Black dis­trust of po­lice causes in­creased crime

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY AN­DREA NOBLE

Black Amer­i­cans have sig­nif­i­cantly less con­fi­dence in their lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments than white Amer­i­cans, sur­veys show, and it could be hav­ing some star­tling ef­fects on crime.

A new study an­a­lyz­ing nearly 900,000 911 calls in Mil­wau­kee found that emer­gency calls from ma­jor­ity-black neigh­bor­hoods dropped pre­cip­i­tously af­ter the highly pub­li­cized beating of a black man by po­lice of­fi­cers. In the months af­ter the num­ber of emer­gency calls fell, Mil­wau­kee saw an uptick in homi­cides — high­light­ing a po­ten­tial link be­tween in­ci­dents of po­lice vi­o­lence and an in­creases in vi­o­lent crime.

The find­ings come as the lat­est FBI crime data re­leased last week show a 4 per­cent uptick in vi­o­lent crime and an 11 per­cent in­crease in homi­cides in 2015.

De­spite the in­creases, over­all crime rates re­main at near-record lows, but no­table spikes in sev­eral cities have left po­lice lead­ers and crim­i­nol­o­gists look­ing for a cause and have prompted scru­tiny of re­cent po­lice vi­o­lence and sub­se­quent protests.

The study of 911 calls, done by fac­ulty from Har­vard, Yale and Ox­ford univer­si­ties, looked at calls placed to po­lice in Mil­wau­kee be­tween 2004 and 2010. It honed in on calls and crime rates af­ter the widely pub­li­cized 2004 beating of Frank Jude, a black man, by sev­eral po­lice of­fi­cers. The in­ci­dent had gone un­re­ported for months be­fore the Mil­wau­kee Sen­tinel Jour­nal broke the story in early 2005.

Con­trol­ling for fac­tors such as sea­sonal ebbs in crime rates and weather, the re­searchers es­ti­mated that 22,000 fewer 911 calls were made over the fol­low­ing year af­ter ac­counts of the beating hit the press — equat­ing to a 17 per­cent drop over­all.

How­ever, calls from ma­jor­ity-black neigh­bor­hoods fell by 56 per­cent, while those from white neigh­bor­hoods had “a small de­cline.” In ad­di­tion, the study found calls from white neigh­bor­hoods re­bounded to usual lev­els much more quickly than those from black neigh­bor­hoods.

The study notes that pub­li­cized cases of po­lice vi­o­lence “not only threaten the le­git­i­macy and rep­u­ta­tion of law en­force­ment; they also — by driv­ing down 911 calls — thwart the sup­pres­sion of law break­ing, ob­struct the ap­pli­ca­tion of jus­tice, and ul­ti­mately make cities as a whole, and the black com­mu­nity in par­tic­u­lar, less safe.

“It is one thing to dis­par­age law en­force­ment in your thoughts and speech af­ter an in­stance of po­lice vi­o­lence or cor­rup­tion makes the news,” the study notes. “It is quite another to wit­ness a crime, or even to be vic­tim­ized, and refuse to re­port it.”

The at­tack on Mr. Jude oc­curred in Oc­to­ber 2004, when he, another black man and two women at­tended a party hosted by off-duty po­lice of­fi­cers. The group felt un­com­fort­able at the party and de­cided to leave, but be­fore they could, sev­eral off-duty of­fi­cers ac­cused them of steal­ing a badge be­long­ing to one of the of­fi­cers.

The of­fi­cers slit the face of the other black man, who broke free and ran away, but Mr. Jude was sur­rounded, re­strained and beaten. Of­fi­cers kicked him in the head, bent his fingers back­ward un­til they snapped, shoved pens into his ear canal, cut off his pants and at one point put a gun to his head.

When on-duty of­fi­cers ar­rived, who had been sum­moned by the women who ac­com­pa­nied Mr. Jude to the party, at least one of those of­fi­cers joined in the beating.

The other re­spond­ing of­fi­cers ar­rested Mr. Jude, put him in a po­lice wagon and took him to a hos­pi­tal. The miss­ing badge was never found, and no charges were ever filed against Mr. Jude.

Af­ter the in­ci­dent, none of the of­fi­cers in­volved in the beating would talk to in­ter­nal af­fairs in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

The Jour­nal Sen­tinel re­ported the beating, ac­com­pa­nied by pho­tos of Mr. Jude’s in­juries taken in the hos­pi­tal, in Fe­bru­ary 2005 — trig­ger­ing a wave of protests in the city.

Nine of­fi­cers were fired but had con­tin­ued to draw salaries af­ter they ap­pealed the de­ci­sion. Charges even­tu­ally were brought against three of the of­fi­cers, but they were ac­quit­ted by an all-white jury. A later fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­sulted in con­vic­tions of seven of the of­fi­cers.

Af­ter the news of the Jude case hit the press and 911 calls be­gan to drop, there ap­peared to be another pos­si­ble im­pact — an in­crease in homi­cides, the study noted. From March to Au­gust 2005, 87 homi­cides were recorded in the city — the high­est num­ber re­ported in a six-month pe­riod dur­ing the en­tire seven-year analysis of 911 calls.

The study’s au­thors con­clude that the drop in 911 calls “shows that in pre­dom­i­nantly black neigh­bor­hoods, pub­li­cized cases of po­lice vi­o­lence can have a com­mu­nity-wide im­pact on crime re­port­ing that tran­scends in­di­vid­ual en­coun­ters.”

One of the au­thors, Matthew Des­mond of Har­vard, told the Sen­tinel Jour­nal that the re­searchers could not defini­tively say the drop in calls caused the homi­cide spike, but “I think the pat­tern of homi­cide data does sug­gest the drop in crime re­port­ing in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of Frank Jude might have con­trib­uted to that spike in a ma­jor way.”

The ‘Fer­gu­son ef­fect’

The study, pub­lished last week in the Amer­i­can So­ci­o­log­i­cal Re­view, comes as fa­tal po­lice shoot­ings of black men rou­tinely are be­com­ing na­tional news. Such shoot­ings in Charlotte, North Carolina; El Ca­jon, California; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., have re­sulted in na­tional cov­er­age and lo­cal protests in the past month.

At the same time, a sur­vey by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter finds that just 14 per­cent of blacks say they have a lot of con­fi­dence in their lo­cal po­lice, com­pared to 42 per­cent of whites who say the same.

There are also wide ra­cial gaps in how Amer­i­cans rate their po­lice de­part­ments on the is­sue of use of force. Three-quar­ters of whites say their lo­cal po­lice do a good or ex­cel­lent job when it comes to us­ing the right amount of force for each sit­u­a­tion. Only 33 per­cent of blacks share that view, with 63 per­cent say­ing po­lice do a fair or poor job.

The dis­parate per­cep­tions of po­lice by whites and blacks, as well as re­cent protests over the treat­ment of mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties by po­lice, come amid the back­drop of an un­ex­plained rise in homi­cides in sev­eral cities. Spikes in homi­cides in sev­eral cities last year — in­clud­ing Chicago, Bal­ti­more and Wash­ing­ton, D.C. — have left elected lead­ers and po­lice of­fi­cials strug­gling to ex­plain the cause.

A con­tro­ver­sial theory dubbed the “Fer­gu­son ef­fect” has been touted by some po­lice lead­ers who say that pub­lic­ity and back­lash against po­lice de­part­ments af­ter highly pub­li­cized use-of-force in­ci­dents — such as the fa­tal shoot­ing of an un­armed Michael Brown by a white po­lice of­fi­cer in Fer­gu­son, Missouri — have em­bold­ened crim­i­nals.

FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey has es­poused a ver­sion of the theory, say­ing it may be pos­si­ble that of­fi­cers have be­come less ag­gres­sive in their pa­trols for fear of their in­ter­ac­tions be­com­ing the next “vi­ral video” fea­tured on the nightly news.

The univer­si­ties’ study hints at the pos­si­bil­ity that widely pub­li­cized in­ci­dents of po­lice vi­o­lence may be damp­en­ing the vol­ume of 911 calls beyond city borders.

In ad­di­tion to the Jude case, the study’s au­thors looked at emer­gency calls af­ter sev­eral other highly pub­li­cized in­ci­dents of po­lice vi­o­lence against black men. One case in­volv­ing the beating of a black man by a Mil­wau­kee of­fi­cer that came to light in 2007 also re­sulted in a sig­nif­i­cant de­cline in crime re­port­ing.

Re­searchers found mixed re­sults when they looked at the ef­fects of in­ci­dents of po­lice vi­o­lence else­where in the coun­try on Mil­wau­kee 911 calls: The 2006 fa­tal po­lice shoot­ing of Sean Bell on his wed­ding day in New York did ap­pear to de­crease 911 call vol­ume in Mil­wau­kee. But the 2009 fa­tal shoot­ing of Os­car Grant on the plat­form of Oak­land, California’s Fruit­vale Sta­tion by Bay Area Rapid Tran­sit Po­lice of­fi­cers did not cor­re­spond to any de­crease in 911 calls.

“The ef­fect of Frank Jude’s beating on cit­i­zen crime re­port­ing matched the sever­ity of the in­ci­dent, but in­stances of po­lice vi­o­lence less ex­treme by com­par­i­son, as well as events that took place thou­sands of miles away, still ap­pear to have had an im­pact on crime re­port­ing in Mil­wau­kee,” the study con­cludes.


A new study has found that fol­low­ing neg­a­tive in­ter­ac­tions with law en­force­ment of­fi­cers, black com­mu­ni­ties are then less apt to call 911, which in turn leads to an up­turn in crime rates.

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