Police effectiveness, police accountability, and the “Ferguson Effect”

UPDATE

Heather Mac Donald objects to what are, in her view, mischaracterizations what she said. See comments.

*****

Kevin Drum does a good job deconstructing Heather Mac Donald’s latest attempt to blame what she calls “anti-police progressives” for this year’s spike in homicide rates in a number of major cities. Inconveniently for Mac Donald, her piece came out just before the New York Times reported that New York City homicides, having been up noticeably early in the year, will come in for the whole year at about last year’s levels, with overall crime still going down.

On the other hand, Mac Donald does a pretty good job of deconstructing the what-me-worry analysis presented by the Brennan Center, which is fairly typical of respectable liberal opinion on the question. With homicide up about 16% on average in the 60 largest cities, it’s just a little bit too glib to report that “reports of rising crime across the country are not supported by the available data.”

Kevin points out that, because homicide is relatively rare, homicide counts – especially for limited geographic areas and time periods – are statistically noisy. But it’s worth noting that the previous big-change years he points to were all with the established trends – big jumps before the 1994 peak, big declines since. The 2015 change was a reversal of trend; the baseline expectation for the year wasn’t the 2014 rate, but 2014 minus the trend (roughly 5% per year). So the count presented by 538.com (again, in an article spun against claims that homicide was increasing) suggests that there were nearly 20% more homicides in those 60 cities through the first nine months of the year than we would have predicted at the beginning of the year. That’s not something to be complacent about.

So what explains the unwillingness of people who proclaim that #BlackLivesMatter to sound the alarm about a substantial rise in the rate at which mostly Black lives are being lost to criminal violence? I think Mac Donald is right that part of the explanation is the fear that the acknowledgement of a real problem will be exploited by … well, by Heather Mac Donald, for example. Continue reading “Police effectiveness, police accountability, and the “Ferguson Effect””