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Stubborn Facts About Crime

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Stubborn Facts About Crime

10 Blocks podcast October 7, 2021
Public safety
Politics and law

Thomas Hogan joins Brian Anderson to discuss the three laws of crime concentration in the U.S., the extent to which academic research informs the practice of law enforcement, and the “progressive prosecutor” movement.

Audio Transcript

Brian Anderson: Welcome back to the 10 Blocks podcast. This is Brian Anderson, the editor of City Journal. Joining me on today's show is Tom Hogan. Tom is a lawyer who's served in a variety of different roles, including as a federal prosecutor, the elected district attorney of Chester County in Pennsylvania, and he's served as a partner doing criminal defense work at major law firms. He's a graduate of criminology graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania and he's written now ten pieces for City Journal about crime, law enforcement, and the progressive prosecutor movement. This will be his first time on 10 Blocks. So, Tom, thanks very much for joining us and thanks for these excellent pieces you've been writing for City Journal.

Tom Hogan: A pleasure to be on, Brian, and pleasure to work with the staff at City Journal. They're great.

Brian Anderson: You know, I'd like to start with one of your most recent pieces. This is the one you co-authored with John Macdonald, who's a professor of criminology at the University of Pennsylvania. This piece talks about the three laws of crime concentration. Roughly, these hold that crime is concentrated among a small group of persistent offenders; it's in a select few neighborhoods or even blocks; and at certain periods of time, whether in the night or wee hours of the morning. It's become fashionable on the center-left to cite supposed experts as a means to foreclose debate about contentious topics, but we tend not to hear from the New York Times about the expert consensus on crime. So, what are these three laws of crime concentration, if you could speak a bit about each one? And, how solid is the empirical evidence that backs them up?

Tom Hogan: Sure. And, it was great to write this with John Macdonald, who's really a leading scholar, respected by everybody on the right and the left in academia and the general public. So, it was great to do this with him. But simply put, crime is incredibly concentrated across time, people and places. And, one of those is very intuitive. Everybody gets it the minute you bring it up. The other two are a little less intuitive and require a little unpacking. So, let's take them one at a time and I'll go through each one and then, Brian, after each one, you know, tell me what sort of follow up questions you have.

But the first one is the most intuitive one. Let's start with the easy one. Crime is very concentrated by time. And, what we see here is what everybody would expect, which is, Brian, if you got up this morning, went for your morning constitutional at 5:00 in the morning on a Wednesday morning on a brisk fall day, what are the chances of you being shot? Not very high, because when would we expect there to be violent crime? Well, first, from a time perspective, we're expecting it between 10:00 at night at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. That is when people have had enough to drink, have used drugs, are all out on the streets. So, that's when it's going to happen. It's not going to happen to you at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning when you're out for your morning constitutional.

The second part of time that everyone grasps right away is what day of the week is this going to happen. Oh, it's going to be weekend evenings, weekend nights. It's going to be that Thursday, Friday, Saturday. And, that's. . . . Again, people get off of work. People go out. You have offenders and victims interacting. And, that's when you're going to see crime. And, then, what time of the year are we going to see it? No big surprise again. It's the summer. It's when it's hot out.

And, probably the best way of wrapping all this up that I ever heard was from an old cop and he said, "Criminals are a lot like cats. They don't like to get up in the... Early in the morning. They don't like it when it's cold and they don't like it when it's raining." And, that really wraps it up. So, weekends, the nights between 10:00 at night and 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and the hot months is the concentration across time, and that holds across cities in the United States and cities across the world. The only real variations you get there is you get some cultural variations. For instance, in Spain, where they might be eating later at 9:00 or 10:00 at night, then you would move that back to 11:00 to 3:00 in the morning.

Brian Anderson: How much of a factor, Tom, in this do you think, and this is a speculative question, is people drinking, partying, doing drugs? You know, that tends to go on later at night. Is that one of the big factors driving this?

Tom Hogan: The fact that people are either at the end of their workweek or the end of everyone else's workweek is when people have money and time on their hands and idle hands make for the devil's workshop, so, yes. You mix in drugs and alcohol with nighttime and you are going to absolutely see more crime. But, yeah. Night certainly has something to do with it. Even if you are under stadium lighting in north Philly or in Manhattan, there's still going to be more crime at night.

Brian Anderson: So, that's one.

Tom Hogan: That's one. And, that's the one that everyone gets right away. Everyone's like, "Yeah, we get it. There's going to be a lot more crime on the weekends and when it's hot and late at night."

The second one, though, is that crime is incredibly concentrated in people and that is 5 percent of offenders in any city are responsible for 50 percent of the crime. And, to think of that another way, suppose you could get rid of 5 percent of the offenders in the city and your homicide rate went down by 50 percent. And, everyone would say, "Wow. That's a huge jump." And, it really is, and the important thing there is it's not 5 percent of the people in the city. It's 5 percent of the offenders. So, take a city like Philadelphia, one point five million people. Say there are 100,000 offenders. Well, 5,000 of those offenders in the city of Philadelphia are responsible for 50 percent of the violent crime in the city. That is a very small number of people engaged in a very large amount of violence.

Now, there's some good news tucked in there and that good news is, hey, 95 percent of the people in Philadelphia are good, law-abiding folks who just want to live their lives. They want to work. They want to raise their families. And, it's this other 5 percent, very concentrated among the offenders themselves, who are really causing all of this violence. And, again, this has been replicated in cities around the world. As a matter of fact, there's a study out of Switzerland that got it down to 1 percent of violent offenders caused over 60 percent of the crime there.

So, the good news there, not only for the people in the cities but for law enforcement... You don't have to concentrate on 100,000 offenders. You need to concentrate on these 5,000 offenders who are causing 50 percent of the crime. And, I suspect if I went to the city of Philadelphia and told them, "Hey. If we can get these 5,000 guys off the streets and cut what is becoming an historic murder wave in Philadelphia by half, will you guys be good with that?" Pretty sure most of the people in Philadelphia would say, "Yeah. Absolutely. We need to stop the bloodshed."

So, that's our second concentration and that has held everywhere.

The third concentration of crime is place and this is another one that catches people by surprise a little bit, and that is that less than 5 percent of the addresses in a city are responsible for over 50 percent of the violent crime calls. And, people want to say, "All right. So, you're saying that neighborhoods are violent?" And, that's not what we're saying. What we're saying is you get it down to very specifically 5 percent of the addresses in a city, and sitting here as a prosecutor, I can still remember what those addresses were. Seventh and Diamond Street. Third and Indiana. Fifth and Olive. I could take you to houses there and those houses are going to be responsible for 50 percent of the violent crime calls to the police.

And, what are those houses? Well, they're drug houses or they're gang houses or it might be a check cashing spot where people are getting robbed consistently. It might be a liquor store. And, again, most places in a city are safe, but these 5 percent are kicking off a huge amount of crime. And, so, with that concentration, you've got to think, "Well, what's going on there?" And, what's going on there is obviously if it's a drug house, you are an attractive nuisance. You are attracting drug users. You are attracting people who want to rob the place because there are drugs and money in there. If it's a gang house, you see what you saw in Chicago, where you saw the mutual combat call by Kim Foxx, where two gangs got into it in a house and engaged in a shootout.

But because of this concentration, we know that a relatively small number of addresses are responsible for a huge amount of the violent crime in any city.

Brian Anderson: You know, Tom, you started talking about this, but all of these laws have obvious implications for crime fighting. So, you know, if you do know that crime is happening not just in a neighborhood but in a specific apartment or a specific block or between these hours on these particular days, or it's more probable in terms of its occurrence, then you would naturally adjust your policing strategy, right? So, this was behind the precision policing idea. You know, that Bill Bratton was pursuing in New York. I wonder, though, how often is this happening in practice? How much policing is now being driven by these laws?

Tom Hogan: That's a great question because the theory is useless without putting it into practice and the simple answer is it's really two questions bound up there. One is, are police aware of these concentrations? And, are they reacting to it? The first question is, 100 percent, police everywhere are aware of these concentrations. You get to any cop who's been on the beat for three years and you ask them, "Who are the problems in this neighborhood?" he'll give you the six or seven names. You ask him where are the problems, he'll take you to the addresses. You ask him where or when are the problems, he'll tell you weekend, night shifts. So, police have known this for a long time.

Are they reacting to it appropriately? Some are, in a very sophisticated fashion. Bill Bratton is a good example. They use this precision policing to great effect in New York and it was actually modeled on a federal program, which was Project Safe Neighborhoods. We, when I was a prosecutor, used it in a city called Coatesville, which is a little bit like Flint, Michigan. It's an old steel town that had a lot of violence and drugs. And, we used it for seven straight years. I was laughing when I read Bill Bratton's article. He said he started it in 2015, and we started ours in 2012, and it took the homicide rate down from roughly 80 per 100,000 in Coatesville down to zero for multiple years. And, we did that by concentrating on the very specific people, the very specific places, and then these times. Those weekend times, we would flood the zone with patrol cars and people on bikes, and then, we would go after these specific houses, and once we got drug buys out of them, we'd hit them with search warrants and move those houses out.

And, the people? You know, you don't have to do anything to entrap them. You just have to know who they are and wait for them to commit a crime and then once they've committed a crime, make sure that prosecutors are there to work with the police. But, that last point's a very important point. The police can do all of this stuff, pay attention to all of this crime concentration, but unless the prosecutors are there at the other end to work with the police, to lock up this 5 percent, to lock down these 5 percent of locations, and to work with them on taking care of these timeframes, then the police can work as hard as they want. It won't move violent crime at all if you don't have a prosecutor working with you.

Brian Anderson: Well, you've written quite a bit, and that was going to be my next question, about this movement of progressive prosecutors. You know, these are district and state's attorneys. They're often elected with the help of outside money. You know, most notably from George Soros. And, that they've been vowing to use their position to end mass incarceration, you know, repair what they see as a kind of fundamentally unjust criminal justice system. So, you know, not only have these prosecutors decided not to prosecute entire classes of low level crime such as shoplifting, and we're seeing some of the consequences of that in a city like San Francisco, but they've also been dropping the ball on serious cases, as your most recent piece, brand new piece, on Chicago and on how Chicago's Kim Foxx has, on ridiculous grounds, declined to bring charges on some very high profile murder cases.

One of these was a murder of a young, young girl for which the police had built, as you note, a strong case. Another was a gang shootout that killed one person and Foxx there, as you mentioned earlier in the podcast, cited mutual combat as the reason not to prosecute. So, you know, to pick up on what you were just saying, can the police or anyone else do anything when you do have these kind of derelict prosecutors? Or, is this power of de-prosecution really unstoppable without electoral remedy?

Tom Hogan: Brian, I remember when Marilyn Mosby was running, sitting down with a bunch of national-level prosecutors, and all of us, our reaction was that whatever she's promising is just to get elected and when she's in office, she's going to have to fix herself because the realities of violent crime will take over. And if she doesn't fix herself, then the city will just devolve into violence. So, we all agreed that she would certainly correct what she was doing in her campaign rhetoric. Turns out, we were wrong. She promised exactly what she intended to do. As you said, she de-prosecuted across large swaths of the criminal-justice system and the results have been catastrophic for Baltimore, just as they have been catastrophic for Chicago and Philly. Los Angeles is now getting its day under George Gascon. St. Louis.

And, the simple answer to your question is, the ultimate remedy really is electoral. These are elected officials and until folks step up and say we're not going to elect them anymore, then the options for the police are very limited. But, they are trying, and people are getting very creative at this point. In Chicago, under general rules, in order to file a murder warrant to arrest somebody for murder, you have to have the agreement of the police and the prosecutors. But, in Chicago, when they couldn't get the agreement of state's attorney Kim Foxx to arrest the suspect who apparently killed this seven year old girl, shot her in a car, and critically wounded her little sister, the Chicago police filed an emergency override and arrested the individual anyway and really forced Kim Foxx to say, "No. I'm going to un-arrest this person."

And, the victim's family is going crazy, justifiably. They're not going to see justice. Now, Kim Foxx did un-arrest this person, did make sure they were. . . . The charges were pulled. But, that's going to have an impact on her in the long run. The police also have used things like in the Jussie Smollett case when Kim Foxx's office pulled the charges after his fake hoax hate crime. They went out and they found a sympathetic judge who was outraged that the charges were dropped, Jussie Smollett's false reports, and they got the judge to appoint a special prosecutor. And, that's another option for the police.

Now, normally the police in these circumstances would go to the media and would holler and scream that these prosecutors are not prosecuting violent criminals. And, in the past in history, the media would jump in and say, "Yeah. We can't have this. We're going to run front page headlines about the violence and how the prosecutor's letting this happen." But, a lot of the mainstream media is on board with what these prosecutors are doing and so, the TV media are doing a pretty good job reporting on it but the print media, particularly the mainstream papers, are not. The Philadelphia Inquirer, for instance, where I am, almost never runs articles saying that this is traceable to what the prosecutor's decision is. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I do have to call them out for doing a good job of calling out Kim Gardner and saying that what she is doing is causing violence.

But, at the end of the day, the police are going to be faced with an option of, if this isn't going to change, then they can either de-police and sit in their police cars and not get out until they're going to clean up the bodies and the shell casings, or they can quit and go be a police officer someplace else out in the suburbs or just not be a police officer at all anymore. And, unfortunately, as been reported by City Journal, that is an option that more and more police officers are taking and even multi-generation police families are telling their kids, "Do not become a police officer."

Brian Anderson: Yeah. It's very troubling and the media role makes me very glad here in New York that we still have the New York Post tabloid, which can generate a lot of outrage publicly over high-profile criminal incidents like this, and it's kept the heat on de Blasio since he became mayor in this area. Well, you know, my hope is that enough of these incidents are going to provoke a public backlash, and, you know, in a place like Philadelphia, we just did see Larry Krasner, the Philadelphia D.A. who is the very model of this kind of progressive prosecutor, get reelected, much to our surprise, by a pretty significant margin. Although, you know, I gather that the election was extremely low turnout.

You know, if you were going to make a prediction here, what do you think? Are you hopeful? You're a Pennsylvania guy. Are you hopeful about a turnaround eventually if crime does start going up in the way we're seeing?

Tom Hogan: There absolutely will be a backlash, Brian, and it is coming. It's funny. I was talking to a Krasner supporter immediately after the election and she was telling me, "You know, we have a mandate. We had a huge, crushing victory in the primary and that means we have the support of the people for all of these reforms." And, I said, "Well, no. Let's look at the math for a second. You got 65 percent of the primary vote. Eighty percent of the vote in Philadelphia is Democratic, so 65 percent of that 80 percent. And, there was 20 percent turnout." Now that I've become a criminologist and actually have to do the statistics and actually do the math, that's only 10.4 percent of the active voters in Philadelphia who voted and supported Krasner. That's not very much. That reflects more apathy than a mandate.

But, that being said, even with that small sliver of people who are approving somebody like Krasner, when that violence starts to hit home, people will change the way they vote and the place where that violence is hitting home first is actually in the poor, black and Latino neighborhoods. And, you can already see that that is having electoral impact. In the primary for New York City mayor, Eric Adams effectively carried the black and Latino vote because they're feeling the violence. The votes that he didn't get were the liberal, wealthy, white votes, and when the violence starts to come home to the liberal, wealthy, white voters, when they understand that even they're not going to be safe in their enclaves, then you'll start to see a change in the voting.

But, all of that being said, I've got to give a grim prediction here, which is violent crime started to go up not just last year, not just 2020 like everyone thinks. It started creeping up around 2015. All of these policies has slowly being put into place. I just saw a Pew study that said the incarceration rate for 2019 is now equal to 1995 because we've been letting a lot of people out of jail. Now, we're not putting people in jail. We're letting people out of jail. We're not prosecuting all of these crimes. There are some things like drug users and sex workers who are common victims who are never getting any help anymore because they're never in the criminal justice system because they're not being prosecuted.

We are in the first five years of what is likely to be a 15 to 20 year surge in crime. So, unless people turn around right now and start fixing things right now, they're going to be looking at this for a good, long time. The only good news here is that because we saw in the 1990s and the early 2000s how to fix it, how to fix a huge crime surge, and it's by doing things like paying attention to the concentration of crime, we have leaders who have gone through this and know how to fix it. The only question is whether or not there will be a political will that will unify us in protecting our communities.

Brian Anderson: Well, that seems to be a powerful note to stop on, Tom. I wanted to thank you for that very illuminating discussion. Don't forget to check out Tom Hogan's work on the City Journal website. He's been writing up a storm for us. I think this most recent piece on Kim Foxx was his tenth. We'll link to his author page in the description and you can see this excellent commentary. You can also find City Journal on Twitter at @CityJournal and on Instagram at @CityJournal_MI. And, as always, if you like what you heard on the podcast, please give us a ratings on iTunes. Tom, thanks again.

Tom Hogan: Thanks, Brian. My pleasure.

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