How Effective Are Police?

Yves here. I hate to come off as a knee-jerk skeptic, but I question some of the premises of the post. First, Neuberger states, without a link to a study, that most people think solving crimes is the most uncontroversial/important thing police do (his statement about the popular view of the role of crime solving is garbled, so I’m having to guess).

Having lived in NYC and reported five crimes over my life, I beg to differ. First, my belief is the most important job of police is to deter crime, by being enough of a presence in the community and to show up quickly enough when called for serious crimes so as to deter the bad guys.

Of the five crimes I reported, three were for thefts. I did not expect the police to find the perp. I was reporting them for insurance purposes. For one, I did eventually get my drivers’ license and some credit cards back (I gather someone saw them in the garbage after my wallet was picked clean) but this was weeks after I had replaced everything. One time, I was hit by a cab (fortunately just really badly bruised) and the guy kept driving. I was furious, I knew I probably didn’t get enough info to find the driver but I reported it anyhow.

The one I did report in Sydney, Australia, when a man was harassing his date just below my second story window on a Friday night. Her bag was in his car, she didn’t want to go in to get it (as in she wanted to leave) and he was refusing to give it to her. The argument went on, I called the cops, yelled down to him to give her the bag and I was a witness. He yelled, “Fook off.”

A while later, I noticed I didn’t hear them but his car was still there. This was very bad because the car was on a side street, next to a ramp down into the parking garage under my apartment building. I was concerned he had backed her down the ramp against the grille barrier, which would be way out of view from the main street. I grabbed my trusty shooting stick.

He had cornered her, just as I feared. I yelled at him. He charged me. I swung my stick at he and we screamed at each other. Some guys came from the main street and tried to talk him down. The cops arrived and arrested him.

I gave a statement. I assume the woman had a gory story and he may have had a history too. The guy went to prison.

The second point is I’m not certain the stats are as bad as Neuburger treats them to be. The cops actually have a much higher success rate than I expected on murders and non-negligent manslaughter. But we also know from the Innocence Project that police are under a lot of pressure to solve these crimes and can often, erm, encourage or provide misleading testimony to pin it on a likely-looking suspect.

The numbers where I agree the police results are bad are aggravated assault and robbery. Those are both crimes where people were or could have been hurt and ought to be able to have the same clearance rate.

With larceny-theft and burglary, as indicated, some like me will report the crime knowing it can’t be solved but have other motives for making the report (insurance or claiming a tax loss).

The other category that looks bad but is hard to know what a proper base line would be is rape and sexual assault. I do confess to watching the show Special Victims Unit, which is about the NYC sex crimes unit. They show how many rape victims won’t have a rape kit done (as in deny they were raped/won’t report a rape), while many others wait to report it out of shame, greatly reducing the odds of successful prosecution. Some rapists use condoms. Some victims shower reflexively before seeing the cops, destroying evidence. Some waffle about pressing charges, particularly when they realize if they want to have good odds of nailing the perp, they have to testify and be cross examined. Some perps pay off victims. Even if the police get a DNA match on semen inside a victim, the perp can claim was consensual, and victims often do things to undermine a case, like acting immediately afterwards that what happened to them was not terrible (texting the perp or sending a friendly text reply; this is apparently not uncommon in date-y rapes, the victim is confused and self-blaming). BTW the SVU show regularly presents prosecutions where pursuing a case went badly for everyone. Having said that, 3% looks low but 10% would not at all surprise me as a “good” number.

Finally, the easiest way to have higher success rates in policing would be to have China-style surveillance. Or maybe we could copy Japan, where suspects have confessions beaten out of them. Do we want that?

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies

Image source: Mr. Fish

In a recent piece examining the role of police (“Police in America: An Awkward Truth”), I wrote:

Generally speaking, the police are a right-wing force in this country. They support right-wing causes individually, they act on behalf of right-wing elements of the society, and frequently stand down when right-wing forces are engaged against left-wing (or merely populist) forces in street battles.

Yes, they solve crimes…


most Americans are living in a Happy Days dream, formed in white neighborhoods in the prosperous ‘50s, that police do indeed “serve and protect.”

They may do that, but that’s not all they do.

The assumption was that solving crimes — the police mission that most people would recognize, the one for which they’re defended most by most (unbrutalized) citizens — is itself a positive and mitigating contribution to the health of our society.

Turns out even that mission goes unfulfilled.

A More Accurate Metric for Police Effectiveness

A 2020 paper (pdf) published in the Alabama Law Review and written by Shima Baughman, Professor of Law at the University of Utah, puts paid to the illusion that cops solve crimes.

TV cops solve crimes. Real cops, not so much.

From the Abstract (emphasis added):

In recent years, the national conversation in criminal justice has centered on police. Are police using excessive force? Should they be monitored more closely? … The implied core question across these national debates is whether police are effective at their jobs. Yet we have not explored how effective police are or determined how best to measure police effectiveness.

This Article endeavors to measure how effectively police perform at their core function — solving crime. The metric most commonly used to measure police effectiveness at crime-solving is a “clearance rate:” the proportion of reported crimes for which police arrest a person and refer them for prosecution. But clearance rates are inadequate for many reasons, including the fact that they are highly manipulable. This Article therefore provides a set of new metrics that have never been used systematically to study police effectiveness — referred to as “criminal accountability” metrics. Criminal accountability examines the full course of a crime to determine whether police detect and ultimately resolve committed crime. Taking into account the prevalence and the number of crimes police solve, the proportion of crimes solved in America is dramatically lower than we realize. Only with a clearer conversation, rooted in accurate data about the effectiveness of the American police system, can we attempt a path toward increased criminal accountability and public safety.

She goes on to note that “[t]he scholarly discussion has focused on how police are doing crime solving: With too much force? With the right monitoring? With proper technology? These discussions assume that police are solving crimes. The prior scholarship has also tackled police performance in specific arenas but has not examined how to measure whether police are effective at their jobs.”

The goal of the paper, then, is to answer the question, “What is the best way to determine police effectiveness?”

As the Abstract notes, using “clearance rates” is misleading. Clearance rate is defined as “the proportion of reported crime for which police arrest a person and refer them for prosecution.” Part of the problem with this metric is the amount of data it misses. For example:

How many individuals are victims of a crime but failed to report it to police? How often do police arrest the right people? Which crimes are police most likely to make arrests for? How many police clearances result in a conviction? How many crimes did police not make arrests for but resolved in other ways? None of this information is tracked [by the “clearance rate” metric].

The paper concludes that police, indeed, are remarkably ineffective at solving crime, their supposed primary function of you watch too much TV.

The Problem with “Clearance Rates”

The author notes that a case can be “cleared” even if a suspect is identified and later released as innocent (thus the case is no longer “on the books” even though no further arrest is made), or a suspect is arrested and released due to faulty evidence.

In addition, clearance rates only consider “reported crimes” — crimes reported to police — and fail to include “known crimes” — crimes that turn up in other reports, like victim surveys, but aren’t reported to police. (See Part II of the study for more on “known crimes.”)

“Clearance rates,” in other words, are a cosmetic metric designed to make police look better than they are, just as today’s employment data is a cosmetic metric designed to make the current administration (whoever that is at that moment) look better than it is. (For example, today’s employment rate excludes from the denominator people who are so discouraged, they’ve stopped looking for work.)

Note that clearance rates are also swollen due to another flaw — the percentage of times police arrest the wrong person (because that arrest is easy) and the criminal justice system miscarries and convicts them anyway. In addition, how much criminal activity is missed even in the “known crimes” data?

Many offenses are not even tallied in the crime data. These crimes are among the ones we know about: identity theft, sexual exploitation, ransomware attacks, drug purchases over the dark web, human trafficking for sex or labor, revenge porn, credit card fraud, and child exploitation. [178] To many observers, motor vehicle theft and burglary may seem like relics that have been replaced with a modern era of crime that takes place exclusively on the internet. While it may be the case that crimes have changed, unfortunately these new crimes are not fully captured in law enforcement’s reporting system. …

A police department focused on keeping clearance rates high may not focus on digital crimes that are not tracked nationally.

“Criminal Accountability”

“Criminal accountability,” on the other hand, “includes accounting for the large swath of crimes not reported to police.” It tries, in other words, to add back into the equation, “the large number of crimes that occur that are not reported to police.” It also adds back in those cases in which police resolve crimes without an arrest (i.e., by “exceptional means”).

The database that the author uses includes 50 years of national crime data from a variety of sources, and the statistical challenge was considerable, as a read of the report will show.

The results, however, are worth the effort.


How Effective Are Police Really?

The part of the report dealing with true police effectiveness contains some startling statistics. For example, just on arrest rate:

[O]verall, a 10% arrest rate is typical for the major crimes combined — murder, rape/sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, larceny-theft, burglary, and motor vehicle theft.

The image below shows that data in a table:

True conviction rates are even worse (these are sample years, not the full data):

And overall criminal accountability looks like this:

The author acknowledges the problem of including “known” but unreported crimes in these statistics. The causes are, obviously, “a lack of trust [in the police] in their neighborhood” and “an individual’s perception of how police will respond to their report” — rape victims, for example, who fear everything about the way their case will be handled, including by the police.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? The fact is, the primary mission of the police is not to solve crime — it’s to keep the disorderly, including society’s victims and social enemies, in line or in jail. At that, the police are successful.

How Stable Is the Current Status Quo?

The question is, will that success endure? After all, there’s a point when even the complacent rebel. Our own founding document, the Declaration of Independence, says as much:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

Yet “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism”, people will rebel.

And when they do, the outcomes are just two: a long period of chaos in which order cannot be maintained, or a crushing response that sees the boots of the state grow heavier still. Or both.

We’re clearly not near that point yet — the George Floyd protests, like others, came and went, with little that counts as improvement in their wake. But just as no empire permanently endures, no system of oppression lasts forever, and these are uncertain times, to say the least.

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  1. Mike

    “The fact is, the primary mission of the police is not to solve crime — it’s to keep the disorderly, including society’s victims and social enemies, in line or in jail. At that, the police are successful.”

    From a certain perspective this is true. Try living outside the bounds of our culture. Everyone pays a price to participate either through the criminal justice system or economically through things like property tax. There is no option to not participate.

    Also there is plenty of evidence that the war on drugs is population control. Marijuana was banned federally to control black people who were the majority of users at the time. Psychedelics were banned to limit the counter culture to our warring society.

    1. John Zelnicker

      According to John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s Domestic Policy Chief, they went after marijuana to attack the antiwar movement and the hippies, and went after heroin to attack the black liberation movement.

      “You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

  2. Falls City Beer

    One of the things that studies have shown is that increasing police presence—intuitively or not—does reduce violent crime. Especially for black people living in traditionally high crime neighborhoods. So that goes to your point about deterrence. But then you raise the question: Do we really want Chinese-like surveillance? I would argue that a police presence encircling high poverty, traditionally high-crime black neighborhoods is fundamentally no different than living in a Chinese surveillance state. To be sure, reducing violence is a good, but at what cost? And what are the other social costs of constant police surveillance of neighborhoods? Right or not, drug dealing and underworld networks do feed families.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      In Australia, I lived near its most notorious sex district, Kings Cross, which was also a high crime area. Interestingly, crime very localized, there were nice neighborhoods near by (Elizabeth Bay, Potts Point, Darlinghurst).

      The sex part of Kings Cross seemed tame, a few blocks of Victorian houses with plane trees, touts had to stay within very close range of their establishments (some listed their services, my favorite was “suckatorium”). The working girls would hang out, some sat on bar stools. They looked like nice Aussies, average to pretty looking.

      But that wasn’t the criminal element. It was the drug dealing upstairs.

      Point it is it was well lit, always had people on the street (from NYC you learn that empty blocks are the dangerous ones) and a good police presence at night. I never felt at risk there even using the Kings Cross train (its subway).

  3. Tom Stone

    When looking at Police as a deterrent to crime you really have to look at it on a granular level.
    Some Jurisdictions like San Francisco have an abysmal clearance rate for violent crimes and Murders but do quite well at their primary task of keeping the rabble in line.
    Some do better,and oddly enough there seems to be a correlation between decent quality policing and the income level of the neighborhood involved.

  4. Lex

    Well those serious crimes don’t pay the way that road pirating and drug related civil asset forfeiture do, so they’ll obviously be lower on the priority list. One must appease the finances of operating a paramilitary organization. Besides, the feds require a certain number of drug busts performed with their military gear if they want to keep the free gifts.

    I once had an active duty Navy JAG counsel me that one should never talk to cops, not as a suspect, not as a witness and not even as a victim. If there’s no lawyer, there should be no talking. I was inclined to believe her before the advice, so it just solidified it. I’ve had too many friends get swallowed by the US legal system for recreational drug use or the fact that they’re black to hold any amount of respect or trust in LE. No such thing as a good cop until it’s proven otherwise, to me through personal experience. Then I’ll admit to that cop being good.

    My brother in law is a cop. He’s a terrible human being, a bully and a coward. Probably why he identifies as a cop.

  5. The Rev Kev

    Maybe they should go back to the cop on the beat approach. Those beat cops would get to know their neighbourhood, who to watch and were given tips by the locals who wanted law and order as well. But then there was a shift last century where police would be a reactive force. They were either in their police stations or sometimes cruising down the roads. Point is, you had to call them and then they would go to your location. It wasn’t a matter of looking out a window for the nearest patrolling cop.

    But now? I cannot see it working at the moment as so many police forces are trained as ‘occupation troops’ which is why they get their training from Israeli occupation police. Can’t get much more blatant than that. They have the mindset of us vs them and all too often, the police that work in a community don’t even live there. I think that I read not long ago that about 80-90% of the L.A. Police don’t even live there but come from outside that city. I have heard from readers that this is true of smaller communities as well.

    1. sharonsj

      It is not true that our police get their training from Israeli police. That is an anti-Semitic slur. I saw this accusation after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, so I did some research. Only 10% of the entire Minnesota police force has ever attended a terrorism conference put on by Israelis. I repeat: A cop attending a single terrorism conference can hardly be called “training for the occupation.”

      1. Scylla

        Good lord. Is hasbara sneaking in the door? As anyone who has ever been in the military knows, when one member of a unit attends a training, they are then supposed to disseminate that information/doctrine to the rest of the unit.

      2. Anthony G Stegman

        Criticizing Israelis is not anti-Semitic. That is nonsense. The Israelis use very harsh methods to control non-Jewish peoples. That is a fact. American law enforcement have a desire to learn Israeli methods because they have the same goal – control the “Other” (non-white, non-upper class). For a price the Israelis are eager to share their techniques.

      3. JBird4049

        >>>hat is an anti-Semitic slur.

        Hmm, no offense intended, but how is a possible fact a slur? There is enough antisemitism and racism infesting the world without creating it where it does not exist. Human beings are human beings; much like American policing, it seems that Israeli policing is more of that of an occupying army, rather than as a police force. American police do not need anymore encouragement to be an occupying army from anybody. They do quite well as it is.

      4. Yves Smith Post author

        Our police absolutely do. Mike Bloomberg bragged about it.

        From the UK Morning Star:

        Officers from the US police force responsible for the killing of George Floyd received training in anti-terror tactics from Israeli law-enforcement officers.

        Mr Floyd’s death in custody last Monday, the latest in a succession of police killings of African Americans, has sparked continuing protests and rioting in US cities.

        At least 100 Minnesota police officers attended a 2012 conference hosted by the Israeli consulate in Chicago, the second time such an event had been held.

        And Al Monitor:

        Trainings and exchanges involving US and Israeli police accelerated after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when US police sought Israeli expertise in counterterrorism. Thousands of US police have participated in such programs in both countries and Israeli police have also come to the United States to learn. Police brutality was an issue in the United States long before the exchanges began, including during the civil rights marches of the 1960s when the authorities used powerful water hoses to disperse Black protesters.

        The assertions that Israeli tactics might have influenced US police behavior arose after Floyd, a Black man, died following his arrest by Minneapolis police officers.

        The London-based news outlet Middle East Eye ran several articles comparing US police’s actions in Minneapolis to Israeli security forces’ against the Palestinians. One Palestinian in Minneapolis told the outlet that the tear gas used against the protesters in the city reminded him of Palestine. Another article included photos showing Israeli soldiers kneeling on the necks of Palestinian suspects in a way that mirrored former officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd.

        Some American anti-police activists want to shut down US-Israel police exchanges. Demilitarize From Atlanta 2 Palestine works to end the Atlanta Police Department’s relationship with the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE).

        GILEE organizes meetings between US police departments and police around the world. During a Zoom event in late July, Demilitarize From Atlanta 2 Palestine claimed that GILEE, which includes Israeli police among its exchange partners, teaches “some of the most violent policies, behaviors, and tactics of the state” and “mass surveillance, policing, incarceration.”

        Criticisms of US-Israel police relations are not new. In 2016, Amnesty International published an article noting that police in Baltimore — where a Black man named Freddie Gray died after being arrested in 2015 — trained in Israel. The leading human rights organization did not include evidence of what Baltimore police learned there.

        Recent critics have not cited ample evidence to show American police are adopting tactics from Israel that result in violence. The Americans and Israelis who participate in such exchanges say that the focus is not on riot control or controversial restraint techniques.

        “One thing we never dealt with is riot control,” Perry said. “I don’t think we have anything we can teach American law enforcement in this field.”

        The police forces in Los Angeles, Baltimore, and other US cities have trained in Israel. Your opening statement is flat out false. The question is what did they learn. Israeli policing is much more population-hostile than ours, even the Israeli military (in areas they jointly patrol with local police, notably the settlements) regularly objects to and tries to de-escalate some of the police operations. So there’s reason to be concerned.

        And get over yourself. Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic. Many young Jews do not identify with or support Israel.

      5. Late Introvert

        Supporters of Isreal knee-jerk labeling any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic is laughable at this point. So, thanks for the laugh.

      6. Bruce Wolman

        Depends what you mean by “getting training from Israeli police.” And whether it is an antisemitic slur depends on the motivation of the claimant. One can get training from Israeli police directly, or one can be trained by police who learned policing, especially profiling and counter-terrorism methods, from Israeli instructors. The fact that 10% of the entire Minnesota police force has attended a terrorism conference put on by Israelis is astounding to me, especially considering the reputation of Israelis for their brutal counter-terrorism and Occupation methods, and the fact that while profiling may be an Israeli value, it is considered un-American here. (I’ve been through Ben Gurion airport many times and so have first-hand experience with how Israeli profiling works, not to mention stories from others.)

        Hence, you need more evidence to substantiate your claim of an antisemitic trope at work. I have an anecdotal story. I once discussed this very issue with a relative who is an upper echelon police officer. He told me he had attended one of these Israeli-run terrorism conferences, and was very impressed by their profiling and other tough methods. Shortly thereafter, he was put in charge of the Police Academy for his County.

        One thing is certain. Democrats and Liberals, who would recoil at their police forces receiving training from Right-Wing or Authoritarian countries, have no problem with Apartheid Israel training their forces.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Someone should do a timeline study on when various US police departments first began receiving Israeli training . . . . and when US police departments first began functioning as targetted-area occupation forces and anti-left/anti-labor suppression forces.

      IF! . . . they began serving as targetted-area occupation forces and/or anti-left/anti-labor suppression forces beFORE they began receiving Israeli training, then the introduction of Israeli training can’t explain it.
      IF! . . . they first beGAN serving these purposes AFter they started receiving Israeli training , then the Israeli training very well might explain it, perhaps by itself and/or perhaps in tandem with other things.

      But till we know the timeline , we really can’t say if Israeli training did or didn’t create this Blue Oppression problem.

      Regardless . . . if we admit to ourselves that the Police’s true real main function is suppressing and crushing things like Occupy, then we have to admit that the Police are very successful, once we admit that “addressing crime” is merely the cover under which they conduct their true and real political control mission.

      PMC liberals will never ever admit that to themselves.

      Conservatives secretly support that, but will conceal their knowledge of it from people whom the conservatives don’t wish to be well and truly understood by.

      Oh, and . . . Davos Man and Wall Street Man support police persecution of Occupy and all the Occupies to come more than anyone else on earth does.

      1. Tom Stone

        I recently picked up a copy of Gore Vidal’s essays from1952-1992 and read his essay about Police brutality written in 1961.
        He witnessed a group of plainsclothes police savagely beating two men who had committed the crime of walking while black.
        He had the good sense to not file a formal complaint because all that would do would be to paint a large target on his back.
        Perhaps literally.
        I made that same decision more than once, something I still feel shame and anger about.
        It was the prudent thing to do because all that complaint would do is increase those cops chances of promotion and ensure that I would be, at the least,seriously harassed until I moved out of that jurisdiction.
        That’s the reality Americans have had to deal with since the Country was founded.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          And that reality far predates any Israeli training any police might have ever had.

          I remember a story my grandfather living in Detroit once told me . . . . of how he saw a cop in a car run over a black motorcyclist and then drive away. Apparently for the pure fun of it. He never did tell me how it turned out. I was too young to think to ask.

          And yet white racist liberals will tell us how black people must never never never . . . .ever . . . be allowed to own AR-15s. ( “Allowing no one else” to own them either is merely the never-meant-to-be-enforced cover for making very sure that black people in particular not be allowed to own them).

      2. norm de plume

        When I took my then 6 year old son to the Occupy gathering in Martin Place Sydney we were quite literally surrounded by police. I had never seen them in great numbers before, and was struck and rather spooked by their appearance, like something out of RoboCop or Judge Dredd. You couldn’t see their eyes which were behind a sort of Ray Ban visor. They were armed and looked very dangerous, but they were silent and unmoving. A very large vehicle resembling a tank was parked off to the side. I thought ‘we are a long way from the neighbourhood bobby’. My boy asked me ‘Dad, why are there soldiers here?’

        It really brought home to me that the police were not there for ‘us’ but to protect ‘them’ from us. After a good chat with a nice young American fella who told me he had a $150,000 student debt, and growing tired of the one-note, single-issue non-Occupy protestors hogging the mic, we left.

        Not sure if the NSW Police had at that point undertaken Israeli training, but they were doing so within a few years.

        Maybe Israeli police are so busy training other forces that the IDF has to step in to do the dirty work.

  6. David

    I think you have to have led a pretty privileged life to see the police simply as a “system of oppression.” In reality, of course, what people want is not for the police to have a higher clear-up rate, but for there to be less crime in the first place. After all, would you accept a doubling of the number of armed robberies if there was a more than doubling of the clear-up rate?

    Whilst criminology studies do show that likelihood of detection is a deterrent to crime (rather than length of sentence, for example) the same studies show that for many types of crime, the chances of catching the criminals, and of successfully convicting them, are very small in the first place. If your car was broken into outside a supermarket and some valuables stolen, the only reason why you would ever report the theft was for insurance. You would know, and the police would know, that the chances of the crime being solved were extremely low. The problem is that, as the article correctly says, it’s impossible to be sure what crime rates actually are, because people often don’t report trivial crimes, or because they live in gang-dominated areas where reporting crimes is dangerous. But if you have an idea of crime statistics, no matter how accurate, and you have a (somewhat better) idea of the clear-up rate, you can manufacture statistics, and then demand that the police “do better.” As often, what you can measure becomes more important than what you are trying to do.

    1. JBird4049

      The rate of autopsies has been in decline for decades, not to mention that it is usual for dead or missing poor, or black, or a presumptive sex worker to not have their deaths invested well, if at all, or for the police to strongly look at the possibility that they committed suicide, Epstein style. Then there is the seemingly unending lab scandals, falsified evidence, testilying, forced convictions, and those mountains of never tested rape kits.

      Add the increasing militarization of the police, that the police in many departments tend to be very… forceful especially in Black, Hispanic, or poor areas, most notably in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, and New York, but common across the country. I think many people do not realize that it is often in those Black, Hispanic, or just poor areas that people want more police (and very often fewer guns), but if everyone knows of family, friends, and neighbors being arrested, beaten, searched, abused, or even framed for the crime of being conveniently nearby, those phone calls tend to stop. And people start carrying guns more often or getting justice by the gun and not by the legal system. Then add the cameras and sometimes those often inaccurate gunshot microphones that are most common in poor areas… This does add to the rate of violence because the police are not trusted enough to be allowed to be involved. It becomes merely private justice or none at all.

      Personally, this white dude does not like living near cities with poor clearance rates for murder or rape and other cities where I could get dead by cop and almost guarantee that nothing will happen to them, not even a good investigation. This in the Bay Area.

      The police have often been corrupt, often violent, and almost always racist, but it does seem to me that it has been getting worse these past few decades. Maybe would should be more concerned with that because too often policing is a system of oppression with odds of one not being oppressed, robbed, beaten, or killed being determined by your character stats of race, class, location and modifiers like whether the cop had his coffee, and it all decided by the roll of the dice.

      1. Soredemos

        On the topic of people in the worst places often wanting more (actually effective) policing, one of the big charges against police is that they’re just the biggest gang around. And there’s absolutely truth to that, particularly in places like LA where the police run informal clubs that are effectively a type of secret gang. But here’s the thing: no one likes gangs period. Even if you say the cops are just another gang, that doesn’t change the reality of the other, literal gangs racking up bodies on an almost daily basis. Those gangs still have to be dealt with. Fine, the police are bad. But the Crips and Bloods are also, in fact, bad.

  7. anon in so cal

    There is a literature which argues it is preferable that police or other civil servants not live in the communities they serve. The argument is that this reduces potential corruption or conflicts of interest.

    Research apparently shows that requiring police to live locally does not improve quality of policing.

    In Los Angeles, a principal reason 79% live outside city limits is because of housing prices and the public school system. The LAPD has an active Community Policing program wherein its 21 community branches work interdependently with representatives from the community and the police have an active outreach presence in the various neighborhoods.

    1. tawal

      I live on a street block with 4,000 people.
      If the police that served us lived with us on that street block, I can guarantee that we would have better policing.
      They would no where we live and we would know where they live.
      Accountability matters.

  8. Mark Ó Dochartaigh

    Living in Amarillo and Garland Texas I had the radio stolen from my vehicles at least a dozen times, finally I just stopped replacing it in each vehicle. I lived in a dicey area in Dallas for a couple of years, I was working 12 hour shifts 6 days a week at that time. The first time my house was broken into the police told me not to call them again, that as long as I lived in this neighborhood I was going to be burgled frequently. For a year it was just local kids who would take the dvd, microwave, and TV and not disturb anything else and they made sure to close the door so my dogs didn’t get out. Then one morning I came home and the dogs were frightened and under the bed and it looked like a tornado had gone through the house. I moved the next day.

    But apropos of your excellent Mr Fish cartoon, absolutely the most money I ever had stolen was by my employer. The hospital corporation for which I worked classified all RN’s as management and for a decade paid us straight time for overtime and nothing for the first hour over that we worked. Having been twice fired for being gay I felt that I needed to keep whatever job I could get.

    I think that the police are a reflection of our society. I find it worrisome that as an increasingly loud right wing finds it useful to stir up chaos for their own political ends an already reactionary police force will be called upon by a public, interested in results rather than well-thought-out solutions, to enforce order with less and less reference to the law.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      I wonder what would have happened if you coated the radio with poison ivy oil and left it in place as a decoy for thieves?

      Of course you wouldn’t have been able to use it yourself, but still . . . . stealing it might have provided its own punishment to the thief.

      Would dimethyl sulfoxide dissolve poison ivy oil and carry it into the body through the skin? If it would, then perhaps painting the radio with a solution of poison ivy oil in dimethyl sulfoxide would give such a thief poison ivy inside their body.

      1. Mark Ó Dochartaigh

        Well, it was most likely just neighborhood kids stealing my things, at least that is what the neighbors said. Working 6 12’s a week there was nothing that I could really do, and they were careful about my dogs. There was absolutely no opprobrium from the neighbors and I got the impression that as long as I tolerated minor thefts nothing worse would happen.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Well, if that was the quality of neighbors you had, then you did the right thing by doing “nothing”.

          The fact that when you stopped replacing the radio the thieves did not destroy your car to “teach you a lesson” shows that the neighborhood was only “so far gone”, which is good.
          I have read that there are places where they would have destroyed your car to “teach you a lesson” about not having a radio worth stealing.

  9. David in Santa Cruz

    The post by Neuberger is beyond useless. He is the one watching too much television.

    Yves is quite correct that solving crime is not a reasonable metric for policing. There are very few random homicides — motive and opportunity make them easy cases to crack. Crimes of opportunity are committed by and against strangers, and are nearly impossible to solve. What’s more, “accountability” is not the role of the police, but of the courts.

    The obsession of economics with “metrics” is nearly always misplaced and pretty much guarantees perverse results. How does one measure a crime that has been prevented because there was a cop walking the beat in a well-lit neighborhood where people are decently housed and fed and have a shared stake in the long-term health of their community?

    Neuberger treats “crime” as if it is as inevitable as the weather, and policing as if it must always be an instrument of state repression. They are not. However, in America crime and policing reflect the Reaganite-Clintonite winner-take-all law of the jungle that remains unquestioned by our too-comfortable elites — the master criminals who daily commit murder and theft with complete impunity.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      . . . The master criminals whose protection from forces and movements like Occupy is the first and most important function of the police, under cover of a credible appearance of “preventing crime” on the side.

      Not for nothing did Clinton and all Clintonites since Clinton call for ” more police”.

    2. hk

      I think this is the fundamental point: it is hard to measure how much crime (which type of crime?) has been reduced to the alternative scenario (with a clear specification as to what that is). Since we rarely see the alternative scenario, this is a difficult and, often, unconvincing argument.

      The Cessa Boudin recall in SF underscored this. He claimed that his, essentially, soft on crime policy did not lead to a rise in violent crime and therefore there’s nothing that the denizens should complain about. But the linkage between policy and violent crime is a complex and time consuming one: the effects may show up a decade or later and, at any rate, in most normal societies, they are rare enough that most regular people have rather limited understanding of their severity (if they do, that likely means that the society in question has extremely serious problem.). Most regular people can and do see petty crime and general lawlessness if they become common enough. No law enforcement agency can remain credible if such visible crime becomes so widely visible. This, in turn, brings us back to the question of how to measure effectiveness of law enforcement, on what kind of crime? While I don’t want to speak too favorably of Rudy Giuliani, he did have a clear sense of how most citizens perceive public safety and the effectiveness of law enforcement.

    3. CanCyn

      Make people report stats and expect those stats to continuously improve and you will ensure that people will then ‘juke’ those stats to appease TPTB. I dunno if it was The Wire or another police show but I know I have seen a program or movie about cops getting caught padding their stats. Sole use of metrics to prove anything in human endeavours is very problematic. People don’t act like automatons, simply deciding what to count is difficult enough. How do you deal with the outliers? As an academic librarian, when use of metrics to support funding or justify new funding became a thing, I worked very hard to caution colleagues about how they reported metrics. Once you report a number as good, someone is going to expect that number to increase or else assume that you’re not doing well. Once when making an argument for more space for a library, a bigwig noted that our gate count (the number we reported as students physically in the library) wasn’t increasing and asked why we thought we need more space. A quick thinking colleague replied, “Well sir, you can see that the library is full once the seats are full, they’re full. No more students can work in the library. The static number is proof that we need more space”
      Adding…, my vision of effective policing is fewer guns and less military gear and police who are accompanied by social service workers out on a beat.
      End with another anecdote. We have a friend who was a cop, they are very much trained to think of their own safety first and to see most people who they encounter as adversaries, not fellow citizens who may need help. She worked most of her career in drug education in schools and described many of her male colleagues as meatheads one step away from being criminals themselves. Still, she defended confrontational and pushy cops as doing the right thing and protecting themselves.

  10. Soredemos

    “Abolish the cops!” is one of the more irritatingly braindead American leftist takes. And ‘abolish the police’ is literally, exactly, what many ‘progressives’ are calling for, either explicitly or as an unspoken end goal. I have a book literally called ‘Our Enemies in Blue’ on my shelf, so I’m really not interested in being gaslight on this issue.

    The simple reality is that some form of town watch is at least as old as towns themselves. Communities having a force of people given the role of potentially inflicting violence to enforce rules are a legitimate function of a society. There are a million problems with American policing, but ‘just have no cops all all; cops = evil oppressive agents of the state’ is absolutely asinine. And every last person reading knows on some level that it’s asinine, because at some point in your lives every last one of us will at some point have called the cops for something or other. You hate the cops right up until you need one for something.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      As more jurisdictions discover their police to bring and cause more violence than what they deter or solve, more jurisdictions will seek some kind of “town watch ” or “self-policing/ self-militia-guard” organizations without the police they now have. That is a vague prediction which events will prove right or wrong.

      Meanwhile, I wonder if your pre-emptive accusation of gaslighting is meant to draw attention away from your own gaslighting here , namely the accusation that every commenter here has uniformly supported the “abolish police with nothing to replace them with” concept.

      I notice you like to use pre-emptively dominance-establishing language in hopes of pre-shutting-up anyone who might offer a view different than yours. I notice that wherever I see you.

      1. Soredemos

        “As more jurisdictions discover their police to bring and cause more violence than what they deter or solve, more jurisdictions will seek some kind of “town watch ” or “self-policing/ self-militia-guard” organizations without the police they now have. That is a vague prediction which events will prove right or wrong.”

        You’re proving my point. The socially sanctioned force with a monopoly on violence will endure. I’m all for abolishing police forces as they currently exist, where they’re largely institutions unto themselves with little or no direct accountability to ‘their’ communities. But the need for some sort of force will remain.

        “Meanwhile, I wonder if your pre-emptive accusation of gaslighting is meant to draw attention away from your own gaslighting here , namely the accusation that every commenter here has uniformly supported the “abolish police with nothing to replace them with” concept.”

        I made no such accusation. Instead I said it was one particular strand of American leftist thinking, which it is. A particularly stupid strand of thinking, that goes down with the general public like a lead balloon, because while no one likes being robbed, much less killed by cops, most people generally genuinely respect cops as an institution and see a need for them. To deny this is gaslighting, full stop.

        Again, I have entire books laying out this line of thinking and giving explicit long-term policy goals. After BLM utterly wasted the first real chance at genuine police reform in this country in decades on stupid slogans and ludicrous demands, the backpedaling began where activists tried to pretend no one had even made total demands to ‘abolish the police’, and ‘defund’ only meant take away their more abusive aspects. Aside from the fact that if you have to explain your slogan you’ve already failed, ‘abolish the police’ was a literal, explicit goal, especially early on. Again, gaslighting. ‘No one wanted to literally abolish law enforcement, you weirdo.’ Like hell! People were literally, word for word, calling for exactly that. Until it became abundantly clear that the general public isn’t at all on board with that, including the poor and minorities whom white liberals often tout as being ‘occupied’ by the police.

    2. Scylla

      I believe if you check, you’ll find that most town watches were staffed by unpaid volunteers within the community, and that they either had a temporary term or were subject to removal by the townspeople. Few if any held a permanent position.

      1. Soredemos

        Correct. I’m all for having cops that are actually subordinate to their communities. But in the end, cops they would remain.

        Aside from the fact that the particulars of this Neuburger seem to be largely gibberish, in a larger sense they’re part of a long history of articles and books whose purpose to is to pretend that law enforcement does literally nothing beneficial.

        Thanos snap every cop out of existence for a month and see where we are at the end. I seriously doubt it would be a pretty picture.

        A really obvious, I would think, thing is that if you’re all for no cops, you then also forfeit any right to ever complain about any legal matter. Because law with no law enforcement is literally meaningless.

    3. Falls City Beer

      I’ve lived in one of the highest crime cities in the industrialized world for 20 years—St. Louis—and have not called the cops once. Maybe I’m a severe outlier. No idea.

      My experience with the police the one time I dealt with them (in college, Nashville, mid 90s) face to face was pretty adversarial and unhelpful.

  11. Anthony G Stegman

    There is always a question that comes to my mind: Who do the police work for? They don’t seem to work for everyday folks, including everyday taxpayers. Even local elected officials don’t seem to exercise any control over the police. From whom do the police take their orders? It all is very mysterious to me. Just as an example: The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department seems to operate with absolute impunity, to the point that actual gangs operate within the department and nobody seems able to stop them.

      1. JBird4049

        A private helipad at his home?? This is a way to avoid that often fabulously slow LA traffic!

  12. Stefan

    In general, policing in America emphasizes crime investigation rather than crime prevention.

  13. Sue inSoCal

    Lots of good stuff here. Yves, your comments are so much better than the post! We had a community policing plan in the 80s/90s in Sacramento. The moms in the projects near me had had it with the drug dealers. (The projects I lived near still exist. They’re slated to be gentrified, but they are treading lightly.) They assigned a couple of dedicated police officers that knew the neighborhood and the neighborhood knew them. They were what I call peace officers. As far as solving crime, I don’t watch many shows, but if anyone has seen the film/documentary “Unbelievable” (Netflix) it seems incredibly difficult to solve sexual crimes.

  14. roxan

    i did see Philly cops solve crimes a couple times. We had a ‘firebug’ setting fires every night around our area. A firebomb tossed into a 15′ van, parked in front of my house, might have set the house on fire. I heard the glass break, around 3am, saw the flames and got the firemen in time. Almost every night, there were fires. This went on for months. One night, on a late walk, I discovered plainsclothes cops were watching our street. They finally caught the guy–an old Italian man no one suspected. We all thought it would be one of the homeless ex-cons that hung around bugging us for odd jobs. Ironically, I had him as a patient on the locked psych unit where I worked. He started fires there although no one had matches, lighters or smoked inside. He was thoroughly searched, over and over, too. We never found out how he did it.

  15. Palaver

    I recently finished watching “We Own This City”. While David Simon explored the failed war on drugs in “The Wire”, this series explores the failed culture of policing in Baltimore. There are good cops and there are bad cops, but the good cops either turned a blind eye to the bad cops or rationalized their presence on the police force. Wars on always follow with war crimes. Only the losers face justice and ignorance is never a moral defense. “We knew, but didn’t participate” doesn’t cut it for authorities in a position to violate human rights.

    I’ve also lived in enough countries know it is not a choice between more policing or less policing. It’s a question of cultural values. “Men make laws, but the people follow culture.” Few people will tolerate having their human rights violated whatever laws, lawyers, or politicians say. The lack of cooperation between citizens and police due to human rights abuses only shows how the police can become their own worst enemy, putting statistical short-termism over serving the community.

    The dynamics of class division ultimately determine how people treat each other. The police will become protector to one class and jailor to another, so our attitude towards the justice system is less a concern for fairness and more a reflection of self interests. Debates / public shouting matches around policing sound more like class based role call.

    I am reminded by an example from “What Cops Know” (1992). Off duty cops are just as annoyed, if not more so, when a cop car pulls up behind. They don’t know he’s one of them.

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