Stop-and-Frisk and the Crime Wave That Wasn’t

January 2, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

It’s hard to admit you were wrong even when you make a flat-out prediction of something that doesn’t happen. In 2010, twenty-three economists signed a letter predicting disastrous inflation because of Fed monetary policy. Four years and no inflation later, all but one stuck to their guns and refused to acknowledge that they were wrong. (For more details, see my post “Failed Prophecy and Sunk Costs.”)

And now Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. In 2013, when the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy was being challenged in court and in the City Council, she clearly saw the future. In City Journal, the house organ of the Manhattan Institute, she wrote an article called “Stop the Killing, Keep ‘Stop-and-Frisk.’” Stop-and frisk was stopping murder, she said, and ending the policy would reverse that positive trend.

Unless the politicians and editorialists pressing so hard for a radical reduction of stops can offer a crime-fighting strategy to rival the NYPD’s record, they are implicitly calling for a rise in violence.

Her interview on the National Review podcast “Need to Know” was summed up as follows by Jack Dunphy at Ricochet, a right-leaning website.

I’ve just now finished listening to the latest “Need to Know” podcast, in which Jay and Mona interviewed my friend Heather Mac Donald. . . . End stop-and-frisk, she says, and prepare to see the murder rate in New York climb once again.

MacDonald didn’t put it quite that simply, but the implication was clear. On that podcast, she also predicted that the end of “proactive policing” (mostly stop-and-frisk) would “destroy the city’s economic vitality.”

It didn’t happen – none of it. The court challenge to stop-and-frisk was upheld in 2013. Stops decreased dramatically. Crime did not increase. At all. Not that year and not in the years that followed. As this graph from Mother Jones shows, the rapid increase and then decrease in stops had virtually no effect on crime rates, which began to decrease in the early 1990s and continued their downward trend.

The graph goes up through 2015. In the next two years, the lines continued their slight downward trend. In the year just ended, New York had its lowest number of murders since the 1950s. Rates of other crimes have also remained low.

Three years of low crime following the decrease in stop-and-frisk was finally enough for some conservatives to admit that they were wrong. At National Review, Kyle Smith wrote a column with the headline “We Were Wrong About Stop-and-Frisk.”

Not Heather MacDonald. The title of her piece, also in National Review, warns us. “Don’t Take the Wrong Lessons from NYC’s Murder Drop.” Those wrong lessons are caricatures of those who disagree with her (“proactive policing like pedestrian stops is unnecessary, these cop critics say”). As for the continued low level of violence and murder, she attributes these crime trends to gentrification. She has a point. Demographic changes play a part, and the gentrification MacDonald describes is linked no doubt to that economic vitality that she said would die along with the reduction in stop-and-frisk. But demographic change happens gradually. The changes in stop-and-frisk were sudden. Their effects should have had immediate and noticeable effects. They didn’t.

UPDATE, Jan. 3: On Twitter, Mark Kleiman says that just although the big increase in stop-and-frisk had no effect during a period of relatively low crime rates, the policy might be effective when crime rates are high. I do not know of any relevant research on this, and Kleiman doesn't refer to any. But the targets of the policy, even during low-crime years, were high-crime neighborhoods and people who the police suspected of being high-crime people.

Punishing the Guilty – For Whose Benefit?

December 31, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston

“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” was written and filmed well before Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, Roy Moore, and all the others were in the news.  Yet the film has a remarkably timely incident, and it illustrates how men, even when they are sort of on the right side, the side of the victim, can be disappointingly obtuse. What the men want is retribution. That’s what will make them feel good. But in their focus on punishing the guilty, they ignore what the victim is asking for – understanding and  support

Half-brothers Andy and Matthew and their older sister Jean have come to visit their father in the hospital.  As they stand in the parking lot, they see another visitor, Paul, a friend of their father’s. Paul is old and infirm; he has to be carried to the hospital by a burly male nurse. This episode in the movie is called “Jean’s Story.” That incident is an incident from her teen years that she now to her two brothers for the first time.

She was visiting her parents on Martha’s Vineyard one summer.

JEAN: The next day, Dad played tennis and worked in his studio. I went down to the beach with the kids. I got to swim in the ocean which was really special for me. I loved that. Later, I showered in the outdoor shower with my suit on. And I realized someone was watching me. It was Paul. He smiled at me, almost politely and then he lowered his tight bathing suit, took out his penis and started stroking it.

MATT: Oh God.

DANNY: Paul did?!

JEAN: I watched him until he finished. Then he walked away.

DANNY: Did you tell anyone?

JEAN: I told Dad that night and he asked if Paul had touched me and I said, No. He thought we should probably just leave it then, they were going back to the City soon anyway. But that if Paul did it again, he’d punch him in the nose. The next day when I was leaving, I looked around for Dad to say goodbye, but he was playing tennis. I thought about telling your Mom, Matthew, but I was afraid she’d get angry at me. I remember crying on my way to the ferry.

Jean leaves, and the brothers try to think of what to do. “Do we kick the shit out of him?” Danny suggests, but they realize this might kill the old man, and besides, what if the burly nurse stepped in? So they decide to trash Paul’s car. They are inept at first but soon get the hang of it, kicking the mirrors, twisting off the wipers, smashing the windshield with a rock.

They are exhilirated and quite proud of themselves.

MATT:  That felt great.
DANNY:  I don’t know why we don’t do that more often.

A few minutes later, they excitedly show Jean their handiwork, but her reaction is not what they expected. It’s more like the reaction to a couple of little boys who had done something stupid. “We thought you’d be happy,” says Danny.

The brothers were In fact acting like a couple of little boys, and they did do something stupid. And even though they are grown men, Jean still has to explain it to them.

MATT: He has dementia?

ELIZA [Matt’s 18-year old daughter]: (nods) Yeah.

MATT:  He has dementia.

DANNY: Well, he didn’t have dementia when he molested Jean.

JEAN: He didn’t molest me.

DANNY: (losing steam) But let’s not minimize it, Jean. What he did was shitty and damaging and I don’t know...that same asshole is in there somewhere... Right? Beneath the dementia.

JEAN: I’m glad you guys feel better. Unfortunately I’m still fucked up.

DANNY: Do you want to take a swing?

JEAN: I could smash every car in this parking lot and burn the hospital down and it wouldn’t un-fuck me up.
You guys will never understand what it’s like to be me in this

The mens’ aggression – towards Paul and in a later scene towards one another – brings them closer together. But when it comes to doing something for their sister, all they can think to do is offer her a chance to participate in punishing the guilty (or at least his car). They are clueless.

Flashback – Eco v. Macho

December 28, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston

It’s not manly being green. That’s the finding of two researchers (Aaron Brough and James Wilkie) writing at Scientific American two days ago (here).

men may shun eco-friendly behavior because of what it conveys about their masculinity. It’s not that men don’t care about the environment. But they also tend to want to feel macho, and they worry that eco-friendly behaviors might brand them as feminine.

The authors ask the practical question, “What can pro-environmental marketers do to buffer against the threat posed to men by the green-feminine stereotype?” They make a general prescription – brand green behavior as manly – but aside from some small suggestions (bold fonts, wild wilderness imagery), no specific examples.

I have news for them. Texas figured it out long ago. I blogged it back in 2009. Here is that post.


September 6, 2009

the brand consultant was consulting with me – i.e., he was picking up the cappuccino tab at Starbucks. He was about to start teaching a course called something like “Communications and Public Affairs,” and not being an academic (though he’s a really good teacher), he wanted some advice on the syllabus.

We finally got around to the idea that Messages about Issues had to be tailored for specific Audiences or Publics, particularly their Interests and Values. (Those capitalized words were possible major headings in the syllabus.)

I immediately thought of the example of Texas and litter. How could you convince Texans to be more respectful of public places and not toss all that crap out onto the roads they drove on? The Ladybird Johnson approach – “Highway Beautification”? Wrong audience. The people who were littering obviously didn’t care about highway beauty.

The guy you were trying to reach was Bubba, the classic red stater – fiercely individualistic, anti-government, macho. Bubba was also a slob, and probably proud of it. You couldn’t appeal to self-interest since it’s in Bubba’s self-interest to chuck his garbage out the window. Even hefty fines (and they are hefty) would work only if you could catch litterers often enough – unlikely on the Texas highways.

The best way in was Values. But how? “Don’t be a Litterbug, Keep Your Community Clean” would be too nice, too feminine or babyish, and, like “Pitch In” too collectivist. Instead, Roy Spence and Tim McClure at the Austin ad agency GSD&M had the Texas DOT go with chauvinism – Texas chauvinism. Spence and McClure were the ones who had distilled the target audience down to the Bubba stereotype, and the idea they played on to reach Bubba was not that littering was ugly or wrong or costly, but that it hurt Texas. And thus in 1985 was born one of the most famous and effective campaigns in the history of advertising.

With its double meaning of “mess,” it captured Bubba’s patriotism and pugnacity. The bumper stickers were soon everywhere. The TV ads featured famous proud Texans. One of the early ones  featured Too-Tall Jones and Randy White, two of the toughest dudes on the Cowboys defense, picking up roadside trash.

Edited ranscript:
JONES: You see the guy who threw this out the window, you tell him I got a message for him.

WHITE: (picks up a beer can): I got a message for him too.

OFF-CAMERA VOICE: What’s that?

WHITE: (Crushes the beer can with one fist). Well, I kinda need to see him to deliver it.

JONES: Don’t mess with Texas.
Litter in Texas has been reduced by 72%, the campaign is still going strong a quarter-century later, and McLure and Spence have a book about it. My source was Made to Stick by the Heath Brothers (no, jazzers, not those Heath brothers), Chip and Dan.

Science v. Community Wishes

December 27, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston

The CDC didn’t ban those seven words (fetus, vulnerable, diversity, evidence-based, science-based, entitlement, transgender). It suggested that their writers not use them. This was not a diktat from the White House. It was not blatant censorship. More likely the suggestion came from a CDC career staffer trying to protect the Center from Congress. He or she was saying in effect, “We face cutbacks. If you want Congress to fund a project, don’t put these words in your proposal.”
Here’s the telling sentence from the memo

Instead of “science-based” or -“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”

It could be worse. And it is worse in other regions of the Trump administration. At the EPA and the Department of Energy, the term “climate change” is disappearing (and the administration demanded a list of names of scientists there doing research on this non-existent thing, whatever it’s called.)

But the CDC memo is still pretty bad. Never in the past had it been necessary to caution staffers not to use science-based or evidence-based when writing something Congress members and their staffs might read. That was then. Now, the Republicans are in control, and for them, apparently, politics and ideology trump science and evidence. Do the runoffs from strip mining contaminate the water so that more people become sick and die from cancer and other diseases? Well, not if “the community” wishes it not to be so. (There’s also the question of just who “the community” is.) What about childhood immunization? If you live in an area with lots of anti-vaxxers, the CDC, in making its recommendation, will weigh those community wishes against science and the evidence on rates of autism (vaccination does not increase risk) and measles (non-vaccination increases risk).

The other ominous suggestion in the memo is that research has to be compatible with Republican ideology. If there’s a chance that the results, the evidence, will reveal negative consequences of Republican policies, the study won’t be funded. If you are going to study the effects on vulnerable, diverse populations (e.,g., transgender people or people dependent on entitlement programs), better find another way to describe them.