Police violence leading to joint suburban and urban activism

Responses to recent acquittal of a police officer in a shooting of a black man in the suburb of East Pittsburgh illustrates how concern crosses community lines in a metropolitan region:

East Pittsburgh is a small municipality that sits just outside of the city of Pittsburgh. It disbanded its police department in January, largely because of the Rose killing. And while Rashid’s clap-backers are technically correct about the differences between the police departments involved, the spirit of his tweet is still sound. For African Americans in greater Pittsburgh, there is little safety afforded to them when approached by police, whether in cities or suburbs. This is a concern for African Americans in almost every urban setting in the nation, but especially so in suburbs.

For Rose’s case, distinguishing between East Pittsburgh police and Pittsburgh police isn’t entirely clarifying in these moments. The fault line is not between Pittsburgh and its suburbs; it’s between the criminalization of blackness and the exoneration of whiteness. In that regard, the city of Pittsburgh could help bridge that divide if it recognizes that it shares this common problem with its smaller municipal neighbors…

It is true, as some have been quick to point out, that Pittsburgh police have more training than the police programs in surrounding smaller municipalities. Much of that training was imposed on Pittsburgh police after the federal government found a pattern of corruption and brutality throughout the department in the 1990s. Pittsburgh was the first major city entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice to reform its police department. Meanwhile, there is no uniform police trainings across the state to ensure that small suburban departments are skilled on par with officers from larger city departments. But this is besides the point: What, to the victim of police violence, does it matter what jurisdiction’s name is on the clothes of the officer who shot him?…

In the event of police violence against people of color, the fate of cities and their suburbs are intertwined. Many of the high-profile police killings of black people of the past few years have actually happened in suburbs. But the neighboring major cities in those instances have felt the impacts regardless. The cries of the oppressed do not recognize municipal boundaries.

In work I have read about metropolitanization and addressing regional issues, policing is rarely discussed. The largest issue is usually economic: how to ensure that the wealth of the region, often limited to certain neighborhoods or suburbs and linked to numerous issues like housing and school funding, can be spread throughout a region to help all residents.

Americans tend to like to have a police force for their own community. Regional policing or ceding police authority to an outside group – like a county sheriff – would strike many as undesirable and only an option if the community could not pay for their own police force. There is something about having even a small local police force that looks out for local residents and answers to those same residents that many suburbanites find reassuring. (Making that link to local suburban control and race and exclusion would be interesting.)

It would be helpful to know if there is a metropolitan region that tackles the issue of police violence and disproportionate responses to minority residents well. Are there regions where police from various departments train together on this issue? Can such an effort help all departments, big and small?

Speeding occurs when a road feels like a highway but has low speed limits

An analysis of high-speed tickets issued in Chicago highlights a fundamental contradiction with Lake Shore Drive:

The number of tickets issued on Lake Shore Drive points to a long-standing problem — with four lanes in each direction along most of the road, the drive looks and feels like a highway, though it was intended as a scenic boulevard and in some places has no guard rails or emergency shoulders. The maximum speed limit is 40 mph on the North Side and 45 mph on the South, but up to 95 percent of drivers exceed the limit when the road is not congested, according to an Illinois Department of Transportation study.

The majority of motorists getting nabbed for speeding on the drive were going at least 75 to 80 mph.

“I observe some people driving extremely fast,” said Joseph Schofer, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern University. “The roadway kind of invites that. When there’s not much traffic, it’s a pleasant drive; there are not many sharp curves. It feels like the Edens Expressway.”…

While drivers speed both north and south of Madison, there are more tickets on the South Side. It is both easier to go at high speeds and easier to catch speeders south of the Museum Campus.

The current solution to the contradiction seems to be more enforcement of speed limits on Lake Shore Drive. More tickets and public knowledge of more tickets issued should theoretically help drivers think twice before going fast.

But, this ignores the underlying issue: the road is built and designed in such a way that fast driving can appear safe. Even if the road is not actually built for those speeds, having all those lanes plus a large number of drivers going fast can overrule a rational approach to the speed limit. Additionally, this is a major north-south artery in Chicago. There are a limited number of these, particularly those without many traffic stops. Outside of a crowded Kennedy and Dan Ryan Expressways (consistently rated as some of the worst spots for traffic in the United States), Lake Shore Drive is it. Even with its traffic lights around Grant Park, it offers unparalleled ease of travel.

It would be interesting to see what the City of Chicago could dream up to slow down drivers. The other complication is the road is intended to be a scenic one as it often travels through parks and offers numerous great views on one side of Lake Michigan and on the other a thriving global city. Speed bumps? Giant signs about traffic? A road diet to limit the width of the road? More guard rails and visible safety symbols? If the true goal is to improve safety, just handing out tickets is not enough.

Why suburbanites want to have their own police departments and local governments

Writing about a recent incident of police violence in a Pittsburgh suburb, one writer looking at all of the small police forces in suburbia asks:

It’s not often clear what the rationale is for these small municipalities to have their own city administrations and law enforcement agencies.

And he later says:

If having multiple police departments makes for inefficient and unprofessional work across St. Louis County, imagine what it means for Allegheny County, which has almost twice as many police departments. Micro-department intrusions add up to macro-resentment of police in general.

The argument for efficiency in consolidating local government and police forces may make sense in this particular context. Perhaps a larger-scale police force could better avoid such incidents through training and more familiarity with a broader area.

But, there are two related and powerful reasons that the American urban landscape is broken into so many local governments: Americans like the idea of local control and they like the idea of living in a small town. In a smaller community and with their own officials, Americans think they can exert more influence on local processes and the size of each local agency does not become too large. It is theoretically much easier to meet an official or register a complaint or run for local office if there is a major precipitating issue. This can especially be the case with wealthier suburbs that want to maintain their exclusivity by remaining small.

The only factor that may push suburbs and smaller communities to give up this dream of local control and small town life is difficult financial positions or seeking certain efficiencies. See an example of Maine communities that have dissolved due to a lack of local revenue. Illinois has tried banning the formation of new local taxing bodies while DuPage County has moved to reduce the number of local governments. But, if the resources are there, Americans might prefer these small units of government. (Another argument that could be leveled at all these small governments is that they may be corrupt or inept. Small suburbs can become little fiefdoms with weird rules, as illustrated by Ferguson and other communities in St. Louis County. But, even in those cases it is less clear that the residents of these small suburbs do not like their local governments where it may seem obvious to outsiders that there are problems.)

Also, it is important to note for this story that Pennsylvania is a leader among states regarding the number of local governments. Not every state does it the same way. Similarly, many metropolitan regions in the South and West are much larger in terms of square miles compared to Rust Belt cities that had difficulties annexing any suburbs into city limits after 1900.

Nashville police chief: crime fighting more about psychology, sociology

At a recent Nashville City Council meeting, the police chief explain what it takes to fight crime today:

After a recent spike in Nashville’s gun violence, Police Chief Steve Anderson and Health Director Bill Paul, appeared before the Metro Council Tuesday night. They discussed the numbers behind the shootings and how the city plans to combat them…

At the meeting, Chief Anderson outlined the statistics, but he also talked about the complexity of modern policing when it comes to gun violence, which disproportionally impacts poor minority residents.

“Police work has turned into more psychology and sociology than actually crime fighting. So that is where we all need to be,” Anderson said.

If only a broader set of civic leaders and the American public would pick up these ideas. To make such suggestions sometimes meets the counterargument that explanation like this excuse or condone the behavior. Not so: a better understanding of the social science behind crime should help communities alleviate the conditions that lead to crime rather than try to play whack-a-mole.

Going further with the police: does this mean Nashville police receive training based on psychology and sociology research? How does the force as a whole leverage this research? For example, the Chicago police force has been working with social network data to identify who is likely to be involved in or affected by crime.

At the least, the police and the public could follow a suggestion one of my colleagues made several years ago:

Our nation is only becoming more complex and diverse. We need police prepared to interact with complex and diverse people. Training in tactical procedures and weapon use, without a comparable ability for the police to think differently, learn quickly, and engage complexity is an invitation for more chaos.

Liberal arts graduates, if you want to make a difference in the world, consider this: become a cop.

 

Rumbler emergency siren to shake your vehicle

Milwaukee police are trying out a new kind of siren:

It’s a siren you don’t just see, and hear, you actually feel it. It’s called the Rumbler and it’s expanding on a police force near you. It’s a siren that emits a low frequency sound that vibrates your car. It goes through the material of the vehicle, the frame, and seats. The subwoofer is located inside the grill of the car. Milwaukee K-9 Police Officer, Jeff Lepianka says the department has been adding the sirens over the last few years to battle distracted driving.

Lepianka says, “Drivers will have their ear buds in, be on their cell phone. This siren will break through this and get the people to pull over so I can get to where we need to go.”…

“With the Rumbler going people 10 to 15 car lengths are already getting to the side.”

Those precious minutes saved, could save lives.

In the name of safety and combating distracted driving, perhaps this is the wave of the future. This possible technology prompts two thoughts:

  1. This reminds me of the use of high-frequency sound devices used to chase away teenagers. Since adults lose the ability to hear such frequencies as they age, it can be particularly effective in targeting loitering youngsters.
  2. When we eventually all have self-driving cars, it would be easy to automatically pull all vehicles aside to allow emergency vehicles through. This could certainly help decrease response times but it would certainly be odd – at least the first time or two – to be automatically sidelined.

The article suggests pulling over is often delayed because of distracted driving but I wonder if this is also the case even when the drivers aren’t engaged in other activities. Have driving norms changed? At what distance are drivers supposed to pull over? I’ve noticed that fewer emergency sirens use their sirens and it is not always easy to see flashing lights.

Explaining the drop in DUI arrests and crashes in the Chicago suburbs

The roads in the Chicago suburbs have been safer since 2007:

DUI arrest totals last year in 79 suburbs were about half what they were in 2007, despite only a small drop in police staffing. There were 6,955 arrests last year, compared to 12,166 in 2007, according to annual state-funded surveys compiled by the Schaumburg-based Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists.

Meanwhile, those same suburbs in six counties reported 1,555 crashes involving alcohol-impaired driving in 2007, according to Illinois Department of Transportation crash reports. By 2009, that number was down to 1,012 alcohol-impaired crashes, and it has hovered near that mark ever since, with 1,065 crashes in 2014, the reports show.

What is behind this?

“It’s the economy,” said Don Ramsell, a Wheaton-based attorney who specializes in drunken driving defenses. “It’s so obvious it’s ridiculous. Alcohol is a feature of people’s disposable income, and most people have a lot less of that these days…

Lake in the Hills Police Chief David Brey chalks up the decline in the number of arrests to “more and more people making a conscious effort to take a cab or have a designated driver.”…

Ramsell and AAIM Executive Director Rita Kreslin say lean budgets might have something to do with fewer DUI arrests. Both said police officers have told them they’re under less pressure to make DUI arrests because of the time and expense of following up in court.

Three different explanations: people have less money to spend on alcohol, drinkers have become smarter about using alternative transportation, and police departments may have been devoting less attention to this area. Getting this explanation right could be consequential as communities and police departments think about their budgets. In contrast, simply throwing out possible explanations (probably based on anecdotal evidence) may serve particular interests.

Still, good news overall for the safety of suburban roads. Now we can see whether the trend lasts and this might provide evidence for the explanations given above.

Explaining why four Chicago neighborhoods haven’t had a murder in 3.5 years

Given Chicago’s reputation for violence, why have four Chicago neighborhoods – Mount Greenwood, Edison Park, Forest Glen, and North Park – not had a murder in recent years?

According to census data, 15,228 “law enforcement workers” live in Chicago, including about 12,100 police officers. Mount Greenwood, Edison Park and Forest Glen have some of the highest percentages of residents in the city working in law enforcement.

Crime in general is also low in these communities. For instance, between 2012 and 2014, not a single person was shot in Edison Park, which also reported only one criminal sexual assault. Forest Glen reported two sexual assaults. North Park had just 13 burglaries — which police Supt. Garry McCarthy calls a bellwether crime.

The city’s safest communities also have a high percentage of home ownership…

Another factor that stands out about some of the safest communities is wealth…

People in low-income neighborhoods tend to have a strong sense of community — with families living there for generations and looking out for one another, Papachristos says. But many young men have gravitated over the years toward gangs in those same neighborhoods, he says.

This article reads like a list of reasons for why crime happens in the first place (though at least broken windows theory is not invoked) and social scientists have found a range of reasons that might work in some situations and not others. However, we would suspect that areas that are wealthier have less crime as more people are living comfortably in the formal economy. This doesn’t mean these neighborhoods have no crime; there may be less violent crime but there are still some property crimes and likely crimes that are not caught including drug offenses and white collar crime (these might be even harder to uncover in wealthier areas).

If we follow the logic of this article, we would want to move high-crime areas toward the experiences of wealthier, higher quality of life neighborhoods that do exist in Chicago. Who is willing to take the steps to help this happen?