Less Policing, More Crime?

July 25, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

Does crime go up when cops, turtle-like, withdraw into their patrol cars, when they  stop “proactive policing” and respond only when called? That’s the idea of the Ferugson effect is a variant on this idea. It adds the reason for the return to “reactive policing” – criticism from citizens and politicians, usually touched off by the police killing of an unarmed person.
The Ferguson effect is a corollary of another idea, “Broken Windows” policing. That policy is based on the idea that if police do not enforce laws on minor “quality of life” offenses, serious crimes will increase.
The Ferguson effect has been blamed for increases in homicides and shootings in Chicago, Baltimore, and perhaps other cities. In New York too the police, angry at the mayor, drastically cut back on “Broken Windows” policing starting in early December of 2014. The slowdown lasted through early January. The change in policing gave researchers Christopher M. Sullivan and Zachary P. O'Keeffe a natural experiment for looking at the effects of Broken Windows. First of all, they made sure that cops had cut back on enforcing minor offenses.

In the graphs below, the yellow shows the rate of enforcement in the previous year (July 2013 - July 2014) when New York cops were not quite so angry at the mayor. The orange line shows the next year. The cutback in enforcement is clear.

(Click on an image for a larger view.)

Note also that even after the big dip, enforcement levels for the rest of the year remained below those of the previous year, especially in non-White neighborhoods.

Sullivan and O’Keeffe also looked at reported crime to see if the decreased enforcement had emboldened the bad guys. The dark blue line shows rates for the year that included the police cutback; the light blue line shows the previous year.

No Ferguson effect. The crime rates in those winter weeks of reduced policing and after look very much like the crime rates of the year before. It may be that a few weeks is not enough time for a change in policing to effect serious crime. Certainly, Broken Windows theorists would argue that what attracts predatory criminals to an area is not a low number of arrests but rather the overall sense that this is a place were bad behavior goes unrestrained. Changing the overall character of a neighborhood – for better or worse – takes more than a few weeks.

I have the impression that many people, when they think about crime, use a sort of cops-and-robbers model: cops prevent crime and catch criminals; the more active the cops, the less active the criminals. There may be some truth in that model, but the New York data shows that the connection between policing and crime is not so immediate or direct.

Sullivan and O’Keeffe have written up their research in the Monkey Cage section of the Washington Post website (here). I have copied their graphs. I do not know if their work has been published in any peer-reviewed journal.

Police-Speak, Again

July 21, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

A recent post (here) noted that police departments often resort to contorted and vague language rather than say that a cop shot someone. “An officer-involved shooting occurred.”
The Washington Post this morning has this story.

The the man sitting up is autistic. He wandered away from his assisted living facility. The Black man lying on the ground is a therapist there and was trying to bring him back. The police showed up, heavily armed. The Black man lay on the ground, hands raised, and tried to tell the autistic man to do the same. He also shouted to the cops that the autistic man was holding a toy truck, not a gun.

One of the cops shot the Black man. Or as the statement from the North Miami PD put it,

“At some point during the on-scene negotiation, one of the responding officers discharged his weapon, striking the employee of the [assisted living facility].”

As someone (OK, it was me) tweeted, “I discharged my weapon striking the sheriff, but I did not discharge my weapon striking the deputy.”

Language is one of the less important aspects of this incident, but the other important details have not yet been reported, We do know that the bullet hit the man in the leg, that the police handcuffed him and kept him on the ground, still bleeding according to the Post, for twenty minutes.

The Presentation of Selfies in Everyday High School

July 20, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

A girl takes a selfie, posts it to Instagram, and waits. She doesn’t have to wait long – a minute or two - before the likes and comments start rolling in. “Gorgeous,” “So pretty OMG,” “Stunning,” “Cutest.”

You can see why people might look at this and think: narcissism. You can see why they might think that new technologies – Instagram, cell phones (self-phones?) – have made kids today the most narcissistic generation in history.  In an earlier post (here), I expressed my skepticism about that claim. And, if we can generalize from an episode of This American Life last November, the selfie-Instagram-comments syndrome is not about narcissism – seeing yourself as standing shiningly above everyone else. It’s about fitting in – reading the social map, finding where you stand, and maybe changing that place.

Here is a slightly edited-down excerpt of the first part of the show. (The full episode and transcript are here ) As Ira Glass says, if you have teenage girls in your life, you’re probably familiar with this. I don’t and I’m not, so I found it fascinating listening. (When the girls were reading their comments, I thought one of the girls, Jane, was saying “Hard eyes,” and I couldn’t imagine why that was a compliment. Turns out, she was saying “Heart eyes.”) If you don’t need to hear what young teenage girls sound like, here’s the short version distilled from Ira Glass’s observations:

They want comments from other girls. This is not about sex. It's not about boys. It's about girls, and friendship. And it's very repetitive – the same phrases, over and over.

All these moves – the posting, the commenting and liking – have a meaning that girls know intuitively but that must be decoded for outsiders like me and Ira.


Ira Glass: These comments are a very specific language that tells the girls all kinds of things.  And a lot of the meaning in the comments has nothing to do with the actual words. . .  It’s about who is doing the commenting . . .  Liking a photo means something totally different from commenting. You comment with someone you’re close to or someone you want to get close to.
Ella: It’s definitely a social obligation, because you want to let them know, and also let people who are seeing those, that I have a close relationship with this person, so close that I can comment on their pictures, like, this is so cute, or, you look so great here.

Jane:  Especially because we, like, just started high school, so we’re meeting a lot of new people. So you would comment on someone’s photo who you’re not really super close with or that you don’t know really well. And it’s sort of a statement, like, I want to be friends with you, or I want to get to know you, or like, I think you're cool.

If someone that you don't know very well commented on your photo, you – it’s sort of like an unspoken agreement that you have to comment back on their photo. Like when you’re making new friends, if they comment on your photo, you comment on their photo.

It’s hard to find narcissism or vanity in any of this. The girls are not preening, not basking in their triumphs, not nursing an ego wounded from some social slight. They are reading a constantly changing sociogram or network model of their world.


Ira Glass:  They’re only three months into high school, so there is a lot at stake right now.

Julia:  One of my, like, best friends posts a selfie. Maybe this isn't, like, healthy. But I might go through the comments and see who she’s, like, really good friends with, just ’cause we’re in high school and there'’s that sense of jealousy between everyone.

Ira Glass:  Do you have people who you’re jealous of?

Jane: Yeah.

Julia:  Yeah. I definitely would. I go through, like, the comments that people see-- like that people say, and like, I see what other people have said to other people.

Jane:  Yeah.

Julia:  Just to see, like, the whole-- like, the whole social like map.

Jane:  Looking, mapping out your social world, seeing who's with who, who's hanging out with who, who is best friends with who.

Julia:  If you didn’t have it, like, I feel like I’d be missing so much. And it would just –

Jane:    Because you wouldn’t see what other people were saying. A lot goes on.

Ira Glass:  Well, no, that’s, I feel like, the thing that I'm understanding from this conversation, is like – it’s actually like, you’re getting a picture of your entire social world and who’s up and who’s down and who's close to who, and it’s like you’re getting a diagram of where everybody stands with everybody else.

Jane:  Yeah.

Ella:  Yeah.

Jane:  Definitely. Definitely.

Ira Glass: As it changes in real time, every day, every 10 minutes.

Ella: Yeah.

Jane:  Yeah. Everyone can see it.

Julia:  It’s crazy.

If you look at the individual –a girl posting a selfie and reading the laudatory comments –you see a personality trait, narcissism. But the behavior that looks like narcissism is really an aspect of the social structure (girls’ friendships networks) and the institution those networks are embedded in (school).

Character Contests

July 18, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, has been accused of sexual harassment by Gretchen Carlson, a Fox on-screen performer. Neil Cavuto, a Fox editor and anchor defends Ailes in an article at Business Insider.

. . . about a quarter-century getting to know a guy, so I think I'm a pretty good judge of character. . . .all this stuff I've been reading about Roger is a lot of clutter and a lot of nonsense. None of it remotely matches the man I've come to know over these recent decades.

Kimberly Guilfoyle, another Fox News anchor, tells the conservative website Breitbart (here), “in terms of Roger’s character, integrity, and credibility, I cannot stand up enough for Roger.”

Character is such an appealing concept. It allows us to think that we know someone to the very core. It gives us the illusion of prediction; if we know someone’s character, we know how they will act. It allows us to know, even without any real knowledge or evidence, how someone did act.

The problem is that character is often an illusion – a consistency that we paint onto people. It’s hard to for us to realize how much their character is something that we ourselves construct. For one thing, when we think about someone, we focus on that person, not on our own thinking. Second, we choose not to notice things that don’t fit with our portrait (confirmation bias). And third, we see the person in only a few different situations. The person’s behavior and reactions may be fairly consistent in those situations but very different in other situations we have not seen. Several times I have walked past the open door of a classroom where a colleague is teaching only to hear a professor who is not at all like the colleague I know. J. Edgar Hoover liked to dress up in women’s clothes.

I expect that people with some stake in the case on either side will be making conflicting testimonials about Ailes’s character, and Carlson’s. Cavuto, for example, not only defends Ailes’s character but attacks Carlson’s “Take it from a guy with an illness:* These accusations that don’t remotely resemble the Roger that I know — that WE know — are just ... sick.”

That settles it: Ailes – “tough but kind. . . disciplined but discerning”; the accusations (and presumably the accusers) “sick.”

If we know what a man is like as a boss of a news network, can we know how he will act when he is alone with an attractive young woman employee? If we could, life would be simpler. Sexual harassment lawsuits would be simpler. It would be nice if the Bill Cosby we came to know on TV, the Cosby many of the people he worked with came to know, had been the total Cosby in all situations.

I have no idea whether Ailes did and said what Carlson accuses him of. I’m just saying that character assessment and character assassination do not provide the answer. Character is our prediction about what someone would do. It is not evidence of what someone did.**       

* Cavuto says that his comments are more believable because of his recent health problems. “Seeing as I've just had open-heart surgery and deal with my share of illnesses, I'm free to speak my mind in a way and from a unique perspective others cannot.” Apparently, the pre-bypass Cavuto could not be trusted to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

** After writing this post, I remembered that I had posted something similar nearly five years ago, here, in connection with the reaction to fallen heroes (e.g., Joe Paterno). It’s worth looking at if only for the quote from Nabokov.