Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Armed Crime Deterrence in Metropolitan America: Making the Patchwork More Transparent

This is not an article about the 2nd Amendment.  This is not an article about gun control.  This is an article about what we've lost track of because we've lost our perspective.

I’ve grown tired of positional arguments about guns.  I understand the emotional passions that surround them but I do not agree that satisfying those emotions has much bearing or merit on what’s right for making sound public policy when it comes to how firearms figure into managing public safety and crime deterrence in the United States.

At the core of the animus laden political debate about guns is how they affect crime deterrence in metropolitan America.  Yes there a hunters who live in metropolitan American.  They drive hours out of their way to target practice and hunt.  Outside of a firing range with a backstop built to withstand the pummeling of ammunition hitting at well over 1,500 foot-pounds of force, most pistol bullets have one-third that energy level, one does not discharge a high powered rifle within the city limits nor stalk deer browsing on the decorative plantings on your lawn, if you have a lawn.  Nope, the primary purpose of firearms in the metropolitan America is as a tool to deter, dissuade or thwart criminals on the one hand, and as a tool to commit crimes on the other.  Guns, being intimate objects don’t care on which side of the equation they are used.  Humans, being sentient beings, do care and do bear responsibilities to understand how these tools are part of their environment they live in regardless of whether they like them or not.

So once again, I step back and start to ask questions.  What factors should a police chief, a sheriff, a mayor, a city council member, a county supervisor, a state assembly person, a state senator, an attorney general, a governor, a U.S. Representative or a U.S. Senator really be taking into account when contemplating public policy about the cost-benefit economics of the role of firearms in metropolitan public safety?  What level of competence in looking at the issue objectively should the voting public expect and demand these officials demonstrate and explain cogently to them?   Certainly the people don't want civic leader that are bought and paid for drones of lobbyists whose agendas pivot on dividing communities into favored and despised camps.  No, that's not the kind of answer that's in the national interest.

The next logical question then becomes do public officials have any clue as to what the matrix of guns in in their area and how they fit into the crime deterrence equations really works in their respective jurisdictions?   Probably not.   Crime analysts certainly know that 98% to 99% of law enforcement in the United States happens because of voluntary compliance by people who view the laws they follow as reasonable.  Crime analysts also know that of a the small fraction of a population that does no obey the law only a tiny fraction of these, 1% to3%, demonstrate a dangerous propensity to violence that may necessitate the threat of lethal force to dissuade them or the use of lethal force to interdict them.  And don’t kid yourself with placebos and substitutes, the best technology we have at this time to do that at the moment a threat emerges is a gun.  Crime analysts also know that as metropolitan population density increases and we pack more people into the same square mile of living space, the probability of encountering someone with violent intent increases.  You can measure this stuff.  You can test it against crime statistics databases.  It bears out as what math people call highly correlated indicators; meaning, it’s probably true.

What public officials understand even less is what the actual firearms equipped resources within a community to deter, dissuade or interdict violent crime are.  In today's superficial America, governing objectivity has become obscured by the political dialog of lightning rod terms like “cold dead hands” or “ammosexuals” – we’ve all suffered the barrage of memes, tweets and anonymous comments that are the “gift(?)” of the Internet.

Getting back to reality, public officials know about some of the crime fighting resources.  For others, they are quite frankly oblivious to them.  This is not good.  What happens because of this imperfect assessment is that public policy – like most imperfect things – then over relies on what it knows and fails to use what is doesn’t see.

So that begs the question, “What specific items should public officials see as being part of their real hand of cards to play to manage public safety?   Having convinced myself that I was not satisfied with the status quo; naturally, I made a list.

The top of the list is of course the police force.  More specifically, the portion of the police force that is out on the street patrolling and looking for crime to stop.  When you look into it further, you find that only about one-third of the total number of sworn officers are on duty at a given time, an artifact of the job being a 24/7 shift work process.  Of the ones on duty, less than half are “in the field” doing things like patrol and traffic enforcement; the number of effective units gets cut even more if patrol deploys a fraction of their units in what are called Adam or 2-person units; a single officer car is called a Lincoln, as in lone officer, unit.   And that’s for police departments.  The fraction gets cut further for a sheriff’s department where portions of the staff are assigned to jail or court duties; it can be about half of the daily workload of a sheriff’s office.  There’s a reason it’s called a thin blue line.

That’s about where political analytics about armed intervention in crime management ends most of the time.

In my own surveys of U.S. cities, the purest model for reliance of a police force for public security is the City of New York where 34,000+ sworn officers protect and serve – some would belabor that description – a population of 8 million occupying 304 square miles.  This is the densest major metropolitan police per capita concentration in America.

In contrast, the cities of Los Angeles and Chicago have police forces one-third that size.   The latter two are more in line with the force to population ratios found in municipalities in most of America. This sizing equation may be cultural but is more likely an economically supportable capacity limit for most of urban America.

The New York exception case has always fascinated me because it’s also a city where the use of a firearm by almost anyone else to defend against violent crime is likely to cause more legal trouble for the defender than the perpetrator.  Many a borough resident I’ve met marvels at the thought that it’s legal for most of America to even touch a handgun without getting arrested west of the Hudson River. Their fascination about firearms is exceeded only by the Japanese I’ve met that visit California ranges by the tour bus load for the novelty chance to touch and fire a gun.  In New York, gun permits are few and far between.  They are the province of the connected; those elite enough to be worthy.   It’s very much an all-in faith in government crime management strategy.

Being as student of global stability, I've also studied how hard it is to change human behavior patterns that are shaped by past catastrophes – a sort of cultural PTSD if you will.  This aspect of regional behavior is crucial to understanding the interaction of warring parties in other parts of the world, I’ve often wondered if New York policing has evolved similarly.  In this case, I look back to how the British garrisoned New York during the Revolutionary War.  As the war turned into a siege, the British piled soldiers into the city carrying on a 18th century version of "stop and frisk" effectively turning the garrison into a open prison to quell dissent.  At the time, troops took their liberties with the populace; a form of terror meant to reinforce control.  The occupiers also handed out favors; another form of power reinforcing control that goes back to ancient times.  In the end, the King’s forces withdrew.  But this model of governance in force seems to echo on.  To be fair, the approach does work and the City of New York is a far safer place today than in was in the 1990’s when they brilliantly papered over the city’s problems with bumper stickers and commercials designed to instill more cultural pride.  But a legion of officers is a costly 1% policing solution.  Economically, too costly for 99% of the rest of America that shares neither the history living under an all-in governance model, and in fact is mostly repelled by such notions, nor the ability to spend up for such a model.

It used to be hard to argue that there were viable alternatives to the New York model.  What you mostly found were cities where the economics of big policing did not work lamenting that their departments were woefully too small.  And then of course, they were hit with the reality that there are competing municipal priorities like keeping pot holes filled, power, water and sewage systems running, and business, building and zoning permits managed.  One is quickly reminded that there is no free lunch in America, even if you are the government.

Then alternative models began to emerge.  First in the form of the “Every Home has a Gun” press coverage phenomenon legislated by a municipality called Kennesaw in Georgia.  Don’t get too hot under the collar about that one if you don’t like guns; just remember that even without such "encouragement" laws, 34% of U.S. households have at least one firearm in them.  Google it or ask Siri if you don't believe me.

Then came the “Stand Your Ground” movement emphasizing self-defense outside the home.  This movement’s been around enough now to collect information to show that it does have deterrent, dissuasion and interdiction properties and violent crime generally does decrease in metropolitan zones where it is implemented.  Don’t whine about it.  Learn to use the internet like your children do and use it to read up on the FBI crime statistics.  See for yourself there’s a growing body of evidence to demonstrate a negative correlation effect; that means more CCW’s results in lower violent crime rates.

So much for the political footballs.  There's more.

All along, and strangely ignored by government planners, there were also contributions by armed security guard forces.  These are organized in both limited scope uncoordinated law enforcement resources like campus police, metro police, et al.  There are also separately licensed and certified paid armed security guards used for things from commercial building protection to guarding armored cars.

Finally, for some reasons not on anyone's radar are owner defended businesses.  Things like shopkeepers (fixed point defenses) and cab drivers (mobile location defenses) keeping guns tucked away but ready to use.  If you scour media reports, it turns out they do a fair share of the real world encounters entering into armed combat with criminals.

That’s a lot more guns in circulation for defense in metropolitan America than simplistic low information propaganda will tell you.   From a public safety policy management perspective, this totality of arms kept and borne in circulation in a metropolitan community is not something to ignore selectively, it’s something to measure in totality and leverage upon.

Objectively, it’s important that public policy planners look at these components of the so-called “good guys” equation without tainting their analysis by dismissing what may be some of the most cost effective means to increase both the perception and reality of crime deterrence by the use of credible countermeasures in their communities.

No silly dilly, “kumbaya” is not a credible deterrent to that minuscule slice of miscreants in our midst who are already prohibited class individuals in illegal possession of a firearm with violent intent that know “their money” is in your purse or home that are on the prowl to see if you are today’s easy mark.  Statistically, you will come within 100 feet of at least one of them once each day every day in a metropolitan area.  Wake up and smell some coffee.  Get your nose out of that cell phone and pivot your head around and be aware of your surroundings so they pick someone else to accost; that’s the deter and dissuade part of self-defense.  Use it.

So how to leverage the totality of a community?  Is there a way to quantify the net effect of all these armed force elements into come cohesive picture Is there a tool public officials can use to bring together the data and see what the numbers say?  I believe there is and I’m building one.  Like I once built a model to expose which small banks were safe and sound to make the banking financial crisis more transparent for ordinary Americans – you may remember it as “Move Your Money” – I’m building another model that does what strategic analysts call a “net assessment” – bringing all the known and previously ignored factors together into an overall measurement.

From there, maybe real “common sense” can emerge.  Stay tuned.

Update 4/22/2016:
This is more than just an article, Click Here to explore my "Armed Crime Deterrence" computer model.

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