Thursday, August 03, 2017

Unpunished police misconduct drives down crime reporting rates

In the past couple of years, we've heard a lot about the so-called "Ferguson effect," where cops supposedly react to public criticism by failing to do their jobs and intentionally allowing crime to flourish. Grits has expressed skepticism that that's really the attitude of the cop on the beat, but regardless, it's a common meme.

What's less commonly discussed is the reverse problem: when police misconduct goes unpunished, resulting in a loss of trust by the community and a failure to report crimes for fear of interaction with the cops. A Columbia Law Review article by Tracey Meares includes this summary of some recent research on exactly how that occurs:
In a recent study, Professors Matthew Desmond, David Kirk, and Andrew Papachristos present an example of how researchers can use such data. The researchers studied how police brutality against unarmed Black men affects cities and the Black community in particular by examining whether there was a change in the number of 911 calls in Milwaukee before and after a highly publicized incident of police violence against an unarmed Black man, Frank Jude. Jude was attacked by several White police officers in October 2004 after they accused him of stealing a police officer’s badge at a party. The officers stomped on his face with heavy boots and punctured his eardrums with pens. After the incident, Jude’s photo was shown in the newspaper demonstrating his extensive injuries. The results of the researchers’ analysis of 911 calls surrounding this incident are startling. After Jude’s beating was reported in the local press, Milwaukee residents—and especially residents of Milwaukee’s Black neighborhoods—were less likely to report crimes by calling 911. The magnitude of the crime-call decline in Milwaukee was large and long lasting. It persisted for over a year, “result[ing] in a loss of approximately 22,200 911 calls, a 17 percent reduction in citizen crime reporting, compared with the expected number of calls.” Moreover, the “missing” calls were primarily confined to the areas of Milwaukee in which mostly African Americans lived. After a year, the number of calls went up again.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

So the inference is that crime rates aren't as low as they really seem? Kind of undercuts your argument in support of closing prisons, doesn't it?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

What a tired response. Crime victim surveys show the same drop in crime as reported crime, so no, this doesn't undercut the reality of falling crime. Get a life. Plus, the study found that the public's non-reporting reaction was short-term. After a year they began again.

In the real world, prison closures happen because there's slack in the system. And even if you were right about crime rates (you're not), no one builds prisons to house people whose crimes go unreported.

Steven Seys said...

This is a phenomenon I have witnessed on a personal scale. Many people who have suffered from police misconduct would rather take it upon themselves to secure their own safety than trust a police officer. Just yesterday I sat with my neighbor who is being terrorised by a dope dealer while I called the city police to help her report the crime. She fears the police more than she fears the criminal.

Anonymous said...

From that summary, it seems as though the decline had more to do with the media coverage than "unpunished police misconduct."

Liberaltarian . . . said...

It would be interesting to analyze whether unpunished police misconduct affects crime clearance rates. Just as people may not report crimes to police because they fear and distrust them, I'd think people would similarly not cooperate with police in investigating crimes, which would presumably lead to lower clearance rates. Lower clearance rates would then lead to higher crime rates because criminals would have less reason to fear being caught.

Steven Seys said...

In a "get tough on crime" culture, the pressure to clear cases quickly leads to more innocent people being accused, convicted and sentenced. That means that the perpetrators have a better chance of getting away with their crimes if they use a little forethought.