« Congratulations to Castalia House's Marketing Department! | Main | Your Obergefell v. Hodges Oral Argument Open Thread »

April 24, 2015

Comments

[...]
[I]n recent years, some analyses have questioned the broken windows theory as a strategy for effective policing.

Now, a new study (additional online info here) published in Science provides some strong experimental backing for the broken windows theory. Dutch researchers from the University of Groningen, led by social scientist Kees Keizer. conducted six experiments to see if signs of disorder would encourage people to engage in norm violation themselves. The short answer: Yes.
[...]

Is Crime Contagious?: Experiments vindicate the broken windows theory of how disorder spreads

Highway speed is a problematic analogy. You can exceed the speed limit by a little or by a lot. You can break a window or NOT break a window.

Still, there may be something to it, in this sense: if everybody around you is doing 80, trying to be "law-abiding" by doing 65 can be dangerous; if everybody around you is shoplifting, or jumping turnstiles, or cheating on his taxes, or smoking pot, trying to be law-abiding yourself can at least mark you as a chump.

Note that I did not include "breaking windows" in that list. "Broken windows", like all brand names, is a marketing ploy, not a theory. Broken windows are a sign of decay and neglect, not necessarily of crime. A determined effort to fix the windows (and clean up the litter, and fill the potholes) in a neighborhood may reduce crime, whether or not you start arresting pot smokers.

By the way, when everybody on the highway is a "violator", our intrepid but all-too-fallible lawmen are presented with a terrible temptation: when "enforcement" MUST be selective, who do you pull over? The black driver? The teen-age driver? The pretty woman driver? If I were a cop, I would be hard-pressed to resist the temptation to pull over every "speeding" car with an NRA bumper sticker, for instance:)

--TP

"... I would be hard-pressed to resist the temptation to pull over every "speeding" car with an NRA bumper sticker in a hail of gunfire, because I felt 'fear for my life'."

Hey, if you're going to fantasize, do it properly.

Perhaps the public reacts differently to 'malum in se' crimes and 'malum prohibitum'? (Inherently wrong vs wrong only because illegal.) This used to be an important distinction in our legal system, "Ignorance of the law is no defense." was based on the notion that most laws were of the former sort, merely prohibiting acts anybody with a functioning conscience would know they shouldn't do.

No reason to assume that widespread violations of a law everyone knows is bs should lead to people committing real crimes.

Why are so many Americans criminals?

Speed limits aren't BS--a crash at 75 mph is more likely to be lethal than one at a slower speed, and driving fast also wastes gas. But most people think crashes only happen to others because people overestimate their own ability to drive safely and avoid accidents. So everyone speeds and if you don't, as TonyP points out, your own law abiding behavior can become its own safety hazard.

But of course Brett's style of libertarianism would be unable to acknowledge that individual choices in part caused by the pressure of other individual's choices can have a result which leads to more deaths.

No, the concept of speed limits isn't bs. But, in practice, the execution is.

A determined effort to fix the windows (and clean up the litter, and fill the potholes) in a neighborhood may reduce crime

The town I grew up in combated graffiti by painting 'community murals' everywhere. It seemed to work.

"Ignorance of the law is no defense."

Sadly, this is not extended to police officers: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/13-604_ec8f.pdf

Police are allowed to not know the law, oddly enough. Really a terrible ruling, I'm disappointed it didn't get more press.

when "enforcement" MUST be selective, who do you pull over? The black driver?

This is pretty much my problem with 'broken windows' policing. The disenfranchised bear the brunt of it, as with pretty much any law where enforcement can be selective.

I thought, at least in NYC, it wasn't just about creating an atmosphere or law and order. It was also that some of the people who, say, jumped the turnstiles in the subway were also the ones who had committed, say, armed robbery and had a warrant out for their arrest. So policing minor offenses was a way of netting major offenders.

That was supposed to read, "...an atmosphere of law and order." "Or" worked just well enough to make it weird.

On the other hand, the crime rate was also dropping nationwide at about the same time

I believe it was dropping throughout the developed world - and there is a similar and far more convicting correspondence with the banning of lead additives in gasoline.

My own (totally unscientific) view of the broken windows theory is that it makes a significant difference to where crime takes place, but has little or no effect on the total amount of crime.

@CharlesWT: Experiments vindicate the broken windows theory of how disorder spreads

Note, though, that this is not the same as validating the broken windows approach to policing. It validates one of the underlying assumptions it's built on, but it doesn't say anything about broken windows as actually practiced. It's still possible, for instance, that police can't actually catch enough scofflaws to have much effect on the overall social climate, or that excessively aggressive enforcement does as much to bring the legal system into disrepute as it does to repair social norms.

Supposedly there's a local childcare centre who introduced a late fee because they got fed up with busy parents constantly running late to collect their kids. Only the parents got even later, apparently not feeling guilty about lateness anymore since they're paying for it. So the Centre figured that hadn't worked and canceled the late fee, but the lateness didn't drop back to earlier levels. They'd established a new normal.

in a given area, criminal activity will drop to almost zero if you decriminalize those activities in a nearby, but isolated, area. but since this decriminalization is itself an illegal act, the benefit is temporary.

Wire 3:4-11

There's gotta be a Latin term to describe this:

http://www.balloon-juice.com/2015/04/23/what-could-possibly-go-wrong-8/

I often drive through the Texas panhandle and I hope the constabulary in them parts knows which license they shouldn't ask me for because I have my Latin responses lined up like ducks in a warming drawer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rmoo4m7ZFXI

Here's how I handle the evil bastards, even as the weasels close in and the bats hit the windshield:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwDlobymMk0

E garybusey unum.

The key is to break down the doors and leave the windows alone.

Corporate CEO suites have been free of lead-based paint for quite awhile now and yet the inhabitants break windows from inside their glass houses.

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-the-stock-market-destroyed-the-middle-class-2015-04-24?siteid=bigcharts&dist=bigcharts

What's the Latin term for laws that don't exist yet?

Texas again:

http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2015/04/pregnant_popeyes_manger_fired.html

The cops now mayn't ask the armed assailant and thief for his license to carry.

http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2015/04/pregnant_popeyes_manger_fired.html

Come to think of it, they wouldn't be able to ask the pregnant clerk either after she shot her manager in the face because he attempted to steal the $400 from her .... again.

Ya got laws, ya got rules .. malum equus shittus

Gibber Latin later.


a new study (additional online info here) published in Science provides some strong experimental backing for the broken windows theory.

I'm not sure I am impressed by their experimental design.

For example, their first study (of graffiti and littering) does show a correlation. But that isn't what "broken windows" is all about. The idea behind it is that ignoring minor crimes leads to an increase in major crimes. And, therefore, that enforcing the laws against minor crimes will cut major crimes. You could design an experiment to test that I suppose (although there are some obvious difficulties). But this isn't it.

HSH: So policing minor offenses was a way of netting major offenders.

That's very plausible. I mean plausible as justification, and plausible as a statistical matter. I have no idea whether it turned out to be true, as a statistical matter.

The notion that muggers and rapists are more likely than other people to jump turnstiles or drive with broken tail-lights (so that arresting people for minor violations is more likely to net seriously bad guys than arresting people at random) is a notion that fits my personal preconceptions. But that's as much as I can say.

Nigel: ...there is a similar and far more convicting correspondence with the banning of lead additives in gasoline.

That's also very plausible, IF you believe in science:)

I don't know whether lead compounds from auto exhaust disperse into the atmosphere as far or as quickly as CO2. If not, then I'd expect they were more concentrated in the "inner city", and made a bigger difference there.

--TP

It's not just leaded gasoline. We also got rid of lead in paints. Which would take longer to kick in (because nobody was required to go back and repaint). But given the tendency to kids to gnaw on anything that comes to hand, it could also have been a significant source of lead in their systems.

IIRC, there were parts of Washington DC that had enormous levels of lead in drinking water because of old old old pipes.

Most had been replaced, but not all.

I have no idea whether it turned out to be true, as a statistical matter.

Me, neither. I just thought that was part of it, and a major part of it, justification-wise - maybe even the most significant aspect of the overall theory.

If not, then I'd expect they were more concentrated in the "inner city", and made a bigger difference there.

i'd expect to see some effect in people who worked with farm machinery, too. anyone who breathed the exhaust from those dirty engines all day probably got a good dose of Pb, too.

Here's a Forbes article that goes into a bit of detail about the lead-crime correlation.

Excerpt:

Second, this correlation holds true with no exceptions. Every country studied has shown this same strong correlation between leaded gasoline and violent crime rates. Within the United States, you can see the data at the state level. Where lead concentrations declined quickly, crime declined quickly. Where it declined slowly, crime declined slowly. The data even holds true at the neighborhood level – high lead concentrations correlate so well that you can overlay maps of crime rates over maps of lead concentrations and get an almost perfect fit.

People use to use their bare hands to clean machine parts using gasoline as a solvent. I don't know whether much lead can be absorbed through the skin that way or not.

People use to use their bare hands to clean machine parts using gasoline as a solvent.

I used to do that. Also played with liquid mercury (turning dimes really shiny) back in the day.

Probably explains my criminal tendencies and my inordinate ability to miss 12" putts.

Kevin Drum had a lot of stuff on the lead hypothesis.

I'm guessing that liquid mercury is relatively safe as long you're not around it enough to breathe a lot of fumes. In the 18th century, people would drink it as a tonic.

mad hatters

people also used to ingest arsenic to make their skin lighter.

i've also heard, around the water-cooler as it were, that the use of lead pipe to carry bathing and drinking water contributed to the fall of Rome.

know your elements!!

know your elements!!

vanadium, for example.

also hexavalent chromium, mercury and arsenic !

40 miles from my house.

freedom.

Nah. It was drinking that acidic wine from lead goblets.

And coca wine!

Oo...la...la!!!

I at least doubt the part about the lead water tubes. Romans liked their water rock hard, so the surface of the tubes would be quickly completely covered with a crust preventing lead from contaminating the water.
It is more likely that the lead came from glass and from adulterated wine (lead sugar).

The Romans also boiled a lot of stuff such as reducing wine to make syrup. In lead pots as well as bronze and other materials.

also hexavalent chromium, mercury and arsenic !

40 miles from my house.

Around the block from my house is a body of water that has variously been downstream from a few generations of tanneries, been the location of a lead mill, and also the location of a coal-burning power plant.

The power plant is in the process of converting to gas, which is great, but a generation or so ago the operators had the bright idea of dumping the ash in the watershed of a local drinking water reservoir.

What could possibly go wrong?

My wife and I have two friends who died at about age 50 from the identical weird rare bladder cancer, most likely caused (per their doctors) from their life-long love of being in that lovely chemical-rich water.

Heavy metals - not your friends.

Why get excited about coca wine? Where do you thing the "Coca" in "Coca Cola" comes from? (Granted, the recipe has since been changed.)

And then there was the baby formula (from Glaxo, if memory serves) which used as their advertising slogan: "Babies cry for it." Which was true, of course -- it contained a drug to which the babies became addicted. Talk about building brand loyalty!

Reverse broken windows? Elect black mayors!

In Detroit, the Motor City, the minimum speed on the Interstate is 55, the limit is 70, but if you're going 70 it better be in the process of slowing down to exit.

Around the block from my house is a body of water that has variously been downstream from a few generations of tanneries, been the location of a lead mill, and also the location of a coal-burning power plant.

nice.

i grew up in Hudson Falls NY. so i shouldn't complain about NC's little coal ash problem.

BTW, for lead/crime, the Mother Jones article by Kevin Drum is excellent, and has information about a large number of other studies. This wasn't a case of somebody looking at two time series, noticing that they were correlated, and saying 'causality!'.

maximum legal speed 55 mph, as it always has been

This is not correct. Indiana limited-access highways have a maximum speed of 65 mph for commercial trucks. This varies by state, like other speed limits.

My objection to big rigs is that they tend to leave extremely hazardous chunks of tire cap on the highway.

This is not correct.

And, this *is* correct.

Speed limits generally vary with population density. I believe the federal limits were removed, full stop, as of 1995.

None of which obviates wf's use of speed limits as an example of laws that are widely broken and/or ignored.

Slarti, that's why I carefully noted that I was talking about what I see in California. And said that things might be different elsewhere.

Sure. Ignored because, for the most part, not well-enforced.

I got the point. I just wanted to correct what to me was an incorrect statement.

I would say that the breaking of speed-limit laws hasn't led to an escalation of more severe MV lawbreaking because...what would people escalate to? Felony unsafe lane-changing? Vehicular homicide? These tend to be rather unprofitable (in any sane sense of the word) kinds of escalations.

Non-rigid policing of cities at e.g. the jaywalking level is probably not going to escalate to assaults and burglary if THOSE kinds of activities are well-policed. If you decrease policing of everything over a certain area, though, crime will increase. That's the way I see it.

Shorter me: two ingredients required: crime must have something attractive to escalate to, and policing of THOSE crimes must also be shoddy, in order for escalation to occur to anyone. That's a hypothesis, not a statement of fact.

"Police are allowed to not know the law, oddly enough."

Heien v. North Carolina is a somewhat questionable ruling, but it only applies if the law is unclear. It says that a search is valid if it is based on an incorrect but reasonable interpretation the law. It's not relevant what the police officer actually knows about the law.

"crime must have something attractive to escalate to"

Totally from anecdote, but my take on the notion of broken windows is that it's not the crime, it's the sense of ownership of the space. If the social consensus is that a space is owned (by which broken windows are replaced, other obvious signs of abandonment are quickly remedied), crime levels drop. It is interesting to me that the name of the policy seems to get at that, but the implementation is based around punishment rather than making sure that the environment is maintained.

I was going to say that graffitti is another one of those signs, but here is where it gets complicated. Some graffiti indicates abandonment, but our general definition of graffiti, in that someone has control over a space, and someone who is not authorized marks it up, doesn't really get at the idea of control of social space, especially when control over the space may be absent and care little about the community that space is embedded in.

A lot depends on how the policing is done. In Ferguson and other places the enforcement of minor infractions is how the police department funds itself. The police extract money from the poor for small crimes, thereby making themselves into parasites who are understandably unpopular with the hosts, especially since for people who live on the edge anyway a fine can make the difference between being homeless or not, getting a car fixed and thus keeping a job, or losing both. So I think the theory of enforcements of small crimes could actually backfire. Especially if parasitic cop behavior happens in conjunction with murderous cop behavior.

A New York City Council plan to decriminalize certain low-level violations—such as public urination or drinking alcohol in public from an open container—has sparked intense debate among state and city officials about how these so-called quality-of-life offenses should be treated by police and the courts.
[...]

Officials Debate Decriminalizing Minor Offenses: Plan to decriminalize low-level violations sparks debate about how offenses should be treated

I'm not sure anybody really objects to cops preventing people from urinating in public.

I see two issues in the "broken windows" question.

First, the policy has been given credit for a decline in major crimes in a lot of the places that it's been employed, and it's not really clear that there weren't other reasons for the decline.

Second, in a lot of places the "broken windows" policy has been the pretext for basically hassling the crap out of people who live in the targeted neighborhoods. Especially certain kinds of people.

If people are breaking windows, or using the sidewalks as a bathroom, or not handling their trash such that folks have a rat problem, or whatever, IMO it makes total sense to address those things. As those things, not as precursors to murder, rape, and bank robbery.

And if you're going to address those things, address those things by targeting the people who actually do them, not the folks who resemble the people who do them in your imagination.

IMO it makes total sense to address those things...

But let us add to the list: Rapacious greedy landlords, no jobs, segregation...

It strikes me that you do not see "broken windows" in well off neighborhoods.

Or is pointing this out simply too obvious?

We want to do everything possible to cure the problem of having poors, everything that is, except finding a way to help them build wealth, especially if said effort is perceived as being at the expense (to just about any extent) of the betters.

the capricious prosecutions will continue until your economy improves.

it's all about that culture of the punished, never about the culture of the punisher.

It says that a search is valid if it is based on an incorrect but reasonable interpretation the law.

I think the dissent is worth reading in its entirety, but I think Sotomayor's point about Whren is dead on. Given that an officer's subjective intentions don't matter, allowing 'reasonable' mistakes of law provide a pretty large and nebulous scope of seizure authority.

We have nevertheless held that an officer’s subjective motivations do not render a traffic stop unlawful. Whren v. United States, 517 U. S. 806 (1996). But we assumed in Whren that when an officer acts on pretext, at least that pretext would be the violation of an actual law. See id., at 810 (discussing the three provisions of the District of Columbia traffic code that the parties accepted the officer had probable cause to believe had been violated). Giving officers license to effect seizures so long as they can attach to their reasonable view of the facts some reasonable legal interpretation (or misinterpretation) that suggests a law has been violated significantly expands this authority. Cf. Barlow v. United States, 7 Pet. 404, 411 (1833) (Story, J.) (“There is scarcely any law which does not admit of some ingenious doubt”). One wonders how a citizen seeking to be law-abiding and to structure his or her behavior to avoid these invasive, frightening, and humiliating encounters could do so.

One wonders how a citizen seeking to be law-abiding and to structure his or her behavior to avoid these invasive, frightening, and humiliating encounters could do so.

Indeed.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad