Sunday, January 23, 2011

Research and Rumination on Homicide

Today I went to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Web site to look at the relationship of assailant to victim, and found some other things besides. I also checked out the Center for Disease Control.

Mostly, We Lived
In the last year of reported data (2007) at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC FastStats site), there were 1.4 million emergency room visits because of assault/attempted homicide/homicide. Murder was the 15th most likely cause of death (behind heart disease (#1), cancer (#2) , and suicide (#11)).

There were 18,361 homicide deaths in 2007. 12,632 of those resulted from firearms use.

You have to say those emergency rooms are doing a good job: assuming that all the murder victims died in an E.R. (which they don't), that would still be a 1.3% death rate to overall visits for assault.  If you're dying, the paramedics and the E.R. are generally going to save you. Unless you go out afterwards and continue to do whatever got you there in the first place. The same of course is true with heart disease: can't do what you've been doing and expect to live a long life.

But Sometimes We Didn't
The BJS site is a little behind the CDC: most of their reporting ends at 2005.

Victim/Offender Relationships: 1976--2005.
All Homicides       1976-2005     100%   594,276

People kill their spouses about 7% of the time. Wives and ex-wives usually die of gunshot wounds.
They kill their boyfriend or girlfriend about 3.8% of the time. Boyfriends usually die of knife wounds.
They kill some other close family member about 8% of the time.

They kill "non-intimate family", friends, or acquaintances about 32.1% of the time.
It's more likely that these acquaintances will be male, and of age 18-24. This is also the age that uses guns the most. Gang violence has increased 800% (eightfold) over the reported thirty years.

The relationship was undetermined for 35.2% of all homicides in that time period.
That particular statistic "undetermined" is trending upward: no doubt caused by a variety of factors, including a lack of police manpower for apprehensions and for murder investigations. In 1975, 79% of all homicide cases cleared; in 2005, 62%.  That's a pretty strong correlation to the undetermined percentage, which has also trended up.

So at least 50.8 % of all homicides are committed by people that knew the victim. Arguments factor into most of them: that's how the homicide starts. That's opposed to homicide in commission with another crime--robbery, rape, and so forth. Mostly it's people getting mad and settling it forever. With a gun. Usually. The BJS says gun-related murder is trending downward, but I don't think the CDC believes it. That's why it's good to check more than one site for your stats. Each producer of stats has a vested interest. Each of them has a different means of getting their reports.

Strangers committed 13.9% of all homicides in that time period.
None of these figures add in 9/11, which according to Wikipedia, killed 2977 people.  If you add those into the total, the figure for "homicide by strangers" goes up to 13.95% . The Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania--as awful and symbolic as they are--do not add appreciably to the number of murders that happened in the United States from 1975 to 2005.  But perhaps it's not fair to dilute that by 30 years.

Murder per capita, selected years:
2001, including 9-11-- 7.1. According to the CDC, 20,308 people total died in 2001 of assault/homicide. Even if that includes the 9-11 deaths, then less than 15% of that years' homicides were from this frightening terrorist attack in three locations. Not even equal percentage to the number of intimate family homicides that same year.

According to the BJS, homicides clear more often than any other type of case. 
And that makes me wonder something else about police work. Big crimes are fascinating to us: they are discrete (separate) events. Crappy crimes like armed robbery or car theft are more likely to happen to us. They are more likely to impact our daily life.

We hold the loss of human life as the most important, but is it really the most important to us? A murder across town--does it affect us as much as having our handbag stolen? It takes forever to get a duplicate license, a new picture of our boyfriend or grandchild, to cancel our credit cards. A wallet costs more than $20.00 these days, and requires a trip to the store when we don't have our new driver's license yet. Plus we're anxious, angry, afraid, and maybe kicking ourselves for being careless.

But these crimes have a less successful clearance rate. I wonder if our society's dissatisfaction with policing comes from the difference of our moral expectations--and our real expectations. I wonder if our real expectation is to be spared inconvenience--not to worry about human life.

Doing More Triage with Band-Aids
And more than ever, a quick look at statistics shows us this: whichever we pick, the "life is precious" road or the "convenience is precious" one, we've underfunded our police departments. We've got mixed motives in our policing expectations, and a far from clear set of priorities. That's made us ambiguous at best and hostile at worst toward law enforcement and its officers.  "Shouldn't you be out fighting real crime?" they hear. Yet accidental injury (including drunk drivers and road war) is #3 on the CDC mortality statistics. Way above murder. Way above suicide.  It's life-affirming to write traffic violations. Why is that so hard to believe?

I believe law enforcement agencies have realized this societal ambiguity between life-affirming and convenience-affirming. The LEO on the street is inconvenienced and importuned by it and the agencies have internalized it. We now have a lot of bean-counting inside the agencies, which the police officers seemingly don't like and we don't pay attention to anyway. Statistics on robbery or loitering seem to figure more highly in "police performance assessment" and reportedly can be fudged by knocking down the charges to a lesser violation, or inflating the number of contacts. It's artificial. On some level, it's meant to appease. And get funding. Our ambiguity trends into our funding for the departments. The bean-counting is their fight back. It only works half the picture at best, and reinforces our ambiguity at worst.

As long as society at large fails to realize that police "productivity" is in direct but also inverse proportion from the stats, society will not get either the convenient or the life-affirming law enforcement response. The more crimes solved or prevented, the less need it seems we have for police. But prevention means placing resources before the fact. You can't go by need alone (crime is going up; case clearance going down), but also by the effect (crime is going down; case clearance is up). When law enforcement succeeds, we cut funding. It only makes sense in statistics, not in real life.

This is not what I was starting to look for when I studied homicide statistics. It's just what grabbed me. I was looking for stats comparing Bubba Terrorism to Islamic Terrorism.  Haven't found those yet. I got distracted.

Support your local law enforcement agencies. That's what I really have. Do it from the pocket--you get what you pay for. And do it with a smile. That would be life-affirming. Might even work on the convenience scale, too.


suz said...

Me-Me-Me-Me-Me-Me-Me! Oh! Sorry, just singing a little ditty about convenience-affirmation. Has that become our unofficial national anthem?
I get the emotion, it's real; nobody wants the hassle or the fear of being the victim of a minor crime. But in the big picture, it's not a priority. Unlike murder, it's not the end of the world for somebody. Resources are scarce. We need to use them where they do the most good. For everybody, not just for *Me*

As unsympathetic as that sounds, sympathy is the one thing we CAN offer in huge quantities.

suz said...

Hmmm. Wandering off to Tangent Town....Now you've got me thinking. Rugged individualism. Delusions of social independence, thinking we can isolate ourselves within our community, because "we can take care of ourselves."

Most of us really can't take care of ourselves in isolation, so we chose to live in communities where we can pay strangers to take care of us, but only when we need it. That way we don't have to put up with supportive but tiresome family and neighbors in our faces all the time. Our communities have to be pretty darn prosperous to provide us with the kind of support we no longer want to accept from people we know. Are we too proud to ask? Don't want to feel obligated to reciprocate?

I like the privacy I find in my "independence," but so does everybody else. How much of it can we really afford? Independence is for the independent.

Momma Fargo said...

THanks for the support, Ann T.! When you look at the numbers, they are alarming how much our country kills each other...let alone the terrorist threats out there and 9/11. I felt a surge of patriotism after 9/11, but it seems to have settled down a little, sadly enough. Thanks to you for trying to regenerate AMerican pride and support of law enforcement.

Bob G. said...

This is EXACTLY why I love this blog...
When you set YOUR mind to something, you hit warp FIVE in digging up the facts.

I, like you also check multiple sources when researching things like this.
And sometimes, the DIFFERENCE between them are startling (and, as you say..."fudged" to fit the venue)

The largest problem I have with law-enforcement does NOT come at the beat-level.
It comes from "the top", and trickles DOWN.

We (as a society) were led to believe that somehow, a REACTIVE police force is better serving the public than a PROACTIVE police force, no mater WHAT city the department resides.

Seems the "stats" don't say it's working out all that well these days, apparently.

I'd MUCH prefer having police be PROACTIVE.
When you stop small things from happening, the chance of escalation to larger issues drops markedly AND quickly.

Unfortuantely, too many officers are being utilized as "radio-chasers" after the fact (and the crimes).

The day when an officer walked a beat and knew everyone in the neighborhoods (good and bad) should be something all of us would want to have once again.
It commanded respect for the officers.
It prevented crime a lot better.
And it provided a much better feeling of safety to the citizens.

You did some really GOOD homework on this post.

Well said.

It's a fact that close to 25% of the population cannot (or will not) take care of themselves.

The rest of us in that 75% CAN...and WILL.
What bothers me is this "one size fits all" mentality by our governmental levels (both large and small), that maintains that ALL of us need the same level of "care" that the 25% all but demand.
OUR independence should never rest on the DEPENDENCE of others.

Those that CAN police THEMSELVES will always do so, and those that cannot, need to either LEARN to be more accountable to themselves, or ship out somewhere else where they CAN be "controlled"...(because it's what they truly want).

Good points to ponder.
wonderful comments.

Stay safe out there.

Ann T. said...

Dear Suz,
Much of your 'thinking out loud" sounds a lot like my "Thinking out Loud." I am interested in the idea of independence from families driving some of our voter preferences.

So much here to digest.

Thanks for the great comments!
Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear Momma Fargo,
Any support I can give you!

Thanks for stopping by. Maybe we'll work on getting more support out there for LEOs and their agencies.

Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
I also want a proactive police force, and (wishful thinking) local politicians who concentrate on a full delivery of service that Focuses efforts in a way that helps law be enforced.

It seems to me we have right hands, left hands, mixed messages--when the first requirement is always security.

Thanks for the Great Compliment!
And for stopping by.
Ann T.

The Observer said...

Ann T:
Such great comments! I am not sure I can rise to the occasion...

KCPD takes it on the chin when they are seen enforcing traffic laws more than catching murderers. And then there is the whole "depolicing" issue, which some believe has happened here since a lady with bleeding was badly treated by two officers (amazingly, one a woman!)...Some believe that since then the KCPD has pulled off the mostly Black East Side. Also because of past corruption, KCPD is controlled by a State Board. What a mess!

Then there's the issue of the school system...

Thanks for the excellent and thought provoking post. Need to find a way to do it all! (HA)

The Observer

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
You need to stop belittling your always cogent comments, T.O.!

You always rise to the occasion.

What you bring here is a kind of list of things to be overcome. And I think we have to, but more grist for the mill in figuring out how.

Thanks as always for stopping in!
Ann T.

Ann T. said...

I always DO get the best comments!

So grateful, too.