald for reporting on government spying but (supposedly, though he contested this) much on corporate spying/abuse.

    He’s mostly a single-issue guy, yes. So? He does great work on that issue. You are of course free to round out the story, as you have with this post. The aside about Balko’s cred is just… whiny.

    1. By the way, this (from the article):

      By making it clear that law enforcement can tell the difference between the very few even potentially violent and everybody else, and leading with intervention rather than arrest and incarceration, law enforcement wins the trust of communities and strengthens their ability to act on their own behalf and police themselves.

      Sounds wonderful. It actually made me smile. I really hope this is true and continues.

    2. What’s amazing is that Mark has frequently discussed and done hard research on how to better target crime interventions, which would lead them away from a militarized ‘kill them all and let God sort them out’ system.

      I think that in the end Mark just has these personal quirks, and likes/doesn’t like some people (cf Megan McArdle).

  5. David Kennedy says “post hoc, ergo propter hoc.”

    Not clear that homicide is decreasing for the reasons cited.

  6. As a Vet who fought against drug money in Iraq, I speak for all police officers who never served (because they are civilians). Any police officer (since not every cop does this–but most do) who obeys illegal laws are not morally sound people, therefore we’d be hard pressed to prove of any ‘positive accomplishments’. Yes, I’m sure the SS and other German police did good things for the people of Germany . . . they even helped a few Jews out of the cattle cars as well, but due to the explicit evil that those police officers upheld, logic demands a total negation of any good acts they did, lest they went out of their way to reduce the negative acts of the Holocaust and used their rank and status as a way to do that. Any cop who attempts to arrest a vet who is self medicating his war wounds and is still scheduled to be deployed in the future is a terrorist committing treason, since only a terrorist would reduce the U.S. military from having one good soldier in our military’s ranks. So, that tells me that any drug law obeying cops are not good people the same way we don’t want to call slave owners or SS officers as good people. Common Sense. But I’d be willing to forgive these cops if they chose to obey the real legal laws. If a man will arrest you for pot, then a man will arrest you for a Bible or a science book or a Mark Twain book or a pocket sized ‘Constitution’ . . . just logical that is and thus cannot be negated nor disproved by anyone living in the real world. And since we lost the War in Iraq and are soon losing the war in Afghanistan, I would say that is proper punishment for us soldiers who may have done something inhumane in the process–even if we were ignorant and merely just doing our jobs and obeying orders. Therefore we regroup and learn and hopefully we can act best as soldiers or cops for society and the world at large.

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