I was disappointed to see that Instapundit (Glenn Reynolds) commented favorably on Heather Mac Donald’s piece concerning hecklers at Brown University. Of course, heckling has no place on a campus, which should be a haven for rational discourse. However, the essence of Mac Donald’s article was that NYC’s enhanced stop-and-frisk was the explanation for the significant decline in the NYC crime rate and the students were stupid for questioning it.
I actually looked at this issue a couple of months ago because I’ve been extremely skeptical of the claims that policing explains the drop. In criminology, it is generally accepted that the deterrent effect of police is a minor contribution, if it is one at all. The most important determinants of crime rate are demographic and socioeconomic, with the %-age of the population that is male and 15-24 being one of the best predictors. What I’ve found doesn’t support the claim that policing (broken windows and later enhanced stop and frisk) explained the drop. I focused on homicides as a proxy because those data are generally easy to find. The first thing I found was that after the 1990 peak, homicides began a precipitous drop. The drop continued for at least 5 years before Giuliani was able to put his new policing program in place. One can reasonably question the policing claims on the basis of post hoc ergo propter hoc.
It would be fair to counter that, although a decline was in progress, it continued and even accelerated BECAUSE of policing tactics. But actual research in this area can’t find much of a correlation. The Freakonomics guys argued that a major factor in the decline of crime in the US and NYC was legalized abortion. This is another way of offering up the demographic argument centered on the %-age of 15-24 year old males, claiming that cohort was reduced by abortion. Without going into details, I found the abortion argument unconvincing.
Whether abortion played a significant role, demographics and socioeconomic factors remain the best explanation. One thing that Mac Donald notes is that Blacks comprise 23% of the population and they, as a group, commit a disproportionate percentage of crimes. This sad statistic is found in most large cities in the US. Mac Donald is actually on the correct analytical path but instead uses the statistic to justify massive violations of the 4th Amendment. Since it is the case that the inner-city Black population is the most criminogenic, why not look at some other representative cities and their demographics and see what that tells us.
Chicago was 33%+ Black in 2010. Therefore, we’d expect a higher murder rate than NYC, and sure enough, that’s what we see. But Chicago’s murder rate, relative to NYC’s, is much higher than the 33% would predict. Policing? Consider this. Chicago has been in general population decline since 1950. Moreover, there is very good evidence that “Black flight” from the inner city has begun and mirrors the earlier “White flight”: more affluent Blacks are moving out of the city to the suburbs or even out of state. This has had the effect of producing a higher concentration of low SES Blacks in the city. It magnifies the crime/murder impact, relative to NYC. Even more striking is Detroit, which is now >80% Black. Everyone who could leave has left. And Detroit has a very high murder rate.
What about NYC? In contrast to Chicago and Detroit, its population continues to increase. NYC also has one of the highest percentages of immigrants of any large city. I didn’t bother to find out what percentage of immigrants would fall into the category of Black but it is fair to say that there must be some percentage who do. Legal immigrants tend to have a low crime rate. If it is the case that the current Black population of NYC is simply in much better shape economically than is the case in most other cities, that alone would explain the difference. Has anyone done an in-depth analysis of Black SES in NYC?
I didn’t bother to really dig but it seems to me that Mac Donald, someone who is actually PAID to do that sort of analysis, should have given it a go. I’m satisfied to raise legitimate questions and leave the rest as an exercise for the student - or in this case as an exercise for the putative scholar.
I’m fine with someone challenging the rationale for a constitutional right like the 4th and arguing for repeal on utilitarian grounds (though Mac Donald goes way beyond that, seemingly denying there is a right involved). Since we are talking about a constitutional right, the utilitarian argument must be compelling. Mac Donald doesn’t meet that burden. Not even close.
As a final thought, there may be a level of unscientific idiocy spouted by someone like the typical police bureaucrat on a college campus that is severely provocative. I don’t think the hecklers should have succumbed, particularly when there are such good arguments with which to tie this Commissioner up. They should have at least given the guy a chance to beclown himself. Their professors should have taught the hecklers how much fun it is to humiliate a pompous know-nothing with a devastating counter-argument. Shouting someone down deprives a person of one of life’s great pleasures.