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?

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.

Mutant stat: 4.2% of American kids witnessed a shooting last year

Here is how a mutant statistic about the exposure of children to shootings came to be:

It all started in 2015, when University of New Hampshire sociology professor David Finkelhor and two colleagues published a study called “Prevalence of Childhood Exposure to Violence, Crime, and Abuse.” They gathered data by conducting phone interviews with parents and kids around the country.

The Finkelhor study included a table showing the percentage of kids “witnessing or having indirect exposure” to different kinds of violence in the past year. The figure under “exposure to shooting” was 4 percent.

The findings were then reinterpreted:

Earlier this month, researchers from the CDC and the University of Texas published a nationwide study of gun violence in the journal Pediatrics. They reported that, on average, 7,100 children under 18 were shot each year from 2012 to 2014, and that about 1,300 a year died. No one has questioned those stats.

The CDC-UT researchers also quoted the “exposure to shooting” statistic from the Finkelhor study, changing the wording — and, for some reason, the stat — just slightly:

“Recent evidence from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence indicates that 4.2 percent of children aged 0 to 17 in the United States have witnessed a shooting in the past year.”

The reinterpreted findings were picked up by the media:

The Dallas Morning News picked up a version of the Washington Post story.

When the Dallas Morning News figured out something was up (due to a question raised by a reader) and asked about the origins of the statistic, they uncovered some confusion:

According to Finkelhor, the actual question the researchers asked was, “At any time in (your child’s/your) life, (was your child/were you) in any place in real life where (he/she/you) could see or hear people being shot, bombs going off, or street riots?”

So the question was about much more than just shootings. But you never would have known from looking at the table.

This appears to be a classic example of a mutant statistic as described by sociologist Joel Best in Damned Lies and Statistics. As Best explains, it doesn’t take much for a number to be unintentionally twisted such that it becomes nonsensical yet interesting to the public because it seems shocking. And while the Dallas Morning News might deserve some credit for catching the issue and trying to set the record straight, the incorrect statistic is now in the public and can easily be found.

Crime down in US but more mass shootings

What explains why violent crimes are down in the United States but public shootings are up?

The FBI attempted to narrow the definition in a 2014 report that focused on “active shooter” situations, defined as shootings in which an individual tried to kill people in a public place, and excluding gang- or drug-related violence. The agency found that 160 active-shooter incidents had occurred between 2000 and 2013, and that the number of events was rising. In the first seven years of the period, the average number of active-shooter incidents per year was 6.4. In the final seven years, the annual average rose to 16.4.

In these 160 shootings, 486 people were killed and 557 were wounded, not including the shooters.

The rise in active-shooter events bucks the general trend toward less violent crime in the United States: Overall violent crime dropped 14.5 percent between 2004 and 2013, according to the FBI…

Meanwhile, a just-released study finds that although the United States has just about 5 percent of the world’s population, the country has 31 percent of the world’s mass shooters. The reasons for these numbers are complex, researchers say, but the data suggest that the availability of guns, and perhaps the American obsession with fame, may be to blame.

The mass shootings are interesting in themselves but this is tied to a larger question about the levels of violence in the United States that has intrigued social scientists for decades. For example, in graduate school I spent some time working on research regarding the number of assassinations across countries. The United States was an outlier within industrialized nations. Or, if you look at the literature on the urban riots that took place in many American cities during the 1960s, you find similar questions about how this could occur in the United States while being more rare in other developed nations. In both sets of literature, social scientists debated the role of a frontier mentality, the availability of guns, levels of political conflict and inequality, among other reasons.

On a different note, given the amount of attention these mass shootings receive in the media, it isn’t a surprise that many Americans aren’t aware that crime rates have dropped or that the vast majority of public spaces are safe.

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?

Time seems to suggest urban politics = dealing with crime

The latest issue of Time has an article on how the 2016 presidential contenders are tackling urban issues. Yet, the article only discusses crime and violence:

It’s an improbable plot twist after two decades of Republicans and Democrats embracing the tough-on-crime mantra of more cops and tougher sentencing. And like most political shifts, it’s driven by calculation as much as courage. As crime rates tumbled and budgets tightened, concern has grown over the financial and human cost of mass imprisonment. A recent Reason-Rupe poll found that 77% of Americans now favor eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, while 73% support allowing nonviolent drug offenders who have served their sentences to vote.

In response, nearly every candidate this year has jumped into a new national debate about how to reshape the criminal-justice system. “It’s an incredible political shift,” says Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan policy institute at New York University School of Law…

Urban politics has been fraught for liberals for the past 25 years, and arguably longer. The scars of the 1988 election were slow to fade: a generation of ambitious Democrats had watched Michael Dukakis get pilloried as a wimpy, soft-on-crime liberal, and they vowed to avoid the same trap. “You have moderates in the Democratic Party who frankly have been raised up with this deep faith that their political success is dependent on them being tough on crime,” says Ben Jealous, the former president of the NAACP. “You’re asking them to challenge an article of their political religion, and it’s very scary for them.”…

Of all the 2016 hopefuls, perhaps nobody else grasps the complexities of urban policy like O’Malley, Clinton’s closest rival for the Democratic nomination. The former Maryland governor spent two terms as Baltimore’s mayor, transforming the crime-ridden city into a laboratory for urban policy, wielding data-driven crime-fighting techniques like CompStat and a zero-tolerance approach to community policing. Crime plunged. But in the eyes of some critics, his tactics laid the kindling that was set ablaze when 25-year-old Freddie Gray died April 19 of injuries suffered in police custody. (Six officers have been charged in connection with his death.)

In an article that is supposedly about how more politicians are now getting it right (turning to the large issue of the criminal justice system/mass incarceration), they miss the boat in tying urban politics to dealing with crime. Cities are only about crime and violence? Doesn’t this just feed the same stereotypes of urban areas that have been held for decades and are consistently portrayed through the media?

If politicians were serious about tackling urban issues, how about they start with these two issues:

1. Residential segregation. A century or so of separating where people can live based on race (and class) has long-term consequences. Read American Apartheid by Massey and Denton again, particularly to see how white-black relationships have been shaped by residential patterns.

2. Economic opportunities. Globalization and deindustrialization have devastated numerous urban neighborhoods as jobs – particularly in manufacturing – disappeared. Read William Julius Wilson’s work in The Truly Disadvantaged and When Work Disappears. How are jobs and capital going to flow to poor neighborhoods?

Real estate sign? Prices in Compton, CA back on the rise

The California real estate market is heating up again – and housing prices are rising in Compton:

She is proud that what she has achieved so far was done, not through heavy policing, but conflict mitigation. The last several months have seen a reduction in violent activity of about 65 per cent, she said. For her, seeing people jogging at night is a key indicator of success…

The residential property market is surging, up more than 10 per cent in the last year, as people are priced out of other Los Angeles neighbourhoods. Properties are being snapped up by investors and professional house flippers have started targeting the area. Compton’s first home with a price tag of $1 million recently went on the market.

Key to attracting companies and families is Compton’s geographical location close to LAX airport, Long Beach port which is the second busiest container port in the US, and near office buildings in downtown Los Angeles.

 

Violence and gang activity is down, housing prices in California are rising, Compton sits at an advantageous location, and so the prices in Compton go up. As the graph suggests, prices aren’t near what they were pre-economic crisis but the trend looks like it is heading up.

Two questions this raises:

1. This article makes a big deal about the reduction in violence due to a gang truce but what happens if the two gangs start fighting again? Perhaps the article begins with the gangs and gangsta rap because it is from a UK perspective but it does hint at the fragility in the community.

2. What happens if a community like Compton gentrifies? Not only would this bring new people in Compton but it also gets at one of the big issues in the big cities in California: affordable housing. Housing prices in Los Angeles are already relatively high and there may not be many places left that offer reasonable housing prices.