Bail Reform Isn’t To Blame

If factless argument could be bottled and sold, somebody would be fabulously rich. And the effort to take rhetorical credit for outcomes, good or bad, becomes infinitely easier when the connections seem to make sense. Making sense is infinitely easier when it confirms people’s priors. This afflicts pretty much everybody, and every argument, but sometimes the logical fallacy that “correlation does not imply causation” can be so brutal that even the most virulent supporter of a tribe says “no.”

The New York Post, tabloid rag that loves it some cops, said “no.”

There has been a significant spike in crime in New York, as there has in many cities. People are getting murdered again. Mostly black people on both sides of the gun. Not an “epidemic,” but still a significant statistical increase in murders. Murders, even when not perpetrated by cops, are still not good, even if dismissed by those focused only on death by cop. Dead people really don’t care as much about who killed them as the people who remain behind.

And of course, the cops have someone to blame for this spike.

The NYPD on Thursday blamed the state’s bail reform overhaul for this year’s crime spike — saying that 482 people arrested in 2020 were cut loose only to re-offend.

Those perps were responsible for a total 846 crimes — 299 of which are among the seven “major” felonies tracked by the department — including one murder, NYPD stats show.

To the common sense crowd, the causal connection couldn’t be more obvious. Let criminals out of jail to roam the streets and they’re going to do what criminals do because they’re criminals. Duh.

There were 16,343 major crimes reported in the first two months of 2020, compared to 13,648 over the same period in 2019 — for an increase of 2,695.

The 299 major crimes by bail-reform beneficiaries comprise 10 percent of the spike — and 1.8 percent of the city’s crime for the year.

Numbers, percentages, all make it sound so empirical, so scientific and official. There ya go. And now that shootings have exploded, the obvious reason remains, well, obvious.

“It’s bail reform. It’s COVID. It’s emptying out prisons,” Commissioner Dermot Shea — who’s credited with developing the department’s data-driven policing model — said as he attempted last week to explain the troubling rise in gun violence across the city.

Except the stats don’t bear out.

Though the city logged 528 shooting incidents through June 30 — a 46 percent spike from the 362 tallied at the same point last year — just one person released under the statewide bail reform laws passed Jan. 1 has been charged with a shooting, according to a breakdown provided by the NYPD.

Wait, just one person cut loose? That makes no sense according to common sense.

In fact, just 91 of the approximately 11,000 people sprung from Rikers Island under the initiative — or 0.8 percent — have been found to be anywhere near a shooting this year, the figures show.

And more than half of those 91 are not accused of any wrongdoing, with the department describing 25 as “victims” and another 24 as “witnesses” — on the grounds that the mere presence of criminal justice reform beneficiaries is leading to shootings.

In addition to the one charged with a shooting, 31 are described as “suspects,” and the remaining 10 as “perps,” a description not defined further by the NYPD in their breakdown.

It’s facile to argue the simplest, most easily digestible reason for phenomena for which no non-speculative explanations exist. After all, cutting people loose on bail and from jail puts “criminals” back on the streets, plus tells them they can continue to commit crimes and still get cut loose. It’s not a bad deal for the criminals, right?

Except that’s only the surface gloss. Presumption of innocence aside (since so few of us really care about it anyway), people charged with petty offenses aren’t killers, and putting them back on the streets doesn’t turn them into killers. Whether by bail reform of releasing people who never needed to be detained in lieu of bail in the first place, or releasing them to prevent them dying of coronavirus because Rikers isn’t as sanitary and socially distanced as one would hope, there is no inherent connection to pulling out a gun and shooting someone. All “criminals” are not alike. All “criminals” are not shooters.

Why crime dropped to historic lows, and remains there, is a mystery. The NYPD claims it’s the result of the brilliant job it’s doing, but there’s no evidence to support the claim. Likewise, there’s no evidence to prove it’s something else. There are tons of theories, but there’s no proof. Yet, the fact remains that crime is down, which makes a spike in shootings more noticeable and alarming, even if it’s not as big a deal as it might statistically appear.

“It’s a combination of things — bail reform, COVID releases from prison, court shutdown, which has Rikers [Island] at half of where they were,” Chief of Department Terence Monahan said in a Monday press briefing, following a holiday weekend in which at least 49 people were struck by gunfire, eight fatally.

So if it’s not, as Commissioner Shea and Chief Monahan claim, a product of their dreaded bail reform, what is it? Maybe cabin fever. Maybe no work, and no income, pushing people to extremes to survive. Maybe something else entirely. That’s the thing about reality that neither the cops nor the reformers want to admit. People do stuff for reasons that can’t be easily explained, both good and bad. Using the end result, whether it’s the reduction in crime or the spike in shootings, to push one’s agenda is nothing more than lying for the cause. This time, it’s the cops lying, and even the NY Post couldn’t stomach the lie.

9 thoughts on “Bail Reform Isn’t To Blame

  1. B. McLeod

    Well this is very puzzling. “Gun violence” in a city that doesn’t allow guns.

  2. Kathryn Kase

    Maybe it is time to stop expecting law enforcement to explain why crime rises and falls. They’re not particularly good at it and that may be because that’s not their primary job, which is to arrest and investigate or, depending on the crime, investigate and arrest. To make them responsible for further analysis of crime is folly, as illustrated by the police commissioner who picks three reasons for a spike in crime and doesn’t even get one right.

    1. SHG Post author

      They get their say, as do we (and everyone else a reporter chooses to quote, which usually isn’t “we”). Nobody is forced to believe them.

  3. Will

    Normally I wouldn’t be pressed to reply to such a post (especially since this is my first post and I am a scientist, not a lawyer), so hopefully you excuse me and treat me gently for taking this in a direction you may not have intended.

    Statistics are hard, especially if you want to accurately convey the situation or truth (if that word has any meaning anymore). Facially they can appear to be easy but introducing your own bias (even unintentionally), misunderstanding statistical methods, not appreciating people lie and mislead their true intentions to name a few can make any statistic worthless. That’s not to mention when they run hard into the coal face of reality. The paradigm when I was doing graduate work was that if there wasn’t a statistical test that proved what you wanted – make one up. Don’t get me started about applying statistical methods in the real world. All you have to do is shift a criterion slightly and the “answer” you are looking to determine can completely change. So the oft told saying of “Lies, damn lies and statistics” is well earned. It’s why I never take any statistics presented to me as “safe”. Just ask anyone the predictions of the last Presidential election.

    So if the NY Post called bullshit after the most superficial of examination of the data, good for them but I would also have to say that the cops may also work harder next time to hide the obvious

    p.s. As a born and bred NZer, I do find the digs against my homeland rather amusing

    1. SHG Post author

      The gaming of stats seems to be a constant problem in this age of empiricism. I have a few stats people who help me when I don’t get it (which happens fairly often with numbers), but start talking regression analysis and eyes glaze over quickly. That said, a good stats person is extremely valuable these days, if only to point out the failings of methodology to get a valid outcome.

      So feel free to put your voodoo to good use here. It will be appreciated. And there are a surprising number of NZers here. You guys must be bored.

      1. grberry

        The classic text “How to Lie with Statistics” (Huff, Darrell, 1954) ought to be required reading for every student so that they would be better armed to defend themselves by recognizing ways statistics are used to lie to them. It is written for the general audience, and while the examples are dated the techniques are not.

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