Author: Elizabeth Berger

Dubious CJCJ Report Claims that Republican Counties Suffer from More Violent Crime

California, like the rest of the country, suffered a major increase in homicide in 2020. The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) has released a report by Mike Males that presents differences between Republican- and Democratic-voting counties (identified by majority voting Democrat in 2020) in terms of homicide rates. He argues that Republican counties tend to have higher homicide rates, stating that: “the clearest difference between areas that have cut crime substantially and those suffering the worst crime trends and rates is not geographic nor demographic, but how they vote – Republican versus Democratic.” However, this report ignores a number of important variables that could be obscuring this finding. Namely, Republican-voting counties tend to be more rural, suburban, and overall have a lower median income when compared with Democratic-voting counterparts, all of which could also impact homicide rates. The classic phrase to remember here is: “correlation does not equal causation.”

It is perplexing why a researcher would compare two groups that are vastly different from each other without attempting to control for outside factors that might differ between groups, such as geography or population size. As a result, the groups are not entirely comparable because they are not similar enough; in this situation researchers would need to apply adequate statistical controls to account for these differences, something that is missing from this analysis. Ideally, a well-conducted study would attempt to control for all factors that differ between counties, except for the political affiliation, i.e., the main variable of interest. Continue reading . . .

Recent BJS Report Examines 10-year Recidivism Rates of State Prisoners

As stated in a recent Bill Otis’s post on Wednesday, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) recently released a report that examines 10-year recidivism patterns of prisoners released in 2008 from 24 states. The study has a lengthy follow-up period of ten years, which is useful in tracking recidivism rates over time. A similar report was released on the topic in July 2021 that included data from 34 states, but the follow-up period was only five years (2012-2017). Similarly, BJS also released a report in May 2018 that examined recidivism rates of offenders from 30 states with a nine-year follow-up period. Extending the follow-up period allows researchers to examine recidivism patterns over longer periods of time, which is one of the main benefits of the current study.

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CompStat360: A Data-Driven Policing Approach for Gun Crime

On July 26, 2021, the National Police Foundation (NPF) announced a partnership with the Manchester, NH Police Department (MPD) to implement a data-driven policing approach known as CompStat360 (CS360) to target rising gun crime. The approach allows agencies to be more data-driven in their police strategy, particularly through the use of crime mapping, which shows ‘hot spots’ or clusters of crime in an area. This information greatly helps police officials, city leaders, and community activists decide which markets and places to target. The approach relies on geographic information systems (GIS) technology which uses GPS coordinates to track crime.

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A Promising Option for Increasing Homicide Clearance Rates

Clearance rates for criminal investigations, particularly for homicides, are a reflection of police performance and a prominent component of offense deterrence. When offenders are not apprehended, the potential deterrent effect of sanctions is diminished and police legitimacy undermined. Clearance rates for serious crimes in the United States have remained essentially unchanged over the last four decades despite decreases in the index crime rate (and more recently, increases in the homicide rate specifically). Moreover, this is surprising considering how technology has advanced during this time. Data from the Uniform Crime Report shows that the nationwide homicide clearance rate decreased from approximately 83% in 1965 to 61% in 2007. It has stabilized in the last decade, with most recent estimates showing 62% in 2018. Hypothesized reasons for declines in clearance rates include an increase in the proportion of homicides involving strangers (e.g. gang- and drug-related violence as opposed to intimate relationship violence), declining societal support for police efforts, and increased regulation of police practices.

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Crime in the Era of COVID-19

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic had an enormous impact on nearly every aspect of our day-to-day lives, ranging from economic distress, to disrupted schooling, and public health impacts. Relatedly, the pandemic has impacted crime in different ways, but there is still a lot of confusion and disagreement regarding this relationship. On its face, the onset of the pandemic was initially correlated with large drops in many types of crime. However, this finding comes with a caveat: while overall crime rates are lower than they have been in previous years, homicides and shootings are higher than normal, and this trend appears to be continuing into 2021. Continue reading . . .

San Francisco Risk Assessment Accurately Predicts Public Safety Risk for Pretrial Release Decisions

A recently published San Francisco-based study conducted by the California Policy Lab at UC Berkeley/Los Angeles has shed some insight on the accuracy of the city’s Public Safety Assessment (PSA), an algorithmic tool that is used to inform pretrial release decisions for adult offenders. The tool scores defendants on how likely they are to show up for future court dates, their probability of committing a crime during the pretrial phase, and whether that crime might be violent. Overall, the researchers concluded that the tool met the threshold required for it to be considered “sufficiently predictive” (p. 27) of risk. The study examined 9,800 individuals released pending trial between May 2016 (when the tool was adopted) and December 2019. Of those people released, 51% failed to appear in court and 55% were arrested for new crimes during the pretrial release period (18% of which were for violent offenses).

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Advancing Police Use of Force Research

In the past few years, the use of force by police officers has been getting increasingly more attention in the United States and elsewhere, with many advocates pushing for widespread reform in this regard. Unfortunately though, research on police use of force still fails to provide answers to many important questions. A recently published article in the British Psychological Society’s Urgent Issues and Prospects series summarizes the most urgent issues in police use of force based on knowledge from police scholars and practitioners. The article outlines key considerations for advancing police use of force research, many of which center around police de-escalation and use of force training. Continue reading . . .

The Future of Crime Data in Policing

January 1, 2021 marked the end of an era when the FBI officially retired the nearly 100-year old Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system in lieu of a more comprehensive option known as the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). The UCR, otherwise referred to as “simple summary reporting” (SRS) was introduced in 1929, and essentially reported aggregated counts of crimes at monthly and yearly intervals for participating law enforcement agencies. NIBRS was introduced in 1982 in an attempt to modernize the UCR, emphasizing incident-level data collection rather than aggregate-level. The purpose of this was to provide more detail and context about each incident (e.g. details on victims or offenders of crime, characteristics of the incident) to improve crime data quality (and quantity). The comprehensive data collected via NIBRS would allow for more opportunities to analyze patterns of crime and apply it to the field. However, one downside of NIBRS is that data are more burdensome for law enforcement agencies to collect. Further, participation in both UCR and NIBRS is voluntary for law enforcement agencies, meaning that additional burden might affect participation rates. Not surprisingly, participation rates are typically higher for the UCR, making it the preferred official source for reported crime data up until very recently. Continue reading . . .

Defunding the Police: an Evidence-Based Approach?

In the months following the death of George Floyd, there have been an increasing number of protests aimed at taking a stand against police brutality and “defunding” the police. The slogan “defund the police” has since been adopted by various activist groups and is now being seriously debated by politicians and lawmakers across the country. Despite the fact that Americans are mixed on whether they support the idea, the slogan has nonetheless become an increasingly popular political talking point. While the argument that America’s police departments are in need of reform is not without merit, that does not mean that defunding the police is the answer.

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