What not to read in the latest FBI murder data

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The is from the FBI uniform annual report on crime is very limited. AltHowever 85 percent of 15,875 U.S. police departments send in their local crime data for inclusion, turnout is completely voluntary and several major cities, including New York, Chicago and New Orleans, are not shown.

Despite this, every time this report is released at the end of September, there is a lot of fanfare. It’s the closest thing professional crime nerds have to a holiday, as domestic journalists flock to them for a week before forgetting about them until next year.

Politicians, especially those on the right, are also joining in the mock excitement as an opportunity to show tenacity. This year, Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), who was still governor of Florida when he became the third deadliest US state in 2018, grabbed his pitchfork and blamed the “Radical Left Movement Defund The Police” for the increase in murders indicated in the report.

Ironically, given that the UCR is consistently one year behind schedule, this year’s report is actually around 2020, when President Trump was Always at the office.

Nonetheless, the data is frightening, showing a 30% increase in murders from 2019 to 2020. (Important caveats include that year-to-year comparisons are not a reliable indication of trends; and also that global crime fell, as it has for many years.)

People have a right to expect these numbers to be explained and interpreted by reasonable experts. Unfortunately, many figures whose reactions are often sought after by the media are arguably neither reasonable nor experts.

For its coverage on the UCR, the New York Times published Jeff Asher of AH Datalytics, an unaccredited “crime expert” who was previously caught hiding his job at the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, a police service that inspired yet another media exposure on his racism just a few days ago.

Not only are these arguments inflammatory and speculative, they serve the whims of those in power, such as the police.

While being ambiguous about certain details, Asher simultaneously fed the Ferguson effect theory to the masses: the idea that the police stop doing their job when criticized, which leads to more violence. In 2016, he went so far as to take two hand-picked variables – the shootings and drug arrests in Baltimore – then to imply that the shootings have increased because drug-related arrests have declined. Often he uses cumulative data for the year in the in the same way that many police services do: to make crime trends worse than they are. In 2021, it is loan credit to suggestions that people angry at the police murder of George Floyd are a factor behind the spike in killings.

Not only are these arguments inflammatory and speculative, they serve the whims of those in power, such as the police. As the Drug Policy Alliance has explained, police generally want to keep illegal drugs, as more arrests help justify “hiring more officers, more overtime pay, more equipment and more advanced technology” . Reinforcing the argument that drugs must remain illegal so that officers are more proactive and, inadvertently, indirectly stop shootings is a practical workaround to growing unpopularity of the war on drugs.

Asher’s take-out is not that different from the rest of the group of criminologists obsessed with crime and ambivalent for justice. Professor Justin Nix of the University of Nebraska-Omaha also sought to reanimate the corpse of the Ferguson effect so he can pin the murder rate on Someone– read: those whose direct experiences or attention to events make them see the police negatively, and the “small group [who] felt emboldened as a result of the legitimacy crisis.

Despite all the talk about legitimacy that such talkers harangue, there is little recognition of how much the police are willing to work to gain a sense of legitimacy in affected communities. Very little has been done about the dismal failure of the Obama administration’s work to restore legitimacy, for example. Under Obama, millions of dollars went to a program to educate police to treat members of marginalized black and brown communities with basic human respect; a full audit hardly progressed. The before and after surveys have shown that the negative opinions of the agents on the communities they supervise are very entrenched.

John Roman, senior researcher at the NORC think tank at the University of Chicago, offers a more intuitive explanation for the increase in murders. In his analysis, it’s not that people are angry with cops or that cops are afraid to do their job:. The circumstances that practically invite a cycle of settling of scores are not unknown to violence prevention professionals like David Kennedy, who invented the strategy of targeted deterrence. It’s just that the pandemic has almost certainly made those circumstances worse.

Yet even relatively learned thinkers would speak more of a war of cultures.

Too few changes in the font. That is to say Why the “defund” movement is here to stay.

Blaming protesters or people from affected communities is both cruel and wrong. Calls for police funding come from frustration with a police industrial and reform complex that continually fails to generate either security Where freedom.

And despite limited evidence – so far – to support the effectiveness of some alternative security proposals like violence switches, at least the people behind such programs are trying something new.

While the police as a whole make no real effort to change a broken way of doing things, they have benefited from false claims – proclaimed by top-performing politicians in favor of the police – that there is an important funding of the police in our cities, despite the the opposite being true globally.

Too little changes when it comes to the police. That is to say Why the “defund” movement is here to stay, even if the murder rate increases another 30% next year.


Photograph by Tony Hisgett via Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0

The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter, previously received a restricted grant from the Drug Policy Alliance to support a research fellowship on the diversity of drug war journalism.



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