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Posts By John Roman
John Roman, Ph.D. is a senior fellow in the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, where his research focuses on evaluations of innovative crime control policies and justice programs. Dr. Roman is also the executive director of the District of Columbia Crime Policy Institute (DCPI) and manages DCPI’s operations, provides oversight of all research, and leads the development and implementation of the cost-benefit model. He directs several studies funded by the National Institute of Justice, including two randomized trials of the use of DNA in property crime investigations, an evaluation of post-conviction DNA evidence testing to estimate rates of wrongful conviction, and a study developing a blueprint for the use of forensic evidence by law enforcement. Dr. Roman is the coeditor of Cost Benefit Analysis and Crime Control, and, Juvenile Drug Courts and Teen Substance Abuse and the author of dozens of scholarly articles and book chapters. Dr. Roman serves as a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania and an affiliated professor at Georgetown University.Links: http://dccrimepolicy.org/http://www.urban.org/expert.cfm?ID=JohnRoman
| Posted: June 5th, 2013
Trayvon Martin’s death was by any measure a tragedy. In the aftermath, a spotlight has shone on what had been a relatively obscure change in law about when a homicide is legally considered to be justified. Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws have been passed in 23 states and, to varying degrees, extend the right to use lethal force in self-defense outside of the home.
Last week, the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights voted to undertake an inquiry to determine whether SYG laws introduce racial bias into decisions about whether a homicide is justified. The American Bar Association National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws is holding a series on public meetings, including one Thursday, June 6 in Philadelphia as part of its inquiry. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the ABA task force).
SYG laws extend the Castle Doctrine—which allows for the use of lethal force in the defense of your home—to public spaces. Some further extend the rights of the shooter by not allowing police to arrest a shooter unless they have probable cause that their claim of self-defense is untrue. These laws, in effect, move determinations of justice from a deliberate process in the courts to a chaotic one at a crime scene. Many are concerned that this will introduce racial bias into the process.
Last year, I analyzed FBI data from Supplemental Homicide Reports (SHR) from 2005 to 2009. Most crime data is reported as aggregate monthly data, but the SHR data describe characteristics of the perpetrator, the victim, and the facts of the case (such as whether a firearm was used) in most homicides. Analyzing these data, I found that SYG laws change how often shootings are ruled to be justified and that they are associated with racial disparities in justifiable homicide rulings.
At the time, SHR data were only available through 2009, which meant that there were little data available after many new SYG laws were enacted. Data from 2010 are now available. Here’s what we learn when we crunch those numbers.
Overall, less than 2 percent of homicides are ruled to have been self-defense. However, in SYG states after SYG enactment, it is closer to three percent, and in non-SYG states, it is close to one percent (that difference is statistically significant).
Are there are racial disparities in justifiable homicide rulings? Out of 53,000 homicides in the database, 23,000 have a white shooter and a white victim. The shooting is ruled to have been justified in a little more than 2 percent of cases. In states with a SYG law (after enactment), the shooting is ruled to be justified in 3.5 percent of cases, compared to less than 2 percent in non-SYG states. In cases where both the victim and shooter are black, the numbers are almost identical, if slightly lower.
When the shooter and victim are of different races, there are substantial differences in the likelihood a shooting is ruled to be justified. When the shooter is black and the victim is white, the shooting is ruled justified in about 1 percent of cases, and is actually slightly lower in non-SYG states. Between 2005 and 2010, there were 1,210 homicides with a black shooter and a white victim—the shooting was ruled to be justified in just 17 of them (about 1 percent).
The story is completely different when there is a white shooter and a black victim. In the same time period, there were 2,069 shootings where the shooter was white and the victim black. The homicide was ruled to be justified in 236 cases (11 percent). In SYG states, almost 17 percent of white-on-black shootings were ruled to be justified.
Finally, I tested whether these racial disparities remained when we controlled for whether the victim and perpetrator were strangers, the state where the incident occurred, the year of the homicide, and whether the shooting occurred in a SYG state. The racial disparities remain large and significant. In fact, the odds that a white-on-black homicide is ruled to have been justified is more than 11 times the odds a black-on-white shooting is ruled justified.
No dataset will ever be sufficient to prove that race alone explains these disparities. But there are disparities in whether homicides are ruled to be self-defense, and race is clearly an important part of the story.
Filed under: Crime |Tags: homicide, race, stand your ground, SYG, Trayvon Martin, Urban Institute Add a Comment »
John Roman Laura Pacifici
| Posted: June 4th, 2013
Yesterday, the FBI announced preliminary crime statistics for 2012 as reported by local police agencies. After five years of large declines in violence—and a more than two-decade trend toward less violence—the number of violent crimes were up slightly.
The FBI reports that, “[i]n 2012, the violent crime offenses of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter increased 1.5 percent from the 2011 figures, aggravated assault increased 1.7 percent, and robbery increased 0.6 percent. Forcible rape offenses declined 0.3 percent.” Once the data are adjusted for population growth, the overall change from year to year is even smaller: less than one percentage point
By itself, this might not be too troubling. But this follows last year’s announcement from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that national survey data showed an even bigger jump in violence—17 percent. (It should be noted that violence is very rare, so while it’s a large increase percentage-wise, in real numbers, the increase was from 3.3 violent victimizations per 1,000 to 4.3 per 1,000. Those numbers are very similar to the FBI data, which shows 3.8 violent victimizations per 1,000).
So, what are we to make of this increase? After more than two decades of declines, is violence making a comeback? Does this mean that we’re returning to the 1980s, when rampant violence was consistently listed among the nation’s most important problems?
Probably not. If you fit a line into very long-term trends, what you see is that in the last couple of years, violence declined below the expected rate predicted by the trend line.
If you fit a trend line from 1980 when homicide peaked, 2012 is still well below long-term trends. (If you were to fit a line beginning in 1990, today’s violence would be well above the trend line simply due to greater declines in violence in the 1990s than since 2000, which provides little insight into the meaning of the current increase.)
Crime trends, and especially trends in violence, are notoriously hard to predict. Subtle changes in weather, consumer behavior, policing, and numerous other factors can all cause short-term fluctuations around the long-term averages. The key is this: if violent crime continues to increase at the rate that it did from 2011 to 2012, it will still be many years before violent crime rates cross above the long-term downward trend.
While 2012 does not appear to have been a particularly good year in our fight to reduce violence, it does not send a strong signal that darker days are coming.
Filed under: Quality of Life 1 Comment »
| Posted: May 31st, 2013
On Wednesday, a new study from the Violence Policy Center showed that the rate at which Americans were killed by firearms exceeds the death rate from motor vehicles in 12 states and the District of Columbia.
It’s a striking finding. For me, though, it raises more questions than it answers, and in doing so, the study shows just how difficult it is to have an evidence-based or nuanced debate about firearms.
First, the facts. In the United States, death by firearms increased during the study period, 1999 to 2010. Without adjusting for population growth, intentional firearm related deaths (homicide and suicide) are up almost 12 percent. According to the CDC, motor vehicle deaths declined 38 percent. So far, the data supports the authors’ conclusion.
But why are motor vehicle deaths a good barometer of whether we are doing well or poorly in preventing firearm deaths? That seems totally arbitrary. Why not compare firearms deaths to another public health epidemic— death from prescription drug overdoses, which have doubled since 1999? Since both prescription drugs and a round from a firearm are intended to change how the human body operates, isn’t that arguably a better comparison? Even if it is just equally arbitrary, it’s fair to point out that good policy is not built on arbitrary comparisons.
The study’s authors say that motor vehicle deaths have declined due to effective public safety campaigns, which is probably true, and firearms deaths are up due to ineffective policy. However, if you adjust for population growth, firearm death rates are virtually unchanged—up less than .2 percent.
More importantly, the real story with firearm deaths over this time period is not about firearms and homicide at all, it's about firearms and suicide. Adjusted for population growth, homicide by firearm is down almost five percent, although this is almost certainly due to better medical care rather than better public policy—likely also a factor in the declining rate of motor vehicle deaths.
What’s driving the increase in firearm deaths? Suicide. And that’s really important. In raw numbers, suicides by firearm are up 14 percent and up 3 percent when adjusting for the growing population.
While the data on the relationship between firearms and homicide is fuzzy, the relationship between firearms and suicide is crystal clear. More guns= more suicides. If there is no gun in the house, people do not find a different way to commit suicide, they just don't commit suicide.
That takes us to the study’s policy proposals, which are about limiting magazine capacity, eliminating assault weapons, and related proposals. While my personal opinion, from reviewing the firearms and violence literature, is that prior research supports these policy proposals, these policy ideas won't solve the suicide problem.
One thing that might: Much more serious gun safety laws, including restrictions on handgun ownership. But since we can't pass gun safety laws supported by 90 percent of the public, these ideas are a non-starter.
Perhaps a more fruitful way to reduce suicide by firearm would be to have a much more nuanced discussion about the relationship between mental health and firearm possession than is currently underway. While there are certainly legitimate civil liberties concerns to be discussed, linking prescriptions for serious depression to gun forfeiture could potentially have a profound effect on the number of suicides.
Unfortunately, unlike depression and suicidal ideation, “nuance” and “firearms” almost never co-occur.
Illustration by Tim Meko, Urban Institute. Asphalt photo from Shutterstock
Filed under: Quality of Life |Tags: cars, death, guns, policy, suicide, Urban Institute, Violence Policy Center 1 Comment »
Laura Pacifici John Roman
| Posted: May 15th, 2013
Cities are actively searching for ways to reduce blight.
Abandoned properties and vacant lots abound in decaying Rust Belt neighborhoods struggling with manufacturing losses and entrenched segregation. The problem is no less serious in the Sun Belt, where overzealous developers left neighborhoods half-built and overconfident consumers now face waves of foreclosures.
And in every city there are investment property owners playing the moral hazard game—they will only clean up their property when enough others do so that they can profit.
Unfortunately, cities have few effective ways to fight blight. Although cities want to reduce the number and impact of blighted places and have owners of vacant or underutilized properties clean them up, they must tread cautiously. The worst case scenario is that they use too big a hammer, the owner walks away, and the burden is left to the city to develop and maintain these spaces.
But there may be a new tool in the war on blight: a relatively new financial instrument known as the social impact bond (SIB). The idea behind SIBs is that private investors, not the government, bear the risk for large-scale, pricey endeavors designed to build and maintain America’s social service infrastructure.
Social impact bonds are being used to inject private funds into public-sector programs to provide prevention services to vulnerable individuals.
Last year saw the first SIB transaction in the United States when the Bloomberg Foundation and Goldman Sachs invested nearly $10 million in a program aiming to reduce the recidivism rate of young men held at the New York City jail at Rikers Island.
If the program is successful—that is, if the recidivism rate is less than would be the case without these services—New York City will re-pay Goldman its investment plus a profit. If the program fails, Goldman will not be compensated.
SIBs are currently being used to invest in people, not places. But, for cities looking to innovate, SIBs may provide a promising model for funding reclamation of blighted areas that cities inherit or want to develop.
Under this model, private capital would be used to support revitalization projects, and cities would provide investors a cut of the revenue if the developments prove profitable.
Using SIBs this way has some advantages over people-focused prevention programs. Unlike the Rikers SIB, where ‘savings’ from reduced recidivism are unlikely to flow back in the government’s coffers, cities would clearly identify savings in development and maintenance costs, plus reap the reward of increased revenue from more successful uses of now dormant properties.
This is exactly what happened in Nashville when the city joined with private investors to revitalize an industrial wasteland into a mixed-use community known as The Gulch, which is one of the country’s first LEED-certified “green” neighborhoods. According to a report by Smart Growth America and Strategic Economics, The Gulch’s revenue substantially outweighed its development costs.
The Gulch produced over $115,000 per acre in net revenue and generated $3,300 per unit in property taxes, sales taxes, and additional revenue each year, but cost the city only $1,400 per unit in annual maintenance fees for infrastructure upkeep as well as fire and police response services.
So the calculus here is simple. The SIB funds the takeover of problem properties. Then, the city works with commercial developers to design a vision for the space that does more than turn a quick profit, with the SIB investment covering the difference between a socially beneficial project and one focused solely on profit maximization.
The government receives more than twice the revenue that it pays for maintenance, guaranteeing a long-term stream of revenue that is more than enough to pay back the SIB principal plus a profit, and to finance future investments.
Development of blighted areas is both a top priority and a risky financial endeavor for cash-strapped cities. But American cities would benefit immensely by incentivizing the development of these areas through social impact bonds.
Abandoned houses photo from Shutterstock
Filed under: Quality of Life |Tags: blight, Bloomberg Foundation, cities, development, Goldman Sachs, john roman, laura pacifici, nashville, neighborhoods, SIB, Smart Growth America, social impact bonds, Strategic Economics, the gulch Add a Comment »
| Posted: May 10th, 2013
Everyone agrees that the firearm debate would benefit from better data. In the last few weeks, several new data points have been released. Like much social science, the data show important correlations, but not necessarily causal connections. Thus, generalizing from these data is difficult. Here is what I think you would say about each, if you were trying to be scrupulously objective (which I am).
Let me begin with the most controversial.
Three days ago, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a study showing that firearm homicides are way down, as are the number of non-fatal shootings. The report has not gotten much attention, only a handful of articles that are more partisan bickering then news. I’m surprised, because you don’t have to look at the graphic below for very long before a critical relationship becomes obvious; that is, that the period when firearms violence declines the fastest matches almost exactly to the period when the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was in place.
In 1994, when the ban was enacted, there were 17,527 firearm homicides in the United States. In 2004, when the ban expired, there were 11,624. In 2011, after seven years with no assault weapon ban, there were 11,101 firearm homicides, virtually unchanged from 2004. If you adjust for population growth, the change from 2004 to 2011 is slightly bigger: from 2.5 per 100,000 to 2.3 per 100,000.
As always, beware of the logical fallacy: post hoc ergo propter hoc (“before this, because of this”), which is just a fancy way of saying correlation does not equal causation. However, if you back the series out a little bit more in terms of years, you get an even more startling correlation. While we would like to look at firearms-related homicides before 1993, data on whether a homicide was caused by a firearm only go back to 1993. Therefore, we have to rely on homicide alone. But, since the decline in all homicides (my calculation) and the decline in firearms homicides were both 39 percent, it seems a fair assumption that the rate of homicide change approximates the rate of firearm homicide change.
When you extend the series back to 1960, the period where the assault weapon ban was in place is clearly the time period with the largest decline.
Of course, it must be noted that a lot of other things were going on: prison populations were growing rapidly, the crack epidemic and associated violence was declining, 20 years had passed since lead was removed from gasoline and abortion was legalized. And there are many other explanations. The problem is that many of these relationships are virtually impossible to unpack—for instance, prison population’s increase was caused by increased crime, so figuring out the effect of mass incarceration on crime is a tricky business at best.
And the evidence about the effect of the Federal Assault Weapons ban on gun crime is pretty weak (the evaluation of the Ban reported that the violence reductions were due to restrictions on the size of magazines). But it sure is a striking coincidence.
Unpacking Pew and polling data
On the same day as the BJS report, researchers at the Pew Charitable Trusts released some analysis of similar data, along with poll results about American's perceptions about whether the number of firearms-related crimes is growing or shrinking. The short version is that firearms crimes are decreasing, but the public thinks they are getting worse.
On April 8, the New York Times published an op-ed from two Democratic pollsters that reveals some startling facts about the gulf between gun law perceptions and reality. They summarize it quite succinctly: “Americans don’t really know what gun laws are on the books and [we] falsely construe that to mean they don’t want common-sense gun laws passed — when they clearly do.”
The findings of that poll are this: By a slight majority, Americans favor better enforcement of existing laws over new gun control laws. However, among those who favor better enforcement, about half believe background checks are currently required to buy a gun at a gun show or in a private transaction (which is only true in a handful of states).
A majority of those polled believe a gun cannot be sold to someone on a terrorist watch list (it can). One-third believe law enforcement is notified when large numbers of guns are purchased in a short time (it is not). Almost half believe ammunition cannot be legally bought over the internet (it can).
The problem, however, is that the pollsters are partisan and many wonder what that means for their results. There is no analogous poll by a Republican pollster, and the nonpartisan Pew poll does not ask these questions.
Finally, deep in the Pew data, there is support for a hypothesis first put forth by noted criminologist Alfred Blumstein: that young African-American youth with cheap handguns were responsible for much of the spike in violence in the 1980’s. Indeed, the largest declines in firearms-related homicides are among 12 to 17-year-olds, and declines among African Americans are larger than any other group. But without having the data, it would be an ecological fallacy to generalize to individuals from these general trends.
So what then are we to make of all these new data? My opinions—and they are only that—are that:
- The Federal Assault Weapons Ban’s contribution to the crime decline was real, but modest (but it could be made bigger).
- The opinion poll is probably right that Americans believe all kinds of laws are on the books that aren’t.
- Blumstein’s hypothesis is probably correct.
But until we can get better data on the correlation between violent crime and the availability of fire arms, we’ll all be relying too heavily on opinion and partisan rancor.
Filed under: Quality of Life |Tags: assault weapon ban, firearms, gun, homicide, MetroTrends, Urban Institute 1 Comment »
Jennifer Stoff John Roman
| Posted: March 29th, 2013
New York City Police Officer, Photo by Flickr user David Hilowitz, used under a creative commons license. (CC by 2.0)
It’s midnight. A cop stands on a street corner giving ad hoc counseling to a man in crisis. The crisis may have been brought on by drug or alcohol abuse or a mental health issue, or he may simply be despondent over his station in life.
In a scene repeated every night in cities across America, cops are providing the counseling because our social welfare infrastructure in our cities cannot handle the demand for their services. What is needed is an infusion of capital to revive our overburdened social service infrastructure.
The catch? These problems are politically intractable. Cash-strapped governments often can’t take on big, risky, expensive problems that cut across political boundaries and ideologies. Thankfully, many private citizens are eager to do so.
Social innovations that partner government, philanthropy, and the private and nonprofit sectors are proliferating across the country. Entrepreneurial philanthropists are engaged in cutting-edge thinking, leveraging their giving to solve difficult problems in sustainable ways, and sometimes even return a dividend that can become another gift. Solutions include everything from microlending to impact investing to benefit corporations to the human capital performance bonds signed into law in Minnesota.
But the star of the social innovation show, and the tool for cities to fix their human capital, digital, and social service infrastructure, is a financial instrument you’ve probably never heard of—the social impact bond. Social impact bonds infuse private capital into traditionally public-sector activities, helping build a better safety net while reducing the state’s burden to care for vulnerable citizens.
Launched last year by New York City and funded by the Bloomberg Foundation and Goldman Sachs, the first social impact bond invested almost $10 million in a program for young men being held at Rikers Island. The program helps prepare inmates with the skills they need to return to the community, succeed, and stay out of jail. MDRC, an independent research firm will manage the intervention and the Vera Institute will rigorously evaluate the program. If it works, only then will New York City have to repay the bond.
That idea—that investors, not the government—bear the risk for big, expensive, risky endeavors, is central to the success of social impact bonds. Investors are rewarded if performance targets are met; if not, the government does not have to pay for services delivered.
President Obama included $100 million in the 2012 budget for federal partnerships with states and local governments to launch social impact bonds. The Department of Justice has funded some initiatives, including a project at the Urban Institute to study the mechanics of bringing social impact bonds to cities across the country, and the Department of Labor will soon announce up to $20 million in awards for social impact bonds.
The federal government is pushing this initiative hard, not only because of its potential to infuse capital into cash-starved cities, but also because the model requires that funded programs are based on strong evidence. After decades of the federal government funding well-intentioned but often unsuccessful programs, this administration has fully committed to evidence-based governance.
And cities are hungry to implement the model. Under the leadership of Dr. Jeffrey Liebman, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government has established the Social Impact Bond Lab to help cities implement SIBs. More than two dozen applied and many others are investigating the concept.
Putting Cities’ Social Innovations Under One Umbrella
What’s perhaps most exciting about this moment is that cities across the country are already exploring the social innovation concept—though without a unified strategy. Take the District of Columbia, for example. Just a few months ago, DC Mayor Vincent Gray awarded more than $4 million in grants to city agencies that were judged to have the most innovative plans for making the District more environmentally sustainable, but the city departments behind each initiative may not be aware of each other’s efforts. The District would benefit immensely from a strategy that contains such initiatives under a single social innovation umbrella, rather than uncoordinated, one-off attempts to infuse “innovation” into everyday work.
Call it the “Office of Urban Innovation.” The Office of Urban Innovation can solve problems that have stifled city innovation for years:
- promoting innovations that have positive citywide benefits but are more costly than a single agency can bear
- creating teams that span agencies—or even political boundaries—to transfer knowledge critical to program success
- creating new partnerships with philanthropies, venture capitalists, private companies, and other governments
Think it can’t work? The United Kingdom has an Office for Civil Society that does all of those things.
Social innovation may prove to be the mechanism that moves American city governments into the future. And cops can go back on the beat knowing trained counselors are there for the man in crisis.
Jennifer Stoff works in social policy and civil rights at the local level in the District of Columbia.
Filed under: Crime, Quality of Life |Tags: benefit corporations, Bloomberg Foundation, District of Columbia, Goldman Sachs, human capital performance bonds, impact investing, Jeffrey Liebman, Mayor Vincent Gray, microlending, police, social impact bonds, social innovation, social welfare Add a Comment »
| Posted: March 26th, 2013
Much has been written about two studies of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban by former Urban Institute researchers Chris Koper and Jeff Roth. Much of it is wrong.
In 1997, the Urban Institute published the results of the first study of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban (Roth and Koper 1997). The first study was a short-term follow-up that found the law had little effect on assault weapon purchases. However, this was not evidence that a ban on such weapons would be ineffective. Rather it noted shortcomings in the law, itself:
- The law, as enacted, grandfathered all assault weapons manufactured prior to the ban, meaning such weapons could be legally possessed;
- There were large increases in assault weapons sales prior to the Ban taking effect, further exacerbating the effects of the grandfather clause; and
- Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of guns that were manufactured prior to the Ban were legally imported into the US during this period.
Because the study was limited statutorily to a brief follow-up period, none of these factors had worked through firearms markets at the time the first study was completed.
Clarifying the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban
The second study by the same researchers was published at University of Pennsylvania (Koper, Woods and Roth 2004) and showed the Ban’s broader effects on violence over time. These two federally funded studies are by far the most comprehensive tests of the effects of the Assault Weapons Ban.
Before describing those results, we should clarify what the goals of different parts of the legislation were. The two main provisions of the bill — a ban on weapons with at least two military style features, and a ban on large capacity magazines — have been misconstrued in today’s debate.
Then, as now, military-style assault weapons were rarely recovered from street crimes and large reductions in street violence were not expected to result from the Ban. However, assault weapons were (and are) disproportionately more common in mass shootings and shootings of law enforcement officers.
At the same time, the ban on large capacity magazines was intended to have a more direct effect on street crime, since as much as a quarter of gun crimes involved a weapon, generally an automated pistol, with a large capacity magazine.
Finally, it’s important to note that the federal requirement that a weapon have two features causing it to resemble a military-style assault weapon meant that it was relatively easy for manufacturers to re-engineer a weapon to comply with the law without fundamentally changing the firearm.
For instance, Intratec, the manufacturer of the Tec-9, simply changed the barrel of the Tec-9 and renamed it the AB-10 (“After Ban”) to comply with the law. Thus, unlike New York’s SAFE Act which bans weapons with a single military-style feature, the 1994 federal law prevented the sale of relatively few firearms.
Measures and Findings of the 2004 Study of the Assault Weapons Ban
The 2004 study used three measures to examine the effects of the Ban:
- Was the market place for assault weapons and large capacity magazines altered such that prices increased and production decreased?
- Were fewer assault weapons and large capacity magazines used in the commission of a crime? And,
- Were the consequences of use less severe (i.e. Were there fewer murders and injuries)?
Major findings of the law on assault weapons:
- Effects of the Ban on assault rifles is inconclusive with respect to prices and production;
- Prices of assault pistols were increasingly higher than comparable handguns;
- Production of assault pistols declined much faster than comparable handguns;
- The number of recovered assault weapons declined by 70 percent between 1992-1993 and 2001-2002 (from 5.4% to 1.6% of recovered weapons that were traced by The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives at the request of local law enforcement.);
- Throughout most of the post-ban period (particularly 1995 to 2001), the share of assault weapons among weapons recovered from crime scenes declined, as assault weapons traces either increased less or declined more than total traces (Table 6-1, columns 2 and 3), a pattern that is also consistent with a decline in the use of assault weapons relative to other guns (Koper 1995: 44);
- Assault weapons’ share of crime guns declined between 17% and 72% when looking at all guns recovered in the following cities: Boston (72%), Miami (32%), St. Louis (32%), Baltimore (34%), Milwaukee (17%) and Anchorage (40%) (range of dates, mainly compares early 90s to early 00’s):
Major findings of the Assault Weapons Ban on large capacity magazines:
- Prices of large capacity magazines increased 80 percent from 1993 to 1998. This price increase was for primarily for magazines used in assault pistols, not assault rifles;
- The use of large capacity magazines in crimes is more difficult to study as ATF does not trace large capacity magazines. However:
- In Baltimore, large capacity magazine gun recoveries were 24% lower in 2002-03 than in 1995 (this is almost entirely due to a large reduction in large capacity magazines for pistols);
- In Anchorage, large capacity magazine handgun recoveries were 16% lower in the 1995-2002 period when compared to 1992-1993;
Studies have also consistently found that more shots are fired when a semi-automatic pistol is used than when a revolver is used. In mass shootings, and average of 29 shots are fired in automatic weapon/large capacity magazine cases compared with 15 in non-automatic weapon/large capacity magazine cases.
Finally, when a large capacity magazine is involved in a gun crime, there is a higher probability of a shooting victim. This may be due either to the discharge of more rounds or a greater tendency on the part of someone with a large capacity magazine to shoot it.
The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban had important, positive effects. Those effects were just beginning to take root when the Ban expired in 2004. Given the trends shown in the data, if the Ban had been reauthorized in 2004, today’s debate would be about whether to extend the Ban again next year. And, even with the very limited restrictions it put in place, the data used to inform that debate would almost certainly show important declines in violence.
Filed under: Quality of Life 1 Comment »
| Posted: January 29th, 2013
The Sandy Hook tragedy made plain that evil has few limits and that no place, including our schools, can be rendered completely safe. But despite that, or perhaps because of it, many school systems are grappling with how to better protect their students.
My kids’ school system is no different, and has an admirable record of establishing programs and policies that protect students in thoughtful, progressive ways. But after Sandy Hook, our school system sought to do more, and held a meeting this month to give parents a voice in moving forward.
How they started the discussion, however, was exactly backward, compelling me to offer some suggestions on how school systems should facilitate the school-community dialogue post-Sandy Hook. As simple as it sounds, these discussions must start with the facts. Let’s look at what happened instead.
The school’s meeting with parents went horribly off the rails when they asked us to vote, by text message, on the most important threats to our elementary, middle, and high schools. For each level of schooling, we were given six threats—active shooter, terroristic act, sexual predator, kidnapping, enraged visitor, and aggressive behavior—and were asked to rate which was most likely.
Let that sink in. The school system thought that the way to begin a discussion with a fearful, mourning community was to give them a list of their worst fears and force them to pick one that was most likely.
What’s worse is that the school is asking for opinions when we have facts. We know, within a small bound of statistical uncertainty, how often these things actually happen in schools. Why would you ask parents—who have no reason to know these esoteric statistics—what the facts are? Why then would you use those uniformed opinions to engage parents in a dialogue about their children’s safety?
It turned out, of course, that these parents did not know the facts. For elementary school, a majority picked kidnapping as the biggest threat. In fact, in a country of 315 million people, fewer than 200 children were abducted by strangers in 2011. Few, if any, were taken directly from a school building. We are worried about the wrong things.
How many active shooter events occurred at a school in the United States last year? How many terroristic acts (whatever that means and it could mean anything) occurred? The answer to all of these questions is almost none—and that should frame our post Sandy Hook dialogue. This is not to say that schools shouldn’t aim to protect students from these incredibly painful, if rare, tragedies. But a discussion of school safety should be driven by the facts.
We should start by talking honestly about the violence that exists in our schools today. How many times were the police called to the system’s schools? How many assaults took place? How many guns were confiscated? What are the actual threats to students at each level of schooling? In some places it will be between youth violence or gangs while in others bullying will be the most serious threat.
Once the facts are established, then it is fair to ask if the school system should address those issues or if it should focus on protecting against the next Sandy Hook.
And on that threat, the checklist of questions is relatively short. Does the school have a single point of entry? Is the entry point fortified? Can it be better fortified? Does the school work closely with local police? Do the police have blueprints, access codes, and emergency communication mechanisms? Does the school have passive systems for teachers to communicate alarms to the central office and vice versa (at Sandy Hook, using the PA system to notify the school of an active shooter was smart and brave—but was it efficient)? Are the students drilled sufficiently (but not to the point of becoming fearful) in evacuation procedures?
Additional steps can be taken to slow down the shooter as much as possible. A panicked administrator seeing an approaching gunman is not in the best position to make clear-headed decisions. Closed-circuit television monitored at the central administrative office can provide others with a view of the emergency situation. Electromagnetic doors can be installed to seal students into their classrooms. Each of these measures comes at a cost. Just like using classroom time to teach civility and life skills comes at the cost of teaching English and math, our decisions about school safety infrastructure also mean fewer resources for other, higher probability, threats to students.
These are tough questions, and while engaging the public is the right place to start, to find the answers, the discussions must start with the facts.
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| Posted: January 11th, 2013
In my last blog post, I wrote about how much we may be able to learn about effective crime prevention by comparing experiences across cities. The following week, I had a fascinating exchange with Richard Florida, editor at large at The Atlantic Cities (a MetroTrends partner site), about which elements of city life are most important in preventing crime. (This post is republished on Atlantic Cities.)
Our discussion prompted me to take a step back and ask: “What is the most important element of a place with respect to crime and public safety?” To answer, I’d like to conduct a thought experiment showing that economic segregation leads to the worst crime outcomes and that the best way to reduce crime is to find ways for the rich and poor to live next to each other. This is not based on some utopian fantasy, but rather on logic.
Crime is contagious. Of that, there is little doubt. A central predictor of crime levels in a neighborhood is how much crime there is in the neighborhood next door. Communities that share borders share crime (technically, this is known as spatial autocorrelation).
Over the past few decades, criminologists have become convinced that places can make people more crime-prone than they otherwise would be. Fix the place, and the people will be safer. For instance, a place with lots of alcohol outlets will almost certainly have more violence than an otherwise identical place with few places to buy liquor.
The best analogy is the spread of a virus. Each individual exposed to a virus has some chance of getting sick, but those with weaker immune systems have a greater risk of falling ill. Places bear similar risks. Certain features—poverty, density, isolation—put some places at greater risk of more crime and violence.
Here is the thought experiment: Suppose we set up the worst-case scenario, one where cities have no recourse to reduce crime other than arranging where people live. And suppose a city was assigned a set number of high-risk (economically disadvantaged) places, a set number of low-risk (highly prosperous) places, and some in between. Now we ask, how should the city arrange those places to create the most safety and the least amount of crime?
The answer is surprising. While we know that isolating our poorest residents is really bad for them, it turns out that segregating the rich and poor leads to the worst outcomes for a city as a whole. Economic integration, where the rich and poor live side by side, leads to the safest cities.
To test this hypothesis, I have borrowed some Brookings Institution models describing the spread of viruses. Working with our DC Crime Policy Institute, the Brookings scholars determined that at least 70 percent of crime in Washington, DC, is due to contagion (the spreading of crime like an epidemic).
How does that work? Below, I describe a city as a 10 X 10 grid. Each of the 100 cells in the grid is a neighborhood. The neighborhoods have some intrinsic ability to fight a crime infection. The dark shaded areas are the most isolated, poorest, densest neighborhoods—and for this very stylized model, I assume they are all infected with the crime bug. The in-between areas (the lightly shaded areas) have a 25 percent chance of becoming infected if they are “exposed” to a neighboring community with high crime. The prosperous neighborhoods (the unshaded areas) are far more resilient; they only have a 5 percent chance of being infected if exposed.
First, let’s consider a perfectly segregated city. All the high-crime neighborhoods are in the same part of the city. All the prosperous places are physically isolated from the high-crime places by the in-between neighborhoods.
Now, let’s explore how an epidemic spreads. Below, we look at a section of our city where the infected places interact with their healthier neighbors. Infected neighborhoods are identified with a number, the in-between neighborhoods with a letter, and the prosperous areas are blank.
I assume there is a one-in-four chance that a high-crime neighborhood will infect its next-door neighbor, and thus every fourth “in-between” neighborhood touching an infected neighborhood becomes infected itself. Place 1 touches place A and place B. Place 2 also touches place A and B, so place B is the fourth neighborhood touched, meaning it becomes infected. Following this pattern, the red letters below indicate the neighborhoods that become infected.
- Place 1—A, B
- Place 2—A, B, C
- Place 3—B, C, D
- Place 4—C, D, E
- Place 5—D, E, F, G, H (Since place D is already infected, we’ll just mark place E as infected in the grid below to properly show the crime bug’s reach).
So, on our first pass, we see four new places infected with crime.
Now, places B, D, E, and H are sick, with a 25 percent chance of infecting their neighboring communities, and so on.
When you work through the entire epidemic, you find that the 25 infected neighborhoods infect an additional 17 neighborhoods. By segregating and isolating the most at-risk places, crime is not corralled, but rather spreads more effectively.
Now imagine that instead of surrounding the infected places with in-between places, we instead surround the infected places with the most prosperous places. Since only 1 in 20 (5 percent) of prosperous places is infected when exposed to the crime virus, then only one prosperous neighborhood is infected in this thought experiment.
Thus, having rich and poor live side by side means 26 of our 100 neighborhoods have crime problems. That is a vast improvement to absolute segregation, where 42 of our 100 neighborhoods are infected.
Of course, this thought experiment ignores the positive benefits of vaccinating places. Cities have many potential vaccines in their arsenal to prevent the spread of a crime epidemic. Identifying which vaccines are most effective is at the core of the discussion Florida and I began about which elements of city life are most important in preventing crime. But it is helpful to begin that discussion by framing it in terms of contagion, epidemics, and vaccines.
The bottom line is, just as we cannot arrest our way out of crime problems, we also cannot economically segregate and isolate our way out either. That approach is self-destructive and has led to many of the problems our cities face today. Figuring out how to fix those mistakes is at the core of creating prosperous places.
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