This Washington Post article about homicide rates in Baltimore is important for two reasons. First, it confirms with updated statistics the killing spree that followed attacks on policing in Baltimore after Freddy Gray’s accidental death.
Second, it demonstrates why recidivism rates based on arrest statistics vastly understate the amount of crime committed by those released for prison. This point has major implications for the federal jailbreak legislation that recently became law.
First, the homicide stats. The Post reports:
Baltimore has seen a stunning surge of violence, with nearly a killing each day for the past three years in a city of 600,000. . . .
Baltimore is also one of 30 cities that have seen an increase in homicides in recent years, with the greatest raw number increase in killings of any city other than Chicago, which has four times the population. . . .
The wave of violence here began not long after the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray. . .“It’s an open market, open season for killing,” said Daphne Alston [a co-founder of Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United], whose son Tariq was murdered in 2008. “After Freddie Gray, things just went berserk.”
Actually, it was the left that went berserk. Local politicians failed to back the police when thugs rioted. They brought baseless charges against officers involved in the Gray incident (an African-American judge found each of the defendants whose cases he decided “not guilty” on all counts).
The Obama Justice Department attacked the police department in a heavy-handed effort to force it to adopt, in effect, criminal friendly policing practices. Not surprisingly, officers became passive, morale plummeted, and the police force shrank.
And, as the Post demonstrates, homicides surged.
This is mostly old news. The new element in the Post’s story — a related one — is the inability of Baltimore’s police force to solve homicides:
[H]omicide arrests have plummeted. City police made an arrest in 41 percent of homicides in 2014; last year, the rate was just 27 percent, a 14 percentage point drop. . . .
For most of the decade before 2015, Baltimore’s annual homicide arrest rate hovered at about 40 percent. Since 2015, the arrest rate hasn’t topped 30 percent in any year. And while most cities saw their arrest rates drop gradually, Baltimore’s decline was sudden — plummeting 15 percentage points in 2015, after Gray’s death, the largest single-year drop for any city already solving less than half its homicides.
There’s no mystery here. A depleted, demoralized police force is going to struggle to solve crimes, especially when crime is increasing. And a police force that’s demonized by politicians and the federal government is probably going to receive less help from residents in solving crimes than a force that’s not under concerted assault.
But here’s the point that’s relevant to legislation, like the recent jailbreak bill, that results in less jail time for criminals, especially felons. The inability of the police to solve crimes means that the recidivism statistics based on arrest rates vastly understate the amount of crime released prisoners actually commit.
The accepted practice is to calculate recidivism based on re-arrests. The shockingly high recidivism rates that result from this calculation demonstrate that early release and shorter sentences will produce huge amounts of crime that would have been avoided in the absence of leniency legislation.
Proponents of leniency argue that recidivism statistics are misleading because not everyone who’s arrested is actually guilty. That’s true, of course. Occasionally, police officers make mistakes.
But the leniency advocates are hiding the ball — as is their wont. The Baltimore experience shows how common it is for crime to result in no arrest. This is true not just of crimes like theft that sometimes aren’t even reported, but also of homicide, the most serious form of crime.
Even before the Freddy Gray effect kicked in, Baltimore officers were solving only about 40 percent of homicide cases, which is fairly typical of big cities (nationwide, the rate is about 60 percent). Now they are solving just slightly more than one-quarter of them.
Even without accounting for unsolved crimes, recidivism stats are alarming. Five out of six prisoners end up rearrested within nine years, according to a recent Justice Department study. 77 percent of drug offenders are rearrested for serious nondrug crimes, such as murder and rape. Think of how much worse the numbers would be if the police were more successful in arresting criminals.
No wonder Team Jailbreak fought, successfully, against an amendment offered by Sen. Tom Cotton that would have required disclosure of crimes committed by those who obtain early release under the Dick Durban/Mike Lee (Donald Trump/Jared Kushner/Heritage Foundantion/Van Jones)) legislation. Their main argument was that recidivism stats are misleading because not all arrests result in convictions.
This argument is misleading, at best, as we have seen. The real reason for opposing Cotton’s amendment is that recidivism information must be hidden, lest the backers of this legislation be held accountable for the dire consequences of their brainchild.