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Posts By John Roman

Bio: 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.

Dear academics: I love Twitter and you should, too. Here’s how you can.

Author: John Roman

| Posted: February 28th, 2014




I wrote most of this post more than a month ago. It sat in my outbox for weeks for the same reason that most academics are reluctant to be on Twitter—I was worried that if I posted it, it would diminish my scholarship. After all, if I am writing about something as seemingly frivolous as Twitter, it must mean that I am not a serious person.

But ultimately, I decided to post it, mainly motivated by Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times article condemning scholars for cloistering themselves in the shroud of academia, and in the process, making themselves irrelevant in the public discourse. As unpopular as it may be among my colleagues, I happen to believe Kristof’s thesis is generally correct. Pursuing knowledge for knowledge’s sake is wonderful, but irresponsible for anyone with a public policy orientation.

But rather than fighting that battle, I thought I would do something more constructive. So, I’m sharing my guiding principles for scholars using Twitter to talk about their work.

One way to think about Twitter is to work through the mechanics of tweeting and following and gaining an audience. But maybe a better way to approach Twitter is to think about how you create your Twitter gestalt, your personal narrative. I propose starting there. In no particular order, here are my 19 Twitter commandments (19 because prime numbers are awesome). This is my script—yours will be different.

1. Put the social in social network. Interact as much as you can.

2. Don't be scared. You can delete a tweet. And even though a mistake will be archived forever, seriously, no one cares. Just behave the way you would in a business meeting and you'll be fine.

3. Writing a tweet is about writing a headline. Experiment to figure out how to write headlines that resonate with others.

4. Follow people who say interesting things that you will want to comment on or retweet, particularly folks in the business (that includes reporters, policymakers, and other compelling tweeters, not just researchers/academics).

5. Stick to the script. My script is: be myself— serious researcher and archivist of current events with enough humor to be human. However I behave at work, that’s how I behave on Twitter.

6. No politics. Ever.

7. No personal business. Ever. (Most of my communications colleagues disagreed with this point, but as I said, this is my script.)

8. Whenever reasonable, link to your written work. But only when it's reasonable.

9. Promote your colleagues. It's really hard to self-promote in a human way, so let's help each other.

10. Be human. There are lots of hilarious parodies of academics on twitter. Don’t be one.

11. If you have the *slightest* doubt about a tweet, don't tweet (but know that your doubts will wane as you get more comfortable with the medium).

12. Don't respond to tweets by big national figures. It's like publicly shouting at your TV.

13. Be gracious. Never punch down. You have status (whether you believe it or not).

14. Be gracious. Promote the work of people outside your organization.

15. Be gracious. Check your @connect tab to see who is connecting with you and respond.

16. Be gracious. If you find a story on Twitter and re-write the headline, give the original author a “hat tip” (H/T @JohnKRoman).

17. Be well-rounded, and tweet about stuff you don't study.

18. Never, ever go on Klout or Kred or any of the others to see your ”score.” It will lead you to engage in social networking practices that will violate every principle above.

19. If you feel the need to snark (and the pull of the snark on Twitter is strong, my friend) create another account (they're free, you know).

Enjoy Twitter. It's a wonderful, enriching, democratizing platform.

Follow John Roman (@JohnKRoman) on Twitter. Illustration by Daniel Wolfe, Urban Institute

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It's time to separate race and US firearm policy

Author: John Roman

| Posted: February 18th, 2014



Cory Strolla, Michael Dunn

It’s time to separate race and US firearms policy.

Racial disparities exist throughout the American judicial system. As I’ve written before, African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be stopped and frisked, to have their car searched at a traffic stop, to be arrested and convicted on a drug offense (even though they are less likely to consume illegal drugs—see Figure 18), and to receive the death penalty.

But it wasn’t until the shooting of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman’s subsequent trial that another huge racial disparity became evident. African Americans who kill a white victim are ten times less likely to be deemed justified in killing than whites who kill a black victim. The recent trial of Michael Dunn, who was charged with the murder of Jordan Davis, pushed the issue back in the spotlight.

That disparity is not proof that there is racial animus in criminal justice system case processing. But potential sources of any disparity need to be examined empirically, and the magnitude of this disparity is so large that it warrants particular attention.

It’s pure speculation on my part, but I believe that most Americans would be appalled by this apparent injustice and seek remedies if the issue was not so clouded by disputes around the Second Amendment. Those who favor gun rights want to see gun ownership protected, which might make them more open to a narrative where the victims of these crimes deserved their fate. Those who favor gun control might be more open to a narrative where the dead are victims only.

But if we were to separate the Second Amendment issues from the racial disparity question, we would ask a different set of questions. We would ask what differentiates homicides with a black shooter and a white victim from those with a white shooter and black victim.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) requires local law enforcement to submit data on homicides, which are available to the public through the Supplementary Homicide Reports. These data describe each event, whether the victim and offender knew each other, what kind of weapon was used, whether either was law enforcement, and whether the homicide was ruled to be justified.

But what’s lacking in these data is the context of the killing. We know that homicides with a black perpetrator and a white victim are more likely to be robberies or burglaries that go sideways and end up in death—we just don’t know how often this happens. Are robberies gone bad 10 times more likely with a black assailant? We don’t know. But we need to find out to understand this disparity.

The flip side is that we also do not know much about white-on-black killings. We know that between 2005 and 2009, there were about 80,000 homicides in the United States. Since we don’t know who the killer was in about 40 percent of murders, we only know all the facts of the case in a little less than 50,000 homicides.

But, out of just under 50,000 homicides, an older white man killed a younger black man with a gun when they were strangers and neither was law enforcement only 23 times. Dunn and Zimmerman thus participated in extremely rare events. Neither was convicted, which was the outcome of nine of the 23 cases with that fact pattern (39 percent). By contrast, when a black American kills a white American, it is ruled to be justified about 1 percent of the time.

This issue deserves much greater examination, and it would be relatively easy to study. What’s missing from the FBI data is the context of the crime—in particular, whether it occurred on a street or in a home. If there is less than a tenfold difference in where these crimes occur, that suggests the disparity is unwarranted.

The problem is, we are having two debates simultaneously. We are debating the meaning of the Second Amendment at the same time we are grappling with racial disparities in the most serious of crimes.

If we can divorce race and firearms, we can talk about racial disparities in America and figure out if we need to create a more just system.

And then we can talk about the Second Amendment.

Assistant State Attorney Erin Wolfson, left, points at the defendant Michael Dunn, far right, as he speaks to his attorney, Cory Strolla, second from right, during the state's closing arguments in Dunn's trial, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Jacksonville, Fla. Dunn is charged with fatally shooting 17-year-old Jordan Davis after an argument over loud music outside a Jacksonville convenient store in 2012. (AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Bob Mack, Pool)

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Justin Bieber is Exhibit A for a third criminal justice system

Author: Zach McDade and John Roman

| Posted: January 24th, 2014




Nineteen-year-old megastar Justin Bieber dominated social media and the news this week following his arrest for allegedly street racing a yellow Lamborghini in Miami while drunk and high.

Brazen and unnecessary though his escapade undoubtedly was, there’s a good argument that he should not be processed as an adult under the law. In fact, Bieber might be just the flashy example we need of a third path in the criminal justice system.

Back up a bit: why are we so attached to the idea that 18 is a magical barrier between childhood and adulthood? Much research documents that people’s brains – particularly the parts dedicated to reasoning and judgment – don’t finish developing until the mid-twenties. Emotional and psychological maturity follow at about the same pace.

Maybe all of that means that we actually need a three-tiered criminal justice system, one that treats kids and adults in different ways, while also making room for that important middle ground: young adults in their late teens and early twenties.

Consider this: in Florida, because Bieber is 19, he will be processed in the adult criminal justice system. But, had he already been in the custody of the juvenile justice system for a delinquency case, he would be eligible to remain there until he was 21.

That may be a better approach, with mounting evidence that putting juveniles in adult facilities harms their futures. It results in limitations on housing and employment after release, and limits with whom they can associate. What’s more, treating juveniles as adults tends to increase the number of crimes they commit as adults.

Instead, we all stand to gain from a third system geared toward young adults for whom a therapeutic rather than punitive response is likely to be more beneficial to everyone. Florida law already recognizes that someone like Bieber is somewhere between adolescence and adulthood. Successfully intervening with Bieber, already immeasurably influential, could positively affect how we think about young people and crime to the benefit of thousands of others.

So, what would that look like?

Juvenile justice systems were intended to act in loco parentis (in the place of a parent). They are therapeutic in orientation, and the best systems focus on family-based therapies, where parents, siblings, and friends are all incorporated into a home-based process where delinquents learn to make better, more pro-social decisions.

Historically, adult criminal justice systems also had a therapeutic philosophy, but therapy fell out of favor in the 1970's. Today, by and large, the criminal justice system is about punishment, although more rehabilitative approaches are present in recent state reform efforts.

But over the last two decades, some traditional juvenile-oriented practices have crept back into the adult system. In particular, problem-solving courts create a long-term relationship between judge and offender, who engage in an ongoing discussion about the offender’s behavior, their success in therapy, and their choices. That is the model for the Young Adult System.

And that model would save society money, prevent crimes, and give young adults like Bieber a chance to break the cycle of crime and delinquency.

Follow Zach McDade (@zmcdade) and John Roman (@JohnKRoman) on Twitter.

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How should young adults be punished for their crimes?

Author: John Roman

| Posted: January 14th, 2014



The idea of holding children less responsible for their crimes has been common law for centuries. But what age marks the line between childhood and adulthood?

In 1996, 13 states tried youth under 18 as adults. Today, only nine do— and many of those states are revisiting that choice.

While raising the age for adult criminal responsibility is an important step, such measures do not go far enough. As every parent knows—and every child eventually realizes—defining a bright line between childhood and adulthood has always created a false dichotomy. It is time to consider the idea that there should be a place in our legal system for those who commit crimes who are no longer children, but are not yet fully adults.

Consider this question: What is so magical about an 18th birthday?

At one time, the 16th birthday held some of 18’s clout, and its passage was commemorated with eligibility for a driver’s license. Now many states greatly limit 16- and 17-year-old drivers. Eighteen was long considered the moment when you were transformed into a sober adult who could maturely handle your liquor. Deaths and dismemberment from drunken teen drivers showed the folly of that notion. The private sector goes further, banning teens from renting cars and inflating early twenty-something’s rental and auto insurance rates. (On a more positive note, the new Affordable Care Act allows young adults to remain on their parents’ health plans until they are 26.)

Where did the mystical adult-defining properties of 18 come from? Three places, I think. For one, 18 is generally the age when young people leave their parents’ nests and go to college. But colleges have begun to re-think their role in loco parentis, placing increased restrictions on those behaviors many young adults would happily engage in if left to their own devices, like binge drinking and hazing.

Second, while you can enlist in the military at age 17 with your parents’ permission, the decision is all yours at 18—but with an extremely important caveat: You can be a soldier at 18, but not an officer. Society is happy to have teens as grunts, but not as leaders.

Finally, the youth movement of the 1960’s and opposition to the Vietnam War led to the 1971 adoption of the 26th amendment, setting the right to vote no higher than 18.

Those last two points are inextricably tied—those who might be cannon fodder should have the right to decide in part who sends them to war. But that says next to nothing about whether they are fully formed adults.

While 18-year-olds are certainly capable of handling many adult responsibilities, the evidence that young adults are not fully emotionally mature is growing. This graphic tells the story quite clearly. While intellectual ability approaches average adult levels around age 18, psychological maturity is well below adult levels until the mid-20s.

And evidence is increasing that housing juveniles in adult facilities is detrimental not just to their futures, which are limited by restrictions on where they can live, what jobs they can do, and who they can associate with. Treating juveniles as adults increases the number of crimes they commit as adults, making all of us less safe.

As we move toward a national consensus that youth under age 18 are too young to be treated as adults, we should broaden the discussion to include whether young adults are too immature to be subject to the adult criminal justice system.

Should we embrace what every parent knows: That there is a third period in the maturation process where people are no longer children, but not yet adults? A three-tiered justice system, including a system for 18 to 25 year-olds, could improve the futures of youth who have committed crimes and enhance public safety as well.

Follow John Roman on Twitter at @JohnKRoman.

Illustration by Daniel Wolfe, Urban Institute

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10 surprising ways to fight crime

Author: John Roman

| Posted: December 9th, 2013

Though they may run counter to conventional wisdom, these 10 research-backed policy ideas could reduce crime in the United States. Here’s how—and why.

1juvinilesImage from Flickr user circulating (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) 

1. Divert juveniles from the juvenile justice system. Talk of super-predators and the Knock-Out Gamereinforce stereotypes of marauding teenagers that need to be locked away for the good of society. But there’s no proof that prison reduces future offending; instead, it may harden them as criminals. Many states are successfully moving toward the Missouri Model, which focuses on rehabilitation in the community, andraising the age when juveniles are automatically processed in the adult system.

2respectresidentsImage from Flickr user Runs With Scissors (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) 

2. Respect residents of high-crime neighborhoodsStop and frisk and “broken windows” focus on suppressing crime in dangerous places. But by assuming anyone in a dangerous place is a potential criminal, these policies strain the police-community relationship and make it harder for police to gain trust and, ultimately, solve crimes. A better solution is for police to integrate themselves into neighborhoods and become part of the community.

3respectDefendentsImage from Flickr user  Beinecke Library (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

3. Respect defendants in courtJudges lecturing defendants at sentencing make everyone feel like justice is served, but it is actually counterproductive. Defendants who face judges who listen to them, understand their problems, and assist them into and through therapy are less likely to reoffend.


Image from Matt Johnson, Urban Institute

4. Respect convicted offenders. Getting tough on crime may have reduced crime, but it’s come at enormous costs fiscally—and to communities . It is cheaper and more effective to rehabilitate returning prisoners than to incarcerate them.


Image from Shutterstock

5. Take bullying seriously. Bullying used to be perceived as a natural part of growing up, a way to toughen kids up to face the harsh realities of adulthood. But being bullied leads to truancy and dropping out of school, which are associated with delinquency and a host of bad outcomes. Whole-school curriculums to combat bullying work and are creating a generation of better-adjusted kids (and are a vast improvement over zero-tolerance policies).


Photo from Flickr user ajft (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) 

6. Aggressively investigate burglaries. Traditionally, police in busy agencies do not investigate residential burglaries, preferring to save precious resources for more serious crimes. But it’s not as though criminals simply graduate from burglaries to more serious stuff—research shows that burglars, particularly those caught via DNA evidence, already have long track records of serious offending.

7collectImage from Flickr user col&tasha (CC BY 2.0) 

7. Collect DNA from everyone. Using DNA evidence to aid investigations has been shown to be cost-effective, and expanding databases will only increase that effectiveness. It also has the potential to create a more just system. For example, if you are concerned that minorities are disproportionately coming in contact with the criminal justice system, expanded DNA databases will increase the pool of potential suspects beyond minorities currently over-represented in the system.

8immigrationImage from Flickr user Saopaulo1 (CC BY 2.0) 

8. Encourage immigration. It is a popular narrative in virtually every culture around the world that immigrants are more crime-prone than natives. But research finds that it is not true. Places with clusters of immigrants tend to have crime rates well below what would be predicted based on their socioeconomic status.


Photo by Matt Johnson, Urban Institute

9. Encourage gentrification. Research finds that places that are integrated have less crime than places that are economically and racially segregated. And, when a crime-ridden place gentrifies, much of the crime does not follow the residents who leave. It simply disperses. That is because the crime was about an infected place, not about the residents who live there.

10violenceinterruptersImage from YouTube user TheIACP 

10. Provide tips to “violence interrupters.” Increasingly, cities are turning models like CureViolence, where civilians—often former gang members themselves—insert themselves into disputes following shootings to try to avoid retaliation. Police resist this model on the grounds that it may reduce the amount of information that flows into a police investigation and that interrupters, to keep their credibility, do not communicate to the police. But, in the long-term, it is likely more productive to prevent new shootings than solve old ones.

Each of these policies has a coherent evidence base to support it. I offer one additional idea that does not, though it does seem logical and adheres to standard economic reasoning.

11gunsImage from Flickr user Mathew Burpee (CC BY-NC 2.0) 

11. Offer tax credits for gun ownership. Research shows that legally purchased weapons (about 60 percent of all purchases) are much less likely to be used in street crimes than guns bought in secondary markets. Thus, a policy that rewards gun buyers for purchasing through a federally licensed dealer should shrink secondary markets over time, making it more difficult (and expensive) for criminals to acquire weapons.

Next week, I’ll discuss crime-fighting ideas that do follow conventional wisdom—but don’t work. Interested in specific programs that can fight crime? Read Nancy La Vigne’s excellent take here.

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The truth behind 10 popular crime myths

Author: John Roman

| Posted: November 1st, 2013



On the same day as the Navy Yard mass killing, new FBI data showed that the violent crime rate declined in 2012 for the sixth year in a row.

Most Americans wouldn't believe it. Gallup has asked Americans in five out of the last six years whether they thought there was more crime in their area than the prior year. Each year, less than a third of respondents say that crime is going down. The sad juxtaposition of the mass murder and the release of crime data makes clear why there is such a disconnect, but the perception that America is getting more dangerous is not supported by the facts.

Here are 10 other popular crime myths and the true story behind them:

Myth #1: Crime is getting worse, if not in your neighborhood then certainly in the "bad parts" of town, which are much more dangerous than when you were a kid.
FactIf you are under 40, on average you are safer now than you have ever been.

Myth #2: Suburbs are safer than cities.
Fact: True, on average, but the trend is better for cities than suburbs. At the peak of the crime wave in 1991, there were 138 homicides in Prince George's County and 479 in Washington, D.C. Last year, there were 82 homicides in PG (down 40 percent) and 82 in D.C. (down almost 75 percent).

Myth #3: Criminal investigators have enormous data systems at their fingertips that track virtually everything about all of us.
Fact: Police do have access to lots of data, but typically use it to find a known suspect rather than identify an unknown suspect.

Myth #4: Forensic examiners (CSIs) investigate crimes, carry weapons, and can process complex crimes in minutes.
Fact: The typical piece of DNA collected from a crime scene takes months to process (if it is at all) and the civilian processing it is not aware of the facts of the crime.

Myth #5: Most crimes are solved by fingerprints and DNA.
FactLess than 1 percent of all serious crimes are solved by DNA, and fingerprints do only slightly better.

Myth #6: Fingerprints can definitively match a person to a crime scene.
FactFingerprint matches are entirely subjective and we have no idea whether the cliché that all fingerprints are unique is actually true.

Myth #7: There is an epidemic of children being kidnapped from their homes in the dead of night.
Fact: The FBI estimates that in 2008 a total of 115 children were kidnapped by strangers. A child is more than five times more likely to drown than be kidnapped.

Myth #8: There are two typical types of offenders:

  • One is the brilliant loner psychopath who commits serial crimes and can't be caught without the aid of large task forces, luck, and equally brilliant loner detectives.
  • Fact: Most criminals are far less educated, poorer, and sicker than the average American.
  • Type two is the ruthless, soulless gang-banger who can only be contained (but never defeated) by armies of police.
  • Fact: Gang members are typically teenagers, generally in a gang for about a yearbefore voluntarily leaving, and commit as many crimes against their fellow gang members as others.

Myth #9: Serial killers account for many murder victims.
Fact: Out of almost 15,000 homicides in 2010, perhaps 1 percent were victims of a serial killer, while four times as many were victims of infanticide.

Myth #10: There are a lot of adolescent predators on the loose.
Fact: At any given time, there are very few juveniles whose behavior has warranted a placement in secure confinement. In New York City, on any given day there are only about 250 youth in secure confinement.

[Illustration by Tim Meko, Urban Institute. Crime scene photo from Shutterstock.]

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'Stand Your Ground' laws: Civil rights and public safety implications of the expanded use of deadly force

Author: John Roman

| Posted: October 29th, 2013

This morning, I submitted written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the effect of Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws on civil rights and public safety.

There are racial disparities throughout the juvenile and criminal justice system in America. African Americans are more likely to be stopped and frisked, to have their motor vehicle searched at traffic stops, and to receive longer prison sentences than are whites.

One area of possible racial disparity—differences in findings that a homicide was ruled justified prior to a trial—had little attention before the investigation and trial of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. Using data from the Federal Bureau of Investigations Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR), my research examined the effects of racial disparities in justifiable homicide findings on public safety:

  • Are there racial disparities in the justification of homicides? That is, are homicides by shooters of differing races, or involving victims of different races, ruled justified at different rates?
  • Is the degree of disparity higher in states that have SYG laws than in states that do not?
  • In states with SYG laws, did the degree of disparity increase or decrease when SYG laws were passed?

The answer to the first question is clearly yes. The starkest contrast is between homicides of blacks committed by whites, of which 11.4 percent are justified, and homicides of whites committed by blacks, of which 1.2 percent are justified.

The answer to the second question is also clearly yes. States with SYG laws have higher disparities than states without SYG laws.

The answer to the third question is the most complex and relies on the smallest set of data. My preliminary answer to this question, too, is yes.

These findings have substantial implications. Justification of homicides is used in a racially disparate manner, and more so in states with SYG laws. Whether SYG laws are more likely to be enacted in those states with more disparity in justifications, and whether SYG laws increase the degree of disparity, or both, is not yet completely clear. But the implications are disturbing regardless.

The purpose of enacting SYG is to increase the rate of justifiable homicide findings. In doing so, SYG could make disparities better, worse, or keep them constant. There is no evidence SYG reduces disparities in the SHR data. If it makes disparities worse, as our study suggests, that is poor policy. If it simply keeps the disparities the same but increases justifiable homicide findings, then it increases the number of people exposed to the disparity, which is also poor public policy.

Finally, I note that 'racial disparity' is a value-free term. It simply reflects the objective observation that the likelihood of an event (in this case a justified homicide finding) varies systematically by race. It is therefore a necessary but not sufficient condition to conclude that racial animus is the cause of the disparity.


I note that in John Lott’s written testimony for the hearing, he concludes that my data support the opposite of what I have described above. More on that later this week.

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Will iOS7 protect you from iCrime?

Author: John Roman

| Posted: October 4th, 2013


The violent crime rate in America has declined 19 out of the last 21 years. So what happened in the two years—2005 and 2006—when violence (and muggings in particular) went up? Ninety million iconic iPods were sold, marking the beginning of a revolution in mass communication.

In addition to connecting us in novel ways, the iPod and its distinctive white ear buds, $400 price tag, and tuned-out users were new and inviting targets for criminals. Almost a decade later, iCrime continues to claim a big share of urban crime.

Now, finally, we are being told there is a solution. iOS7, Apple’s new operating system for personal media devices, contains a “kill switch” that allows users to electronically disable a lost or stolen device.

So, will this stop iCrime? Maybe, but it is a costly approach— and there is an even better solution.

People steal devices because there is a market where they can profitably be re-sold. Demand for stolen devices is driven by below (legal) market prices. So the key to reducing iCrime is to either raise the price for the customer, or raise the price for the thief by making the theft too risky an endeavor.

The kill switch in iOS7 raises the price for the purchaser of a stolen device. Purchasing a below-market price device contains some risk, and risk increases the effective price. The kill switch raises that price. Sophisticated sellers of stolen devices can get around the kill switch by jailbreaking the phone. Unsophisticated sellers will just sell inoperable phones. Either way, the device’s value is greatly (or totally) diminished and that effectively raises the price.

That should reduce iCrime, at least for some Apple products.

But on the flip side, we know how to raise the price for the thief, and that’s a better solution.

In 1990, there were over 100,000 vehicles stolen in New York City. Last year, there were only about 10,000. A big part of the reduction is insurance companies fighting insurance fraud. Much of the rest is about better standard security on motor vehicles. But it is also about LoJack.

Once the police are notified that a LoJack-equipped car has been stolen, the LoJack is activated and officers are alerted when they are proximate to a stolen car and can recover it, hopefully with the thief still in it.

LoJack increases the risk of detection, apprehension, and incarceration. And the fact that it’s invisible means that thieves have no way of knowing which cars have it, so even non-LoJacked cars benefit from the technology’s protection. As a result, a lot of potential car thieves have been priced out of the car theft market.

A similar setup for recovering stolen devices is easy to imagine. The technology already exists and it would be easy to implement a LoJack-like arrangement between police and internet service providers. Similar policing arrangements have been used successfully for decades.

There are two barriers that have nothing to do with technology. One is that a stolen device may not be worth enough to for the victim to even bother with a police report, especially if the device’s value is close to or below their insurance deductible.

A bigger problem is that because these are relatively low-dollar crimes, law enforcement may not prioritize their investigation even if the crime is reported. In many police agencies, the thinking is that the crime itself probably won’t lead to jail time, so why divert officers from more serious crimes to chase down stolen tablets?

That line of thinking is a big mistake and a huge missed opportunity. Law enforcement should prioritize these cases because they are a cheap sorting mechanism. Some of New York City’s much-ballyhooed crime reduction was purportedly due to police actively booking low-level offenders for things like turnstile jumping because it was a cheap way to find lots of people with outstanding warrants for serious crimes. The same goes for chasing down iPerps.

While the iCrime itself may not be worth the time, some of the iPerps certainly will be.

So while the iOS7 kill switch may help slow iCrime, good old-fashioned law enforcement may be even better.

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America's crime decline: It's NOT about the (national) economy

Author: John Roman

| Posted: September 23rd, 2013

Last week, the FBI released the final 2012 crime statistics. Overall, per capita violent crime was down ever so slightly (from 387.1 per 100,000 in 2011 to 386.9 this year). Property crime was down 1.6 percent from 2011.

Violent crime rates are down for the 7th year in a row, and down for the 18th year out of the last 20.

Property crime rates are down for the 12th year in a row, and 19th year out of the last 20.

Since 1991, violent crime rates have fallen by half, while property crime is down about 45 percent. So what’s driving the decline?

In a series of three weekly blog posts, I’ll be examining the economy’s impact on crime rates. Here, I lay out the long view, to see whether there is a relationship between big macroeconomic forces and crime. Next week, I’ll focus on the last 20 years, to see if the story has changed. Finally, I’ll look at the last five years to see if the relationship between crime and the broader economy has changed once again.

The goal is to investigate the idea that big economic forces are not driving recent crime decline, and that the crime decline is about meso-level—not macro—forces affecting cities and their economies, but maybe in a different way than you would expect.

It’s tempting to suggest that big macroeconomic factors explain crime trends. It certainly is easy to find stories that predicted a new crime wave as the economy tanked in 2008. But it’s a difficult hypothesis to test, since crime obviously affects macroeconomic factors as well as being affected by them.

Criminologists tend to say that tough economic times make more people willing to commit crimes. Bad economies lead to more property crimes and robberies as criminals steal coveted items they cannot afford. The economic anxiety of bad times leads to more domestic violence and greater consumption of mind-altering substances, leading to more violence in general.

Economists tend to argue the opposite, that better economic times increase crime. More people are out and about flashing their shiny new smartphones and tablets, more new cars sit unattended in parking lots, and there are more big-screen TVs in homes to steal. Better economic times also mean more demand for drugs and alcohol, and the attendant violence that often accompanies their consumption.

But as the figures below show, the relationship between crime and the economy is not as obvious as it seems, and focusing on that relationship obscures more important predictors.

Looking at the relationship between GDP and crime back to the earliest reliable crime data from 1960 supports both positions, suggesting there is no relationship between economic growth and crime. In the first part of the series, rising GDP is associated with rapidly increasing crime. In the second part, it is associated with declining crime. In the middle, there is no relationship at all.

Most macroeconomic data show the same pattern. Consider consumer confidence data going back to the inception of the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment data in 1978.

Again, the consumer confidence data show no relationship between consumer sentiment and crime rates. That, however, is because the relationship was strongly negative prior to 1992 (meaning more confident consumers=less crime). After 1992, the pattern reverses, and the better the economy, the more crime there is.

The bottom line: Crime is episodic and there is no singular effect of the economy on crime. In order to understand and prevent crime, it is therefore necessary to understand what type of period we are in. It’s also necessary to understand what forces are at work locally, rather than focus on the national picture. Next week, I will address that point.

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