Saturday, April 02, 2016

On the cost-benefit analysis of enforcing sex-offender registry conditions vs. investigating violent crime

Dallas PD has shut down its monitoring unit charged with driving around to make home checks for people on the sex-offender registry, reported WFAA's Tanya Eiserer in somewhat breathless tones. The story quickly devolved into Chief David Brown's critics taking pot shots at him for being soft on sex offenders, or whatever.

In general, Grits adores Tanya's work. Her oeuvre from the Dallas News was magnificent and her switch to TV at WFAA, along with another Morning News expat, producer Jason Trahan, immediately vaulted that station to boasting probably the best TV crime coverage in the state, IMHO. But here, the impulse to portray conflict on TV may have overcome better journalistic instincts. (It's apparently pretty easy to get cops, especially union officials, to say nasty things about the Dallas chief these days.) She essentially portrays an argument among cops (all the sources) on the cops' narrow terms of debate.

What the article didn't address is whether enforcing registry conditions on this group is a truly useful way for DPD officers to spend their time. Chief Brown says he will deploy those detectives to a "violent crimes task force." Mightn't that be a better use of their time from a risk-cost-safety perspective?

To explore that question, there are other sources one could have gone to, as a news reporter from Pennsylvania demonstrated this week in an article titled, "When facts aren't facts: A look at the effectiveness of sex offender registries." That scrivener spoke with a state anti-rape advocate who downplayed their effectiveness, then asked an academic about research on their public safety effect:
“If you ask people how often sex offenders will commit a new offense when released into the community, people tend to think it’s upwards of 75 percent,” said University of Massachusetts Professor Jason Rydberg, who focuses on the study of sexual offenders and policy.

However, overwhelming research has shown that sexual offenders, as a whole, are some of the least likely groups to commit new crimes, Rydberg said.

Rydberg said one major study found that only about 5 percent of sexual offenders committed a new sexual crime within five years. The U.S. Department of Justice places the re-offense rate for sexual offenders in the 3 to 10 percent range, and a study conducted by Karl Hanson found that out of 8,000 offenders that were tracked, none who remained offense-free for 15 years were likely to reoffend after.

To put the threat posed by sexual offenders committing new offenses in perspective, a 2014 study found that roughly 3 percent of felons with no known history of sexual offenses committed one within roughly five years.

“People tend to be skeptical that sex offenders are amenable to treatment, and this is related to supporting punitive policies against them,” Rydberg said. “With this issue too, research combining dozens of studies and tens of thousands of sex offenders finds that certain types of treatment are effective at reducing the likelihood of sexual recidivism.”
In light of such low recidivism rates, scaling back police visits to registrants to only those assessed as high risk, for example, then aiming detectives' work time instead toward following leads and investigating violent offenses which actually have already occurred, makes all sorts of sense. In fact, in the examples of the unit's successes listed in WFAA's report (got a tip, anonymous complaint, suspected of a crime), investigators could and likely would have followed up, anyway. That doesn't argue for continuous supervision of lower-risk registrants for whom they don't have a particular reason to investigate.

The issue here is similar to sending officers to react to home burglar alarms, which are false up to 99 percent of the time. There's no rational, math-based public-safety argument for expending 10 percent of patrol officers' time on that worthless endeavor, but the alarm companies activate their customers with scare tactics aimed at the city council if anyone proposes eliminating that corporate subsidy, so that's off the table too.

DPD management wants to direct more resources towards investigating serious crime while spending less officer time doing things that don't matter. That should not be controversial. But jaundiced opponents (in this case the police unions) are more than willing to give reporters a sound-bite saying it would be "tragic" for "young children in the city," and here we go, math and reason be damned. Welcome to the culture wars!

Chief Brown made a perfectly sensible decision to reassign detectives who've been spending their days enforcing sex-offender registry conditions to investigate more serious crime. It's possible that politics and media pressure could make cutting this unit a political non-starter, just like burglar alarms. But at some point the question arises, how many low-margin activities must police management staff up before it becomes okay to deploy resources toward combating more serious offenses?

See related Grits commentary: "Lazy reporters are main constituency for sex-offender registry."


Anonymous said...

A lot of these guys already have parole/probation officers, anyway, so this unit is duplicative. Good call, chief!

Anonymous said...

It's about time someone in an authoritative position had the political will to put a policy in place that uses reason and common sense where sex offenders are concerned. But, the very first registered citizen in Dallas who commits any new crime will create a loud public outcry for restoring the SOAP unit. Way to go Chief Brown! Stand your ground

Peter.Marana said...

First, Scott thanks so much for shining a bright light on policing policy that chases politics instead of doing the hard work of reducing serious crime.

Sex offender issues are serious but when the recidivism rate is 2.7% covering the five years after release being "tough on crime" is really just political pandering at its worse.

The police chief in Dallas made the right decision in shifting resources away from a stupid, pointless enforcing effort to addressing real, serious and growing crime. I wish other law enforcement leadership in Texas acted less like politicians and were more concerned for true public safety.

Again, Scott thanks.

Anonymous said...

All that seemingly common sense reallocation of police resources sounds great only to those naive enough not to know any better or by radical leftist attempting to intentionally deceive. Sex offender units in Texas LE Agencies trace back to the administration of the last Texas champion of all liberal causes Governor Ann Richards. Strict Court Ordered monitoring by Texas LE agencies of convicted sex offenders is exclusive to high risk offenders after a District Judge, based on a pre-sentencing report from a Probation Officer, determines the risk of reoffense by the defendant is extremely high. Any LE Officer who's been assigned the thankless task of monitoring and tracking these high risk predators knows that Court ordered scrutiny is the only thing preventing most of these felons from reoffending, those same LE a Officers would gladly hand those duties off to probation.or parole officers, but a pre GOP controlled Texas Legislature saddled LE with that responsibility two decades ago and Governor Ann Richards signed it into law. It's grossly dishonest to equate the monitoring and tracking of high risk sex offenders by LE with simple sex offender registration programs executed by LE (another legislative mandate). By neglecting to adequately monitor high risk sex offenders, Dallas Police Chief Brown made a conscious decision to shift from proactive to reactive in dealing with high risk predators and that's why the buck stops with him for increase of sexual assaults that are included in the sharply rising Dallas violent crime stats on his watch.

George said...

@ 8:56

Are you really as ignorant as you sound? You are the one seeking to deceive. Truly investigate the facts as they are and you will find that what has been reported is not only true and factual but compiled by the Department of Justice, as well as many other well respected studies.

Convicted sex offenders, of all "risk" levels whether it be low, moderate or high, have an extremely low recidivism rate as far as new sex offenses are concerned. Whether you want to believe the studies or not is up to you. But when you comment on this topic in the manner in which you did, you continue to show your ignorance.

The truly high risk sex offenders, or predators as you choose to label them, (and even some of them have been labeled as such but could actually not be such), are the ones in the civil commitment community. If any citizen should be closely watched I suppose this is the group that should be targeted.

More and more people are finally getting to the truth of this matter. Ignorantites such as yourself are either part of the never-ending attack on registered citizens, know what you're doing and have something to gain by these attacks or, even scarier, simply are following someone's lead instead of thinking for yourself.

And, please, don't come back with such things as "Well, we need to protect the children" type of mantra. If you were REALLY concerned about protecting children then you would genuinely educate yourself with the true facts of the matter. The fact is that by placing so much attention, LE resources and tax money on watching those convicted of previous sex offenses, our society turns a blind eye on the vast majority of cases of sexual abuse. This is because the largest threat to children as far as sex abuse is concerned comes from those unknown to LE and the public in general. You, or uncle Billy or cousin Joe or neighbor Sue are the greatest threat to our children. Tough pill to swallow huh!?

There are businesses and industries that specialize in and make money off of dealing with those convicted of sex offenses and are required to register. In my opinion that's what this is really all about. Spin meisters hired by these industries continue to demonize these citizens who are required by law to register and continue to depict them as some sort of monster. As the registry continues to grow, chances are you will meet someone on the registry and odds are that you will find that they are sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, moms, dads, cousins that deserve just as much a chance to return back into society as murderers, robbers, burglars etc.

Some of these registered citizens have children, have any of you stopped to think about those children? Or do you think that because their mom or dad made committed a sexual offense, these children don't deserve the same chance at life as any other child. I've asked this before and have yet to receive an answer about this.

Children of registered citizens face much, if not all, of the same shaming from society directly as a result of misguided laws enacted to make people feel good and to line the pockets of specialized industries created as a result of a smear campaign.

Ignorance breeds ignorance and only truth will illuminate the hideousness of those who seek to lie in order to gain and profit from the misfortunes of our brothers and sisters. Ignorance is not a true disease because it can disappear by seeking truthful knowledge. Ignorance can become an addiction however and I truly believe that the addiction to ignorance is one of the most serious addictions out there.

Don't be ignorant, seek truth and knowledge in everything. Yes, truth may be painful but all withdrawal from an addiction doesn't come without a certain amount of pain.

SOFAQ said...

Live long and prosper Grits,

Posted here; bottom of the page:

Anonymous said...

Here is an observation I have long been trying get across concerning SO registration/residency laws. A sex offense (SO) is an EMOTIONAL issue, not a logicial or rational one. Proponents of SO laws {specifically, suburban moms with small children} are dealing with this issue strickly from an EMOTIONAL stand point, they are protecting their children from the modern day Frankenstein; therefore, opponents of SO laws can espouse all the logic, reasoning, rational, statistics cost-benefit, cost-benefit analysis, like those in this article, they want---it will never convince proponents of SO laws to take the opposite stance---NEVER! Why? Again, because sex offenses are EMOTIONAL in nature, and the main people who cry to their legislatures for these laws, i.e., suburban moms with small childern, are an EMOTIONAL class of people. If you were dealing with scientist, academics, clinicians, and other people of this sort then yes, by all means, logic, reasoning, rational, statistics cost-benefit analysis would work like a charm. But opponents of SO laws are NOT dealing with this class of people. And I'll tell you something else also, proponents of SO laws could care less that SO registration/residency laws violate Ex Post Facto, Due Process and Equal Protection, all rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. They are more than willing to usurp, deny, cheat out of, and generally say these people (SOs) don't deserve any constitutional rights and will cry, bitch, and complain to their legislature to keep these right away from SOs. Why do you think there has been a proliferation, or a heaping and a piling on of SO laws by every state legislature since 2003? SO laws have gotten not only more Draconian in nature but only more STUPID on top of that. But back to my original premise. SO laws are EMOTIONAL in nature; therefore, espousing logic, reasoning, rational, statistics cost-benefit analysis and all that in an effort to fight SO laws is a waist of good resarch. Emperical evidence to the contrary of proponent agruments for SO lawsis not going to get ladies and gentlemen. Thats my take on this issue; however, if someone, anyone can make a lie out me then please, by all means, I beg you to do so.

George said...

@ Anonymous 11:45

I have no doubt that what you say is true. It is an emotional issue. However, have you ever considered why it's just an emotional issue that prompts legislators to heap unfair laws onto only people convicted of sex offenses? I mean there are emotional pleas from family members who have lost loved ones to violent crimes such as murder but you don't see a public registry of murderers who have new laws applied retroactively or are required to have MURDERER stamped onto their passport.

I believe it's more than just an emotional issue. I think it has something to do also with Americans' schizoid view of sex in general. One thing that I do disagree with you about though and that is whether the efforts of those opposed to SO laws is indeed a wasted effort. The longer this fight goes on, more and more people will learn the truth, meet more people on the registry and eventually one can hope that reason and justice will win out.

People who commit sex offenses should be punished just like anyone else who commits a serious offense. That means that they should also be treated just like anyone else who commits a serious offense upon release from prison or who serves out their sentence. I have a ton of empathy for the mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters of the victims of a sexual offense. Just the same type of empathy for the family of murder victims. It's very sad that people feel compelled to commit ANY type of crime. It's just as emotional an issue for the children of registered citizens who have to face the same issues as their mothers or fathers who are on the registry. What about those children? Don't they count in all of this or are they merely collateral damage? I'd love to hear your response concerning these innocent children.

To single out one type of crime because it's an emotional issue has nothing to do with justice. So lets call it what it is, state and federal sanctioning of shaming and perpetual punishment. The majority of media outlets are genuine cowards for not reporting it for what it is but that doesn't really surprise anyone does it? They're in it for the wow factor, they know that people can't get enough of stories of crime and sordid affairs -- especially crimes of a sexual nature.

Anonymous said...

George, I agree 100% with your incite. And why isn't a registry for murderers, robbers, burglarers, etc.,? Does not these type of criminals pose a "clear and present danger" to the general public too? To your knowledge, has anyone ever put this question to any legislator? As to the childern of RSOs, I have on many occasions asked the question: Why are proponents/legislators of SO laws quiet on this issue? And the only answer I've ever gotten is a deafening slience. They act as though this issue does exist and if it does---so what? Shouldn't be the child of an SO. Picture an evil grin on a stupid face as they say this. Anyway George, here is a peripheral incite. The word "Offend" is an action verb is it not? Now, if you take the suffix "er" which in parts of speech is Present Future Tense, and attach it to this action verb creating "Offend(er)" that means that the thing so designated, i.e., a person, is what this person is and what this person does on a continuing bases, like Fire Fight(er) or Police Offic(er). Therefore, when the state designates a person a sex offend(er) they are signalling to the general public that this what this person is and what this person does---on a continuing bases. So it's no wonder the general public is so schizoid on this issue---am i making sense with this? If not then tell me I'm stupid and shut my damn mouth. But think about. The state does not tell the general public, hey this person committed a sex offense 20-25 years ago. They make it seem as though you commited your crime day before yesterday and is on the loose stalking more victims. But I'll end here. Thanks...

George said...

@ 10:46

I'm sure that question has been put to the legislators. They probably feel like this is the only group of people that society will tolerate the application of this form of shaming and perpetual punishment.

As far as their silence concerning how these laws affect the children of registered citizens, (I use this term instead of sex offender), that's telling isn't it? They evidently don't give a damn about the well being of children unless it benefits them in some way. And don't think the passing of these "feel good" laws directed at persons convicted of sex offenses doesn't help them get elected in the first place.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and make the prediction that history will view this episode of draconian laws aimed at persons convicted of sex offenses in the same light as Jim Crow laws, laws aimed at the LBGT community and all the other laws that have been found as either unconstitutional or inhumane.

I agree completely with your grammar lesson concerning the term sex offender. I believe this is intentional and derogatory in nature. I prefer the term registered citizen.

More light needs to be shed on all of this ( ahem, media, where ya at ). The legislators and judicial branches have operated for too long in the dark about this issue, knowingly and intentionally misleading the general public; passing laws and making judgements based on lies or untruthful research ---- this has been documented and the evidence as such is available to anyone who searches for genuine truth.

People who no longer pose a threat to society are facing extreme hardships as a result of these legislative transgressions against society. Innocent family members have to endure these same hardships and the time has come to start correcting the mistakes that these overzealous legislators and judges have made concerning this issue.

What would be the harm in looking at each registered citizen and implementing measures of restrictions based on an individual assessment? What would be the harm in using the hard and fast empirical statistical evidence available in making these decisions instead of someone sitting in an office somewhere arbitrarily making a decision based merely on the nature of the crime?

None of this really makes any sense. Is this America? Or some third world country? In the name of everything that our fore-fathers envisioned when our nation was born, wake up and realize that what is going on here with this issue simply is not right and something must be done to correct the wrongs that have been enacted into place.

Anonymous said...

"And, please, don't come back with such things as "Well, we need to protect the children" type of mantra."

People said...

I must say i have gone to a facility where men are in Civil Commitment and me as a visitor and a female was given respect by those sex offenders,they were placed in those trailors where they lived and they did not go to classes and minimum therapy.As they were label with a Mental Abnormality.These men needed to be evaluated and released,some of them according to medical records had no mental disorders.These people have family and they are held as this program is Unconstitutional.Us as tax payers are allowing people like Senator Whitmire and Marsha McClain abuse our tax money.You are right the politicians are doing this for a Vote. Even TDCJ placed these men as low risk offenders.That sure was ignored in court and these mens accomplishments were totally not brought up.I must say you are right George,im glad you know the truth.Legislators need to make those changes.These men are Dyeing and wasting Life in this program,After their 20 year term now they want to keep them in therapy in Littlefield for another 7 years.This needs to Stop,these mens moms and dads are dyeing as they are still kept incarcerated in this Secret Prison.

People said...

Do you people know that as these men were placed in court for Civil Commitment that the courts paid 2 doctors to evaluate them for 1 hour and to announce that these men have a mental Abnormality.How can a doctor get on the stand and make such announcement after an hour of interview with the inmate.How,How,How,Maybe the Senator can answer that,or Judge Seiler.

People said...

Did Yall know that these people running the Texas Civil Commitment have no degree in Health therapy and they were actually Prison officers,even the Director Marsha McClain.Are we just letting anyone run this as Alyson Taylor was along with Senator Whitmire.Why are we allowing this to happen,these people need to be removed.Lets get these men evaluated by un Bias doctors.