What If Changes In Murder Rates Have Very Little To Do With Policing?

A recent Washington Post op-ed has put the issue of a Ferguson Effect back into the news. But what if policing, whether it be community-based, search and destroy, more (or fewer) cops on the beat, and so on has little to do with murder rates (and other crimes)?

I ask this in light of some very good reporting on how an alleged rapist passed through the justice system, having committed multiple crimes including violent ones. From the Washington Post (boldface mine):

The alleged perpetrator, 21-year-old Antwon Durrell Pitt, had an extensive criminal history, including eight arrests in four years and a robbery conviction. Three times, he was sentenced under laws designed to promote leniency and second chances for inexperienced adult offenders. In two of those cases, he was sentenced under the District’s Youth Rehabilitation Act, a 1980s-era law aimed at “deserving” offenders under the age of 22.

Pitt’s case shows that such laws, combined with lax enforcement by key federal agencies, can give many chances to violent offenders despite repeated criminal behavior and the failure to abide by terms of release, according to a Washington Post review of court records, transcripts and probation reports….

In the crucial weeks before the rape, a D.C. Superior Court magistrate judge and two federal agencies — the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) and the U.S. Parole Commission — failed to work together to take Pitt off the streets…

Just out of prison last summer after serving a robbery sentence, Pitt did not report for some of his court-ordered drug testing and anger management sessions. He did not keep in contact with his supervision officer. And in a final act of defiance, Pitt cut off the GPS monitoring bracelet affixed to his ankle and let the battery run dead. He was completely off the grid.

CSOSA, the federal agency charged with watching D.C. offenders released from prison, did not request a warrant for Pitt’s arrest for 15 days after losing contact with him. The Parole Commission waited a week after getting that request before forwarding it to law enforcement. And the magistrate judge denied a prosecutor’s request to keep Pitt behind bars, despite a troubling report from the Pretrial Services Agency.

“No conditions or combination of conditions can reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance or safety to the community,” said the report that was given to magistrate William Nooter.

As the article notes, in D.C. at least, more crimes are being committed by repeat violent offenders. While there were multiple failures in this case, this failure might have been the most crucial:

Noting that Pitt’s compliance with his supervised release had been poor, the prosecutor requested a “five-day hold,” a stop-gap action commonly used for offenders who have violated the terms of their release from prison. The hold would allow CSOSA time to request a warrant from the Parole Commission to keep Pitt in custody.

Nooter denied the request. He did not explain his reasoning during the hearing. Instead, he told Pitt to return to court later that month and to check in with his supervision officer by the following week.

Eleven days later he would commit the rape.

If you read the entire story, there were multiple points where crimes wouldn’t have been committed had those in the judicial system made the correct decision (and don’t kid yourself, in a five month period, Pitt was involved in five violent incidents). There’s little evidence that this was a failure of policing (based on the story, once crimes had occurred and the police were notified, Pitt was rapidly apprehended).

Instead of focusing exclusively on the police when crime rates, including murder, increase or decrease somewhat*, maybe we should be looking at the judicial system instead. To be clear, I’m not calling for a ‘hang-’em high’ approach, but repeat violent offenders need to be taken out of circulation, even if only briefly.

*That is, not the massive drop from the mid-1980s to the 2010s, but year-to-year fluctuations.

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One Response to What If Changes In Murder Rates Have Very Little To Do With Policing?

  1. zero says:

    One wonders how much of this inaction is due to a certain party’s obstruction of judicial appointments. Many districts are facing major judge, staff and funding shortages. Perhaps getting to a reasonable staffing level and providing some additional federal funds via DOJ might catch more of these cases before they slip through the cracks.

    On a broader note, properly funding courts would reduce the incentive to charge punitive court costs. Properly funding police departments would reduce the incentive to make the budget through traffic and nuisance fines. I’m not a big fan of the job either group has been doing lately, but improvement will require more resources than we currently provide. We should be paying police officers so much that there is real competition for positions and no good reason for corruption.

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