A study gave cash and therapy to men at risk of criminal behavior. 10 years later, the results are in.

“What if someone told you that you could dramatically reduce the crime rate without resorting to coercive policing or incarceration? In fact, what if they said you could avert a serious crime — a robbery, say, or maybe even a murder — just by shelling out $1.50?

That’s such an incredibly good deal that it sounds too good to be true. But it’s been borne out by the research of Chris Blattman, Margaret Sheridan, Julian Jamison, and Sebastian Chaskel. Their new study provides experimental evidence that offering at-risk men a few weeks of behavioral therapy plus a bit of cash reduces the future risk of crime and violence, even 10 years after the intervention.”

“999 Liberian men were split into four groups. Some received CBT, while others got $200 in cash. Another group got the CBT plus the cash, and finally, there was a control group that got neither.

A month after the intervention, both the therapy group and the therapy-plus-cash group were showing positive results. A year after the intervention, the positive effects on those who got therapy alone had faded a bit, but those who got therapy plus cash were still showing huge impacts: crime and violence were down about 50 percent.”

“10 years later, he tracked down the original men from the study and reevaluated them. Amazingly, crime and violence were still down by about 50 percent in the therapy-plus-cash group.”

“The most plausible hypothesis, according to Blattman, is that the $200 in cash enabled the men to pursue a few months of legitimate business activity — say, shoe shining — after the therapy ended. That meant a few extra months of getting to cement their new non-criminal identity and behavioral changes. “Basically, it gave them time to practice,” Blattman told me.”

Survey Finds No Rise in Anti-Asian Violence, Assaults Declined in 2020

“Some recent evidence has suggested that the national period of declining crime—which began in the mid-1990s, as rate of violence fell dramatically in the U.S.—may be over: The most recent Uniform Crime Report (UCR), an important though incomplete snapshot of homicides nationwide, found that homicide had increased by 30 percent from 2019 to 2020.

But just-released data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) paints a much less depressing picture. According to the 2020 NCVS report, the violent crime rate actually declined last year, if homicides are excluded. Moreover, the popular narrative that former President Donald Trump’s anti-China rhetoric caused some spike in hate crimes against Asian-Americans appears to be wrong. For Asian-American victims, both the violent crime rate and simple assault rate declined from 2019 to 2020.

It’s important to interpret these findings cautiously. The NCVS does not count homicides; the data comes from telephone interviews with random Americans. It’s thus a scientific survey, rather than a tally of actual crimes.

The UCR, on the other hand, consists of crimes reported to the FBI by law enforcement agencies. Police departments are not required to report any information at all, which means that the UCR is in some ways more accurate—these are verified reported crimes—but also more statistically unreliable. Year-to-year fluctuations in the data might represent different reporting procedures rather than any actual increase in crime; the overall number of crimes reported to the FBI is obviously just a small snapshot.

The public should take the findings from both reports with a grain of salt. It could be the case, obviously, that murders in cities increased while other categories of crime decreased elsewhere; it’s also possible that certain minority communities suffered increased crime in a manner that isn’t captured by the data. But with so much bad news about rising violence, the NCVS data suggests that things might not be as bad as we think.”

Murders are spiking. Police should be part of the solution.

“Last year, the US’s murder rate spiked by almost 30 percent. So far in 2021, murders are up nearly 10 percent in major cities. The 2020 increase alone is the largest percentage increase ever recorded in America — and a reversal from overall declines in murder rates since the 1990s.”

“There is solid evidence that more police officers and certain policing strategies reduce crime and violence. In a recent survey of criminal justice experts, a majority said increasing police budgets would improve public safety. The evidence is especially strong for strategies that home in on very specific problems, individuals, or groups that are causing a lot of crime or violence — approaches that would require restructuring how many police departments work today.”

“Problems like poverty, education, and other underlying issues that contribute to crime can take years, or even decades, to truly address.

The impact of police, meanwhile, tends to happen quickly — almost immediately deterring and intercepting would-be criminals with the presence of officers. For policymakers looking for quick action, that’s an important distinction, suggesting that police have to play a role even if other social services are deployed for longer-term solutions.”

“Every criminal justice expert I’ve spoken to has also said that more work needs to be done to hold police accountable — and the survey of experts found that most agreed more accountability would also improve public safety.

So the evidence doesn’t indicate that America should continue the punitive, unaccountable model of policing that’s dominated over the past few decades. To the contrary, much of the research supports changes to how policing is done to focus narrowly on problems, city blocks, and even individuals known to disproportionately contribute to crime — contrary to the dragnet approaches, like “stop-and-frisk,” that end up harassing entire communities.

“policing works to reduce crime and violence. But how policing is done can change — and change could even make policing more effective for crime-fighting while addressing some of the problems to which Black Lives Matter protests have called attention.”

Murders are up. Crime is not. What’s going on?

“The increase in murder appears to be a uniquely American phenomenon. While murder rates rose in some developed countries last year, like Canada and Germany, the increases are far below the double-digit spikes America is seeing. That’s especially notable because the United States already had a higher baseline of murders, after controlling for population. Despite claims that Democratic mayors or progressive criminal justice policies are driving the increase, it also appears indifferent to the political party in charge: As Asher and criminal justice expert John Pfaff have shown, murder rates increased in cities run by Democrats and Republicans, progressive and not.

The good news is there is a lot more agreement among experts about how to bring down the spike than there is about what caused it. But the best evidence suggests stopping murders in the short term will require more and better, though not necessarily more aggressive, policing — a controversial proposal on the left.

“I know people don’t want to hear this, and I empathize with that,” Anna Harvey, a public safety expert at New York University, told me. “But at least as far as the research evidence goes, for short-term responses to increases in homicides, the evidence is strongest for the police-based solutions.”

The stakes are very high. Nearly 21,000 people were murdered in America in 2020, based on preliminary data. Another increase of 10 percent or more could mean thousands more dead in 2021.”

“Some other kinds of crime also increased, according to this early data, including shootings, aggravated assaults, and car thefts. Still, violent crime in general went up at much lower rates, if at all, compared to murders, and overall crime declined, driven in part by a drop in the majority of property crimes.”

“The closest to a consensus I’ve been able to find in talking to experts about the cause of the murder spike: It’s complicated.
Experts have rejected some possibilities. Given that murders rose in both Democrat- and Republican-run cities, as well as places that adopted criminal justice reforms and those that didn’t, partisanship and criminal justice reforms don’t seem to be a cause.

Three plausible explanations, none of which exclude the others, have come up repeatedly:”

“The pandemic shut down programs that likely safeguard Americans from violence, including policing, social services, and community-led efforts. It left some people, particularly teen boys and young men, with more free time to stew over interpersonal conflict as workplaces and schools shut down. And it fed a general sense of chaos and despair throughout the year, perhaps amplifying perceptions that desperate times can call for desperate measures.

But much of the world also struggled with Covid-19, from Mexico to Canada to much of Europe, and didn’t see double-digit percent increases in murders last year. That suggests the virus can’t be the sole cause.”

“One theory held that officers, afraid of getting caught in the next viral moment that leads to protests, backed off from proactive policing. On the other side, the public could have lost trust in police and been less likely to cooperate as witnesses or informers, making it harder to close cases, make arrests, and get dangerous people off the streets. A greater sense that the criminal justice system can’t be trusted also could have led people to take matters, violently, into their own hands.”

“The US has the most number of guns in civilian hands, and the last year saw a huge spike in the number of firearms purchased by Americans. The research is clear here: More guns mean more gun violence — and more deadly violence, because the presence of a gun allows just about any conflict, from public arguments to domestic abuse, to escalate.”

“Even if new gun purchases weren’t to blame, it’s possible existing guns are: Asher found evidence that more people were carrying guns last year, leading to more police finding guns in the course of an arrest. So perhaps it’s not so much that people bought new firearms but that they started carrying the arsenal of weapons they already had.

Perhaps the best explanation: All of these factors played a role.

There are many ways all these explanations could have interacted. As one example: Covid-19 and protests both fueled a sense that the social fabric was unraveling, and more people — particularly in the worst-off neighborhoods — felt they had to fend for themselves. They equipped themselves with guns to act on their own if they felt a threat. And this made any given conflict more likely to escalate to deadly violence.

Ultimately, though, there are too many unknowns to draw hard conclusions.”

“there’s strong evidence that more police lead to fewer homicides, and solid research backs strategies like hot spot policing and problem-oriented policing.

These strategies tend to be more focused, like hot spot policing’s heightened surveillance of very specific high-crime blocks. Or they tend to be more planned: Problem-oriented policing requires formal evaluations of a problem and solutions, and calls for bringing in community partners to make sure the issue is addressed at its root. It’s a shift from dragnet efforts in which officers target entire neighborhoods to stop or arrest as many people as possible.

In fact, these approaches can actually reduce overall incarceration. For example, the evidence for hot spot policing suggests that officers’ mere presence deters crime, since people are less likely to do illegal things in front of a cop. Police don’t have to do anything — just stand there and watch. And fewer crimes committed means fewer arrests.”

“There’s good evidence for providing summer jobs programs, raising the age to drop out of school, greening vacant lots, installing more streetlights, providing more drug addiction treatment, implementing better gun control, and raising the alcohol tax, among other ideas.

The problem, experts told me, is that even the effective non-police strategies tend to take time to work. Police can be active on a high-crime block in minutes, but it can require years to lift up people and neighborhoods, economically and otherwise, and address root causes of crime that these alternatives are supposed to target. They aren’t all designed to reduce the number of murders quickly.

“It doesn’t mean police are a panacea for these things,” Williams said. “But it does mean we should be very careful about throwing around interventions that we don’t necessarily know come with any important benefits or costs.””

The big spike in murders in 2020, explained in 600 words

“Data from the FBI, the Council on Criminal Justice, and crime analyst Jeff Asher shows that the murder rate surged by upward of 25 percent in 2020. Violent crime in general rose as well, though not as much as murders, with aggravated assaults and shootings up. But nonviolent crimes, such as those involving drugs or theft, fell — leading to an overall decrease of crime even as violent crime and murders rose.

The murder increase essentially set the US back decades on crime reduction efforts, putting total murders back at the levels of the 1990s.

The increase was truly nationwide, with the FBI data finding surges in places rural and urban, across every region of the country.”

“Last year was extremely weird in a lot of ways, in large part due to Covid-19. It also, obviously, just happened. Both of those factors make it really hard for experts to isolate what led to a murder spike. So far there’s no consensus.”

The Myth of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

“While a severe migrant uptick did occur circa 2015, the influx rapidly declined to earlier levels. As economist Bryan Caplan has noted, “total arrivals from 2014 to 2018 came to less than 1 percent of the population of the European Union (E.U.). Many European countries—most notably West Germany during the Cold War—have swiftly absorbed much larger inflows in the past.” By early 2019, the European Commission officially declared an end to the “migration crisis.””

“For a sense of the scope of the fake scare, visit HOAXmap, an internet project constructed in 2016 to track rumors about refugees in Germany. The map currently features 496 rumors in the country and in nearby German-speaking nations.
In early 2018, the German paper Der Spiegel ran its own study of 445 alleged refugee rapes in 10 German states, as reported on Rapefugees.net. One-third of the incidents were filtered out because they were duplicates, broken links, or law enforcement was unaware of the purported crime.

Of the remaining 291 cases, 24 claims were false, others were “less dramatic” than rape (i.e., groping) and 29 percent of cases could not be confirmed or denied. One-third (95) involved refugee suspects. Of 57 actual rape cases, 26 involved refugee suspects, with 18 cases resulting in convictions. Each incident is serious and to be condemned. But the facts don’t support fears of epidemic levels of social breakdown caused by migrants.

Unfortunately, it is easy for people to believe rumors when the rumors match already-held fears, such as the West’s historical mistrust of foreign migrants. Real horrific events like those in Cologne make it even easier to suspend skepticism about similar—but fake—cases. But the apparent chasm between truth and rumor means we need to abandon salacious anecdotes, and instead focus on hard data before presuming there is a crisis that demands a response.”

“A Pew survey from mid-2016 showed 46 percent of Swedes believed “refugees in our country are more to blame for crime than other groups.”

But crime trends there remained steady or declined both before and after the migration explosion”

“The migrant wave’s effect on Germany’s crime rates had also been negligible, as revealed in a series of analyses of local police data from early 2016. For example, a “large majority” of refugees who are registered never show up in police records. Those from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are rarely in criminal statistics. In Cologne, for example, only five of 1,100 (under 0.5 percent) registered Syrians were in trouble with the police between October 2014 and November 2015.

The German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) concluded in 2015 that, “on average, refugees commit as many or as few crimes as the local population.” From 2014 to 2015, the refugee population increased 440 percent, while the number of refugee crimes committed rose only 79 percent, according to the BKA. Here, there wasn’t even a correlation: While offenses increased significantly in early 2015, offenses stagnated in late 2015, precisely when “most refugees arrived in Germany.” The BKA concluded that the “vast majority of asylum-seekers [commit] no offenses.”

By 2018, although 44 percent of Germans felt less secure than they did in recent years, their government announced that crime was at a quarter-century low, while Germany’s migrant population was at a record high. As of 2019, the total number of crimes kept falling while the migrant population kept rising.

This does not mean migrants never contribute to Germany’s criminal issues. Indeed, certain immigrant areas reported significant gang problems. Moreover, North African nationals registered high criminal activity relative to the rest of the population. No doubt German law enforcement needs to take notice of these issues. But it would be a mistake to conclude from these specifics that the broader Middle Eastern migrant wave is the problem, when crime rates from certain Eastern European nationals who aren’t normally considered part of this wave are also relatively crime-prone, while nationals from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are relatively crime-free. Rather, the overall picture is clear: Migrants were not a special criminal problem in Germany.”

[Sweden]: “”the number of reported rape offences has increased by 34 per cent over the last ten years (2009-2018)” because the definition of rape was legally expanded. In 2013, just before the latest European migrant wave, the definition was “expanded to include cases where the victim reacts passively.” An earlier legislative change in 2005 meant that “certain acts which were previously classified as sexual exploitation are now classified as rape.” These include sex with persons who are asleep or intoxicated.

The changing definition of rape maps much better to the data than do refugee numbers”

“When it comes to terrorism, neither migrants nor migration are the dominant part of the problem. They could, however, be part of the solution to extremist threats, especially threats from the Middle East. If the American experience is at all transferable to Europe, welcomed and assimilated Muslims could be an asset that would strengthen Europe’s security and reduce radicalism.”

The End of Policing left me convinced we still need policing

“while there is a strong research base for believing that having police on the beat reduces crime, these same studies find that the aggressive “suspicious behavior” stops and stop-and-frisk tactics that have poisoned police-community relations have no real crime-fighting value.”

“there’s a substantial literature in economics and sociology arguing that more police on the beat equals less violent crime. One effort to quantify this precisely is a 2018 Review of Economics and Statistics article by Aaron Chalfin and Justin McCrary. It estimates, based on a big set of police and crime data from large and midsize cities between 1960 and 2010, that every $1 spent on extra police generates about $1.63 in social benefits, primarily by reducing murders. One needn’t take this literature as gospel truth, but one of the go-to scholars on the abolitionist position should be able to — and want to — counter the prevailing academic claim that investments in policing pay off in reduced violent crime.”

“American policing needs to change. And there’s at least some reason to think that reducing the scope of policing can and should be a big part of that change. Fairly mild policy changes undertaken over the past few years have delivered results in terms of fewer police killings of unarmed people, and there’s reason to believe that plenty of opportunity exists for further reform.

But policing is important. There’s evidence that the number of police has an effect on crime, especially violent crime. And when crime soars, not only do the direct victims suffer but we run the risk that economically diverse cities will unravel as people with means flee to the suburbs.”

“Patrick Sharkey, a Princeton sociologist who is clearly sympathetic to the goals of the defunding movement, writes in a Washington Post piece arguing for a greater role for local leaders and communities in containing violence that “those who argue that the police have no role in maintaining safe streets are arguing against lots of strong evidence. One of the most robust, most uncomfortable findings in criminology is that putting more officers on the street leads to less violent crime.””

“the importance and efficacy of what police officers do doesn’t hinge on believing they’re angels. The number of officers patrolling the street has an effect on the murder rate.”

“European countries have higher rates of problematic teen drinking, as well as a higher rate of cirrhosis deaths. What’s true is that drunkenness is less problematic in Europe because there is more mass transit and fewer guns, so the range of possible alcohol-related harms is narrower.”

“laxer pot rules mean more pot consumption. Laxer alcohol rules mean more alcohol consumption. And laxer heroin rules would likely mean more heroin consumption. One can certainly make a case for this (criminalization has not been a rousing success story), but it requires some real argument.”

“Many faddish implicit bias trainings don’t really seem to work. But there are promising results from several different procedural justice trainings. More to the point, Vitale himself says that “in some ways training is actually part of the problem” because “in recent decades, the emphasis has shifted heavily toward officer safety training.” Instead of receiving training that creates an exaggerated sense of threat (police work is dangerous, but officers’ death rates are lower than for fishers or roofers), police should be provided with deescalation training (which has been found to be at least somewhat effective) and, more importantly, required to use it with real consequences for officers who don’t.”

“collective bargaining agreements make it extremely difficult to fire police with records of misconduct. Those who are dismissed are often ordered to be rehired. And police officers who are permanently fired — which, to be clear, means they have passed a high bar for badness — often get hired at other jurisdictions. Meanwhile, the “qualified immunity” doctrine immunizes police for civil penalties for misconduct.
Per what records are available, a relatively small number of officers are committing most of the misconduct, but studies show that bad behavior can spread like a virus to peer officers. Getting rid of the worst 5 percent of officers could eliminate an enormous share of the misconduct, halt the spread of bad norms throughout departments, and open up new hiring opportunities to create more diverse forces.”

“As the defund debate has played out in the public sphere, an idea has taken hold that not only should America spend more on social services but that the police are the reason we can’t or won’t do that.”

“police spending is a relative drop in the bucket of state and local government budgets; at the federal level, it’s even smaller.”

“It’s true that the government should be spending more on housing and mental health programs and that doing so would probably reduce crime. But it would probably reduce crime by freeing up officers to do more police work. And there’s no particular reason the money for it has to come out of police departments. If you compare the United States to Europe, the reason Europe has a more generous welfare state is a much higher overall level of spending — not that the US has overfunded the police.”

“The problem with America’s police officers is that they’re too unaccountable and lawless, operating with too much job security and a sense of impunity, not that there are too many of them.”

Are We Experiencing a Nationwide ‘Anti-Semitism Crisis’?

“According to the New York Police Department, reports of hate crimes against Jews in that city rose 26 percent last year, from 186 in 2018 to 234 in 2019, after rising nearly as much (23 percent) in the previous year. According to Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, the 2019 total was the highest seen in New York City since the FBI began reporting hate crime data in 1992.

Nationwide, however, the FBI’s tally indicates that the number of anti-Jewish criminal incidents (each of which may include more than one offense) fell from 938 in 2017 to 835 in 2018—an 11 percent drop. The total in 2018, the most recent year for which national data are available, was lower than the totals in 21 out of the previous 26 years.”