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.
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.
Larry Nassar, the osteopath convicted of abusing young female gymnasts, has been compared to convicted serial child molester Jerry Sandusky. But an author who believes Sandusky may be innocent rejects the comparison, arguing that critics should focus attention on the widespread use of a therapy that can be misused in the wrong hands—and may have little scientific validity.
Larry Nassar, the gymnastics osteopath convicted of sexually abusing young female gymnasts and other patients under the guise of medical care, has been called a monster by many of the victims and by the judge in the case. New York Times op-ed writer Frank Bruni, who wrote that Nassar was a “familiar monster,” compared him to Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach who was also convicted of serial child molestation. Sandusky himself has also been called a monster frequently.
. Yet the two cases are actually quite different. As I argued in The Most Hated Man in America, my book about the Sandusky case, the utterly demonized former Penn State icon may actually be innocent. In distinction from the Nassar case, none of the alleged Sandusky victims ever told anyone at the time that Sandusky was molesting them. Most of the alleged Sandusky victims initially denied that he had abused them. Unlike Nassar, Sandusky has a supportive wife, possessed no pornography, and has consistently maintained his innocence.
In their classic 1994 critique of repressed memory therapy, Making Monsters, Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters dissected the process by which innocent people were falsely accused of grotesque child sexual abuse. In my 2017 book, Memory Warp, I did the same, delving into the science of human memory and the unlikelihood of “repressed memories.”
But I don’t like labeling anyone a “monster,” even when, as in Nassar’s case, they are clearly guilty of serial sexual abuse. Calling people monsters provides a convenient stereotypical compartment to make them the “other,” different from us, the good guys, the upstanding, moral, normal people. Most people, in all likelihood even Larry Nassar, believe at the time of their horrendous behavior that they are doing the right thing.
Jerry Sandusky. Photo by Andrewstern2 via Flickr
That is, in fact, the more frightening reality.
So let us examine how Nassar got away with this abuse of so many for so long. Why did most of these young women acquiesce in the abuse and return repeatedly for more “treatments” by Nassar? And why did some parents go along with it, even as he did it in their presence? (Some victims assert that their parents couldn’t see what he was doing because of the way he positioned himself, but I presume that many parents had a good idea what he was doing as he “treated” their daughters, and that he had “explained” it to them.)
Nassar practiced “myofascial release” to help alleviate lower back, hamstring, and “pelvic floor pain,” a treatment during which many osteopaths, physical therapists, and others insert their fingers into women’s vaginas and/or anuses to palpate allegedly restricted, misaligned connective tissue.
…a whole body, hands-on form of manual therapy that helps to restore the necessary elasticity to the connective tissue web. The therapist using myofascialrelease applies sustained pressure into areas of restriction allowing the tissue to elongate and reduce the crushing forces on pain-sensitive structures.
Vaginal manipulation is only one aspect of the method, in other words.
Presumably, when Nassar massaged young girls’ breasts, that too was rationalized as part of the myofascial treatment.
A quick search on the internet turns up plenty of vaginal/anal practitioners, both male and female, touting the “advantages of manual internal treatment of the pelvic floor.” Even the federal website of the National Institutes of Health hosts a 2012 article asserting: “The hallmark diagnostic indicator of MFPP [myofascial pelvic pain] is myofascial trigger points in the pelvic floor musculature that refer pain to adjacent sites. Effective treatments are available to reduce MFPP, including myofascial trigger point release” through internal vaginal manipulation.
Practitioners claim that these internal fingerings can cure far-flung bodily pains and even migraine headaches.
In a sympathetic 2010 feature article on the method, headlined “You Want to Do What? Where?” one journalist wrote: “In its most basic sense, internal pelvic floor therapy involves a physical therapist using his/her finger to examine trigger points inside a person’s body that are affecting the bladder, tailbone, urethra, prostate (in men), and other organs. Through this physical examination and treatment, therapists can identify tightness and tenderness and gently stretch the connecting muscle.”
Pelvic floor treatment has been (and still is) recommended for female athletes in particular. A 2013 article on the ATI Physical Therapy site asserts: “It is imperative that women are aware of the importance in [sic] optimal pelvic floor health and function…. If dysfunction is present, skilled physical therapy can help decrease symptoms and improve function.” The Herman and Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute is offering a $475 course this summer for the “Athlete and the Pelvic Floor,” for instance. There is no mention of internal vaginal treatment on either website, but it is likely that the treatment includes such ministrations.
One practitioner, Casie Danenhauer, wrote in a blog condemning Nassar: “I want to take this opportunity to educate the public about internal pelvic floor assessment and treatment, because in the conversations I’ve been having with my patients and the public about this there seems to be a misconception that internal work is inherently on the line of abuse.
“The media doesn’t seem to be explaining that there are indeed times when this type of ‘rare intravaginal treatment’ is actually indicated. In fact, it’s not rare, it can be totally legitimate, and it’s the basis of what my colleagues and I do all day and how we help hundreds of people every year.”
This background helps to explain why, even when one of Nassar’s patients reported him for sexual abuse, a Title IX internal investigation at Michigan State University in 2014 cleared him, concluding that there was a “nuanced difference” between sexual assault and legitimate medical treatment.
Nassar had treated 24-year-old Amanda Thomashow, the complainant, for hip pain, during which he touched her breast and vaginal area for several minutes, purportedly to adjust her shoulder and pelvic bone. In this case, he apparently did not insert his fingers but rubbed nearby. Nassar told an investigator that he was “known for this type of pelvic floor work” and that he included information about it in his presentations because the practice was “ignored by too many physicians.”
He included a Star Trek image in his PowerPoint presentation with a caption: “Pelvic floor: Where no man has gone before.” The MSU investigation concluded that Nassar’s treatment of Thomashow was “medically appropriate,” but an internal report (not given to Thomashow) noted that such treatment might inflict “unnecessary trauma.”
Larry Nassar may have practiced a form of myofascial release, but he did not get informed consent before sticking his ungloved, unlubricated finger into girls’ vaginas or anuses, nor did he usually have a third party present, all of which is part of the recommended protocol. Add to that the fact that he also collected child pornography, and it would appear that Nassar was probably getting sexual pleasure from these myofascial treatment sessions.
In a seven-day sentencing hearing for Nassar, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina allowed 156 Nassar victims to speak about what he had done to them and how it had impacted them. The stories were emotional and compelling, but they were also revealing in other ways. Many of the women had not thought of themselves as sexual abuse victims until the massive Nassar media coverage. They may have been uncomfortable, enduring sharp pain, or they may have even experienced pleasure during his internal probes, but they assumed that his treatments were legitimate.
I suspect that many of them thought that the manipulations had actually helped relieve their pain. Many of them had not, in other words, felt traumatized at the time.
In retrospect, however, they were enraged, and many now blamed any subsequent problems in life on the Nassar abuse. Nicole Reeb, for instance, had dealt with depression, anxiety, and alcoholism. As a reporter noted, when she “realized she had been sexually abused, she finally had the answer to her ‘why.’”
From my research on repressed memories, I am familiar with this retrospective searching for the answer to life’s problems. Aha, now I understand why I have been unhappy in my relationships, why I have an eating disorder, why I am depressed, or the like. We all tend to grasp at simple answers to complex problems.
In repressed memory cases, newly self-identified victims had not in fact been abused but had developed illusory memories, as I suspect at least one of those who testified at the Nassar sentencing had done. Annette Hill, who went to Nassar for treatment of her knee pain, said that she had “suppressed memories of the abuse for years.” But other Nassar victims had no problem in always remembering what had occurred.
Coaches in highly competitive sports can sometimes be emotionally abusive towards their athletes. (Ironically, Jerry Sandusky was a clear exception: he treated his players well, by all accounts.) Many gymnastics coaches are notorious for over-controlling their young competitors and putting their bodies through excessive dieting and strain, through which gymnasts often develop tendonitis, sprained ankles, back soreness, rotator cuff tears, shin splints, stress fractures, pinched nerves, and early arthritis. Gymnasts seeking answers for why they developed mental or physical problems might search for explanations, at least in part, in that history.
Jamie Dantzscher, an Olympic bronze medalist, recalled recently how abusive the gymnastics environment was. In an interview last month with ABC’s 20/20, she said:
They controlled what we ate. They controlled how we stood, how they wanted our hair, how we should talk, when we could talk. There were times we got in trouble for just smiling. That’s not even including the injuries that we had to work through. Like, I competed on a fractured back….I mean, I don’t even know how I did it. When I think about it now, I don’t know how any of us did, but it was like that’s all we knew.
For Dantzscher, her treatment time with Larry Nassar served as a refuge.
Going to Dr. Nassar was like a bright light. Larry was my buddy. Larry would make me laugh. Larry would say, “Oh, they’re all horrible. I get it.” It’s hard for me to say now, but I looked forward to treatment because at least I was allowed to laugh and have…some downtime…. Larry was the only adult that I can remember that I trusted right away. I thought he was there to help me, and not only that, I actually thought he might be the only adult around me that actually cared about my health and well-being.
She thought the myofascial treatments were normal medical procedures. But now she regards them as sexually abusive, and she is extremely bitter towards Nassar, and says that she hopes he himself is sexually abused in prison “until the day he dies.”
I do not excuse anything Nassar did, and it is clear that he really did sexually abuse the girls and young women he was supposed to be helping, and that they suffered because of it. But it is not quite the story of unmitigated monstrous evil that the media has portrayed.
There are apparently many other bad actors in the gymnastics world, for whom winning is everything, who are not incarcerated.
During Nassar’s sentencing hearing, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina took a strong advocacy position for the victims, whom she called “superheroes.” She relished telling Nassar, “I have signed your death warrant” by giving him 40 to 175 years in prison, in addition to the 60 years he had already received for possessing child pornography. The judge told one victim that “the monster who took advantage of you is going to wither” like the Wicked Witch of the West.
Rachel Marshall, a California public defender, complained that “it is simply unfitting for a judge to broadcast such personal contempt for a defendant in her court,” but the judge has otherwise been widely praised.
Marshall’s complaint is reasonable, but it is not just judges who should refrain from calling Nassar a monster. In a media-fueled moral panic, it has become de rigueur for commentators to heap opprobrium on Nassar.
Yes, he is guilty. He is in prison. But he is also a human being, and the media would do well to examine the possible pseudoscience that apparently made this long-term abuse possible.
Mark Pendergrast is a science writer and independent scholar, the author of The Most Hated Man in America and Memory Warp, among other books. He can be reached through his website, www.markpendergrast.com. Readers’ comments are welcome.
The Philadelphia rapper sent back to prison over a technical violation of his probation terms is just another example of how the resource- strained community supervision system sets former inmates- the majority of them young men of color- up for failure, writes a University of Minnesota professor.
Meek Mill, winner of the 2016 Billboard Music Award for Top Rap Album, made news in November when he was sentenced to two to four years in prison for violating probation. The judge cited a series of supervision violations as reasons for the revocation. They included testing positive for drug use, new arrests for low-level crimes (one for popping a “wheelie” on a dirtbike and one for a fight), and failure to abide by travel restrictions.He had no new criminal conviction.
Mill’s probation originally stemmed from a 2007 arrest, which came with a short stint in jail and a seven year probation term. His sentence sparked a wave of protest in Philadelphia and beyond, as his supporters push for the judge’s recusal and broader criminal justice reforms. This activism is joining an increasingly loud criminal justice chorus calling for reform. On Monday, a group of leading correctional administrators and advocates, including Van Jones and #Cut50, declared that the U.S. should cut probation and parole populations in half.
As Jay-Z wrote in the New York Times, Mill’s imprisonment sends the message that the criminal justice system “stalks black people.” What happened to Mill is not an exception. In fact, it’s just one example of a bloated criminal justice system which not only sends too many to prison, but also entraps more than 4.6 million adults in community supervision—with most serving their time on probation.
Probation is a court-ordered form of criminal justice supervision meted out for both felony and misdemeanor offenses. Unlike parole (which is typically supervision following release from prison), individuals can be sentenced directly to probation, for terms lasting up to more than 10 years in a handful of states.
Meek Mill’s story is typical in at least three respects:
Young black men without a high school diploma face exceptionally high rates of probation supervision;
The terms of supervision are frequently very difficult to meet for years on end, and probationers are frequently imprisoned for violating the terms of supervision;
Revocation rates are especially high for young African-American men.
In recently published research, I use a household survey that collected data in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014 to show who is on probation. As compared to other Americans, those on probation are more likely to be young African-American and Hispanic men with low levels of formal education. During this period, one in six black men aged 20-34 years without a high school diploma reported being on probation at some point during the year. For young white men who never graduated from high school, one in eight reported probation supervision.
Education (or the economic stability needed to enter college) protects men from probation; among young men with some college experience, an estimated four percent of white men and five percent of black men reported being on probation in the previous year.
These racial disparities grow starker when we look at who is incarcerated for probation violations in jail and prison. While 57 percent of probationers in the community identify as non-Hispanic whites, only 40 percent of former probationers in jail and prison do so. In addition, these former probationers make up a substantial share of the incarcerated population.
Nationwide in the early 2000s, an estimated 33 percent of jail inmates and 23 percent of prison inmates were on probation at the time of their arrest.
Lastly, like Meek Mill, many of these adults in jail and prison are incarcerated for nothing more serious than a violation of the terms of their supervision. Nearly one in three jail inmates and one in five prison inmates who were on probation at the time of arrest are incarcerated because of such “technical” violations, excluding new arrests.
As in Mill’s case, these supervision violations include failure to report and abide by travel restrictions, testing positive for drugs, and other comparatively low-level administrative infractions. An additional 32 percent of failed probationers in jail and six percent of those in prison are incarcerated for revocations related to new arrest charges, but have not been convicted of a new crime. Only 25 percent of failed probationers in jail (but 70 percent of failed probationers in prison) were there for a new criminal conviction.
This evidence suggests that the criminal justice system pushes an extraordinary number young men of color into community supervision—and then sets them up to fail by requiring an exacting performance that is nearly impossible for young men in high-crime and heavily-policed neighborhoods with few resources to meet. At the same time, probation provides few supportive services to help young adults succeed and exit supervision successfully.
As Columbia University’s Justice Lab recently declared, community corrections is “too big to succeed.” Signed by leading practitioners and policy reformers in the field, the report calls for a series of community supervision reforms that can be embraced by states and local jurisdictions, including:
Cutting the overall supervision population in half, reserving supervision for only serious cases;
Reducing the length of supervision;
Limiting the number of conditions imposed on probationers (e.g. drug testing and travel restrictions);
Incentivizing positive progress on probation by allowing early discharge;
Eliminating probation supervision fees;
Improving services and support for probationers.
Michelle S. Phelps
If such principles had guided Philadelphia and Pennsylvania when Meek Mill was sentenced and supervised, he would likely not be behind bars today. By shrinking probation and parole, limiting supervision to only more serious cases, and providing more meaningful support and fewer barriers to success, jurisdictions can scale back the fiscal and social costs of mass punishment and improve the lives of millions of Americans.
Michelle S. Phelps is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. Her research is on policing, prisons, and probation. She welcomes comments from readers.
Secret proprietary algorithms used to make decisions on bail, sentencing and parole make our justice system less accountable, according to a Duke University professor. She proved software engineers could create simpler risk assessment tools that were more transparent, but just as accurate, by working with colleagues to create one.
The justice system is increasingly turning to complicated computer algorithms to help make decisions about bail, sentencing and parole. But many question whether paying private software companies to use secret algorithms in criminal justice is in the public’s best interest.
Last month, New York City passed the country’s first legislation to subject such algorithms to greater public scrutiny. Known as the Algorithmic Accountability Bill, it established a task force to examine how algorithms are used by city agencies. Lauded by some as a watershed moment for ending the algorithmic bias of so-called “black box” systems in the justice system and elsewhere, it was called too ambitious by others.
But there’s another way to make some of the algorithms in courts more accountable—by using transparent models derived from public data and public source code. The new models are free, the new algorithms are already in public code repositories, and they could save taxpayers money.
Risk assessment tools, which have been in use since the 1920s, analyze how people with similar profiles have behaved in the past to predict a defendant’s likelihood of committing a crime again in the future. As many as 60 such tools are in use across the country.
The American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code, currently being revised for the first time since 1962, has adopted language endorsing the role of risk assessments. Advocates say they help judges determine the risk that an individual poses to society more consistently than predictions based on human intuition and experience alone.
So the question is not whether the justice system should embrace risk assessment algorithms, but which ones they should use.
However, the opaque and proprietary nature of many of the new prediction tools presents unique challenges.
One commonly used tool, COMPAS, is proprietary. We do not know its secret formula. It scores a person’s risk of recidivism and assesses their “needs” based on 130-plus items including criminal history, age, gender and other information, such as whether their mother was ever arrested or whether they have trouble paying bills.
And its use has led to mistakes.
In 2016, Glenn Rodríguez, an inmate at the Eastern Correctional Facility in upstate New York, was mistakenly denied parole–despite a record of good behavior behind bars—because a corrections employee checked a wrong answer on his COMPAS survey.
And in 2017, a 19-year-old San Francisco man was released from jail based on a miscalculation of a different risk score that deemed him only medium risk, just days before he allegedly killed someone.
Such errors are possible in any risk assessment. Data could be flawed due to typos, missing data, inaccurate information or other problems. But it is hard to know when or why a flaw occurs if the calculation is proprietary. When these mistakes go unnoticed, courts could easily base high-stakes decisions on information that isn’t true.
New methods for interpretable machine learning have developed over the last few years. The new methods can provide predictions for future criminal behavior just as accurately as “black box” models, but their predictions are completely transparent.
They enable people to see exactly why they received the risk score they did. They can make the justice system more reliable and could save millions of dollars.
Since they are developed using public data and public source code, outside researchers can test them for accuracy and racial bias, or evaluate them against other models.
In a recent academic paper, my colleagues Elaine Angelino, Nicholas Larus-Stone, Daniel Alabi, Margo Seltzer and I recently used a new machine-learning algorithm we designed, called CORELS, to produce simple yet accurate models that predict a person’s likelihood of re-arrest.
One predictive model from the CORELS algorithm says that if someone has (i) at least 3 prior offenses, or (ii) if they have 2 or more priors and are between 21 and 23 years old, or (iii) they are younger than 21 and male, then we should predict that they will be arrested within two years of release. If none of the conditions are met, the model predicts they will not be arrested. Even though the models from CORELS are simple, our study using data from thousands of individuals in Broward County, Florida, shows they are as accurate as COMPAS and many other state-of-the-art machine-learning methods, for both blacks and whites.
The other machine-learning methods often produce formulas that are too complicated to fit on a page, rather than a set of rules like the CORELS model above. All of CORELS’ code and the data are publicly available.
Given the existence of these simpler models, why do we still use proprietary models instead?
Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by a Wisconsin man named Eric Loomis, who said he was denied due process because his prison sentence was based on a prediction made by a secret computer algorithm that its private developer, the maker of COMPAS, refused to explain.
New York City’s Algorithmic Accountability Bill represents an opportunity for decision-makers to consider these issues again.
The task force established by the bill will have 18 months to figure out how to test algorithms that could be used by courts, police and city agencies for bias, and make them more understandable to the public.
But when it comes to criminal justice, simply providing an explanation of a black box prediction, and a means to seek redress—as the bill proposes—is not enough. Explanations do not reveal the full truth.
If New York City takes this bill seriously, it would not allow proprietary models at all for risk assessments. Proprietary models are error prone (leading to dangerous situations for the public), potentially unfair, raise due process questions, are a waste of taxpayer dollars, and have not been shown to be any more accurate than extremely simple transparent models.
Transparent models are strictly better for the justice system in every possible way.
A risk assessment tool used for two decades to assess sex offenders’ likelihood of committing a future offense has been repeatedly exposed as “pseudo-scientific humbug.” So why do New York State courts continue to use it?
A New York Appeals court has rejected the notion that risk prediction under the state’s Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) should have a scientific basis. According to the July 2017 decision in People v. Curry, courts must not only adhere to a risk assessment instrument (RAI) that has been repeatedly exposed as pseudo-scientific humbug, they may not even consider a scientifically validated instrument such as the Static-99.
It wasn’t the first time. For the 20 years since SORA was enacted, courts have used the RAI to classify individuals after they’ve completed their sentences for a designated “sex offense.” The classifications purport to show the person’s likelihood of committing another sex offense in the future.
Persons adjudicated as level 2 or 3 are thought to be very dangerous indeed, and must register with law enforcement for the rest of their lives.
Their photographs, addresses, and a description of the past offense are made publicly available online at the sex offender registry. They may legally be denied jobs and housing, including shelters. They may be evicted, fired or hounded from the neighborhood by civic-minded vigilantes such as Parents for Megan’s Law.
This looks an awful lot like advance punishment for a future crime, like the science fiction film “Minority Report.” It also looks like a second punishment for a past offense—a practice the Constitution frowns on in the Double Jeopardy Clause.
Not at all, say the courts. SORA isn’t punishment, but merely a regulatory measure to protect public safety. As one legislator put it, it’s like affixing warning labels to toxic substances.
In that case, you’d think everyone would be deeply concerned to make sure that the label is as accurate as possible. It hardly contributes to public safety to broadcast over the Internet that Mr. Jones might commit a sex offense at any minute, when in fact he presents no such risk.
But that’s not how courts think.
Risk level under SORA is determined through an adversarial hearing in criminal court where the prosecutor proffers the RAI and typically seeks the highest possible classification. The RAI is a chart, cobbled together by employees of the Department of Parole, that adds up points for factors such as whether the past offense involved contact over or under clothing, or whether the victim was under age eleven or over 62.
The more points, the higher the risk level.
Defense attorneys have repeatedly proffered peer-reviewed research and the uncontested expert testimony of psychologists specializing in sex offender recidivism showing that the RAI is based on the facile but discredited assumption that “if he did it before he’ll do it again.” The instrument takes no account of the scientific consensus that recidivism isn’t correlated to the perceived heinousness of the past offense.
The scientific articles cited by the RAI are not only outdated; they don’t remotely stand for the conclusions for which they’re cited. Although the RAI purports to be an objective scientific instrument, it uses its own idiosyncratic system of assigning and weighing points that’s heavily biased towards a finding of maximum risk.
We’ve proffered instruments such as the Static-99 and the SVR-20 which, unlike the RAI, have been tested and validated by mental health professionals. In contrast, nobody except New York judges and District Attorneys uses the RAI.
The judicial response ranges from numb indifference to sputtering indignation. The outstanding exception is Daniel Conviser, a trial judge in Manhattan, who issued a 100-page opinion in 2010 after hearing expert testimony. After analyzing the RAI in detail, he concluded that the instrument is so arbitrary that it violates due process. Unfortunately, his decision isn’t binding on other courts and has been ignored.
The crystal ball approach to risk assessment. Illustration by Squawk
It’s like a drug test that can’t tell the difference between coffee and cocaine.
Even courts that recognize that the RAI may not be “the optimal tool” initially reasoned that there’s no harm in using it because it’s “only a recommendation.” But the Court of Appeals subsequently held that the RAI is so “presumptively reliable” that courts are bound by its conclusions unless the defendant can somehow prove that it overestimates his future risk.
The obvious course, until now, was for the defendant to show that a scientifically tested and validated instrument such as Static-99 put him at a lower risk. No dice, says the Appellate Division. Why? Because although the Static-99 measures the probability of re-offending, it doesn’t say what offense the person will commit if he re-offends.
Which conveniently ignores that no matter what the RAI claims, it doesn’t accurately predict anything.
It’s hard to see how this implacable rejection of science squares with the notion that SORA isn’t punishment but merely a regulatory measure to protect public safety. So long as risk prediction is based on the perceived heinousness of the past crime, it’s nothing but punishment under an alias.
There are now over 40,000 New Yorkers on the sex offender registry, most of whom have been adjudicated as level 2 or 3 based on the RAI. Public safety isn’t served by creating a permanent, ever-growing underclass of people who will remain forever barred from normal civic life based on a pseudo-scientific instrument.
Appellate Squawk is the pseudonym of an appellate attorney in New York City, and the author of a satirical legal blog of that name. Readers’ comments are welcomed.
A flourishing transnational industry that markets anatomically correct toys and robots currently operates with little official vigilance. Two John Jay College professors warn that U.S. legislators are ignoring a trade that encourages pedophile behavior.
Last October, Miguel Ruiz, a 41-year-old Florida resident who worked for Disney World in Orlando, was arrested after a police search of his home found child pornography, and revealed that he had created life-size child “dolls” in the size and stature of children by fashioning them out of swimming or pool noodles (i.e. buoyant foam tubes)—even dressing them in children’s clothes.
Ruiz was not arrested for the possession of these dolls but for his possession of the child pornography.
That illustrates a worrying gap in U.S. law. Under existing law, life-like child sex dolls are not considered a form of child pornography, making it difficult to successfully prosecute those who produce, distribute, receive, and possess with the intent to distribute child sex dolls and child sex robots.
The arrest of Ruiz highlighted a shadowy industry that is increasingly transnational.
Companies in Japan, China and Hong Kong are manufacturing and shipping these realistic child sex dolls to customers around the globe. Buyers can even custom-order child sex dolls with predesigned facial features and expressions. They can request certain facial expressions, such as happy, sad or afraid.
Even more disconcerting, they can request dolls to resemble children in provided photographs. The ultimate goal of manufacturers is to make the child sex dolls look and feel as realistic as possible.
Such dolls that have been confiscated at the borders in other countries—the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, to name a few—that contain anatomically correct body parts and orifices (mouth, vagina, and anus) which can be used to accommodate an adult male penis.
They are far from toys.
Although not yet reported in the media, there’s a strong likelihood that child sex dolls and robots capable of moving, speaking, and performing sexual activities have already been—or are close to being—created. Adult sex dolls with these capabilities are already on the market (and sold all over the world).
Specifically, adult sex robots can both move and speak, and can be positioned for the user to perform a variety of sex acts on them. These robots have artificial intelligence and have programmable personalities; for example, one programmable personality for an adult sex robot by True Companion is “Frigid Farrah,” which rejects all sexual advances, thus encouraging the user to rape the robot.
Given that child sex dolls and robots are of a smaller weight and size, it is likely that development with these enhanced capabilities is further along in the child versions than in the adult sex dolls and robots.
While real children are not involved in the sex acts performed by owners of these child sex dolls and robots, their use still causes harm.
One Wales-based organization, the Specialist Treatment Organization for the Prevention of Sexual Offending (StopSO) argues that such adult toys have potential therapeutic effects by deterring offending by pedophiles. Similar claims by the self-identified pedophilic child sex-doll manufacturer, Shin Takagi, maintain that child sex dolls and robots are an alternative to offending and minimize the risk of harm to children in our society
Scientific evidence contradicts these claims as nonsensical and irrational.
Enabling offenders to act upon their impulses to rape and abuse an anthropomorphic child sex doll or robot simply reinforces, rather than reduces, these urges, associated thoughts and behaviors. Committing sex acts on child sex dolls and robots normalizes sexual assault; it does not supplant or inhibit it.
Moreover, as with most child pornography, the user becomes desensitized and will need a higher level to reach gratification. Once the child sex dolls become insufficient to satisfy the pedophile’s urges, he or she s likely to seek out children in order to once again receive the same amount of satiety.
It is imperative that child sex dolls and robots be banned outright by U.S. law. This would require the creation of a new law to criminalize the production, distribution, receipt, possession, and possession with the intent to distribute child sex dolls and robots.
However, the bill only prohibits the distribution and importation of child sex dolls. Child sex robots should also be criminalized. Legislation is also needed to criminalize the manufacture and possession of both child sex dolls and child sex robots.
Without these additional prohibitions, criminals will find ways to evade criminal sanction by, for example, creating these child sex dolls and child sex robots themselves (for example, using a 3D printer).
(Readers seeking more information can contact the authors for access to their recent article, entitled “Child Sex Dolls and Robots: More Than Just an Uncanny Valley,” in the Journal of Internet Law (December 2017 issue), which reviews the scientific literature and illustrates the dangers and adverse impacts of child sex dolls and robots.)
Marie Helen Maras, Ph.D., is an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Lauren R. Shapiro, Ph.D., is an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Readers’ comments are welcomed.
As Beck prepares to retire after eight years, he leaves behind a police agency that has dramatically changed its image as an “occupying force” in the city’s black and brown neighborhoods, and become a national model for police reform, writes the author of two books about the LAPD.
Last Friday, Charlie Beck, the chief of the Los Angeles Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) called a press conference to announce his retirement after leading the department for eight years—forgoing the final two years of his contract in the process, and surprising almost everyone.
“One of the secrets of Bull Riding,” he said about his early departure, “is knowing when to get off the bull.” (He’ll continue to serve until June.)
And indeed the time was ripe for Beck, who’s going out on top.
A 40-year LAPD veteran, the 64-year-old Beck has taken the LAPD a long way down the road to the true cultural transformation of a department vilified world-wide for the televised beating of Rodney King, and the igniting two of the bloodiest riots/rebellions of the 20th Century.
Named chief in 2009, the tall, swarthy Beck brought to the dance a fierce determination to prevail, a quiet, mature professionalism that never called attention to himself, strong interpersonal skills and a willingness to work across lines and with critics, a sense of proportion and understanding of the possible, and superior big-picture observational intelligence and problem-solving skills. Much of which are now reflected in the department he was instrumental in philosophy and fundamentally reshaping, training and rebranding.
Equally important: he was a man of his time, a chief for his era in a Los Angeles undergoing dramatic change.
The son of a former LAPD assistant chief, Beck’s sister had also been an LAPD detective, his wife a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff and both his daughter and son are currently LAPD officers.
But despite what could have been a closed-circle life and career, Beck had both the instinct and insight to recognize the progressive winds of change blowing out of the New L.A. The city is now a multicultural sea of blacks, whites, Chicanos, Asians, and college-educated transplants from around the country and the world, living together with the first and second-generation sons and daughters of over a million immigrants from Latin America, East Asia and the Middle East who had begun arriving in the 1970s.
This recognition, along with the 1992 riots, and a streak of intuitive decency enabled Beck to go beyond the usual cop prejudiced and cynicism to really see his city, and to sense how they wanted to be policed, and what didn’t want.: A trigger-happy LAPD that took great pride in being arrogant and pugnacious; and reveled in shaking down and humiliating people color of as its sole modus operandi.
And like his mentor and predecessor as chief, Bill Bratton, Beck also understood that you’d never get a fair press if you hated the press and always showed it, could abide no criticism, and operated as if the department was unaccountable—which it then very often was.
So when Bratton—the ground-breaking, mid-1990s, media savvy reformer of the New York Police Department—was named chief in 2002, then-Capt. Charlie Beck listened closely, especially when Bratton forcefully told his commanders what he would demand from them: Innovation and creativity in reducing crime, and far, far better relations with the public, particularly those in the city’s black and brown communities.
Astutely, Beck then became among the first to seriously implement Beck’s priorities, and to and reap the rewards.
In little more than five years under Bratton, he would rise from field Captain to Chief of South Bureau, which covered 650,000 black and brown residents. There he showed his true reformist colors by meeting with ex-gang members who were trying to halt gang wars. First he acknowledged he would need their help in stopping the slaughter, and then worked with them to help establish a certificated gang intervention program for ex-gangsters called the Urban Peace Academy—a community policing outreach initiative that that is still successfully operating a generation later.
By the time Bratton resigned in 2009, Beck had become the chosen one to succeed him.
Walking a Beat in Watts
On his first full day as chief, Beck announced his intentions by walking a beat in Watts’ Jordan Downs housing project, the epicenter of the 1965 Watts’ Riots and home of the Grape Street Crips, one of the most fearsome gangs in South L.A. There he greeted residents, shaking hands with people who despised the LAPD, while arranging basketball games between his cops against neighborhood teams—a few of which he actually played in.
Soon he formed special units to work in Jordan Downs and other high-crime housing projects in an innovative community-policing program called Community Safety Partnership Police.
The unit’s cops, all volunteers who had also trained at the Urban Police Academy, were committed to working in a particular housing project for five years. They would be judged not by arrest numbers (which had long been the LAPD’s gauge of success) but by how effectively they strengthened and stabilized each of the housing projects; and kept crime and violence low through gaining the community’s trust, partnership, and support; while working with the projects’ kids and families to keep them out of the crushing jaws of California’s notorious criminal justice system.
Like the department’s other community outreach programs none of these efforts were any panacea. They started at the height of the Great Recession when money was extremely tight; required an intense investment in scarce manpower, and remain hard to replicate in a city that sprawls over 450 miles. But they still exist, within the department’s wider philosophical context.
In addition, Beck began forging ties with the city’s Latinos and other immigrant communities, lobbying for driver’s licenses for undocumented residents and stopping impounding cars driven by those license-less immigrants, saving them hundreds or thousands of dollars in towing and impoundment fees in the process.
Meanwhile, following a national trend, the number of homicides in the city began to significantly decrease on his watch, as did officer-involved shootings. Still the latter remained disproportionally high compared to New York and other cities; and a number of them seemed so avoidable that the public became outraged.
This became a real issue in his second term.
Body Cameras for All
In response, Beck worked with a liberal police commission and assisted in getting by-in from the department’s conservative union to equip every officer with body cameras, and to change the department’s previously broadly-defined shooting policy, to one that now emphasizes the de-escalation of potentially deadly situations, and use of smart tactics to avoid situations where an officer places himself in harm’s way and feels he has no alternative but to shot someone.
I don’t mean to paint an idyllic picture of either Beck or the current LAPD. Big city policing in the unjust society we live in is often a dirty business. It is what it is. But now that bad policing has become widely recognized since the 2014 police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Gardner, good policing and police leadership has to be summarily recognized.
It’s heartening now to live in a city whose police department that sincerely has as its goal becoming L.A.’s “guardians” and helping to strengthen communities of as opposed to rolling through them like an occupying force and arresting everybody in sight.
And it’s nice to view the front page of the Los Angeles Times and not daily see outrage after outrage committed by the LAPD, or the face of a chief of police throwing a tantrum or picking a fight.
And that’s why LA is now celebrating Charlie Beck.
He’s been a respected national leader in supporting progressive police and criminal justice reform. In 2016, Beck went to the White House with 130 other law enforcement leaders to meet with President Barack Obama. The topic was the future of criminal justice, and it was Beck who was chosen to speak with the president on the group’s behalf.
And he was the first big police leader to publicly state that his police department would not be cooperating with Donald Trump’s immigration officers in rounding up undocumented workers and students and breaking up families.
True, transformative cultural reform is a process many police critics fail to understand. It takes a generation, maybe longer, of sustained, unremittingly determined leadership
All have been hallmarks of Beck’s and Bratton’s leadership in Los Angeles.
They’ve not only been steps in the right direction, but also rare, hopeful advances in the world of criminal justice, where progressive reform moves at a snail’s pace and mean justice takes place overnight.
Beck would signal the best of his intentions. At the same time the LAPD’s gang-injunction policing would continue unabated under Beck. According to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, as of 2015 there were “more than forty-six permanent gang injunctions in place in the city of Los Angeles.”
Many people and factors have contributed the LAPD’s transformation, but it’s hard to underestimate Beck’s role.
Joe Domanick, Associate Director of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College, and West Coast bureau chief of The Crime Report, is the author of two books on the LAPD. His first, “To Protect and to Serve,” was published in 1994.His latest book, “Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing,” is now out in paperback. Joe welcomes readers’ comments.