Calling illegal-gun trafficking “contagious,” a Chicago researcher says that despite very strict gun control, someone who wants to use a weapon to commit a crime can easily obtain a weapon using social media or other networks on the underground market.
Calling illegal-gun trafficking “contagious,” a Chicago researcher says that despite very strict gun control, someone who wants to use a weapon to commit a crime is “two and a half handshakes away” from getting one through the underground market.
“Being around a gun increases your chance of being a victim several times over,” Andrew Papachristos, Professor of Sociology and Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, told journalists and justice professionals at John Jay College.
Papachristos was discussing the results of his recent study of the relationship between social media and guns at a panel during last week’s Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America.
The panel was held as the nation was reeling from the latest school shooting—the gunning down of 17 students at a high school in Parkland, Florida last Wednesday. The 19-year-old shooter appears to have purchased his weapon legally, but the panel was told that recent estimates indicate only one out of every six firearms used in a crime in the U.S. is legally obtained.
The most devastating impact of illegal guns has been seen in America’s inner-city neighborhoods, the audience was told.
“This is obviously the hottest story of the day, but it’s also a perennial story, one that is a great burden on our society,” said Philip J. Cook, a professor of public policy at Duke University.
In “The Underground Gun Market: Implications for Regulation and Enforcement,” a paper published late last year in the Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, Cook and co-author Harold A. Pollack of the University of Chicago reported that in the United States there are approximately 270 million guns in private hands, yet 78 percent of American adults do not own one.
In “The Stock and Flow of US Firearms: Results from the 2015 National Firearms Survey,” it was revealed that “in 2015 the median owner had two guns, but 8 percent of all owners who owned ten or more accounted for 39 percent of the stock.”
The bottom-line statistics of deaths caused by guns in America was brought into sharp focus at the Guggenheim panel. Cook estimated the 2017 national murder total at 20,000, with 15,000 of those killings—75 percent—caused by a gun.
“These shootings are highly concentrated in terms of victims—young men, mostly minority, and to an extraordinary extent that certainly makes this a social justice issue, the death rate from homicide for young African-American men is 17 times as high for Anglo white men the same age,” Cook said.
“This is the greatest health disparity that I know about.”
Gun violence wreaks havoc on communities within large cities like Chicago, Cook said.
“It has effects on economic development—people of means leave those neighborhoods, businesses are unwilling to locate there, in additional to the fearfulness of people forced to stay there.”
Current gun control efforts focus on regulation through restrictions on sales—such as denying a purchase to someone with a felony record—and background checks to determine if the purchase should be blocked.
Cook pointed out that in a recent study of criminals convicted of gun crime, 40 percent said they obtained the gun used within 30 days of the crime, and two-thirds within the preceding year.
“This suggests that if we could somehow magically stop all of these transactions, the gun violence problem would be gone in about a year. That’s why the focus on transactions rather than the number of guns there are becomes a very important issue.”
Cook and other panelists emphasized that the illegal gun market is dissimilar to the illegal drug market. “In comparison, the underground gun market is peanuts economically,” Cook said.
The guns used in crime are almost always legally manufactured and first sold at retail by a licensed dealer and then make their way through a number of hands to the illegal owner.
“The best underground gun market definition is it consists of all the transactions that are illegal because the recipient is disqualified from owning or it may be illegal because there is a technical violation of local regulations involved,” said Cook.
Most gun sales resulting in violent crime do not come through licensed firearm dealers but buying from a family member or partner (“the girlfriend problem”), an acquaintance, or a street source, and there are virtually no open-air illegal-gun markets.
“There is a close alignment between the assaulters and the robbers, who in most cases get their guns illegally, while most Americans get their guns legally,” said Cook.
A University of Chicago Crime Lab multi-city study that looked at data from offenders and police records and ATF trace data showed that there is an underground traffic of guns from states with less regulation of guns to big cities in more regulated states like Massachusetts, Illinois, and New York.
“There is dramatic and irrefutable evidence that when the less regulated state makes it more difficult, they are cut back as a source of trafficked guns immediately,” Cook said. “This market is very responsive to local regulation.”
Papachristos used analysis of social networks to study how easy it is to obtain a gun. He found gun-violence victimization is intensely concentrated within networks of people within certain neighborhoods of a big city. In Boston, for example, he found that 85 percent of all gunshot victims were within a network of 700 people.
In the context of social-network science, gun violence is “contagious,” Papachristos said.
“It is actually spread and transmitted in the same way that other public health epidemics are transmitted.”
The focus of Papachristos’s research was answering the question: How do populations who are severely prohibited from owning guns get access to one in a city like Chicago with strict gun laws?
Within a network of about 127,000 people in Chicago—those who have been arrested or in contact with criminal-justice systems—on average people are within two and a half handshakes away from getting a gun, Papachristos concluded.
Gangs play a pivotal role in facilitating access, he said. If a person is a gang member, it’s “more like a handshake and a half.”
Kimberley Smith, research manager of the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago, said the lab team attempted to pull together data from different sources and “take a deep dive” to try to explain the 60 percent increase in homicides in Chicago and create a public report, released in 2017. Part of their goal was to understand where the guns used in homicides come from.
“Very few of the incarcerated individuals” who were interviewed got their guns directly from licensed gun dealers, Smith said. Nor were the guns stolen, for the most part. The weapons were purchased from “friends or family.”
What do the Three Strikes law, mandatory-minimums for drug offenders, the Stop Snitching campaign, and private police have in common? According to Paul H. Robinson, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, they are all expressions of a “shadow” vigilantism that has spread in the contemporary U.S.—usually in response to perceived failures in the justice system.
What do the Three Strikes law, mandatory-minimums for drug offenders, the Stop Snitching campaign, and private police have in common? According to Paul H. Robinson, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, they are all expressions of a “shadow” vigilantism that has spread in the contemporary U.S.—usually in response to perceived failures in the justice system.
In a conversation with TCR’s Julia Pagnamenta, Robinson explains why the history of vigilantism is more nuanced than the traditional view which defines vigilantes as groups like the KKK and white supremacists, and why vigilantism will continue to operate when disenfranchised individuals in society feel that the system is ignoring their concerns.
The Crime Report: Your book suggests that acts of vigilantism are very much tied to early American history. Can you explain?
Paul Robinson: Vigilantism certainly has, and for many good reasons, a very bad reputation. People tend to associate it with some horrendous Klu Klux Klan lynching. But of course it’s also true that it has somewhat more admirable roots in other places as well. The original American Revolution was really an act of vigilantism where the colonists thought they were being treated badly. England had not kept its end of the social contract, so they took the law into their own hands in the very dramatic way of declaring independence.
Another example is the story of the gold miners in San Francisco. This was a city overwhelmed by an influx of people either headed towards the gold hills in California or providing services in San Francisco to people headed to the gold hills, and with the swell of population came a government that for the most part was corrupt. The San Francisco vigilance committee formed itself from a large group of citizens who in very public ways went after criminals and held public trials completely independent of the official authorities. When they really did bring order back to the city, and once the government actually matured enough so that it wasn’t just a bunch of corrupt scoundrels, the vigilance committee disbanded itself.
TCR: You also mention a line in the U.S. Constitution that refers to the recourse that the American people can take when the government breaches its promise to protect its citizens.
Robinson: Given what the creation story was for the United States, it is no surprise to find some language in the Constitution that specifically seems to support and recognize the legitimacy of some forms of vigilantism. This is a larger theme of the book: to say there really is such a thing in some circumstances as moral vigilantism. There are a lot of stories about the gay community in San Francisco being openly beaten where police ignore the anti-gay crimes. The same occurred in the South with the civil rights workers: blacks who were being victimized because of their civil rights leadership.
We have some modern-day stories about women in India who organized a vigilante group acting against men who publicly assaulted and groped women, and the police did little or nothing about it, and quite a few other stories where it’s hard not to read the story, see the extent of the victimization, see the extent of the violation of social contract by inherently indifferent police and authorities, and not be sympathetic to these groups that then openly become vigilantes.
TCR: Although the history of vigilantism in this country is more nuanced than the Klu Klux Klan, the history of white supremacist groups terrorizing and killing African-Americans is very much a part of American history… and one that is still playing out today.
Robinson: Those groups can’t claim to be vigilantes: nobody is victimizing them. Their expression of violence is just a product of their own racial bias. In that sort of situation you might well have some claim to moral vigilantism on part of the black community if the police weren’t taking seriously enough their victimization. Luckily, we are doing a little better than we were back in the Civil Rights era and the South, where a lot of civil rights groups did have to form their own vigilante groups to protect themselves.
The criminal justice system does take seriously that kind of victimization and is making prosecutions and providing protection so that we can avoid the need for black victims to form their own vigilante groups. Obviously, it’s an imperfect process at the moment, but certainly authorities are doing a better now than they did before.
TCR: Victimhood is crucial to understanding vigilantism. How do these two terms interconnect, or rather, how does one affect the other?
Robinson: Well certainly the victims themselves can feel the sting and frustration of the failures of justice in ways that other people can’t, and they may have the greatest motivation to become vigilantes. Whether it’s classic vigilantes or shadow vigilantes.
Human beings are built in a way that they care deeply about doing justice and avoiding injustice, and when they see that in the world around them, they are going to want to hold somebody accountable. If the criminal justice system is doing the best it can, they are willing to cut it a break and say, you know, it’s certainly trying. It’s very difficult to accurately reconstruct past events. We can’t expect it to be perfect. But when they see a criminal justice system that seems to be willfully frustrating justice, we know exactly what happened, we have compelling evidence of what happened, and we are still going to let this person walk away with no punishment, although they are clearly a rapist, or a murderer. What does that say?
TCR: Indeed, a theme in the book is the recurring ineffectiveness of government authorities in carrying out justice, especially for African-American communities.
Robinson: Right, that’s a classic invitation to moral vigilantism when it’s clear that the system isn’t going to do anything about it, and in fact is going to be complicit in the victimization itself.
TCR: You open the book with a harrowing example of a domestic abuse case. Maybe the criminal justice system shouldn’t handle cases of domestic abuse?
Robinson: I am not entirely sure I agree with that. To the extent that there are other institutions outside the criminal justice system that can attempt to reduce crime, reduce domestic violence or sexual violence, that’s wonderful, absolutely, let’s do that, but at the end of the day there is a social contract, and the criminal justice system has to step-up and provide that sort of protection. I think domestic violence is an example of how for decades the criminal justice system miserably failed. I mean there are some classic cases. The Torrington Police [in Connecticut] watched a woman [Tracey Thurman] get beat by her husband in front of them and it’s the umpteenth time that he’s done this, and they just stand around and watch.
Well, are we surprised that she, and most of the people she’s talked to, are just horribly offended with the police and the criminal justice system? Are we surprised that they don’t have the slightest confidence in the fairness and justice and effectiveness of that system? Are surprised that they would be happy to distort the system as needed from their point of view if that’s what was necessary to get the system to take this domestic violence more seriously? No, I think that’s human nature. I think that shadow vigilantism is a natural response to any time the criminal justice system systematically, apparently willingly, fails to do justice.
TCR:Right. You provide examples in the book where private citizens did take matters into their own hands and government agencies tacitly condoned their actions.
Robinson: Yes, I mean the first half of the book is really about this struggle to recognize the legitimacy of vigilantism in these special cases, and at the same time to recognize that it’s very easy for vigilantism to slip past the boundaries of moral justification.
Once you’ve passed that signpost of what’s lawful and what’s criminal, and once you’ve justified moving into doing what’s criminal because you believe that you were morally justified as a vigilante to act or protect yourself, it’s very hard to know exactly where to stop. It’s very easy for a group to say, well, that didn’t work. Let’s do a little more. In fact, one of the chapters in the book is about reactions of communities to apparent police indifference to the increased use of drugs as essentially destroying their community, and some groups will certainly push back when the police don’t respond and seem indifferent to the damage that is being done to the community. They may step a little over the vigilante line by confronting drug dealers or crack houses.
I think one of the larger lessons from that is just to illustrate how easy it is once you’ve crossed that line to justify doing just a little more, and therefore always worrying whether you’ve passed the point about what is morally justifiable.
TCR: Do you see a correlation between this sort of vigilantism, of taking justice in your own hands, and the U.S. relationship with guns?
Paul H. Robinson
Robinson: I don’t see that connection. There are a lot of groups who have no particular interest in the Second Amendment, but who can say with some legitimate claim that the government has breached its social contract with them, and whether they care about the Second Amendment or not they are put in a difficult, if not impossible situation.
There’s a separate issue in moral vigilantism that is worth mentioning: even if a group is morally justified under their own terms, it’s simply from a larger societal point of view, a bad way to solve the problem of that group that is being victimized.
So, for example, one of the stories in the book is about a neighborhood that has a serious crime problem. They get together and create a neighborhood watch group that is fairly aggressive and they are actually extremely successful at reducing crime in their neighborhood, which you might see as a huge success story. This neighborhood watch group qualifies as vigilantes because they go a little outside the law sometimes, they are stepping in and doing what they think the police should be doing, but when you step back and look at the larger situation what you find is that [while] it’s now a better world for them because their crime rate is down so much, what in fact has happened is a lot of that crime has simply been pushed off into neighboring communities that don’t have as an effective neighborhood watch.
One of the problems of individual group vigilante action is that it’s not done at a larger stage, or national, or even city level, so it has that potential of simply solving the problem for one group at the expense of neighboring groups, and while it’s hard to deny that this is moral vigilante action, from a larger societal point of view it’s not a good solution.
Better that the government do that, extend more resources if need be, undertake the policy that we are better at reducing crime and apply that policy to all communities in the area. So it’s not a matter of just pushing the crime next door, but rather preventing it. That’s just an example of how, even if on its own terms moral vigilantism seems morally justifiable, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for society.
TCR: You write about the 1993 kidnapping and murder of twelve-year-old Polly Klaas in Petaluma, California, Was the response to Klaas’ murder an example of a moral panic, in which a horrifying act became politicized and had devastating repercussions for people who found themselves swept up in this new tough-o- crime initiative?
Robinson: Let me go back and introduce this notion of the shadow vigilante. The moral vigilantes we’ve been talking about so far are classic vigilantes in the sense that they are themselves going out into the street and using force, and otherwise breaking laws, and sort of substituting for the police. They are doing what they think the police and the criminal justice system should be doing. But in some ways, that takes an unusual individual. Most of us just aren’t programmed to go out and become criminals ourselves.
However, the same frustrations that generate classic vigilantism also generate shadow vigilantism. They don’t go out into the streets, but what they do is less obvious, and in ways that don’t endanger them personally nearly as much. They nonetheless act in a way that undermines the criminal justice process: they try to subvert the process to push it to do what they think it should be doing. They manipulate the criminal justice process, and this I would argue happens a lot because it’s easy for people to do, there is nothing on the line.
Ordinary people have a role in the criminal justice process. Are they going to decide to report a crime that they see? Are they going to help investigators? Are they going to as jurors follow their jury instructions, or are they going to ignore the law and do what they want? Or in a grand jury, are they going to follow their legal instructions?
Or are they going to, for example, support policies like (California’s) Three Strikes law that seem like obvious overreach? A lot of its political support comes from people who are frustrated because they don’t see the current system as effectively dealing with the kind of offenses that now have mandatory minimums, and the kinds of offenders that fall under Three Strikes.
The problem with shadow vigilantes is that they are much more dangerous because they are much more common, and because there is not much you can do about them. And it all happens in the shadows, so you don’t even know it’s going on, and it’s not just ordinary citizens. Shadow vigilantism is something that is inspired by participants in the process as well, whether you are talking about police or prosecutors, or sometimes with the acquiescence of judges.
TCR: How does law enforcement contribute to shadow vigilantism? What are the implications on the criminal justice system as a whole?
Robinson: To give an example, police “testilying” is a phrase invented by New York police officers, invented because they wanted to distinguish regular lying under oath, which they considered entirely inappropriate, to lying with regard to, for example, what they considered the technicalities of the very obscure search and seizure rules.
This is just an example of a shadow vigilante who is frustrated by the systems, sort of an intentional failure of justice. This is how they respond. It’s not going out into the streets, and getting in fights, rather it is manipulating and distorting the system so that system will be more likely to impose the deserved justice that they think should be imposed.
TCR: Search and seizure rules are a point of contention between crime control and civil liberties advocates. What is your perpective?
Robinson: I would say, first, you can’t have a civilized, liberal democracy without having some form of Fourth Amendment that limits police intrusion in our personal lives. I mean that’s absolutely essential, and you need a way to enforce those rights. You can’t just have the Fourth Amendment on the books and then do nothing about it, so police are sort of free to intrude wherever they want, and though it’s a violation of the rules of the books, they can get away with it because there is no enforcement. There has to be some kind of enforcement mechanism. However, when we adopt the exclusionary rule as our enforcement mechanism [this] is a rule that on its face is designed to frustrate justice.
At the very least I would say this: every time we adopt a rule that we know is going to frustrate punishing people to the extent that they deserve it, no more, no less, every time we adopt a just as frustrating rule, we ought to understand that there is a hidden cost. That every time we do that the moral credibility of the system is undermined and people are going to be less likely to defer to it, to give it some kind of moral authority. Every time we approve these frustrating doctrines we are much more likely to inspire shadow vigilantes to feel morally justified in distorting the law to their own purposes.
I think it’s no coincidence that the Three Strikes doctrine, these mandatory minimums, are a problem that we currently have after a decade or more of the system’s reputation for letting people off on technicalities or tolerating really inconsistent sentencing where if you get the right judge you can walk away without no punishment at all. Once the system’s credibility for giving just punishment is undermined, well surprise, surprise, we know have these distortions in the other direction.
Part of the problem with shadow vigilantism is that it promotes a really damaging response. Once you have a system where everybody knows that there is this police “testilying,” everybody knows there are these mandatory sentences, and that these Three Strikes mechanisms are generating sentences that are well beyond what the community thinks is really just, once you have that kind of distorted system, are you surprised that there is then a backlash?
TCR: The Stop Snitching campaign arose from a mistrust of the police in some communities. Is that another example of the backlash you describe?
Robinson: The Stop Snitching campaign is a tragic development, because, of course, all it’s going to do is to reduce the effectiveness of crime control and make things worse, and increase victimization. It’s outrageous how the black victimization rates are dramatically higher. That’s a walking tragedy, but you can understand where Stop Snitching came from. You have a system that has a built-in police “testilying,” plus exaggerated punishment routinely under Three Strikes and mandatory minimums. Are we surprised then that there are some neighborhoods where the system is the enemy? No. The distortions that shadow vigilantism creates inspire its own backlash through Stop Snitching, and a lot of other ways that people think that they then have a reason to undermine the system further and it’s a downward spiral.
TCR: There is a lot of emphasis in the book on the failures of the criminal justice system being tied to offenders not receiving just punishment for crimes they committed, but the opposite argument can be made, that the U.S. criminal justice systems is one of the most punitive in the world. Can this in itself not be considered a failure of justice?
Robinson: Frankly, yes, I think that’s right. (Our system) tends to have exaggerated punishment at the high end, but in part I think that is a product of this shadow vigilantism distortion process that I talk about in the book. Having all those exaggerated penalties is a product in part of the frustration of the system not imposing punishment that was deserved. You know, we could have skipped that whole couple of decades where individual judges were free to just let murderers walk; well we could have saved ourselves a lot of the headaches that we have know with these crazy mandatory minimums.
TCR: What decades are you referring to?
Paul H. Robinson: Well, this is back in the 60s and 70s, before the advent of sentencing guidelines, there was an enormous amount of judicial discretion allowed. We thought it was quite justified. The problem of course was that a lot judges were quite idiosyncratic in both directions unfortunately, but the fact is that when ordinary people see that kind of disparity in sentencing, [they] are offended on both ends, and not just offended when somebody gets a lot more punishment than they deserve, they are also offended by people getting a lot less punishment than they deserve, and they are likely to react to what they see as the dysfunction in the process. One of the ways to react to people getting a lot less punishment than they deserve is to put in a set of mandatory minimums, which I think is tragic.
TCR: Do you think that the recourse to privatizing sectors of the criminal justice system leads to increased vigilantism?
Robinson: There are many more private police than public police. We really have privatized policing in many areas. Certainly the motivation for hiring private police is that you don’t trust the public police, but there are unfortunate consequences that come from that, and one of the unfortunate consequences, of course, is that you can get effective policing only if you can financially afford it. If you can live in one of those communities that can afford private policing, well great, if you don’t, well then you’re screwed.
This is in part what contributes to the dramatic over-victimization of black communities. Most black neighborhoods are dependent on public policing. In a perfect world, we would have a public police department that was effective enough; in a criminal justice system with policing rules and exclusionary rules that cared enough about justice so that public police could be effective enough that everybody would find the services they offer to be acceptable. We’d have no further need for private policing and everybody was assured of that same minimum level of protection.
Julia Pagnamenta is a news intern with TCR. Readers’ comments are welcome.
Prosecutors have too often left it up to juries to sift through evidence of cases against individuals whom they decided were guilty of their crimes without a thorough investigation, says Brooklyn (NY) DA Eric Gonzalez. He adds his office is making sure that never happens again.
Is it easier to take a second look at suspect convictions when crime rates have declined, and the public is no longer clamoring for tough-on-crime strategies from their prosecutors and police?
Brooklyn (NY) District Attorney Eric Gonzalez argues that prosecutors in fact should beware of the opposite problem: when crime rates accelerate, critical evidence that might exonerate a defendant can be sidestepped by DAs who are too eager to satisfy the public’s demand for quick convictions.
Brooklyn (NY) District Attorney Eric Gonzalez
In a conversation with The Crime Report’s Victoria Mckenzie during last week’s John Jay/Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America, Gonzalez conceded that prosecutors too often left it to jurors to decide on their own how to judge the credibility of both witnesses and evidence without pursuing thorough investigations.
The Crime Report: Since your Conviction Review Unit is handling cases that are decades old, are you able to see whether the decline of jury trials have had an effect on wrongful convictions either way?
Eric Gonzalez: Most of the cases that we’ve overturned have been jury trial cases. We have overturned a plea in one case, where a person was facing deportation, and we found…fabrication. But most of the cases have been jury trials. I’m going to say, and this is controversial in a way, but what I found is— especially in the 1980s and 1990s, when the homicide rate in Brooklyn (left) over 800 people killed, that the volume of cases weren’t very well investigated.
And often if there was probable cause, a lot of these cases would be put before juries with the kind of concept of “let the jury decide.” Make out a legally sufficient prosecution, but let the jury decide.
I think that today we look at these cases a little bit more critically. We don’t abdicate our responsibilities as prosecutors to make sure we have a certain moral certainty of the defendant’s guilt before giving it to the juror to say “you decide.”
That is something I am very critical of, and in some of these cases I think prosecutors could have stopped the prosecution of the case saying they had credibility questions about the witnesses. In the past maybe we allowed jurors to decide credibility, and sort of stepped back from making sure that we believed in their guilt.
TCR: So your review unit is not handling cases where the defendant pled out even if he/she may have been innocent, just to get out of jail etc.
EG: What we’re focusing in on right now are currently cases where the person is still incarcerated. And a lot of these plea cases, especially with low level crime, the person is pleading in order to get out of prison, and they’re moving on with their lives and they don’t have the resources or the organizations like the Innocence Project going back and bringing these petitions.
We have looked at pleas, we do look at pleas, but we’re really focusing our resources on the people currently incarcerated. So I think in a lot of plea cases you don’t have people still in jail.
Victoria Mckenzie is Deputy Editor of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.
The two-day symposium, which brings together journalists, academics and policymakers for discussions on emerging criminal justice topics, opened Thursday with remarks by Paul Cell, First Vice President (and incoming 2019 president) of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
The 13th annual John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America, which opened Thursday with a close look at the nation’s opioid crisis, is accessible via livestream at John Jay College’s YouTube channel.
Chief Paul Cell
Featured speakers at the opening panels include Paul Cell, First Vice President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police; Rita Noonan of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Joe Rannazzisi, former deputy assistant administrator of the Office of Diversion Control at the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The two-day conference, entitled “Justice in the Heartland,” brings together journalists, criminal justice policymakers, practitioners and academics for discussions on the state of sentencing and corrections reform, the homicide “spike” in several major US cities, and the rise of the underground gun market and other emerging justice issues.
The livestream link is accessible here, starting at 9 am EST Thursday. Live proceedings will be from 9am-12:30pm, and from 2:30pm-6:00pm. Friday’s conference will be available on livestream from approximately 9:00am to 12 noon.
The failure to enforce municipal noise ordinances can create an environment that encourages lawbreaking, and can sometimes mean that police miss criminal behavior, warns an expert who specializes in the impact of noise on public health.
According to a report issued last month by New York City Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, the New York Police Department (NYPD) investigated some 1.3 million complaints about noise between 2010 and 2015—but they resulted in just 5,482 NYPD summons.
The discrepancy needs a closer look.
Noise ranks high on the list of New York City complaints—and as in many other cities it can be an indicator of criminal problems or behavior that requires police action.
Nearly 30 years ago, Carmine Santa Maria and I published an article in John Jay College’s Law Enforcement News journal focusing on noise and crime. The headline on the front page of that issue underlined our argument: “Forum: Police have a big role to play in curing one of America’s foremost stressors—noise pollution.”
After discussing the adverse impacts of noise on health, and citing some cases where noises in apartments may be clues to abuse of family members taking place in those apartments, we pointed out that not enforcing noise ordinances creates an environment that encourages lawbreaking.
Our article called for greater involvement of police officers in the reduction of noise in New York City. In fact, after this article was published I worked with New York City police on ways to resolve noise complaints, and I also spoke with new police officers about the hazards of noise and what actions could be taken to curb noise.
According to the Comptroller’s report, “Silencing Excessive NYC Noise a Major Challenge,” the majority of the noise complaints in the five-year period covered by the analysis were handled by the NYPD and the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
A survey of New Yorkers, also noted in this report, found that 92 percent of the respondents reported the noise complaint recurred and 83 percent were dissatisfied with how the complaint was handled.
Comptroller DiNapoli commented that both the NYPD and DEP have limited resources to respond to noise complaints quickly.
In a preliminary discussion with several community affairs police officers, I have learned that police precincts have already explored why large numbers of complaints have yielded few resolutions as indicated by the DiNapoli report.
Too often, the noise has abated when police officers arrive at apartments or business establishments, or the sounds are not as offensive to the officers as they are to the complainants.
I have also been told that many of the complaints are made by the same person over and over again and that accounts for the high numbers of complaints. The DiNapoli report indicated that the NYPD has assigned Neighborhood Coordination Officers to mediate these repeat complaints and to document resolutions to these complaints which they are to send regularly to borough commanders.
It appears that NYPD has examined potential explanations for why summonses issued are low and complaint numbers very high. The NYPD is also logging data on how repeated complaints are resolved.
Nevertheless, in light of the DiNapoli report, one would also like to know how officers are instructed to respond to noise complaints, whether they employ objective tools to assess levels of noise, and how informed they are about the dangers of noise to health and well-being—as well as the potential link between noise and crime.
Noise complaints may be a clue to what else is going on in an apartment. It could be the beating of a child or spouse or older person. Drug dealing and prostitution also can elicit noises within buildings.
Here’s one example.
Several years ago, in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn NY, an elderly woman complained about noise from an apartment above hers in a small rental building. Late at night, there were people running up and down the stairs to the apartment above, and a car parked in front of her apartment played loud music with occasional horn honking.
After speaking with her caretaker and learning that they were dealing drugs upstairs, I contacted local precinct. The police investigated and the individuals were removed from the apartment. The landlord called to thank me, and to say he would address any problems the woman had in her apartment promptly.
New York City is not the only major city in our country besieged by noise issues.
While it is true that many US cities have noise ordinances, and citizens are directed to contact police departments and other appropriate city agencies with their noise complaints, I’m not familiar with any study comparable to the DiNapoli report that has assessed how successfully noise complaints have been resolved in these cities.
Citizens across the country have contacted me at GrowNYC to assist them with noise complaints. I invite you to send me a note at our website or comment on this essay to tell me how your city is measuring up, and of course I stand ready to assist the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies in addressing a problem that has too often been ignored.
Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D. , Professor Emerita, Lehman College, CUNY, serves on the Board of GrowNYC and is the co-author of “Why Noise Matters” (written with four British colleagues). Her research and writings on the effects of noise on mental and physical health are included in edited books and encyclopedias, academic journals and more popular magazines. She serves as an expert witness on noise impacts on health in the US and abroad. She welcomes readers’ comments.
A noted criminologist finds a useful lesson for law enforcement agencies trying to address use-of-force incidents in a speech half a century ago by former President Dwight Eisenhower.
The US Park Police killing of Bijan Ghaisar last November can now be seen on line, thanks to another police agency that recorded the shooting on a Dash-Cam.
No one can decide whether this shooting was legal, based only on the video and press accounts. But everyone can decide that the police lacked what President Dwight D. Eisenhower once asked our entire nation to display: patient courage.
On Dec.2 1954, at the height of the Cold War, Eisenhower was under political pressure to authorize military action. His response was that every other means had not yet been exhausted:
Dwight Eisenhower, official portrait 1959 via Flickr
“The hard way,” he said, “is to have the courage to be patient, tirelessly to seek out every single avenue open to us” before using violence.
Yet many police agencies fail to teach that message. Instead, their systems allow officers to put themselves in harm’s way, where there can be no patience if they reasonably believe there is a risk to life.
At the time Ghaisar was shot, he was apparently not wanted for any violent crime, nor for a hit-and-run, nor for a serious offense. His crime was refusing to stop for a police officer.
That is not a legal basis to shoot or kill, by any US law or firearms policy I have seen in a half-century of educating police. Yet somehow, at least one officer decided that it was. What kind of police system can produce that kind of decision?
The US Park Police have been here before. In 1994, a disturbed man with a knife taped to his hand chased a police officer around Lafayette Park in front of the White House. The officer called for backup, and a small group of officers formed a semicircle with guns pointed at the man.
While he ignored police orders to drop the knife, the man stood very still, staring at police from well beyond reach of his knife. Other police cleared bystanders away, and the standoff continued for several minutes. Then a siren was heard as another police car drove up near he scene.
A US Park Police officer emerged, ran over to the other officers already dealing with the man, and immediately shot him twice, fatally.
The shooting police officer was not prosecuted, but none of the other officers present had not deemed it necessary to shoot the man. Different reactions to the situation by different officers reveal a system problem of excessive decentralization, in which no one is in command at the scene of a life-or-death standoff.
For decades, some police agencies have required supervisory approval by radio even to engage in a hot pursuit, usually limited to a clear risk of serious harm (which seems to have been lacking in the Ghaisar case). The late Yale police scholar Albert Reiss proposed in 1980 that the same should be done for “permission to shoot,” without which police should follow the UK police practice of avoiding direct engagement with armed persons.
That is just what Camden, NJ police officers did in their celebrated, non-lethal arrest of a knife-wielding man in late 2015, as recently noted in the Washington Post. Under their philosophy of “Hippocratic Policing” that first does no (unnecessary) harm, they had the courage to be patient. But their action was not the heroic courage of individuals. It was the systemic courage of training, procedures, review and management.
Even in a police agency supporting systemic courage, individual officers may need the courage of self-control. When a car stops for police and drives off, not once but repeatedly, there is a natural fear of humiliation of the officers in the eyes of their peers.
By shooting, they may save face—but not lives.
It takes a very strong system to support the first officer on the scene in Camden, who did not use his legal powers to shoot the man with the knife. Instead, he took the lead for what grew to some 15 officers who were all holding fire together.
Lawrence W. Sherman
Police agencies can build patient courage without risking injury to police officers. Some have opposed patient courage as more dangerous to police. But that argument misses the point: that officers have no duty to put themselves in harm’s way when there is no direct threat to anyone.
It is only when they lack the courage to be patient that they create a threat to themselves. Patient courage is not only wise. It also brings more police officers home from work each day, alive and well.
Lawrence W. Sherman is Chair of the Police Executive Programme at Cambridge University and Distinguished University Professor of Criminology at the University of Maryland. He welcomes readers’ comments.
Even small changes in police procedures, like requiring officers to carry hemostatic bandages in patrol cars to help shooting victims—including those they shoot—can have a large impact on how cops are seen by communities, and how they see themselves, a Fordham Law School panel was told Wednesday.
If cops provided first aid to individuals they shoot, regardless of the reason for the shooting, would that change the festering hostility towards law enforcement in America’s at-risk communities?
Soon after the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man in Tulsa last September, a Los Angeles officer told criminologist Lawrence Sherman that SWAT teams in his city were trained to provide immediate medical help to anyone injured during police actions—even those shot by police themselves.
“Didn’t they get that memo in Tulsa?” he said, half-jokingly.
Sherman recounted the story at a panel at Fordham Law School Wednesday to argue that the recurring tragedies of police-caused homicides in the U.S. should be addressed by “reengineering” police procedures and training in ways that encouraged them to save lives, not take them.
“Little changes can cause huge impacts,” Sherman said, suggesting for example requiring all patrol cars to carry hemostatic bandages, often used by the military on the battlefield, that can prevent shooting victims from bleeding to death before they get medical help.
In another example, Philadelphia cops drive victims—including those they have shot—to hospital emergency rooms, added Sherman, who is director of the Jerry Lee Centre for Experimental Criminology and Chair of the Cambridge Police Executive Program at Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology in the UK.
His point was expanded by Phillip Atiba Goff, Director of the Center for Policing Equity at John Jay College, who said such changes needed to be incorporated into a larger “political ecosystem” that recognized the racial biases built into the history of US policing and that rewarded police for perceiving their jobs as protecting the most vulnerable members of the community, rather than just catching “bad guys.”
“It’s about the difference between ‘warriors’ or ‘guardians,’” he said. “First responders or first line of defense.”
Sherman said addressing the factors that lead police officers to use their firearms in the first place—ranging from a perception that they needed to act quickly to save their own lives to the fear that a suspect’s refusal to follow their commands would “humiliate” them before their peers—was critical to achieving changes in officer behavior.
A lot of shootings can also be explained by officers feeling the urgency to resolve a confrontation quickly so they can be somewhere else where they are needed, Sherman said.
“The solution is to slow things down, create space…so there’s an option to be patient,” he said.
He added later, “Sometimes it’s not just when to shoot, but when to stop shooting.”
Sherman, who also holds the post of Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland, was elaborating on a paper he published last month in the Annual Review of Criminology.
The paper argues that the failure of recent attempts around the U.S. to convict officers for shootings of unarmed civilians underlines the difficulty of using legal strategies to punish officers for their actions, and would have little long-term effect on changing behavior or police culture—especially in the smaller cities where most of police shootings occur.
Tulsa police officer Betty White, for example, was acquitted in the September, 2017 shooting of Terry Crutcher after a jury decided that White acted according to departmental procedures and training.
Sherman noted that while larger cities had witnessed a great deal of progress in reducing officer-use-of-force incidents, in cities with populations of less than 10,000 some 18 percent of homicides were caused by police.
“This isn’t a New York City problem; it’s a Ferguson problem,” he said.
Goff, whose center works with police agencies across North America, countered that while measures like placing hemostatic bandages in police cars or training police to slow their responses are helpful, fundamental change requires police managers and their political masters to acknowledge the systemic biases that pervade American society, of which policing is only one part.
“Neighborhoods that suffer from this problem have a color,” said Goff, noting that the majority of police shooting fatalities were African-American or Hispanic men.
“You can’t use training to shift culture unless the culture is ready to receive training,” Goff said.
But both speakers agreed that looking at police misconduct as evidence of flaws in the systems and procedures established by law enforcement managers to monitor and control police behavior was critical.
Goff cited work his center had done with police in Toronto, Canada to reduce the high number of police stops, mostly affecting individuals of color, as an example. When that city’s police authorities admitted that the criteria they used in promoting officers included the number of street stops they made, Goff’s researchers suggested they eliminate that metric for judging police performance—and let all officers know it.
At the same time, officers were required to give their badge numbers and hand out cards to anyone they stopped and questioned on the street.
Within two months of instituting the new policy, the number of stops recorded plunged from 7,000 to 26, Goff said.
Neither speaker suggested such measures were the ultimate answer to the problem of police misbehavior, but Sherman said that many U.S. cities which had made an effort to reform police procedures had experienced drops in officer-involved shootings.
A “Tactical Operations Procedure” first established by the New York Police Department (NYPD) in the 1970s that required all officers involved in a shooting to go before an internal board to justify their actions sharply reduced the incidence of police shootings in the 1970s. But a 1989 Supreme Court ruling in Graham vs Connor, which allowed police involved in a shooting incident to defend their actions by claiming a “reasonable” fear of danger, undermined its effect, Sherman said.
Similarly, police-involved shootings as well as overall crime rates were sharply reduced in Camden, NJ, once ranked as one of America’s deadliest cities, after the entire police force was restructured in 2015 following a financial crisis.
Sherman conceded that many officers would continue to resist advice from academics, community activists and even their police bosses to use patience when dealing with potentially dangerous confrontations because they felt their lives were on the line.
But a coordinated strategy that used some of the same principles of avoiding system “crashes” employed by the aviation and healthcare industries could be effective in smaller cities where police agencies were often understaffed and under financial pressure—with little ability to vet and monitor new officers.
“There would be fewer police killed, and fewer civilians would die,” Sherman said.
Wednesday’s Fordham panel was moderated by Tracey Meares, Walton Hale Hamilton Professor of Law and Founding Director of The Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School.
Stephen Handelman is executive editor of The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.
An outbreak of hepatitis A in a number of states highlights the vulnerability of individuals suffering from both mental illness and substance abuse. Those most at risk —the homeless and formerly incarcerated—deserve “compassionate, evidence-based solutions,” says a TCR columnist.
Several states are in the midst of hepatitis A virus outbreaks. San Diego and the surrounding region are among the hardest hit, but southeast Michigan has more reported cases and more deaths. Utah, Colorado and Kentucky also have experienced outbreaks.
California had 683 cases as of Jan. 23, with 21 deaths. Michigan recorded 715 cases as of Jan. 24, with 24 deaths. Colorado has had 62 cases, and one reported death.
Understanding these outbreaks requires acknowledging the links between homelessness, addiction and mental illness—and it requires more than a single solution.
Hepatitis A is typically a disease spread by human contact with already-infected individuals or pieces of their stool that are too small to see. High-risk groups include the homeless, the incarcerated (and those released from prison) and drug users—all groups that have some overlap. The homeless and the incarcerated also suffer from mental illness and are drug users, a condition known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders, and the deficiencies of health care in many prison facilities make incarceration a key risk factor.
According to a 2009 National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) fact sheet, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that “20 to 25 percent of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness,” compared to only six percent of the population as a whole.
A one-year study of people with serious mental illnesses examined by California’s public mental health system found that 15 percent were homeless at least once in the previous 12 months.
In addition, the NCH fact sheet found that “some mentally ill people self-medicate using street drugs, which can lead not only to addictions, but also to disease transmission from injection drug use.”
The Los Angeles Timescites experts who say that 50 percent to 70 percent of homeless people with severe mental illness (SMI) also have problems with alcohol or drugs.
The likelihood of homelessness also is increased when you have a mental illness, an addiction disorder and a disease such as hepatitis A. None of these conditions is going to go away if you are homeless and have no access to health, substance abuse or mental illness services.
If only one of the three gets treatment, the other two remain, and the third may return because they are all connected.
In 2016, Kevin Fischer, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Michigan, suggested on Michigan Public Radio that closing all the state mental hospitals in the 1990s by then-Gov. John Engler resulted in an “explosion in homelessness.”
The mentally ill were supposed to be sent home, but many ended up on the streets because the private mental health system and the patients’ families were not prepared to handle them.
Joel John Roberts, CEO of People Assisting The Homeless (PATH) Partners, says many people in the mental health field put the blame on Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, who they say released more than 50 percent of the state’s mental hospital patients and abolished involuntary hospitalization of people with mental illness.
“This started a national trend of de-institutionalization,” Roberts wrote.
Then, as president, Reagan ended funding for federal community mental health centers. No one expected the mentally ill to wander the streets. The feds thought the states would take care of them. The states thought private insurance or family would take care of them.
Somewhere, somehow, they were wrong.
To get these outbreaks under control, and to prevent future outbreaks, we need more support for mental health and substance abuse treatment, and better harm reduction strategies (including clean needle exchanges and safe injection sites).
Some of that funding could come from Medicaid if the Trump administration eliminates the Institutions for Mental Diseases (IMD) Exclusion, which prohibits Medicaid funds going to mental health providers with more than 16 beds. There’s bipartisan agreement that this rule, which dates back to 1965, needs to go. The executive branch can, has, and does issue exemptions for this rule, and Trump has pledged to speed up the process.
But virtually no one thinks the rule needs to remain.
More than money is needed. Sometimes only one co-occurring disorder is apparent. First responders need to be trained to look for and recognize both.
In 2017, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) & Michigan Association of CMH Boards wrote, “Supports and services for persons with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders must be the norm for all agencies across the network.”
The department added this was because “it is more prevalent than addiction-only or mental illness-only among the people served by MDHHS providers. Practitioners in every program at all levels of care must be competent to address comorbidity in mental health and substance abuse treatment.”
Effective treatment, according to the NAMI, requires not only that both be treated—but preferably at the same time. It’s called integrated intervention, and often involves detoxification, inpatient rehabilitation with psychotherapy, supportive housing, maybe medications (either to treat mental illness symptoms or to control addiction) and self-help/support groups.
The Michigan House of Representatives’ bipartisan House C.A.R.E.S. (Community, Access, Resources, Education, and Safety) Task Force’s final report recommended that crisis intervention training (CIT) for first responders should include “information on signs and symptoms of mental illnesses” and “co-occurring substance use disorders.”
It also recommended that trial and pre-trial practices “should assess defendants to determine whether the person has a serious mental illness, co-occurring substance use disorder” and so benefit from “mental health services.” Better and more consistent efforts must be made to screen for mental illness and co-occurring substance disorders during the booking process, the task force said.
But that’s if the individual ends up in the mental health or criminal justice system. There are harm reduction practices that can save lives even if the person with mental health and substance-use disorder remains out of the system.
One is providing maintenance drugs (medication-assisted treatment or MAT) such as buprenorphine (brand name Suboxone, also available as an implant, Probuphine, that only needs to be replaced every 90 days) or methadone to addicts to prevent withdrawal, and there are drugs for mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and psychosis.
Another—although hep A isn’t as likely to be spread this way—is providing intravenous drug users with a safe injection space. These spaces are also known as safe consumption sites, fix rooms, drug consumption room (DCR), supervised injecting facilities, and shooting galleries. But they share the following characteristics: a clean facility, with clean needles, the availability of testing supplies to make sure the drug is unadulterated, and a nurse to administer naloxone in case of an overdose.
They not only save lives—no deaths have been reported at any such site around the world, including Canada and Australia—they also save money.
A recent study estimated that such strategies could save an average US city $3.5 million per year and that some could save more (Baltimore: $6 million). The American Medical Association likes the idea, as do the Clinton Foundation and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Some in the anti-drug camp oppose harm reduction in particular, and substance abuse treatment in general. They prefer incarceration to rehab. Their position on the mentally ill is less clear, but maybe they feel that, too, is the result of a poor personal choice.
Maybe paying for these sinners to go to dual diagnosis treatment centers seems like rewarding bad behavior. The result: we have a homeless problem, an opioid epidemic, and hepatitis A outbreaks,
Punishment isn’t working, and science and public opinion now believe addiction is like a disease. It’s time to look for compassionate, evidence-based solutions.
Stephen Bitsoli, a Michigan-based freelancer, writes about addiction, politics and related matters for several blogs. He welcomes readers’ comments.
The director of a nonprofit working with formerly incarcerated women warns the proposed bill is a step backward in the national campaign to end job and educational discrimination against individuals trying to remake their lives after prison.
New York State representatives are pursuing legislation that further targets a disenfranchised population with few resources to succeed after prison.
Sen. Kenneth P. Lavalle (R-NY) this week proposed a bill to reverse a State University of New York (SUNY) “Ban the Box” initiative enacted in late 2016 by the SUNY Board of Trustees in response to a student-led campaign.
The proposed law would require SUNY schools to include “a question on whether the applicant has been convicted of any violent felony offense” on their applications.
If they are successful, it would bring back a discriminatory and ineffective application process that strips formerly incarcerated individuals of any chance to pursue an education.
Even the reddest states, such as Louisiana, have signed “Ban the Box” laws into state constitutions in the past few years. Formerly incarcerated advocates have been the driving force behind the movement, demonstrating that access to opportunities post-prison results in safer communities.
There is no scientific evidence to support criminal records as a predictor of campus safety. In fact, research shows that colleges that restrict access based on criminal histories do not have demonstrably lower crime rates.
If we want people coming home to stay out of prison and engage in society, shouldn’t we be encouraging them to get an education, in order to better provide for themselves, their families, and their communities? By blocking access to education, colleges are perpetuating cycles of crime and poverty—without opportunities to become economically mobile, people often have no choice but to revert to old habits and behaviors.
The “Box” has been proven to discourage and discriminate against applicants with criminal convictions. Issues with the “Box” are two-fold: it acts as a deterrent for those with criminal records to finish their applications, and it allows universities to immediately reject applicants based on long-held social biases.
A 2009 study looking at SUNY’s use of the “Box” found that for every student rejected by SUNY admissions committees because of a felony conviction, 15 did not complete their applications due to the experience of facing the checkbox: an indication that those with convictions are not welcome at SUNY schools.
If this is an attempt to protect students, as some legislators have said, it’s misplaced. Most on-campus crimes are committed by students with no prior criminal history, and often relate to binge-drinking, athletics and Greek life.
SUNY made its decision to ban the box based on research. Why would New York State legislators move us backward?
I am living proof that the Box fails to do anything other than discriminate. I was rejected from SUNY after checking the “Box” on its application. Thankfully, I was able to return to a school I had enrolled in prior to my incarceration and I earned my undergraduate degree. Now, I am the Executive Director of a nonprofit and a graduate student at Columbia University.
Education is a highly effective tool for changing the trajectory of one’s life. This is especially true for individuals with criminal convictions. The nonprofit I now run, College & Community Fellowship, helps formerly incarcerated women earn their college degrees. To date, our Fellows have earned more than 300 degrees (including a PhD and a J.D.!), and less than one percent have gone back to prison in our 17 years of operation.
That translates to more than 300 degree-holding women who are now active participants in their communities, and who contribute to their local economies and our society as a whole.
Imagine what the numbers would show if the “Box” was banned across the nation.
It would be a grave injustice to walk back the policies students and advocates have worked so hard to change. Bringing back the “Box” perpetuates our system of mass incarceration, and targets communities that are languishing under crushing economic burdens.
We must see to it that legislation such as this is promptly discarded.
Vivian D. Nixon is the Executive Director of College & Community Fellowship (CCF), a nonprofit committed to helping formerly incarcerated women earn their college degrees. She is a Columbia University Community Scholar and a recipient of the John Jay Medal for Justice, the Ascend Fellowship at the Aspen Institute, and the Soros Justice Fellowship. She welcomes readers’ comments.
In its seventh report, John Jay College’s Misdemeanor Justice Project found that, even though arrests for pot possession and other drug-related offenses are down, individuals of color are almost five times more likely to be arrested for drug charges than whites in New York City.
In New York City, marijuana and other drug-related arrests significantly decreased in 2016, but young African-American men and Hispanics are still arrested at much higher rates than their white counterparts, according to a report by the Misdemeanor Justice Project at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Examining data from the New York City Police Department from 1993 to 2016, including all misdemeanor offenses for 16 to 65 year olds, researchers found that blacks are almost five times more likely to be arrested for minor drug charges such as possession of marijuana than whites.
Although the City has taken a proactive approach to reducing jail sentences, with plans to close Rikers Island, the second largest prison complex in the country, questions remain about the impact the new approaches will have on men and women of color.
Tables courtesy of John Jay Misdemeanor Justice Project.
Young men of color experienced the most dramatic increases and decreases for misdemeanor crimes such as marijuana charges, theft of service charges, trespassing charges, resisting arrest charges, and weapons charges, the study found.
Males are also nine times more likely to be arrested than females for marijuana charges.
Currently, New York City has the lowest crime rates and jail admission rates in decades, researchers stated.
While marijuana and other drug arrests have decreased in recent years, the number of arrests for charges more likely to be ‘complaint driven’, such as person and victim related property charges, have increased among both black and white populations.
Since 1993, there has been a 53 percent increase in “complaint-driven” charges for whites and a 72 percent increase for blacks.
The study called the increase “striking” and suggested that, possibly, there is a greater willingness by community members to call the police.
Also noteworthy: Prostitution charges among men have significantly increased.
In 1993, women were 80 percent more likely to be arrested for prostitution than men, but in 2016, the numbers were about equal.
The study did not give an explanation for the dramatic increase of prostitution arrests among men.
Overall, New York is making strides to reduce criminal sentences for non-felony offenses, such as implementing the Criminal Justice Reform Act in July 2017, which creates the presumption that some behaviors such as public drinking, public urination, littering and noise and park violations will result in a civil rather than criminal summons.
Other avenues for reducing jail and prison time include speeding up case processing, facilitating easier bail payments, the creation of a new pretrial risk assessment instrument, and the diversion of people with mental illness, the study said.
The Misdemeanor Justice Project is headed by Preeti Chauhan, Ph.D., an Associate Professor in Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.
Megan Hadley is a staff writer for The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.