Supplemental: Upbeat statistics/horrible logic!


The way our discourse works:
A letter in today's New York Times grabbed our attention with some upbeat statistics.

The letter came from Wllliam Bratton, New York City's police commissioner. Bratton was responding to claims last week by Raymond Kelly, his predecessor.

We don't know if Bratton's letter settles Kelly's claims. That said, we were struck by the statistics shown below, which appear near the end of his letter.

Just to be clear, Bratton is discussing shooting incidents by citizens, not by police officers. He describes an extremely large drop in such events in the past twenty-five years:
BRATTON (1/5/16): Shootings are not a Uniform Crime Report reporting category, but a subset of aggravated assaults. The N.Y.P.D chose to track shootings separately from aggravated assaults when I was police commissioner the first time in 1994. We did this because the city had a severe shooting problem at the time.

To establish a baseline, we counted shootings in 1993. There were more than 5,200 that year, or about 100 a week, as opposed to about 1,130 in 2015. To make the 1993 count, and to count going forward, we established the N.Y.P.D. definition of a shooting, which has been in use ever since, including during all of Raymond W. Kelly’s years as police commissioner.

We used the shooting data to focus on shootings as never before, and by 1998, the N.Y.P.D. had pushed down shootings by more than 3,500 incidents a year.
To state the obvious, Bratton is describing a very large drop in shooting incidents. He seems to attribute the drop to good police work, without considering other possible factors.

As a general matter, Bratton's statistics correspond to the drop in murders in New York City. According to the leading authority, that number has dropped from 2,245 murders in 1990 to 328 in 2014, the lowest number dating back through 1960. (According to the leading authority, no numbers are available from 1937 through 1959.)

We're always amazed by statistics like these, especially by the limited role they seem to play in our national discourse. Given what is being counted, 328 remains a large number. But the nation's large drops in crime statistics seems to gain amazingly little purchase, as we noted in this recent post about Chicago's homicide rate.

That's right—Chicago! In 2014, Chicago had its fewest homicides since 1965. No wonder we call it Chi-raq!

Relatively speaking, Bratton's statistics are remarkably good. Today, they appear on the Times letters page. Such statistics seem to play little role in our front-page journalism. Almost surely, most Americans have no idea that these drops in crime have occurred.

Encouraging statistics may play little role in our discourse, but there's always plenty of bad logic around. That's especially true when the horrible logic supports a tribal narrative.

In this morning's award-winning post, we said we'd show you more bad work from last week's Washington Post. We've decided to postpone that service for a few days. It's too depressing to beat up on the tribe in separate-admission doubleheaders.

That said, we were thinking of an argument about the shooting of Tamir Rice, a presentation which first appeared in a piece by Wonkblog's Christopher Ingraham. For those who want to read ahead, you can just click here.

Elementary logic heads for the moon when preferred narrative comes into play. Needless to say, James Downie borrowed Ingraham's logic then added something resembling a bungle in this subsequent column, which appeared in the hard-copy Post.

We'll return to those analysis pieces in a few days. In the meantime, we're always struck by statistics like Bratton's—by how little dust they raise.


  1. I read Downie's column. He seems upset that the cops drove right up to Rice, but if they had parked further away, they would have made themselves a target for longer while walking up to Rice. He also seems upset that the 911 dispatcher didn't pass along the judgments of the caller. These were guesses about age and whether the gun was a toy. It makes more sense (and is safer for both the public and the officers) if the gun is assumed to be real and Rice assumed to be not a child. Assuming worst case instead of taking random caller judgments as true means the cops will treat the suspect with greater caution, which is what they did.

    I do not understand why any person waving a gun in public and targeting people with it, as Rice was doing, should be presumed to be a child "playing" and given the benefit of that doubt. Given the realistic appearance of the "toy" there is no way anyone can know whether it is real or not without approaching closely and examining it. Do they take the risk of being shot in order to do so? That seems unreasonable.

    12 year olds do shoot people in large cities like Chicago and Baltimore and presumably Cincinnati, especially with gang activity. Why should estimated age cause officers to be less cautious?

    Downie keeps saying no one was at fault. Why didn't this child's parents teach him not to point a gun at others, not to play with a realistic looking gun in public? A friend supposedly gave Rice the gun, so parents didn't know he had it, but why was he pretending to shoot people with it? If he took it into a store and "pretended" to hold up the clerk, might he not have been shot too? On what planet are cops not going to shoot someone waving what looks like a real gun (at them or other people)? It takes a very short time to pull a trigger, far shorter time than any cop can "defuse" the situation.

    Stupid children need extra supervision. Parents, not cops, are supposed to provide that care. Why are people afraid to blame the parents for their failure to educate and protect the child in their care?

  2. "Why are people afraid to blame the parents for their failure to educate and protect the child in their care?"

    Because we live in a world where wages have stagnated so badly, we need both parents working (in some cases multiple jobs) just to afford to get the family by. When would you like them to educate and protect their children, when they are going from one job to the next?
    As for the nonsense about the cops pulling-up as close to the kid as possible, if they had pulled-up from a distance from the kid, it might not have led to such a quick confrontation and would have given the officers time to assess the situation.
    Why are people afraid to call bad police-work what it is?

    1. Two cops went through hell because Rice's parents were too busy to raise their child. It is sad, but blaming the cops isn't right.

      The Grand Jury evaluated whether the officers were operating within the limits of their training and knowledge -- they found they were. Who are you to decide they were doing "bad police-work"?

    2. "Two cops went through hell because Rice's parents were too busy to raise their child."

      Bullshit. Any child, however raised, whether in the best home or the worst, can do something really stupid and end up paying for it with his life. Both of your parents can be Rhodes scholars and you can still run out into the street chasing a ball and get crushed by a dump truck. You could be the child of a billionaire and still fall into a rushing river and drown because of your own carelessness or stupidity. Maybe Rice was being stupid and careless here, but every single child or teen who has ever lived has done something stupid and careless, and it's not always the parents' fault, and the kid doesn't always pay with his life for it. The onus here is on the cops. Not the parents, not the dead child.

    3. 4:28,
      Good point about the terrible training of the police.
      BTW, recruiting the PTSD-addled who can't tell the difference between being an occupying army and protecting and serving the communities they work in isn't a good idea either.

    4. "Who are you to decide they were doing "bad police-work"?"

      Someone with enough common fucking sense to know one should assess a dangerous situation from a safe distance.
      Also, was the other officer in the police car trained to lie about the shooting officer shouting "show your hands" three times before shooting the kid?

    5. There is no sound on the video. How do you know what he did or did not shout?

    6. If no other witnesses heard it, what are the chances the kid did?
      Thanks for not pushing back on my note about common sense and police work.

    7. Two cops went through hell because Rice's parents were too busy trying to make enough money to support their family financially, since business has been stiffing labor for the better part of four decades now, to raise their child.

      Fixed that for you.

  3. Huffington Post has the following headline: "Hillary Clinton Will Have None Of Your Heckling"

    When you read the article you find out that a Republican operative tried to ask her about debunked accusations against BILL Clinton. Clinton finally acknowledged her, saying she was rude and she wasn't ever going to call on her.

    From the Huffington Post headline you'd think Hillary wasn't calling on anyone -- wasn't taking questions. Instead, she was refusing to let a demonstrator derail her speech, something ALL candidates do. But when Hillary does it, special rules apply.

    Juanita Broderick and Cathryn Willey's claims were thoroughly investigated and found to be empty. The Republicans are throwing mud against Hillary, who is not involved with either woman. Pretending that Hillary should have prevented anything consensual between her husband and another woman is about as sexist as you can get. That doesn't change when it is a Republican woman doing the heckling.

    Ariana Huffington continues her vendetta against Hillary.

    1. If you are crazily obsessed with the idea that HuffPo hates Hillary you would interpret it that way. But that would sort of make you like the Republican State Representative who was heckling.

    2. Today HuffPo is putting Hillary's picture beneath headlines that don't have anything specific to do with her.

  4. Digby sez:

    "He was playing in the park with a toy gun — like millions of kids do all over the country. And the video that everyone saw with their own eyes showed that police rolled up and within seconds shot him dead. The prosecution and a grand jury decided they were justified in doing that for reasons that make little sense to rational people."

    He was shot within seconds because it only takes seconds for someone with a gun to shoot another person. The police did not know he was a child playing with a toy gun. They treated him like a shooter with a real gun and the real potential to harm others, including themselves.

    How can anyone not understand that reasoning? How can Digby not understand the logic of that, given what the cops had been told about Rice by the dispatcher?

    Given the circumstances, there is a great deal that is tragic about this shooting but very little that is beyond understanding. You don't stand around twiddling your thumbs when there is a shooter pointing a gun at bystanders. The cops exist to do something about such situations. They do not and cannot assume that every potential shooter is a child with a toy gun. They must assume the opposite and act accordingly.

  5. I see the Zimmerman/Wilson Defense Team is back in full force, defending the death of a 12-year-old with a toy gun at the hands of supposedly trained officers.

    1. No. Bob has even lost most of the Zimm fans.

    2. Somerby couldn't even hold on to Cicero and half the spellcasters are casting spells elsewhere these days.

    3. I'm glad Cicero is gone. How about if you follow him?

  6. The rookie cop did a poor job sizing up the situation prior to opening fire. He panicked, proved he shouldn't carry a gun.

  7. Wikipedia says [LINK]:

    [QUOTE] Open carry

    Ohio is a traditional open-carry state. The open-carry of firearms by those who legally possess the firearm is a legal activity in Ohio with or without a license. One does not have to have a concealed handgun license to carry a loaded handgun in a motor vehicle regardless of whether or not it is concealed.

    Similarly, one does not have to have a concealed handgun license to possess a firearm in an establishment that is licensed to serve alcohol for on premises consumption, even if the firearm is openly carried. [END QUOTE]

    Wikipedia says [LINK]:

    Inconsistencies in police account

    The initial account was given by Deputy Chief of Field Operations Ed Tomba, before the video emerged:

    1) Police said that Rice was seated at a table with other people. The video showed that Rice was alone.

    2) Police said that as they pulled up, they saw Rice grab the pellet gun and put it in his waistband. This is not supported by the video. Judge Adrine said the video does not show the pellet gun in Rice's hands in the moments immediately before as the zone car approaches.

    3) Police said that Rice then reached into his waistband and pulled out the pellet gun, and was then shot and killed by Officer Timothy Loehmann. The video shows that Rice did not pull out the pellet gun. In the video, Rice is using both hands to hold his shirt up and expose the pellet gun to view just before he falls to the ground.

    4) Police described the pellet gun as looking real and later explained that the neon tip of the pellet gun was missing. However the police never saw Rice brandish or point the pistol at them to determine if the orange cap was actually missing or not. [END QUOTE]

    Wikipedia says [LINK]:

    [QUOTE] Timothy Loehmann

    Loehmann, who fired the shots that killed Rice, joined Cleveland's police force in March 2014. In 2012, he had spent five months with the police department in Independence, about 13 miles (21 km) south of Cleveland, with four of those months spent in the police academy.

    In a memo to Independence's human resources manager, released by the city in the aftermath of the shooting, Independence deputy police chief Jim Polak wrote that Loehmann had resigned rather than face certain termination due to concerns that he lacked the emotional stability to be a police officer. Polak said that Loehmann was unable to follow "basic functions as instructed".

    He specifically cited a "dangerous loss of composure" that occurred in a weapons training exercise, during which Loehmann's weapons handling was "dismal" and he became visibly "distracted and weepy" as a result of relationship problems.

    The memo concluded, "Individually, these events would not be considered major situations, but when taken together they show a pattern of a lack of maturity, indiscretion and not following instructions, I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies." It was subsequently revealed that Cleveland police officials never reviewed Loehmann's personnel file from Independence prior to hiring him. [END QUOTE]

    If we were to put these considerations aside, given the effective defense the prosecutor mounted on Loehmann's behalf I can see how the grand jury came to the conclusion it did.

    1. The 911 call was about Rice pointing the gun at people and his behavior was sufficient to concern at least that one person who called in. Open carry does not permit someone to point a weapon at other people. The video shows Rice lifting his shirt.

      When a rookie officer has problems related to his performance in other situations, that may or may not have been a contributing factor to this shooting. Someone can do everything right despite having been a screwup in other situations, or he can do things wrong. The problems in this shooting situation are independent of previous behavior. That's why his supposed emotional instability etc. are not relevant unless they can be shown to have contributed to this situation. This may be hard for people to understand, but someone's behavior in other situations is not relevant to the current situation because it is possible for a person to do things right despite being a screw up or to do things wrong because of being a screw up and there is no way to know which happened except by looking at what happened in the instance in question. Prior behavior is never admissible because it doesn't tell you anything about what actually happened this time around.

      If someone is arrested for prostitution, their prior arrests are inadmissible. If someone has prior shoplifting convictions and is being tried for shoplifting, those prior convictions are not admissible. Past behavior doesn't tell you what actually happened in the current situation. It is no different with these cops. Past weepiness is irrelevant.

    2. A life may have been saved had Cleveland officials simply done their due diligence.

    3. Anonymous January 5, 2016 at 10:42 AM, who might not know the basis for the old saw about the ham sandwich, writes:

      [QUOTE] Prior behavior is never admissible because it doesn't tell you anything about what actually happened this time around. [END QUOTE]

      Can't say I know anything about Ohio grand jury rules specifically, however, if the rules there are like those in most of the other jurisdictions which make use of that juridical beast then here's their template:


      [QUOTE] 4.03 Evidence at the Prosecutor's Disposal

      Prosecutors have enormous latitude with respect to the types of evidence that may be introduced during a grand jury hearing. As a general rule, evidence obtained by illegal or other improper means can be presented, and an indictment valid on its face is not subject to challenge on such grounds.

      Furthermore, the Federal Rules of Evidence explicitly provide that they are inapplicable to federal grand jury proceedings. Therefore, hearsay, unauthenticated documents, leading questions, even prior bad acts, generally excluded from trials may be presented to the grand jury.

      Also unlike petit juries, grand juries may rely on "tips, rumors, evidence proffered by the prosecutor, or the personal knowledge of the grand jurors."

      In fact, a grand jury "is not limited to consideration of the evidence brought before it," but may consider information obtained from outside sources. Finally, many of the rules providing for the suppression of evidence are inapplicable.

      For example, evidence will be admitted even if it is obtained in violation of the defendant's Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, or Fourth Amendmane right to be free form unreasonable searches and seizures.

      The Supreme Court has explained the justification for this no-holds barred approach as follows: "Any holding that would saddle a grand jury with mini-trials and preliminary showings would assuredly impede its investigation and frustrate the public's interest in the fair and expeditious administration of the criminal laws."

      Therefore, to avoid such a result, "[a]n indictment returned by a legally constituted and unbiased grand jury... if valid on its face, is enough to call for trial of the charge on its merits." [END QUOTE]

      Do read on at the link.

  8. Bad police work isn't necessarily a crime.

    1. Dave the Guitar PlayerJanuary 5, 2016 at 12:53 PM

      A very poor excuse for immoral behavior. Tamir's parents paid the police to protect their child, but instead they decided to kill Tamir to prevent the possibility that Tamir might do harm to others. You would think the police would have paused at least briefly before taking Tamir's life to consider their obligation to him and his parents.

    2. But it's criminal that they killed a 12-year old due to bad police work (and bad training, per 4:28 up-post).

    3. "Bad trolling isn't necessarily a crime."

      FTFY - NFO