And the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups, the police who saw stranger danger murders and the police who commit stranger danger murders. These are their stories. Welcome to You're Wrong about the show where we ruined your ability to enjoy the Oxygen Network. That's pretty good.
And like half of the existing podcasts, I mean, I think that it's still totally possible to enjoy the simple pleasures of true crime, the generic pleasures, as the academics call it, while still being like, I don't like this on a number of levels.
So like I think, you know, who knows how much you're ruining or not ruining, but we're trying.
I'm Michael Hub's. I'm a reporter for the Huffington Post. I'm Sarah Marshall. I'm working on a book about the satanic panic. And we are on Patreon and people and you can buy lots of cute T-shirts and stuff. And yesterday we recorded our first Ask US Anything episode and we talked about Newsis for most of it.
I wouldn't say most of it, but definitely. Well, you just edited it, so. Yeah, right.
Yeah. You tried, you tried to deny it and then. Yeah, I was just like, you know what, why, why do this.
I accept myself and today we're talking about murder and we say murder. I think Rosemere fun. Yeah.
So full transparency. This is kind of a mini episode because me and Sarah are both working on like big monumental Arvi episodes.
And those episodes are sort of still baking. We've stuck in the Testor. It didn't come out clean.
So today we're doing a mini soad about like the biggest topic that a podcast got to talk about. I'm just so excited about where this is going.
I mean, this is basically because Huff Post, for the last couple of weeks, I've been working on an article about what is known as the Ferguson effect and just really like the relationship between policing and crime rates.
So one of the things that I came across during my travels through all of this literature was this one statistic that I think is just going to be like the heart of this episode is figuring out why police solve so many fewer homicides now than they used to. Were you aware of this?
Yes, partly because you've been mentioning it a lot lately. Yes, I know that the police have a pretty low clearance rate. I think I didn't know that they had previously had a high one.
So in the nineteen sixties, police solved 93 percent of murders. That's astonishing. I know. And by twenty thirteen it was down to 63 percent. And there's some studies that show that it's like now 50 50. So data is hard to get. It varies by city, but like it's looking like there might be a one in two chance that if somebody gets murdered in America, the police will not solve it.
And it's especially interesting because we really in America, I think having a pop culture idea of like forensic science has gotten so good. Yeah, the system is so powerful now that people can't evade it. Back in the olden days, you could kill somebody and nobody would notice. But like, well, turns out we're not doing well.
There's also some cities and this may resonate with you because Honolulu is one of the cities with the lowest homicide clearance rate and it's below 20 percent.
It's like eighteen point eight percent in Honolulu now.
So one in five homicides gets solved. One oh. Oh, my God. Yeah.
But then, you know, it's bad with other crimes, too, like the the clearance rate for rape has gone from 73 percent to 40 percent BS like car theft, like the clearance rate for car theft is 11 percent nationwide.
So nine out of stolen cars never get recovered.
That's terrible. That's like the acceptance rate at Cornell. I know that's not great. And also it's somewhat deceptive because the quote unquote homicide clearance rate doesn't necessarily mean that the homicide is solved or what we would consider it being solved. What it means is that someone is arrested.
Oh, well, we know that people who got arrested always turn out to be the ones who did it. Yes.
And also, I mean, some people get arrested, but then they never like they dropped the charges for whatever reason or it turns out it's the wrong person or they wrongfully convicted. Right. We don't know what percentage that is, but it's some percentage. Yes.
Police departments are also allowed to, quote, unquote, clear homicides for like exceptional reasons, like if their main suspect dies, they're like, well, we can never really clear this. So we're just going to market as solved because we're pretty sure that guy did it intentionally.
Like, does it seem as if this is a coordinated like that people are knowingly using this as a way to get cases off of their dockets?
Yeah, because it looks bad for police departments to say, like, yeah, we didn't solve four out of five homicides last year. Right. So they have every incentive to make it look like they're solving more homicides than they are. Right.
What you find when you look at the literature, because there's, of course, like a million academic articles written exactly about this question, like, why are there so many more unsolved homicides than there used to be?
Is that the methodology for solving crimes, like the basic techniques of detectives have not really changed since the 1950s.
So. One of the things that comes up in a lot of the literature is that forensic evidence is only a factor in finding a suspect. About 80 percent of the time.
Eight percent. Yeah. Wow. I really thought that this guy had, like, dropped out for a second there and there was going to be a tea or a teen after that.
It's funny. I'm like I know that I intellectually doubt all these stories, but I was also baked in the true crime oven totally as I was growing up. And I'm like eight.
But so forensic evidence is much more often used to gather evidence after you have a suspect, right? Right. Like, oh, the fingerprints match on Joe.
But if you have, like, a dead body and you have a fingerprint, there's oftentimes no databases to check that against. You can't do it with a computer.
I actually watched a really good episode of Perry Mason recently. I mean, they're all good where Perry has a witness on the stand, his fingerprint analysis expert and in his beautiful Perry Mason baritone. He's like, isn't it true that in fingerprint analysis, one man's friend can be mistaken for another is like Perry Mason knew and was telling us that this is an inexact science? And yet by the 90s, when I was growing up, I fully believed and every piece of media I encountered taught me that fingerprints just are.
Yeah, I mean, of course, the minute you start looking into this homicide clearance problem, you start thinking, well, OK, which homicides do get solved and which ones don't?
Yeah, I wonder, Mike, which homicides got solved?
Mike So of course, like both of us, like, you know where this is going. Right. Some ideas, but the racial differences in which homicides get solved are actually not as clear cut as you would think. Interesting.
There's some like city level analyses, like there was one that the New York Daily News did on NYPD that found that 86 percent of white victims, those homicides are solved, but only 45 percent of black victims homicides are solved.
But there's also studies that use nationwide data. And there's like various ways of like gathering the data and cutting it up, et cetera.
And some of them find that it's like roughly equal. And some of them find that black people who get killed are actually slightly more likely to be solved than white people. So it's kind of all over the map and it depends on which data you're looking at.
Yeah, and just on the the city or on the the way the cops are functioning there, what do you think that is? This is what's really interesting.
I found a great article by a woman named Wendy Rugosa, whose name I'm definitely mispronouncing, and I interviewed her after reading this article. And basically she walked me through homicide clearances. You can't look at them by one factor alone. It's the intersections between all of these variables.
So she has a study where she looks at all of the murders that are in the sort of national database. Between 2008 and 2012, she found white people's murders were six percent more likely to be solved than non-white people.
But then once she starts breaking it down by these, like more granular details, it's like black men who are killed with firearms.
Twenty two percent are solved.
White women who are killed with guns in their own homes.
In arguments, 77 percent are solved, probably because it's extremely easy to figure out who did that.
Yeah, exactly. Because it's like someone is dead. Who's their partner? Oh, they have a history of hitting them, like, OK, it's going to be the partner. Nine out of ten times. Yes.
So you kind of have to slice and dice it with these other factors in mind, because for white people and black people alike, domestic homicides tend to get solved by people that are killed by someone who they don't know.
Those are almost always unsolved.
So this is I mean, this gets back to something that I've had a hunch about for like years and I'll probably never be able to prove. But I have a feeling that there are more who done it, like mystery stranger danger murders on TV every week than there are in real life.
Well, you just get yourself a motel room and just, like, got a clicker and start counting them up.
So do you want to guess how many homicides there were in America in twenty eighteen last year that there's data for?
Oh, I feel like my brand is going to over here to try and think about all the possible factors, but I don't know. Forty eight hundred.
Oh that's I mean that's close. That's like the right order of magnitude. OK. There were 14000. Just over 14000. Oh really.
I remember actually when I was in grad school, I had a boyfriend who was from New York City and I remember him truly blowing my mind when we were talking about law and order. And he was like, yeah, I mean, the there isn't a new like stranger danger whodunit murder in New York City every single week, let alone enough for, like, just these two detectives to be working on it.
And I was like, what? What about Hudson University? Is that not real either?
Only about 10 percent of murders are stranger danger murders. And, you know, New York has roughly three hundred and thirty homicides per year. So 10 percent of that would be three and one quarter of those.
Are done by police, so basically Briscoe and Logan are solving all of the homicides in New York City that other cops aren't committing. Yeah, I mean, no wonder they're so busy.
And I mean, what this is getting at is that one of the main reasons why so many fewer homicides get solved now is the changing nature of homicide in America. So as we have discussed on the show many times, the biggest story about crime in the last 30 years is that it has fallen by like 50 percent. And I read a really good Brennan Center report about this.
There's a lot of theories about why violent crime has fallen. The first thing that they note in their report is that, like, incarceration has nothing to do with it.
Like it's not because we got tough on crime.
It's not because we lengthen sentences. It's not because we charged juveniles as adults. There's no evidence that that made any difference because different states have very different sentencing for the same crimes. And the states with longer sentences like don't have less crime.
There does appear to be like this revolution within policing where they're much more likely to use data, you know, stat thing that there was that reply all episode about that does actually explain some of it. Like some of it is just that, like cops are getting smarter about being in the places where there is crime. So, like, you have to give the cops credit for some of this.
Isn't there also a theory that, like broken windows policing worked or something like that?
Yeah, that's the that's the comp stat. That's the data revolution thing. OK, we need to do an episode on Broken Windows policing. But what's interesting is what America has done is not broken windows policing, OK? Because what broken windows policing is, is you give reliable small punishments for petty crimes, writes like graffiti. You clean up the city, you make things look nice and you crack down on people when they commit small crimes so that they don't graduate to larger crimes.
But what America did is we just did a bunch of stop and frisk of hassling people who weren't doing anything. There's a survey that shows that at the height of stop and frisk in New York City, four out of five black adolescents had been stopped by police in the last year. Broken windows policing was never supposed to be like, let's just stop all the black kids, regardless of what they're doing.
And by small punishment for petty crimes. I also assume that originally was meant to be something proportionate. Yes, the broader story is a good example. Like here's a kid who was accused of stealing a backpack and ends up in Rikers. Right. That's not a sense of consequences, right? That's not like, oh, I shouldn't do something worse. That's like my life has no meaning any longer because of what happened to me for no reason. Right.
And so I don't want to do like you're wrong about broken windows policing. It's good. Actually, we've never we've never tried it, so like it could be.
But like we have no way of knowing that. The big factors, though, are mostly like things outside of the cop's control.
So are really big things that alcohol consumption has dropped a lot in the United States in the last 30 years.
Really? Yeah, and this is crazy. 40 percent of prisoners are locked up for crimes that they did while they were under the influence of alcohol.
Federal cannabis legalization.
Yeah, definitely against shrooms going around the nation. Yeah. There's also the I love this factor because I'm just obsessed with aging and demographics. The country is getting older.
It sure is my it sure is.
In 1980, a third of the country was between 15 and 30, and now it's like a quarter.
This is why we need a robust immigrant population and people coming into our country, because the people here are too traumatized by the economy to birth our own lives. And we're like sad pandas.
There's also this theory, have you heard about this, that when abortion became legal, it might have resulted in crime rates going down like 20 years later because a lot of unwanted kids weren't born? Basically?
Yeah, I read that in The New Yorker at some point. Yeah, it's like a very Ted Tourky. It's designed in a lab to be in like a magazine article.
And so I think it probably contributes a little bit. What's actually interesting is that it's not all that clear that the number of abortions rose significantly after abortion became legal.
So they've looked at Kansas and it went from three hundred and sixty nine abortions per thousand births to four hundred and fourteen. So from three sixty nine to 414, it's like it's a jump, but it's not, you know, didn't double. It didn't triple.
But, you know, you could also say that like the kinds of people who had access to abortion earlier tended to be more affluent. And so it maybe it increased access to people who were younger and poorer. Right. But so it's just complicated. And so it partly exerts some effect, but we don't totally know.
But it seems like it seems like a weird argument to, like, jump on so enthusiastically.
Yeah, exactly. There's also the theory that lead in gasoline and just kind of like lead everywhere has reduced crime.
Can we talk about, like, what led does to people in children?
It affects their IQ, apparently, even though IQ is like its own concept that we need to slow down, does it affect their cognitive development?
Can we say that? Yes, and it apparently affects impulse control. OK, there's a bigger fall in violent crime than a fall in property crime.
And this is seen as evidence for the lead hypothesis because it's like a bunch of people that, like they experienced some small stressor, like something bugs them and they fucking snap. But once you have a population that is like basically better at controlling its impulses, you have fewer of those like crimes of passion.
But then it's and then like, how much lead paint was there? Like where we just painting. We're just every crib just coated in lead at one time in America.
It wasn't paint, it was gasoline. So gasoline lead particles being sent up and. Oh my God.
So there was this lad fucking everywhere and everywhere, dude. And like it was like when you drive past cornfields in Iowa, like you can test fucking crops and they'll have particles of lead in them.
Is that why all the boomers are like this? They all have no impulse control and they won't wear fucking masks. Why are all my mom's friends making pickles together?
I know I'm I'm a lead trooper.
I went from zero to 60, like, very quickly here. Oh, my God. We just loved poisoning everybody for like most of the 20th century were like poison. It's the best.
But so there's a million reasons. And I think all of them probably contribute to some extent, like crime is a very complicated phenomenon that is going to be caused by like 50 different things, some of which we don't even know about, I'm sure.
And then we can't know how all these different factors are relating to each other. I mean, people are sadly predictable, but the circumstances that buffet us around aren't.
And there's just so much to everybody. And, you know, the criminal justice system, the worst aspects of it, really flourish on the idea that you can understand the entire soul of someone who's just being arraigned in front of you. Right. The idea that that anyone can really figure out the true cause of an event, it's pretty hubristic, isn't it?
But so all of that has happened. Crime has fallen. That's that's the thing that we know. It's not just that they're like half as many murders now as there used to be, but the character of those murders has also changed.
So one of the biggest changes in this is that domestic violence, interpersonal violence, murders used to be about 30 percent of homicides, another 10 percent really?
Yeah. So there's actually this represents like a pretty big triumph that domestic violence has fallen by about a half or so in some cities, two thirds over the last thirty years. You know, the Violence Against Women Act was passed.
Domestic violence shelters effectively didn't exist before, like the nineteen eighties.
Like there's much more services, there's hotlines and a big thing actually.
And domestic violence is that women just have much higher incomes. Now, that was what I was going to ask. I was my first question, is this related to like at least improved wage equity?
I mean, basically like it's easier now for women to leave these marriages. No fault. Divorce is also a big thing, although that happened a little bit earlier. Yeah, this is something that's difficult to talk about because things are getting better. So why don't you stop complaining? Has become this big talking point on the right?
Oh, no, really, there's sort of this rhetoric of black people have never had it so good. So, like, I don't understand why they're complaining about these police killings. Well, like, there's no segregation anymore. There's no slavery anymore.
There's entire websites that conservatives have set up with only like the the indicators that are getting better like this comes up a lot in international development to that, like extreme poverty is falling and literacy rates are rising.
Well, if literacy rates are rising, then who can complain about voter suppression?
This is the thing is like whenever you talk about things getting better, people will point out that, like, the only people talking about things getting better now are like arch conservatives who are using this as arguments against any further progress.
Right. So it's difficult to bring this up because you sound like these assholes. But it's also like it's important to understand the mechanics of, like, how things get better and why without then implying that, like, well, domestic violence obviously isn't an issue anymore.
It's gone down by two thirds, like.
Yeah. Isn't it so great that only 10 percent of murders relate to domestic violence? Like, wow, I want to make that argument.
They have to be able to dismiss a very high number of deaths as like irrelevant. Yes.
You know, one of the effects that this has had on the homicide clearance rate is that those murders are easy to solve.
So there's now just a lot more difficult murders. Right. Like 90 percent of the murders are not solvable, like within five minutes of getting to the crime scene.
There's also a lot more firearm murders.
Now, Wendy Rákosi, this criminologist who studies homicide clearance rates, she said that just like on a fundamental level, firearm murders are much harder to solve because they can come at them from far away.
Yeah. And like, there's you know, if you stab somebody, like you're going to get blood on yourself, there's probably going to be like screaming, which attracts witnesses.
You're going to cut yourself like a. O.J. Simpson, there's also a really interesting thing that the murder rate among 18 to 24 year olds actually appears to have gone up. So there's more gun murders now and there's more young people killing each other. And crime has concentrated.
Half of all murders are in cities like large cities that contain about 25 percent of the country's population.
And about a quarter of the murders are in like within those cities, in very poor, very marginalized neighborhoods that are home to about two percent of the country's population. Ershad.
So really, if you look at the statistics now, you have to be talking about these specific worlds in which there is an incredibly high crime rate in which people are living in very real fear and focus on like alleviating that rather than being like, wow, this number for everyone sort of randomly spread.
I feel jeopardized.
And so I found a study of all of the homicides in Boston between 2003 and 2014.
So like every single homicide, 70 percent of them occurred in just three police jurisdictions out of 12 between the Aflex and the Wahlberg's, two thirds of the victims were black.
Two thirds of the victims were between 18 and 34, and three quarters were killed with guns. So, again, like how many murders of this type do we see on TV every week?
Mike, I watch TV. I know what the most common form of homicide is.
It's when you're a young white woman with a beautiful, idyllic life who comes home and there's a serial killer there and he kidnaps you and takes you to a cabin.
And I mean, this gets close to another extremely gross trope of like conservative thought, which is this like nobody cares about black on black crime that you've heard.
Oh, I'm on Twitter or my script. I read Twitter every day.
It's become this like incantation that like conservatives say whenever you talk about anything, you're like, oh, I think it's going to rain today.
And they're like, what about black on black crime? So, I mean, conservatives use this to basically say that there's like something wrong with the culture of black America. Like this has always been the purpose of bringing up these statistics.
But the actual reason why there's so many of these homicides is because people kill people that they know.
Yes, most white people are killed by white people and most Latinos are killed by other Latinos. And like we live in a pretty segregated society.
So this is nice. We can dream of a world where people are getting murdered by their loved ones of all different backgrounds. Yeah, yeah. That'll be good. A rainbow of murders of people murdering each. Yes. But yeah, I mean, it is it's so funny how you can take something that is this classic conservative talking point and be like, well, OK, what about white on white crime like that also suggests there's something wrong with white people.
So the majority of murders in America are exclusively between men. Three quarters of murders are man on man.
Why don't we talk about man on man murders? But so I talked to a number of criminologists for this.
And what they all said was that like the most common form of murder in America is two men who get into some form of argument, some sort of altercation, and then the altercation escalates into violence.
One of them has a gun, both of them has a gun, etc. This is this is not the majority of murders in America, but this is like the largest portion of murders in America, the single largest slice on the pie chart.
Yes, but what's so interesting is because these murders are mainly taking place among men and mainly taking place in a very small number of high poverty neighborhoods and majority black neighborhoods.
These often get chalked up as gang related or drug related homicides.
What's really important to know about these things is that police departments and politicians are using these terms to get themselves off the hook for not solving these crimes.
So when we think about like gang related killings, you think of like assassinations or like it's over drug turf or like it's in some way sort of strategic and hierarchical. Right.
It's Game of Thrones on some scale. Exactly. But those are actually vanishingly small. The vast majority of these, quote unquote, gang related killings are like, yeah, people are sort of associated with different groups. It's like at a high school of like the wrestling team hates the lacrosse team.
They're like, oh, aren't you with the lacrosse team? Yeah, man, fuck. You know, fuck you. And then it escalates, right?
And then someone starts dating someone's ex and then they're all at Coldstone one after another and they start shoving.
But it really is like that kind of model. And so in L.A., where more than 60 percent of the homicides are considered gang related, the definition of that term is just that one of the people was in a gang. Doesn't matter the actual circumstances of the homicide.
And remember, L.A. and a lot of other cities in California have these, quote unquote, gang databases where they're putting in people like on suspicion of being in gangs with essentially no methodology whatsoever and no process for people coming out. Of those databases, so there are some cities where half of the black men between 18 and 26 are in these databases. So the minute one of those guys turns up, they're like, oh, it's gang related, right?
Because some cop at some point, for some reason that might have just been like a little inkling was like it might be in a gang. Let's check it out, make a note, make a note of it.
And then when it comes to drug related, I asked two different criminologists about this of like, OK, what drug related like that implies, like you're fighting over territory, et cetera.
One of them said that oftentimes what gets chalked up as drug related killings is like a drug dealer will sell people fake drugs and then their customers will come back and shoot them because like they're they're going through withdrawals and withdrawals.
Makes you really like angry and impulsive. And so a drug user killing their dealer, like, I guess that's drug related, but that's not drug related in the way that civilians understand that term.
Once you've also just been screwed by someone like it's theft, basically, like someone has defrauded you.
Yeah, it's like a revenge murder or a theft or like you can call it any number of other things. Right.
I also interviewed a researcher named Richard Rosenfeld, who also studies homicide dynamics, and he said that a lot of these, quote unquote, drug related homicides are driven by the fact that drugs are illegal, because if you own a flower shop with somebody and they completely screw you over or, you know, if one of your customers put something on layaway and then refuses to pay for it, there are mechanisms to deal with that.
Right. You can take them to court.
You can hire lawyers, you can report them publicly.
There's all kinds of other mechanisms that keep that from escalating into violence. But because drugs are illegal, there are no formal systems that you can go to. So you sort of have to rely on these informal systems to moderate disputes. There's also some police departments that will mark any murder as drug related if either the victim or the perpetrator has drugs on them.
So if you have some, like, weed gummies in your pocket and like somebody kills you over like a love triangle dispute, it's like, oh, it's drug related.
Yeah, I'll probably happen to me. But in the same way, it's like if we're talking about like you can title the murder after anything found on your body at the time that you were murdered, then you could also say it's baseball cap related, it's bracelet related, it's tampon related. I usually have a banana with me.
How do you keep it from getting smashed? It usually just gets smashed and I eat it anyway.
OK, it's not it's not a good strategy.
It's smashed banana related.
This to me is like this was like my big epiphany on my like reading and talking to Criminologist Journey. We're solving far fewer homicides in America, but a huge number of homicides that are taking place in America are pretty fucking solvable.
There's typically witnesses. These people know each other like these are not whodunnits. Right.
So why aren't we solving them? Like what's going wrong here?
So now we go to what are the things that make crimes more or less solvable to cool?
This is like a fun game show.
I want to have like an hour and I can, like, pick I was thinking of, like, I'm taking you deeper. Like, this is like I've given you the red pill, but now I'm giving you like the pink pill.
We go in the tank pill. Yeah.
Some cities have really high homicide clearance rates and some cities have really low homicide clearance rates. It's like pretty amazing. Some have like seventy five percent and some have like twenty five percent. There's two main factors that affect how likely police are to solve homicides.
And the first is competence. One of the most important factors for solving a homicide is getting there fast.
There's a really interesting study that compares cities with a lot of unsolved homicides to cities with very few unsolved homicides.
And one of the main factors that divides them is that the cities that saw the tone of their murders, cops can take cars home with them.
The homicide detectives don't have to get a call like there's a homicide on the corner of thirty first an elm or whatever, and then they have to drive to the police station, pick up a car and then go to the crime scene. And that ends up taking like 35, 40 minutes. Whereas in the cities where they solve more homicides, they just keep a car with them. They just like drive that home that night. And then if there's a call, they can get there within, you know, 15 minutes.
What are the reasons for not having them have a car with them at all times is a lack of funds. I mean, they have lots of money, so I guess not. How's this all working out?
The parts of the police departments that solve crimes are oftentimes the most underfunded parts of the police force.
Where is the money going, man? I know, dude. It's going to like low level stuff. A lot of these homicide departments run on overtime like this is how the detectives get paid and this is how they run, just like as a standard. But like you can't have a team of, like high level professionals that are working eighty hours a week. That's not an effective way to do your job is just to constantly be working.
No, you burn people out that way. Yeah.
And also a lot of them, they don't have copiers. They don't have like legal and administrative help. Like a lot of a lot of the tasks of solving murders is like, you know, finding suspects and like running checks, like it's a lot of tedious work and you need a lot of, like, low level workers to do that stuff.
You need to call people. You need to check in on stuff. You need to go and like interview, you know, twenty 30 witnesses. You just need like it just takes time to do that. And they're not investing in enough personnel to do that.
And Briscoe and Logan make it look so easy. I know it helps that everyone they talk to has like a perfect documentary like memory.
And this is one of the things that the study finds, too, and that one of the most important aspects of getting to a murder scene early is that you have to interview all the witnesses before they leave and before they start to talk to each other and their stories change.
That's why you need to get there within 15 minutes, because otherwise people are going to stand around and they're going to chat with each other and be like, oh, no, I saw this, I saw that, et cetera.
So a lot of it actually comes down to like the patrol, like the low level patrol officers that get there in like a couple minutes.
Those people need to be able to canvass the scene, preserve evidence and identify all the witnesses and keep them there and keep them apart from each other.
There's actually a study from 1971, this really famous Rand Corporation study, that said that 87 percent of all homicides were solved by the first officer on the scene.
Like, it doesn't have to be a detective. It's just like you show up and like there's a dead lady and like the husband is there crying with, like a gun in his hand.
You're like, oh, OK. And it's fresh, right? Yeah. You know, I think that the popular conservative belief is like crime is getting worse somehow or the police need more power to do something with. And if only they had it, then they could fix all this violence. And then when you look at like, OK, so we've had very good reason to believe and have known for a long time that it seems to come down to can we get the police on the scene extremely early?
Can we have the resources to, like, do all the tedious stuff? You know, if we know what we have to do and aren't doing it, then that suggests that that's not really where our interests are and the police are most invested in doing with our time.
Yeah, I mean, this gets to the next element of what you need to solve crimes, and that is trust.
What Wendy Rugosa, who studies homicide clearance rates. What she told me is that, you know, advances in forensics, advances in technology, etc. The most important thing for solving a homicide is can you get witnesses to talk to you like that's what it comes down to.
It's funny, we were just talking about this is like how journalism works and like, why would policing be any different?
Yeah, yeah. And so in this study of, you know, competent police departments and incompetent police departments, the incompetent police departments, the departments that were solving very few of their murders, they're like anonymous tips. Well, we never deal with it. We have a hotline number, but it's all bullshit. It's lies. But then the competent police departments, the ones that are solving more of their murders are like we use anonymous tips all the time.
We get good anonymous tips like this is where a suspect is hiding out this. You know, that gunshot you heard the other night? This is the person who did it. We actually rely on those a lot and they're really useful. And the difference is that those are the police departments that have built trust with the communities because people will actually report stuff to the cops because they don't think that someone is going to come and fuck and beat them up or like do some stop and frisk bullshit if they report something.
So you have sown the seeds of mistrust with communities and the researchers actually call it a barrier of mistrust.
It's like a wall has been built between the cops and the communities. Like you need communities to solve crimes. And the fewer crimes you solve, the more mistrust that is going to engender in the community. So it becomes this reinforcing cycle.
So like don't be feared by the community that you're trying to protect and that maybe you'll be able to protect them. Yeah. Or, you know, maybe you're not trying to protect them, but then don't give up on that and then claim that that's what you're trying to do.
I mean, one of the most interesting studies on this, this exact effect comes from a researcher named Donica Gordon, who looked at a city.
She had to anonymize it. She calls it River City. But I'm pretty sure at Chicago that went through a process of redrawing its districts for its police. You know, police have like the eastern precinct and the western precinct, like these are districts that are specifically drawn for like what is their jurisdiction going to be?
I do not know that, but I do know well, neither did I before I found this article. So so what Donica looks at is this process where they basically redistrict this entire city around the different strategies that police are going to have.
And so in these sort of wealthy district that includes the downtown, all of the policing strategies from the top down is based around preserving economic activity. Like we have to make things peaceful and nice so that, you know, law abiding citizens can get to work. In her article, she calls it District A. This is an excerpt. Two sets of practices characterize. Service provision in District A. First, officers provided prompt and thorough responses to citizens calls for service during ride along, patrol officers suggested that there was not less work in District A.
The work was just different than in other districts.
Citizens demanded prompt response, investigation and follow up as well connected residents of the city. They had the power to pass information along to local officials or police executives. One officer showed me an email complaint about loitering that a woman had sent to him with the district captain and a city council representative on the exchange in wealthier districts. It's just a completely different police force.
Yeah, I was just thinking of the police officers. And it's a wonderful life. Yes. Like what? Maybe they once were, right?
I mean, their studies of this that in New York in I think I was in North Manhattan, like the wealthier parts of Manhattan, there are fifteen detectives for every murder. And in the Bronx, which is much poorer, there are two detectives for every murder. So it's like the the entire structure of police departments is based around these totally different operations and strategies for different types of neighborhoods. And this is very explicit right there, like it's a low crime neighborhood.
So a lot of the policing is built around, like walking the beat, like popping in on businesses and being like, hey, Joe, how's business building relationships with people, sort of keeping your ear to the ground, responding to things very quickly.
You know, it's mostly like small things like noise complaints and stuff. And they're like they give out warnings.
It's it feels like what you're saying is that like being a like affluent neighborhood cop, a cop in a neighborhood of, I imagine, predominantly white people is like being Spiderman, where like you got a cat out of a tree and you help the citizens.
You are a helpful neighborhood protector. Right. And then once we get into policing neighborhoods where you have this adversarial relationship, maybe even are behaving essentially as an invading army. Yeah, you're not spider anymore. You're somebody else, right?
I mean, one of the things that really characterizes this strategy of policing and, you know, police talk about this very openly, that it's you know, it's about preserving quality of life. It's about preserving neighborhood character.
It's really about like keeping the peace, keeping things as they are.
Yes. Basically preserving the status quo is how a researcher put it to me.
I interviewed a researcher at Yale named Monica Bell, who wrote this great article on segregation and policing and how a lot of policing tactics are built around maintaining segregation, even though, like no one says that, but like that's baked into all of the priorities of these departments.
So I interviewed, like, I think it was eight researchers for this, three of whom were black. And all three of the black researchers had had the cops called on them, like while doing fieldwork and stuff. Monica Bell had the cops called on her twice. Once she was handing out flyers and like a wealthy neighborhood, like, hey, I'm a researcher, just want to talk to you about your neighborhood. Somebody called the cops like there's a woman handing out flyers.
There's a human trafficker. Yeah, exactly. Sounds like a trafficker. Yeah.
And then the second one is even worse. The second one, she was coming back from vacation, so she had like a bunch of luggage and backpack and stuff with her. She got to her building, but then she remembered that, like, her keys were like in some pocket of her backpack and she forgot. So she sort of puts down all of her stuff on her porch and starts like rifling through her stuff to look for her keys. And within 90 seconds, the cops just like appear out of nowhere.
And like a neighbor called us, do you live in this neighborhood? And they start asking her, of course, like she's condescending questions, right?
Like, do you live in the neighborhood? And she's like, yes, I live in this building. And they're like, do you, though, feel the way the cops do these?
Like, questioning why? It's like it just puts you on edge.
I don't because I've never been questioned by someone as if my house wasn't my house. But, you know, I've certainly spent a lot of time looking for keys in public. Yes.
But so she says I mean, you know, eventually she found her keys. She shows it to them. She shows that it works in the lock. They go home. But she says that happened 12 years ago.
But it still shapes the way I move about the world and where I choose to live. I don't live near many of my colleagues because that's not somewhere I feel comfortable. We understate the degree to which the avoidance of racism affects people's life decisions.
This is one of the consequences of this sort of maintain the peace, like keep things nice and pretty type of culture.
Respond to the demands of the residents of the neighborhood, whatever exactly they will be.
This actually shows up in statistics that like if you take a white person and a black person who both earn like whatever eighty thousand dollars a year, like a good income, the black person is going to be likely to live in a lower income neighborhood.
It's difficult to pass out the exact reasons for this. But what that ends up doing, of course, is that in general, the black person at the same level of income will send their kids to worse schools and they'll have worse public transport and they'll have less access to jobs.
Like you can just see the ways that this becomes this like generational hand down. So this is one of the consequences of this sort of two pronged approach to American policing that we have so backed.
Danica's article, she also talks about how the strategy is completely different in poor and black neighborhoods of the same city and of the same police department in poor neighborhoods because the crime rate is much higher.
It's all about this like proactive policing. The thing we were talking about earlier is sort of like broken windows, stop and frisk.
Like you just want cops visibly in the places where crimes occur, like you just have a very visible police presence to prevent crimes, she says.
After identifying small geographic areas where crime concentrated, captains deployed police officers to initiate encounters with citizens in the form of investigatory traffic stops and pedestrian stops.
So within a couple of years, this district like this sort of circle they drew around the high crime neighborhood had the highest rate of traffic stops and pedestrian stops in the city. They basically just start like surveilling people and stopping them and hassling for no particular reason.
It's like this weird, more all encompassing minority report where essentially like what you're doing is criminalizing an identity, like forming a self fulfilling prophecy. Right. I mean, because also I feel like the things that people of color get arrested for in this country and end up serving time for. I mean, there you know, sometimes there's like real crimes, but a lot of these crimes are just like non crimes.
Yeah. Or it's low level crimes that, like white kids get away with. Yes. Shoplifting. Like, when I was a kid, I shoplifted a shitload. I broke into like reservoir's like I did all kinds of stuff that if there had been police around, I would have been in trouble.
Yeah. It's like this is like one of the rites of passage of adolescence is like going to places where you aren't supposed to be like that's it's it's wholesome.
Yeah. Yeah. But in one of the challenges with this approach is that it did actually reduce crime. And this is what makes it so difficult to talk about.
Well, also it is my the minority report approach.
I think probably probably if you place a population under surveillance to this extent, like, yeah, it's you know, they're going to commit less crimes. But that also that doesn't mean that that's the only approach that would have reduced crime.
I had an old philosophy professor that would always talk about how if you really want to reduce crime, you would just lock up every boy in America between 16 and 24. The crime rate would be almost zero if you did that.
Yeah, they're going to come out, like, in real bad shape. Well, exactly. Like what are the costs of doing that? Right. Like reducing crime is not the only consideration that we as a society have.
You create greater problems for later on. Yes. And so one of the things that Donica also finds in this research is that because everything is focused on proactive policing, right.
This Minority Report shit, they're really, really, really slow to respond to calls that if somebody says, like, someone broke into my store, sometimes the police don't come till the next day.
Really? Yes. Why? Because they're like we're in the business of preventing imaginary crimes, ma'am.
Well, this is this is actually what the cops say to her is that they're focusing on violent crimes. They're focusing on murders and assaults and rapes and shootings. But that also means that all of their time is being spent trying to prevent and handle these high level serious crimes, which means all of the crimes below that just drop to the bottom of the priority list.
This is a quote from one of the residents in this neighborhood, the donica interviewed. The people here get shitty response times.
And yet you look at people in the rich neighborhoods, if their garage gets broken into, the police are there in 20 minutes.
Why is that? Another resident described her perception of the city's investments. Of course, they love the downtown, but our neighborhoods were like stepchildren.
So why do people not want to come forward when murders happen? Like, why don't people want to help the cops solve crimes? I fucking wonder.
Of course, people aren't going to believe the cops.
People are not going to want to help the cops. The cops are never there unless they're there to harass you. But when you actually need them, they don't show up.
This is also something that Briscoe and Logan are very good at or like they'll often have to question people in the neighborhood who are like, I don't want to talk to you. I'm, you know, a sex worker. And they're like, we don't care.
Tell us about the murder. And then people are like, OK. And I just always goes, great.
I mean, I also interviewed a researcher named Michael Sierra, a Ravello, who is a sociologist who spent a thousand hours on ride along with police.
Well, he won't tell me which cities, but it's three different cities. And so he says that, like, you know, whenever he tells people that, they always ask him, like, what did they say, racist shit. And he's like, you know what? They did say racist shit. Like, every once in a while they would say some racist shit.
But like the much bigger problem, if you could wave a magic wand and every single police officer, no racial bias, colorblind, be completely fine, right? Well, they're still working under these police departments that have completely different mandates, completely different operations. It's like they're they're different departments in different neighborhoods of cities. So it's like even if they're like super hearts and minds, whatever. They're still going to be way more of them in poor neighborhoods. It's going to be these dumb anti gang units in poor neighborhoods fucking with people.
They're still going to be stop and frisk in poor neighborhoods. What he said was these are policies working as intended. It's not that the system is good and like some racist cops are fucking it up, it's that the system is fucked up. And so, of course, racism makes all that worse. Right? Like, you know, we don't live in a world where there is no racial bias among police officers. But like, even if you got rid of that, it's just it's baked in these completely different operations, depending on which population is being policed.
I feel like this is like an example of making the wrong wesch. Right, because the answer shouldn't be like give the cops no racial bias, like make colorblind.
It's like no make the cops, like, very aware of race, but in a way where they're like, wait, am I a pawn in the machine of white supremacy? It certainly feels like it right now based on what I am being asked to do.
Yeah, like that's what's happening is that like police have destroyed any credibility that they have in the communities where they're trying to solve crimes like they have shot themselves in the foot with this shit.
Well, then it's like, do they even want to solve crimes? Like, is that what is that where the department's priorities are?
I mean, this is like a larger question of like, how much can we read into the intentions of these departments by their actions? Right.
Well, it actually reinforces the idea that the cops need sort of infinite power and discretion, exactness and sort of supports this world view were like, oh, my God, there's all these gang related murders. And the police are like war with these gangs and they're killing each other in these unsolvable, you know, dramatic turf war, Game of Thrones ways. And like more money, please.
Right, exactly. It's like, oh, we're fighting El Chapo. Like, of course, we didn't solve the murders.
And then, I mean, there's actual studies on this. Have you heard of this horrifying case of Frank Jewed? We heard about this in Milwaukee.
The name is familiar, but I don't know. Tell me, OK, this is rough.
So he's a black dude. He's with a friend. This is in 2004. He gets invited to a house party. I don't think he knows this, but the House party is hosted by a cop and there's just a lot of like off duty cops there.
And so as soon as he walks in, he's the only black dude and he just immediately notices, like, something's off.
I just feel kind of like looked at. And so after, like, I don't know, 45 minutes or an hour, him and his friend decide to leave. They're like, this is a weird vibe. We're just going to go they go out to the truck where they're like sort of starting the engine and about to go. A group of cops come out and accuse him of stealing one of their badges. Oh, my God.
It's not clear if this happened. It's not clear. But also, if he did, like, what would it. Yeah, who cares. Yeah. So they pull him, like, out of the window of the truck and just start beating him.
One of his friends says it looks like a bomb blew up in his face like it's the worst.
There's like a lot of really, really, really fucked up details of this that I'm not going to read out loud because they, like, make my stomach hurt, but just like unbelievably vicious beating.
Right. Why haven't I heard about this? I know it's I mean. Oh, and then this is the fucking and then this is this is the worst part that one of the neighbors calls 911 one another group of cops come, they put Frank Jude in handcuffs and then they join in the beating.
It's unfathomably awful.
And so there's a state trial. The cops are acquitted of fucking course. And then eventually the feds step in and they charged him in federal court and they'll get sentenced to like more than ten years. I mean, it's just like the whole thing is just an absolute fucking nightmare. And enflames I mean, Milwaukee's the most segregated city in America.
And researchers eventually look into this. This is like six years later they notice that after this happened, nine one one calls dropped by 17 percent.
Oh, yeah. Well, yeah.
Like, every time there's one of these high profile incidents of brutality, people look at this and they're like, why would I want to fucking add cops to this situation?
I can tell you, like, it's very hard for me to imagine a situation that would inspire me to call the police.
Oh, totally. Yeah. And of course, like not surprisingly, the dip in 911 calls was much more pronounced among black people than among white people. Oh, my God. Really?
I know. And then, I mean, in black neighborhoods, the dip lasted more than a year. So it's clear that like the ways in which cops sort of damage their credibility with these incidents, black communities are like more attuned to this stuff. Right. Like it it hurts more in those communities because it represents like what they've already seen themselves more.
I mean, white people don't get beaten by the police very often like it. It happens. But like, I do not feel myself to live in a surveillance state.
I also I mean, I actually think that, like, police brutality is like a multiracial problem, like, yeah. Even in poor white neighborhoods, there's some of this stuff. It's obviously not as bad as in poor black neighborhoods. But some of this is just the policing of poverty, too, like there's an intersection between poverty and race here as well. But so the last example that I want to give you is have you heard about this thing in Antelope Valley, California?
Have you heard about this? No. Where is that? It's outside of L.A. It's like north and like inland from L.A. This is a community that between 1990 and 2010 grows like it basically doubled in population.
And at the same time, it goes from being 80 percent white to 50 percent white.
The number of black people in this community basically triples over that time. And a lot of the people are moving there because they can no longer afford rent in L.A. So they're moving farther out to find cheaper rents.
And so a lot of the people are black and a lot of the people are using housing vouchers. So in the midst of this, the housing authority of Los Angeles County basically contracts the sheriff's department in Antelope Valley to help them administer housing vouchers. So there's like conditions for housing vouchers. You have to pay the security deposit. You have to pay the rent on time. There's things like everyone's although come and inspect to see like is an extra person living there or like, are you like renting it out to somebody else?
Right. And like pocketing the difference with the vouchers. And so the housing authority says like, well, we'll have the sheriffs do this right.
Like we'll have them investigate fraud, we'll have them check in on people.
And so what basically begins after that is a years long campaign of terror against the people who are living in subsidized housing.
This is from the eventual DOJ reports. More often than not, multiple deputy sheriffs, sometimes as many as nine, would accompany Housing Authority investigators on their administrative housing checks.
Deputies would routinely approach the voucher holders home with guns drawn occasionally in full SWAT armor and conduct searches and questioning once inside.
Oh, God, the sheriff's department immediately starts like blurring the lines between criminal investigations and like these dumb compliance checks. Right. Like checking in on somebody. I mean, like, is there one person living in this apartment or like, do you have a boyfriend he's sleeping over? That's not a criminal check, right? You're not evicted immediately.
There's like a whole thing that happens after that. But what they are doing is they basically start using these administrative checks as a pretense to get into people's apartments and then charge them with criminal anything.
I mean, this is just not how you treat people living in a society. This one's really bad.
And two thousand eight four deputies visited the home of a voucher holder for the purpose of conducting a probation compliance check.
Once inside the home, deputies and the investigator identified property that they suspected was stolen, including a Dolly Marcus property of the United Parcel Service. Ultimately, the deputies arrested the voucher holder for unlawful possession of the doli, which was estimated to cost twenty five dollars, even though they could not confirm that it was stolen.
Following the probation compliance check, the Housing Authority terminated the voucher holder from the voucher program for allegedly stealing the dollar.
And that's horrible because then I mean for so many reasons. But just think about potentially destroying someone's entire life. Yes. By taking away this equilibrium and taking away their housing.
There's also just like blatantly racist shit that some of the sheriff's deputies would go into the parking lots of these low income housing complexes and take photos of people's cars. And a lot of people drove like luxury cars, like nice cars.
And the cops would post them on a Facebook group called I Hate Section eight.
It's fucking rough, dude.
There's I mean, there's like use of force incidents. They're pulling people over at, like, insane rates.
Eventually, the DOJ investigates and it says this is like in the executive summary of the DOJ report that says that these actions were carried out with the intent that African-American voucher holders leave Antelope Valley.
So it's fully just like a campaign of terror intended to get people to live somewhere else.
One of the quotes that a black resident of Antelope Valley tells a newspaper years later, he says, I don't care about the KKK because I'm allowed to defend myself against the KKK.
Yeah, one of the things that Monica Bell and Richard Rosenfeld and other criminologists said is that what happens under these conditions is that it actually ends up creating crimes because it's not just that people are less likely to call 911 to report somebody else committing crimes. What happens is people are more likely to try to solve disputes themselves. Yeah. So one of the reasons why we have so many of these arguments that escalate between two dudes fighting over, you know, one guy owes another guy money, whatever, is because they don't trust the cops to come and mediate those disputes in any real way.
You know, you can imagine a rich neighborhood, you call the cops on your neighbor because they're playing loud music. Well, you can't really do that in a poor neighborhood because the cop is just going to make it worse. So you go over there, it becomes an argument. He happens to have a gun, you happen to have a gun, and it gets really ugly.
Right. Or you're just like, hey, my baby's sleeping. And like, maybe it doesn't escalate to murder, but it escalates to like. A scuffle like bad relations with the neighbor and then, I mean, guess the idea of, like, not being able to have a sort of third party whose job it is to mediate disputes. Yeah, it's just what people deserve to have in their lives.
And it's also something that, like people in rich neighborhoods kind of de facto do have that.
I mean, so much of the rhetoric that we have around policing now is a lot of people saying, like, well, you know, I don't see why everybody's so mad at the police.
I've only had good experiences with the police.
It's like, well, that's because police are being incentivized to give you good experiences in your neighborhood. A lot of this does come down to just like the legacy of segregation, which is behind like everything in America on some level.
And just like the total blindness of people who live in rich, quote unquote safe neighborhoods, too, like what the police are doing elsewhere.
The way that Michael here, Ravello talked to me about it is like this form of harsh policing, like the stop and frisk, the low level stuff, SWAT raids, all the sort of increased militarization of like the low level day to day activities of police. We've always said it's necessary to reduce crime. Right. But like we've never really reckoned with, like, the unintended consequences of that, the crimes we actually care about, the crimes we care more about, things like murder, rape, assaults.
It's actually making those more likely.
Yeah, that's interesting. And I feel like that's a symptom of the way that we sort of lump the concept of crime into something that is defined by its most severe outcomes.
The criminal kind of is the murderer and the American imagination. And when we talk about incarceration, I mean the conservative argument meme, how who will protect you from X if the police aren't here, you know, and it's like, well, it turns out that the police are causing more of X because they're invested in surveilling people and terrorizing them because that's the point.
Yeah, yeah. And if we have to have more unsolved murders as a consequence of the police getting to fulfill their role of keeping certain communities living in a state of terror, then like so be it.
Yeah, but I want to end with something kind of hopeful. Great. Slightly slightly later.
I've been thinking a lot this week about domestic violence and about the ways that we have reduced domestic violence. Like that's something that's actually like kind of a triumph. But what's interesting about that drop is that it wasn't done by like harsher policing, clearly.
Right. It wasn't done by like, let's lock up every single person who abuses their partner. Let's crack down, like, let's make the evidentiary standards much lower. Let's make sure we're locking up every single person who abuses their spouse. It's like, no, we need to, like, make hotlines available. We need to make counseling available. There's all these other services that can prevent it from happening in the first place.
And we've never really done that with, like, urban gun crime. Like, there's never been something of like, well, maybe we, like, focus on dropping the unemployment rate in these neighborhoods.
A lot like that would probably prevent a lot of murders or this idea that women are less likely to need to stay in abusive situations as women's incomes. Right. There's so much that higher income seems to make possible for people. It's really compelling, isn't it? Right.
Or like, you know, better schools. I mean, there's all kinds of things that you can do. We're talking about this now with like the opioid crisis. Right? Like we have to have treatment. We have to crack down on the companies, all this chain of responsibility that we're capable of conceiving of at every level.
But we've never really done that with gun crime in urban communities and like men killing each other over like pretty silly stuff.
That's not something that we've ever thought of outside of the frame of like we need to punish them.
So, so. So maybe we should do so. Let's do that.
I mean, you do that. OK, let's do it. So, yeah, this has been our bummer of a murder episode. Another Mike.
Bummer, I thought it was very helpful.
I thought you had some constructive ideas near the end of the first part was trash. Well, I'm not saying it was saying it was a bummer. Thank you. But it should be a bummer. Like we are attempting to provide something informative about like why are the police the way that they are? And hopefully we've done that. I think the fact that it was depressing suggests that we may have been successful.
Yes, sometimes reality is a bummer, you know. So, yeah, everyone be nice to each other, turn off true crime TV.
People can watch True Crime TV if they need to. It's a stressful time. Yes. Watch whatever the fuck you want and make the world a more just place as best you can.
And if you work on Forensic Files, get in touch. We have some comments.