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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Week 4 Discussion 1 - Criminological Theory.

  • Are arrests a valid indicator of actual crime rates? If an area has more arrests, does that mean that it has more crime?
Arrests cab be a partially valid indicator of crime; however, using arrest rates to measure crime suffers the following flaws. It does not take into account the underreporting of crime. It does not take into account police decision making at the first level of the criminal justice filter, such as police responding to a crime scene and taking mediating action between brawlers but not arresting them. It does not take into account areas in which police activity is higher ( a precinct in which a unit commander prioritizes speeding tickets versus a precinct where the commander stresses quality of life arrests versus a department that assigns more resources to a high-crime area). So it does not mean that an area with a higher crime rate will necessarily have a higher arrest rate.
  • San Francisco police arrest African-Americans for serious crimes at a much higher rate than officers in California's other biggest cities. Is this because San Francisco police focused their forces on large minority populations or because of a higher rate of criminal activity within the African-American community? Why?
Both factors are true. SFPD does focus on the African-American community living in high-crime neighborhoods. “Public Defender Jeff Adachi  said that he does not believe the department has a go-after-black-suspects plan, but he added that by focusing on heavily black neighborhoods plagued by crime and violence, police inevitably drive black arrest numbers up and often use those high numbers as proof they are in the right spots to catch the criminals. “ (Swaed, 2006, p4) Gang officers justify this to counter violence,“African American youth are shooting each other at a rate far greater than other groups, so we try to get those kids on some charge if we can't get them on a homicide," Chaplin said”.  (Swaed, 2006, p4)
Neither factor explains why San Francisco police arrest African-Americans for serious crimes at a much higher rate than officers in California's other biggest cities. Because the California Department of Justice's Criminal Justice Statistics Center does not break down arrest statistics by race or by city (there is a “City” link which redirects to county information) it becomes necessary to use the numbers provided by Swaed (2006, p.9). The percentage of arrests of African-Americans compared to their proportion of the population varies from city to city without a clear pattern; with an eyeball estimate, the ratio ranges from 2 to 6 with San Francisco at the high end and with neighboring Oakland at the low end, and yet Swaed quotes resident Guy Hudson saying “that many black people believe they often can "talk things over" with police in San Francisco when that wouldn't work in Oakland” (2006, p.4). In addition, “Police Academy recruits are given 52 hours of training -- more than twice the state requirement -- on discrimination and cultural diversity  (Swaed, 2006, p4)
Are there other possible factors? Amongst the many possibilities that Swaed briefly touches on, the following may partially explain the situation: rich white liberals purging the pity of poor blacks, contribution to the crime rate by nonresidents, racism, institutional racism, a declining black population rate, and finally, a possibility that bears more examination, the possibility that the judicial environment sabotages the deterrent and incapacitation capabilities of the justice system; “many officers believe -- that criminals are drawn to San Francisco because they feel that if caught, their punishment in the courts will be lighter than it would be in surrounding counties. "We know a guy with four cases pending," Robinson said. "Where does this stop?"(Swaed, 2006, p3)
  • Explain whether conservative or radical conflict theories can be used to justify the high rate of arrest of African-Americans in San Francisco than in other cities of California.
Both pluralist and marxist conflict theory can be used to explain high rates of arrest of African-Americans in San Francisco, especially when using the assumption that rich white liberals are attempting to purge the city of black people that Swaed touched upon.
And what of the city's liberal political establishment that has reigned for many years?
"The bottom line," said Jacqua, "is that poor blacks are in the way of what this city wants to be, though the city won't admit it because 'we're liberal and believe in diversity.' But the city really doesn't want poor folks and especially poor black folks." (Swaed, 2006, p.7)
For purposes of brevity, I won't go into the probability that the rich white liberals' policies exacerbated the poverty of the poor black people in the first place. The major commonality between the two variations of conflict theory is that “the conflict approach views social issues almost as though they were fields of combat with opposing armies fighting to see who will prevail and rule the land.  “ (Williams & McShane,2014, p.129). Further, “Law itself represents a resource. If a group’s values are embodied in law, it can use that law, and its enforcement, to its benefit.  “(ibid) Marxist theory differs from the pluralist approach in focusing on the powerful in society as the significant factor in this conflict; “ that the law itself is a tool of the ruling class.” (Williams & McShane,2014, p.133). Thus we can see how under this assumption that either conflict theory would apply in creating a hostile environment for African-Americans in order for rich white liberals to “rule the land”.
  • According to a number of researchers, minorities constitute the majority of arrests for drug possession, but do not make up the majority of drug users. Is this the case in San Francisco? Why?
“1 out of 3 arrests of black people involved narcotics.” (Swaed, 2006, p.2) This is again out of proportion considering the African-American proportion to the populace at large. Obviously, having the police targeting an area looking for violent offenders but arresting for lesser offenses could account for this, but there is more to this. Swaed mentions in passing the drug dealing habits of the African-Americans getting arrested; however, I watched a presentation by a LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) officer that went into detail comparing both the drug dealing and drug using tendencies of poor blacks versus middle class whites. A summary of the LEAP officer's case was that the public nature of these tendencies in poor African-Americans was a much higher chance of arrest. His conclusion was that the INTENT was not racist, but that the EFFECT was racist ( and yet another good reason to abandon the mala probita nature of drug criminalization).
There is the question of how much racism there is in America (and also in the rest of the world). In America, I think most of us realize there is some racism. It would be hard to quantify die to the hidden nature of a person's heart, and also due to the existence of other factors such as poverty, culture conflict ( can one be bigoted against ghetto culture without being bigoted against African-Americans, for example), and misogyny in general. I will make the assumption that there is MORE racism then whites believe in general, and that there is LESS racism then blacks in general believe there is. In fact, I can see an example of culture conflict in attitudes regarding the San Francisco PF arrest rates of African-Americans in the Swaed article; the police officers don't see it as a result of racism, the community organizers do.
  • How are conflict theories different from consensus theories?
Conflict theory and consensus theory are two major social theories. In general terms, conflict theory states that society functions by the exploitation of a subject, or worker class by the ruling class, which owns and controls the means of production, maintaining a constant state of conflict between the classes' interests. In contrast, consensus theory maintains that society functions as a result of peoples' shared and common interests and values, which are developed through similar socialization experiences.” (reference.com, nd, para 1)

Reference.com. (nd). Conflict theory V consensus theory. Retrieved April 29, 2014 from http://www.reference.com/motif/society/conflict-theory-v-consensus-theory
Swaed, S. (2006, December 17). High black arrest rate calls for inquiry. SFGate. Retrieved April 29, 2014 from http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/HIGH-BLACK-ARREST-RATE-RAISES-CALL-FOR-INQUIRY-2482118.php
Williams, F. & McShane, M. (2014) Criminology Theory (6th edition). Pearson

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