Can the Effectiveness of Police Stop-and-Frisk Tactics be Enhanced?

The New York Police Department is on track to do 700,000 stop-and-frisks this year, the most in its history. Twelve percent of these stops meet the NYPD’s current criteria for success: An arrest or summons. Put another way, 88% of these stop-and-frisks yield no such result. At least some of those “negative results” from stop-and-frisks have value (e.g., I decided not to put my gun in my belt before I went to settle an argument with another drug dealer because I was afraid a police officer would stop-and-frisk me, and that in fact happened). But some portion of the negative results truly are a dead weight loss, not just in police time but in how they make law-abiding people angry at the police and feed racial hostility more broadly throughout the city.

Modern policing, including in New York City, is all about data monitoring, targets and performance management. Is there a performance management strategy that would increase the benefits and reduce the costs of stop-and-frisks? Continue reading “Can the Effectiveness of Police Stop-and-Frisk Tactics be Enhanced?”

The Feminist Triumph Over Sexual Violence

A quarter century or so ago, when I was volunteering as a counselor to sexual assault victims in East Lansing, Michigan, the police force in the neighboring city of Lansing was so dismissive of rape accusations that an activist friend said in the newspaper: “My advice to women is that if you get raped in Lansing, crawl to East Lansing to report it”.

But Lansing was not that much of an outlier. Police chiefs and other public officials in many cities made unfunny jokes about rape victims (e.g., “If it happens to you, just lie back and enjoy it”) and suffered no consequence. The women’s movement had become influential in some parts of the country, but many women didn’t bother to report rape because they assumed correctly that the police would not investigate adequately and a jury would be as likely to blame the victim as the perpetrator. This will sound like one of those “In my day…” stories with which the old endlessly bore the young…nevertheless, if you are a young American man or woman you really can’t imagine how widely sexual assault was tolerated in your country.

I am overjoyed to say that I can hardly recognize the world I live in today when it comes to sexual violence. The rate of sexual assault has dropped dramatically. One of the most powerful men in the world is arrested for rape and held at Riker’s island upon the word of a hotel maid. After a British cabinet minister fumbles his words and seems to say that some rapes are not serious, The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition spend question time trying to out-do each other in their public condemnation of sexual assault.

No one factor can explain such sweeping cultural change, but there is no doubt that the redoubtable women of the feminist movement were an essential part of the revolution. They were screamed at, bullied, spat upon and oppressed but they simply refused to relent. They rallied, they spoke out, they comforted the victims and they held perpetrators and their enablers to account. And, of course, they were right.

There are still sexual atrocities committed against women every day, and the work is by no means finished. But that in no way diminishes the extraordinary transformation of the past 30 years. Every woman, everyone who loves a woman, everyone who is raising a little girl or for that matter a little boy, owes feminists a debt for the better, safer and more equal society that we are blessed with today.

Freedom of Information for Criminals: A Great Idea

After reading my post on 24/7 Sobriety, the criminologist David Kennedy was kind enough to send me a copy of Deterrence and Crime Prevention. His book is a tour de force not just for its intellectual value, but for its wisdom about why people do the things they do (cops and robbers both). One of the many valuable lessons of the book is that a good deal of crime can be prevented simply by giving criminals better, simpler information about what the rules are.

Kennedy gives the example of a young gang member with several prior convictions who did not realize that his next gun-related arrest would result in a long federal sentence, and ending up being sent upriver for 15 years for a minor violation (possessing a bullet). A number of other gang members then came in to check with the police to see if they were in the same legal situation and many found out to their surprise that they were. Some law enforcement officials might say “In revealing their status to them the police gave up the chance to send them away for a long time, like the guy with the bullet”. Exactly. The chance goes away because the criminals didn’t carry guns and bullets anymore, i.e., they were deterred once they understood what the rules were.

But deterrence isn’t the only reason to lay cards on the table with criminals. If you had a robot that punished with 100% accuracy every violation of any rule you imposed on your children, would you still tell your children the rules in advance, given that punishment would be perfectly applied with no effort on your part? Of course you would, because you care about your kids and therefore don’t want them punished unnecessarily. When your kids see you take the time to tell them the rules, they know that you care. Many criminals live in neighborhoods where the dominant narrative holds that cops/judges/majority society hate us. When a police officer or judge or some other law enforcement official takes the time to help them understand the rules, it undermines that narrative by showing that someone in authority cares about them. When people feel cared about and that life isn’t rigged against them, they are less likely to lash out and be destructive to themselves and the people around them.

To come back to 24/7 and HOPE probation, both programs have simple rules that are explained transparently to offenders at the outset. This contrasts with the usual situation in court, which is an offender being baffled by the proceedings and hoping meekly to escape punishment. The rules of the courtroom, probation and parole are complex even for the professionals, and the average criminal has lower education, IQ and literacy than the general population. Anyone who has been in court has seen a judge ask a defendant “Do you understand?” and seen the defendant look over at his/her lawyer for a cue, get a nod, and then say “Yes judge, I understand”.

From what I have seen, offenders in 24/7 and HOPE do understand the rules, and have the sense of being cared about, most particularly that the judge and the staff actually want them to succeed, which may be a key reason why most of them fact do succeed. And strikingly, even when they don’t, they typically draw the conclusion that is better for them and society: “I got punished because I screwed up, better not do that again”, rather than “I don’t know why I got punished but I know it wasn’t fair and someday, somehow, someone’s gonna pay”.