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2011 December 04 Sunday
Sam Harris On Responding To Criminals

Sam Harris makes a number of practical and sensible suggestions about what to do when confronted by criminals.

Imagine: You are loading groceries into your car and man appears at your side with a gun.

“Get in the car, and you won’t get hurt.”

Your instincts are probably bad here: Getting in the car is the last thing you should do.

“Get in the car, or I’ll blow your head off.” 

However bad your options may appear in the moment, complying with the demands of a person who is seeking to control your movements is a terrible idea. Yes, there are criminals whose only goal is to steal your property. But anyone who attempts to control you—by moving you to another room, putting you in a car, tying you up—probably intends to kill you (or worse). And you must understand in advance that your natural reaction to this situation—to freeze, to comply with instructions—will be the wrong one. 

Harris has thought hard about how to best respond to criminals in different situations. The article is worth a read. Better to walk your mind thru the reasoning now since most people make wrong decisions when finally faced with criminals in real life.

One obvious point: Don't be where criminals are likely to be. Don't take unnecessary risks, especially when alone. I state this point because it bares repeating. Don't become complacent.

By Randall Parker    2011 December 04 06:30 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2011 January 09 Sunday
Cashless Economy To Cut Crime?

Is the move toward a cashless economy decreasing crime by reducing the amount of cash people use?

Most violent crime is the result of one person trying to take another person's cash, whether it's an addict robbing a convenience store or one dealer robbing another, says Wright. If cash isn't available to steal, the opportunities to commit crimes dwindle. At the same time, the drug trade, which relies on cash at the ground level and drives a large portion of violent crime, withers. Sure, drug dealers can still transfer funds electronically, but only at high levels. Street dealers are unlikely to use credit card swipe machines anytime soon.

Debit cards are much harder to use because you need to know the PIN. Criminals have been known to force someone to go to an ATM with their card and withdraw money. But then the criminals have basically ratched up their crime to include kidnapping. Plus, the ATM has a camera that might catch the criminals standing near the kidnapped debit card holder.

Another technological change cutting crime: cell phones. People can call the police to summons help as soon as they see a crime being committed. So criminals are more likely to still be at a crime scene when police arrive. Also, a rising number of cell phones have cameras built in. So victims and witnesses to crimes are more likely to snap pictures of the criminals in action.

In the longer run it will become possible to wear a camera that transmits images of nearby people to a server that will do facial recognition and will be able to report when a criminal is anywhere near you. Criminal movements will be tracked in this manner. Also, more buildings and cars will have cameras on them to provide records of crimes.

By Randall Parker    2011 January 09 11:05 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2010 October 12 Tuesday
Economic Cost Per Murder Calculated

By one measure each murder costs $17.25 million.

AMES, Iowa -- Murder takes an obvious toll on society in terms of the loss of human life, but what does it actually cost each time there's a murder? It's about $17.25 million according a recent study by an Iowa State University sociologist.

But it has to depend on who gets murdered. If a violent criminal kills another violent criminal then seems to me there might not be a net cost to the rest of society. By contrast, murder of a CEO or CTO of a high-tech firm would have a very high cost to the rest of society of the lost guy is not easily replaced.

Matt DeLisi, an ISU associate professor of sociology and director of the criminal justice program, led a team of five Iowa State graduate students on the study of 654 convicted and incarcerated murderers. Expanding upon earlier monetization estimates, they calculated the costs of five crimes -- murder, rape, armed robbery, aggravated assault and burglary -- in terms of the victim costs, criminal justice system costs, lost productivity estimates for both the victim and the criminal, and estimates on the public's resulting willingness to pay to prevent future violence.

A serial killer is especially costly. So if a brain scan could identity with very high probability that a known criminal will eventually commit murder would you see preventive exile to a deserted island as acceptable?

"That each murder costs more than $17.25 million still does not convey the true costs imposed by homicide offenders in the current sample," the authors wrote. "Since the mean homicide conviction was more than one, the average murderer in these analyses actually imposed costs approaching $24 million. For the offender who murdered nine victims, the total murder-specific costs were $155,457,083!"

Measures to catch criminals earlier in their criminal careers would save a lot of money.

The ISU researchers also calculated costs of rape ($448,532), armed robbery ($335,733), aggravated assault ($145,379) and burglary ($41,288).

By Randall Parker    2010 October 12 09:56 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (22)
2010 September 14 Tuesday
Crime Drops In Great Recession

For the third year running the mythology that poverty is the biggest cause of crime takes another hit.

The much-studied links between poverty and crime rates – which helped give rise to many Great Society programs – have not materialized so far in the Great Recession. Even with 15 percent of Americans now officially poor, both violent crime and property crime continued to drop in the United States in 2009, the FBI reported Monday.

Well, with more people to join them in poverty maybe the would-be criminals feel not so alone and not so low in status. They've got an excuse for their poverty: the economy is a train wreck.

Does recession improve the relative status of being poor by increasing the size of the pool of poor people? Is this a logical result of an improvement in relative status of some people due to the drop in status of formerly working people?

Is much greater unemployment the key to making Los Angeles a lower crime place?

But so far, the numbers undermine the stark crime wave predictions. In fact, the plunge in the national crime rate has been most evident in areas the housing bust has hit the hardest. Even with California unemployment higher than 12 percent, car thefts declined in Los Angeles by 20 percent last year over 2008.

Maybe the inability to get a job reduces striving and the reduced feeling of striving also reduces the propensity to commit crime?

But if unemployment reduces crime then think about Harvard economist Robert Barro's argument that the extended unemployment benefits put in place by Obama and the Democratic Congress raised the unemployment rate 3.7%. You might think the Democrats were crazy. But they are really closet crime fighters! Who knew?

My calculations suggest the jobless rate could be as low as 6.8%, instead of 9.5%, if jobless benefits hadn't been extended to 99 weeks.

The possibility that an economic downturn might lower crime makes me excited about the future. As Peak Oil bites and more jobs move abroad America could reach lows in crime not seen in decades. You looking forward to a safer future?

By Randall Parker    2010 September 14 08:38 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2008 June 11 Wednesday
Over 2 Million In US Jails And Prisons

Bad Boys, Bad Boys, whatcha gonna do.

The number of people under supervision in the nation's criminal justice system rose to 7.2 million in 2006, the highest ever, costing states tens of billions of dollars to house and monitor offenders as they go in and out of jails and prisons.

According to a recently released report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 2 million offenders were either in jail or prison in 2006, the most recent year studied in an annual survey. Another 4.2 million were on probation, and nearly 800,000 were on parole.

The cost to taxpayers, about $45 billion, is causing states such as California to reconsider harsh criminal penalties. In an attempt to relieve overcrowding, California is now exporting some of its 170,000 inmates to privately run corrections facilities as far away as Tennessee.

$45 billion isn't very much in the bigger scheme of government spending. The US federal government alone will have a $3 trillion budget in fiscal year 2009. We are burning thru money in Iraq at over 3 times the rate we spend on prisons. The entire war in Iraq could easily cost $3 trillion.

By Randall Parker    2008 June 11 11:28 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2008 March 16 Sunday
Eliot Spitzer Paid Too Much For Sex

First off, if Spitzer had just dealt purely in cash he never would have created bank transactions that led to an investigation of his patronage of Ashley Alexandra Dupré . Why couldn't he see this? As someone pointed out in the comments of a previous post, Spitzer got 1590 on his SATs and that probably converts to an IQ of nearly 160. So he has the brains and the experience as a prosecutor to think through less risky ways to satisfy his desires. Even worse, vice detectives think Spitzer overpaid.

Spitzer, 48, was allegedly caught on a federal wiretap arranging for the woman, identified as "Kristen," to meet him in a Washington hotel room on the night of Feb. 13. Court documents say "Client-9," whom a source familiar with the investigation identified as the Democratic first-term New York governor, forked over $4,300. Spitzer testified on the Hill the next day, Valentine's Day, about the state of the bond industry. The documents do not say how much this client paid per hour, since the sum allegedly included a down payment on future services. But, since his time with the prostitute apparently lasted less than three hours, experts on the Washington area sex industry said, Client-9 appears to have paid far more than the local going rate. "Even the high-end escort services are anywhere between $300 and $500 per hour," said Detective Mark Gilkey, a D.C. police investigator who has worked prostitution cases in the city for 26 years. Detective Steven Schwalm of the D.C. police department's prostitution enforcement unit said some call girls charge $10,000 for an evening that lasts three or four hours -- and $250,000 for a weekend getaway where the woman provides "sex on demand." He added, though, that he knows of no arrests in this exclusive tier: "We don't have enough in our confidential funds to order up a high-priced call girl like that."

So the police can't afford to catch high priced call girls and Spitzer was operating in a market where the risks of getting caught are very low. Yet Spitzer got popped. How'd that happen? Political enemies trying to bring him down? Nope. The governor went out of his way to draw his bank's attention to his financial transactions to pay for sex.

MELVILLE, N.Y. - New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer ended up as the subject of an investigation into a prostitution ring because his bank branch in Manhattan turned him in to the Internal Revenue Service as someone who might be engaged in suspicious currency transactions, according to sources familiar with the investigation. After the governor transferred $10,000 by breaking it into smaller amounts, he then called the bank asking that his name be removed from the transactions, the sources said.

Spitzer shows a lack of common sense and good judgment in other areas. Spitzer is an opponent of strict enforcement of immigration laws and sought unsuccessfully to legalize the granting of drivers licenses to illegal aliens in New York state. But the criminal investigation of Spitzer draws law enforcement resources away from criminals who pose real threats to public safety. For ages 18-19 1 per 107 whites are imprisoned. But for blacks it is 1 in 19 and for Hispanics 1 in 47. So the Hispanic incarceration rate is over double the white rate. Prosecutor and investigator efforts expended on Spitzer would be better spent on prosecuting Hispanic immigrants and deporting them. Also, prosecutors and investigators should go after the employers of illegal immigrants and we should put an end to chain migration of relatives.

By Randall Parker    2008 March 16 10:45 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
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