Violence in the Heartland, Part VI: Cities Within the City

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My most recent posts in this series have compared violent crime data from different cities. However, focusing on a single crime-rate number from a city may mask wide neighborhood-to-neighborhood variations within the city.

Consider Milwaukee. A helpful on-line data tool permits interesting comparisons among the city’s seven police districts. The data reveal that rates of violent crime vary within the city by about as much as they do across cities. Here, for instance, are the homicides per 100,000 district residents since 2010:

district homicide

District 5, encompassing the north-central portion of the city, has easily had the highest homicide rate each year, while Districts 1 (downtown and northeast) and 6 (far south) have easily had the lowest. (District boundaries are described in more detail here.)

Robbery rates reflect a similar pattern:   Read more »

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Violence in the Heartland, Part V: Wisconsin’s Cities

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Since 1985, Wisconsin’s seven largest cities have followed markedly different paths in their rates of reported violent crime.  Two, Waukesha and Appleton, have consistently had lower rates than the state as a whole, while two others, Milwaukee and Racine, have typically had rates that are two to three times higher than the state as a whole.  Kenosha and Racine have significantly reduced their rates of violence since the 1980s, while the other five cities have experienced sizable net increases.

Here are the overall trends, in the form of reported violent crimes per 100,000 city residents:

Cities year by year

In recent years, as you can see, Waukesha has easily had the lowest rates and Milwaukee the highest.  Earlier, Appleton used to compete with some success for lowest and Racine for highest.

Here are the net changes in the cities’ crime rates from 1985-1987 to 2010-2012:   Read more »

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Imprisonment Inertia and Public Attitudes Toward Truth in Sentencing

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I’ve posted a number of times about the interesting results of the Marquette Law School Poll regarding the attitudes of Wisconsin voters toward truth in sentencing and early release from prison (e.g., here and here).  I’ve now finished a more in-depth analysis of the survey data with Professor Darren Wheelock of Marquette’s Department of Social and Cultural Sciences.  Our results are discussed in a new paper on SSRN (available here).  The abstract sets forth a little more of the context and key findings:

In the space of a few short years in the 1990s, forty-two states adopted truth in sentencing (“TIS”) laws, which eliminated or greatly curtailed opportunities for criminal defendants to obtain parole release from prison. In the following decade, the pendulum seemingly swung in the opposite direction, with thirty-six states adopting new early release opportunities for prisoners. However, few of these initiatives had much impact, and prison populations continued to rise. The TIS ideal remained strong. In the hope of developing a better understanding of these trends and of the prospects for more robust early release reforms in the future, the authors analyzed the results of public opinion surveys of hundreds of Wisconsin voters in 2012 and 2013. Notable findings include the following: (1) public support for TIS is strong and stable; (2) support for TIS results less from fear of crime than from a dislike of the parole decisionmaking process (which helps to explain why support for TIS has remained strong even as crime rates have fallen sharply); (3) support for TIS is not absolute and inflexible, but is balanced against such competing objectives as cost-reduction and offender rehabilitation, (4) a majority of the public would favor release as early as the halfway point in a prison sentence if public safety would not be threatened, and (5) a majority would prefer to have release decisions made by a commission of experts instead of a judge.

Entitled “Imprisonment Inertia and Public Attitudes Toward ‘Truth in Sentencing,’” our paper will be published in early 2015 in the BYU Law Review.

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Violence in the Heartland, Part IV–The Biggest Losers (and Gainers)

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Among the eleven biggest Midwestern cities, Chicago has experienced the largest drop in homicide rates over the past quarter-century, while Cincinnati has experienced the largest increase.  The other nine cities are scattered between the biggest loser and the biggest gainer, reflecting a range of markedly different urban experiences with lethal violence since the mid-1980s.

This rather messy graph indicates the annual number of homicides (murder and other nonnegligent manslaughter) per 100,000 residents for each of the eleven Midwestern jurisdictions with a population of more than 250,000:

homicides by 11 cities

Other than Detroit’s position as the region’s perennial homicide champ, it is hard to discern any patterns in the mass of lines.

The following table provides a clearer picture of each city’s trajectory.  Read more »

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Impact of Reductions in Poverty-Fighting Increasingly Affecting Policing, Flynn Says

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“Think big, folks,” Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn urged a full-house audience in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall on Tuesday. And Flynn did that himself during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program, taking a broad view of the role of police in protecting and enhancing the quality of life of people and communities in the city.

Flynn’s perspective focused frequently on how police have become the ones dealing with a gamut of social problems, as well as criminal problems, as public investment in programs aimed at helping people, especially those in poverty, have declined across the United States.

Over the last 25 years, Flynn said, “we have seen a consistent and unrelenting disinvestment in the social network, OK?” He gave mental health as an example: “Right now, the response of our society to issues of mental health is the criminal justice system. I’ve seen this for years and it’s becoming more so. . . . If you have a mental health problem, we can guarantee you a jail cell.” He said substance abuse problems are another example. “What is our social network dealing with substance abuse? Jail.”

Flynn, who is in his sixth year as Milwaukee’s police chief, said, “I’ve got 1,800 men and women out there who are being asked to deal with virtually every single social problem that presents as an inconvenience, discomfort or issue. . . . It is this one group that right now has the weight of every single social problem on it. And maybe we should start asking ourselves, do we need to double back and see what else we’re doing?” Read more »

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Young, Educated Users Fueling a Surge in Narcotics Use, Drug Prosecutor Says

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Generational amnesia – that’s the term Bridget Brennan uses to describe one of the causes of the recent rise of heroin use. It is as if today’s culture has no memory of the devastating toll the drug took on those who used it a generation ago.

And who is using the highly addictive narcotic today? In many cases, it is educated younger people living in middle class or blue collar suburbs, Brennan said during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall on Thursday.

Brennan is a prominent figure in the fight against heroin and other narcotics. She doesn’t take on those individual users. Rather she aims for those at or near the top of the pyramid as she put it, of illegal narcotics trafficking. A Milwaukee native, she has been the special narcotics prosecutor for the city of New York since 1998. Her office averages 3,000 indictments a year, many against those leading or working in drug trafficking networks. She has worked with law enforcement at many levels and across international boundaries. Read more »

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AWA Meets SCOTUS

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This week the Supreme Court heard oral argument for a case very similar to the issue Appellate Writing & Advocacy students from last semester argued in briefs and before coaches, roommates, professors – anyone that would care to listen. Though the audio has yet to be released, I was eager to review the transcript released on Wednesday. Navarette v. California asks whether police can (and if so, under what circumstances) initiate an investigatory stop of a vehicle pursuant to a sparse anonymous tip. The case is different than most situations regarding anonymous tips for a variety of reasons, but most relevant is the nature and seriousness of the danger of drunk driving. It’s hard to separate the arguments I advanced as a student in Professor Greipp’s AWA course, but luckily, many of my and my fellow classmates’ arguments were voiced on Tuesday in the great hall. Read more »

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Violence in the Heartland, Part III: City Trends

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In earlier posts (here and here), I have explored state-level violence trends since 1960 in the seven midwestern states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  This post focuses on the data from the largest city of each of these states.  Since Chicago does not report its rape numbers in conformity with FBI standards, it is omitted from the analysis.

Here are the city trends since 1985 (reported violent crimes per 100,000 residents):

city data

What stands out most is the very wide, persistent gap between Detroit at the top of the chart and Des Moines at the bottom.   Read more »

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Violence in the Heartland, 1960-2012–Part Two: Crime Wave or Aggravated Assault Wave?

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In the first post in this series, I described overall violent crime trends in the seven Midwestern states since 1960. In all of the states except for Wisconsin, the basic story was identical: a dramatic spike in violent crime between the mid-1960s and the mid-1990s was followed by a subsequent drop in violence that was nearly as sharp as the increases had been. Wisconsin had the spike, but not the sustained drop of the other states.

In this post, I disaggregate the four categories of crime that go into the overall violence number. Doing so changes the story a bit, as we can see that aggravated assault was by far the biggest driver of the violence spike, and since then has remained stubbornly high. From the standpoint of homicide and robbery, the contemporary Midwest looks only a little more dangerous than the Midwest of 1960; it is only when we add to the picture aggravated assault (and, to a lesser extent, rape) that the data look much worse. There are interesting and uncertain questions about the extent to which these a/a numbers reflect genuine changes in criminal behavior, as to opposed to changes in crime-reporting.

Before considering those questions, let’s look at the numbers.  First, consider the seven-state trends for homicide rate (that is, homicides per 100,000 residents):   Read more »

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“Affluenza:” A Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card for the Wealthy?

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Recently, news programs and papers have been flooded with stories regarding the 16 year-old boy from Texas, whose drunk-driving incident this past summer left four people dead, and a handful of people injured. The most troubling aspect of these stories for most people is the fact that the boy had received a very lenient sentence, a mere ten years’ of probation and some therapy, instead of the jail time that the prosecution asked for. The boy had been drinking prior to the accident, and his blood alcohol level at the time of the crash was about three times over the legal limit, not to mention the fact that an underage minor should have no alcohol in his system. The defense claimed that the boy suffered from what has been termed “affluenza,” which is defined as a condition where children who are from a wealthy and affluent background may not understand that “bad behavior has consequences.” (according to the Los Angeles Times). By touting the need for rehabilitation over a prison sentence, the defense was able to get the boy ten years’ probation, instead of the sentence sought for him.

This story has conjured up a lot of anger across the nation, and has left many people in shock over the fact that this seems to be one more case where the wealthy seem to be able to find their way around the legal system and be treated much more leniently than people of less affluent backgrounds. Many people believe that the outcome may have been different if the boy had not been wealthy, and this has created an outrage over the sense of entitlement that the teen was believed to have gotten. “Affluenza” is not a recognized disorder, but it has received national attention through this story. However, this “condition” that the boy’s defense team believed the teen suffered from prompts us to ask other questions: Don’t some people who live in impoverished conditions also suffer from the inability to see the consequences of certain actions, which is the same argument that “affluenza” gives for wealthy people, just at the opposite end of the spectrum? Should “affluenza” be recognized as a “trump card” of sorts for the wealthy, when others could just as likely have a similar argument about knowing right from wrong? Read more »

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“The Past Is a Foreign Country” — Or Is It?

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dean bookI’ve recently finished reading Dean Strang’s fascinating new book, “Worse Than the Devil: Anarchists, Clarence Darrow, and Justice in a Time of Terror.”  The book recounts the story of a once-famous (or infamous) criminal case that was tried in Milwaukee nearly a century ago.  The case arose from a short, armed skirmish between police and residents of Milwaukee’s largely Italian, working-class Bay View neighborhood in September 1917. In the wake of that violence, police indiscriminately arrested dozens of Italian immigrants, ultimately resulting in the trial of eleven suspected anarchists in November 1917 on charges of assault with intent to murder.

America’s recent entry into the First World War had already created a public atmosphere that was hardly favorable to immigrants and political dissidents, but a terrible local tragedy may have wiped out any remaining hope that the defendants would receive a fair trial.  Just days before the jury was selected, a bomb exploded in a Milwaukee police station, killing ten — America’s single greatest loss of officers in the line of duty before 9/11. Although the Bay View defendants were not formally charged with this crime — indeed, the case was never solved and no one was ever formally charged — the bombing was widely believed to be the work of the defendants’ supporters.

Little wonder that all of the defendants were convicted on a dubious conspiracy theory in a trial that reeked of pro-prosecution bias from start to finish.   Read more »

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Violence in the Heartland, 1960-2012–Part One

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Despite their geographical proximity and economic and cultural similarities, the states of the Midwest have had very different rates of violent crime over the past five decades.  Moreover, through periods of dramatic increases and decreases in violent crime, the relative positions of the states have remained fairly stable.  The low-violence states in 1960 remain at the low end today, while the high-violence states in 1960 remain at the high end today.  However, the gap between the high states and low states has been slowly diminishing for many years.  In another decade, the state that has historically had the highest rate of violence, Illinois, may conceivably fall to about the same level as the state that has historically had the lowest, Iowa.

Readers of this Blog may know that I have previously written a series of posts on crime and punishment in three midwestern states, Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin (e.g., here and here).  With this post, I begin a new series that will explore regional trends more broadly.  With violent crime such a staple of local news coverage, I think it’s helpful to be able to place the crime du jour within a wider spatial and temporal context; perhaps this bigger-picture view may lessen the tendency to adopt hastily conceived policy responses to whatever happens to be the latest outrage.

Here are the rates of reported violent crime (per 100,000 residents) in the midwestern states and the U.S. as a whole since 1960:

Read more »

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