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Police officer at a school, near a school bus

Police in Schools and School Shootings

This is a slightly expanded version of a twitter thread I posted yesterday. Prompted by a tweet from my friend, Jean Josey, I’ve been thinking a lot about the school shootings and the presence of police in schools (e.g., so-called “School Resource Officers). 

As was noted in a number of articles on the Oxford High School Shoot, a sheriff’s deputy regularly stationed at the high school helped apprehend the shooter. Naturally, the response by the Michigan legislature is to propose putting more money towards police in schools

The growth in the use of police in schools occurred during the 1990s, a time of much higher crime rates, the (false) fear of the creation of “super predators,” and high-profile school shootings like Columbine. One driver was federal funding provided by the COPS in Schools program passed after the Columbine shooting. 

As described by the US Department of Justice, while they also may serve as informal counselors, educators, and emergency managers, the SROs “primary responsibility is law enforcement.”  So, it’s no surprise when police are in schools, they arrest students. 

Effect of SROs

What do we know about the effects of SROs on kids in schools? Are there positive effects (e.g., students are safer)? Are there negative effects (e.g., kids more likely to be arrested)? Unfortunately, as Alexis Stern & Anthony Petrosino point out, rigorous academic research on these effects is sparse. 

However, while there isn’t strong evidence demonstrating an increase in feelings of safety or decrease school in school shootings, there are clearly negative effects. A meta-analysis by Benjamin W. Fisher & Emily A. Hennessy found that the presence of SROs is correlated with an increase in exclusionary discipline (i.e., suspensions and expulsions).  

But even if there are some positive outcomes from having police in schools, there may be other ways of achieving these good things while avoiding the negative effects. I’d connect this to the movement to reimagine police, shifting non-policing activities from sworn officers who may be ill-suited for them (and can arrest people) to other kinds of public workers (e.g., counselors, social workers, educators). 

Naturally, I have to cite an ACLU report on the school-to-prison pipeline, which found that there are 1.7 million students in the US who attend schools where there police but no counselors! So, we don’t invest in the kinds of resources that students really need and that provide positive outcomes

Who gets arrested?

We can’t ignore the discriminatory effects of these programs either. Black and brown students are much more likely to be in schools with SROs, and even in those schools, are more likely to be arrested and have other negative consequences (e.g., suspensions and expulsions). 

So, even if police in schools had significant positive effects overall, we would need to serious reconsider them because of their racist effects.  

Change in crime rates

It’s also important to note that tremendous decrease in crime in schools since over the past 30 years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the rate of victimization in schools dropped to one-sixth the level it was in the 1990s.

Chart showing decline in student victimization rates from 1992 to 2019
Chart showing decline in student victimization rates from 1992 to 2019


So, if the School Resource Officers don’t clearly make schools safer, have significant negative effects, and are racist in their effect, it’s clearly to move away from them. 

In their recent report published by the Brookings Institution, A better path forward for criminal justice: Reconsidering police in schools, Ryan King and Marc Schindler suggest short-, medium-, and long-term reforms around police in schools:

  • Short-term: Put the “Resource” in SROs & limit their roles and responsibilities
  • Medium-term: Eliminate funding for police in schools; remove police from schools and invest in supports and services proven to contribute to safety
  • Long-term: Break the School-to-Prison Pipeline

If schools and communities implement these reforms, students will be safer and have more positive outcomes. 

Prison Cell

My Head and My Heart and Mass Incarceration

As I tweeted a couple of days ago, I strongly connected with Kali Holloway’s piece in The Nation, “I’m for Abolition. And Yet I Want the Capitol Rioters in Prison.” I want to reduce mass incarceration, but I also want to see these seditionists severely punished.

I’m reminded of the question that Michael Dukakis was asked in the 1988 Presidential Debate. During this debate, Bernard Shaw, who had a history of asking politicians squirm-inducing questions, asked Dukakis this:

“Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”

Dukakis, with his long record of opposition to the death penalty, naturally answer no. But he did so in such a calm, dispassionate way, seemingly disconnected with the premise of the question – his wife being raped and murdered. He never connected with the emotion of the issue, of how one might feel if this really happened.

And Dukakis had first-hand experience that he could have drawn upon – his father had once been tied up and robbed in his office and his brother died in a hit-and-run car accident. But he never connected these heart-rending, emotional experiences with his dry, policy-driven answer.

So, like my thoughts about how to deal with the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on January 6th, my head and my heart are pulling in opposite directions. If someone asked me the same question Dukakis was asked, I might give two answers. If someone attacked my wife, I would want to take a baseball bat to them, to cause them pain and suffering. And, that’s not the right way for society to act. The death penalty is wrong and needs to be eliminated.

When I think about the attack on the Capitol, on the attempt to violently overthrow a fair and democratic election, to attack and harm our representatives in congress, perhaps even lynch the Vice President, and the actual infliction of grievous bodily harm on the police and others, my heart demands strong action. I want to see all of these insurrectionists arrested and thrown in jail for a long, long time.

And yet, my head tells me that’s the wrong answer. We need policies that reduce mass incarceration, including shorter sentences, elimination of cash bail, and so on. The answer to inequities in our criminal justice system is not to put more White people in jail, it’s to reduce the use jails and prison for everyone. 

And that includes reducing the use of prison in cases that might make us otherwise uncomfortable. We can’t reduce mass incarceration by 50% (which is the goal of the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice) by only eliminating jail and prison for non-violent drug offenders.  

While “non-violent” drug offenders make up a significant portion of those in prisons and jails, there would still be another 80% to go. If we’re serious about making our criminal justice system more fair and just – we need to do a lot more. And throwing a bunch more people in prison for a long time because our hearts demand it doesn’t accomplish that goal.

Donald Trump 2020 Campaign

Trump, Biden, and the Soul of America

So, it looks like Joe Biden has successfully won the presidency, defeating Donald Trump. This is an unalloyed good thing.  But in looking at the results, I have very mixed emotions.

2016 Election

The 2016 election of Donald Trump forced me to look at America in a different way. After eight years of Barack Obama, our first Black president, and the assumption that we were about to get our first female President, I had great optimism for the direction of our country. My wife and I joked that we would have to explain to our son, born at the tail end of Obama’s first term, that White men could potentially still become president.

But Trump’s election changed all that. Not only did the ensuing years take the US on a sharp turn backwards, it laid bare important issues. Trump won while (perhaps because) he appealed to the base and racist instincts among many in the electorate.

I thought our country was better than that. Unlike many, I had no illusions that, that after 8 years of Obama, we lived in a “post-racial” paradise. One look at the statistics on racial discrepancies in the criminal justice system, at the segregation that still exists; or just listening to the stories of how Black and Brown people are treated makes it clear that America is no paradise.

But I imagined the world had been heading in the right direction, the arc bending towards justice, and so on.

However, when Donald Trump won in 2016, with a campaign that largely consisted of barely coded (and occasionally explicit) racist appeals used to draw out his base (and discourage those who would support Clinton), it felt like we moved 20 or 30 years or more backwards. We had gone back George H.W. Bush and the Willie Horton ad, to Ronald Reagan and his campaign kickoff in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Thus, his success in 2016 caused me to question the nature of our country. If such naked calls to racism were effective, then our country has a lot farther to go than I thought. I’ve known we live in a society filled with systemic racism, designed over 4 centuries to oppress black and brown people. But this showed that it’s not just the system that’s bad, but that a lot of people hold really harmful, negative beliefs.

2020 Election

Joe Biden in Iowa -- August 2019
Former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden walking with supporters at a pre-Wing Ding march from Molly McGowan Park in Clear Lake, Iowa

And now we have 2020. While I’m thrilled Joe Biden beat Donald Trump. But I still worry about what this election tells us about our country. Yes, Joe Biden won more votes than Trump (as did Hillary Clinton in 2016). In fact, he set the record for the most votes ever! But Donald Trump in 2020 received significantly more votes than the 63M he got in 2016. He also managed to expand those willing to vote for him.

And this is after 4 years of Trump being President, of Trump taking actual terrible actions. In 2016, much of the electorate likely based their decision on how they thought Trump would be as President, based on the things he said. Yes, he said terrible things in leading up to the 2016 election (e.g., most Mexicans are rapists and criminals and lowlifes, it’s okay if he assaults women). But he also said (falsely) that he would protect and improve access to healthcare and that he would support a populist economic agendaCome 2020, however, we know how Trump behaves as President. We have the Muslim Ban and the separation of children at the Mexican border, tax policies that favor the wealthy, and actions (including both administrative and judicial appointments) that will prevent women from exercising their constitutional right to an abortion.

So, the people who voted for Trump in 2020 did so knowing all that. These are not the values I thought prevailed in America. Which is why, even with Joe Biden as our next President, I’m worried.

But all is not lost. If we work hard in Georgia, if we continue to pressure all parts of our government, we might achieve a better, safer, more loving country.

Who’s called for Trump’s Impeachment, updated

As for today (15 December) I’ve now found 19 newspapers who, in some way, have called for Trump’s impeachment, resignation, or removal. This now includes five of the top 10 circulation papers in the US: USA Today, the LA Times, the NY Times, the Tampa Bay Times, the Washington Post.

Not surprisingly, the top circulation paper in the US, the Wall Street Journal, is not among these.

My annual rant about USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Ratings story

So yesterday was the Super Bowl, which means this morning USA Today released their annual Ad Meter ratings. That also means today I engage in my annual rant about how the Ad Meter Ratings terribly represent data journalism, use of data, and measurement.

According to their ratings, people like the “100-Year Game commercial” for the NFL the most.

This annual story, while a great deal of fun, is a terrible piece of data journalism. It gives a false sense of implied accuracy, doesn’t give us the margin of error or a sense of who the participants were, doesn’t show what’s significant or meaningful, and probably measures the wrong thing.

The Ad Meter story doesn’t seem to indicate anywhere what the margin of error might be (if it’s even relevant). We can roughly estimate it though, given the size of the population of viewers and the number of participants in the Ad Ratings. 

Close to 100 million people watched the Super Bowl this year, so let’s call that our population. Based on their FAQ, USA Today expected to have “thousands” of participants. If 10,000 people participated in the ratings, the margin of error would be about ±.98, or a tenth of point on a 10-point scale.

That assumes that those participating in the ratings are representative of the larger population we’re interested in (i.e., people purchasing the products being advertised). Without knowing a lot more about those that take part in the ratings, it’s impossible to tell this. 

What are they measuring?

Most importantly, I doubt the Ad Meter measures anything relevant to the actual performance of the ads. Presumably companies advertise during the Super Bowl to increase awareness of their product, to create a buzz, and mostly to sell more stuff. And we don’t know how well the commercials do at this.

Charts on paper with laptop

For example, I must have been one of the few people who quite enjoyed the Andy Warhol Burger King commercial, which the Ad Meter ratings pegged as the lowest rated commercial. It certainly got my wife and I talking about it. “Is that really him?” “If not, it’s a really good fake!”

The commercial sent down a rabbit hole of Google searches, to find out there’s a four-minute clip of Andy Warhol eating this burger. It’s part of a longer film from 1982, 66 Scenes of America, by Danish poet and filmmaker Jørgen Leth. Just about the entire film appears available on YouTube!

But most importantly, I’m not going to forget about Burger King. Not that this will change my behavior – I largely avoid fast food, and even when I did eat a lot more of it, I never liked Burger King. So, for me, this ends up being very effective, but expensive advertisement for Jørgen Leth.

Most importantly, does any of this actually work? Jeri Smith of advertising research firm Communicus conducts research on the effectiveness of Super Bowl ads. Their research suggests that companies just waste their money with Super Bowl ads. According to their work, just 10% of viewers remember the ad and who it was for.

Other Measures

While the USA Today Ad Meter story appears to be the most popular version of this story, other groups have different measures. iSpot.TV looked at “Digital Share of Voice,” essentially what percentage of online activity that ad gets in relation to the other commercials, including views on YouTube, tweets, Facebook likes, and so on.  According to their measure, the Avengers: End Game commercial scored in first place, in comparison to 32nd place finish in the USA Today Ad Meter.

So what…

You may be saying that this just a fun story…that it doesn’t matter if has any meaning. But it would be relatively easy for USA Today to add in some of this information, to actually inform the public about how what the data means.

I don’t mind a fun story, but when they put this much effort into a project, they might as well make it good data journalism, rather than bad.

End of rant

The US Constitution

Josephine Wolff “profoundly misunderstands” biometrics and the fifth amendment

In her recent article on Slate, Josephine Wolff slams Judge Kandis Westmore’s ruling that, in part, gives Fifth Amendment protection for biometrics (like fingerprints or facial recognition) when used as a password for cell phones.

Westmore’s ruling does appear to break new legal ground and I don’t know if it will hold up (assuming it’s appealed) or if other judges will issue similar rulings. However, to claim that Westmore doesn’t understand the Fifth Amendment goes a little too far. 

In her ruling, Westmore takes take the admonition from Kyllo and Carpenter seriously, that courts “must take account of more sophisticated systems that are already in use or in development.”

As others have suggested, Carpenter may significantly change how US courts view technology. See Paul Ohm’s argument that Carpenter (almost) rids us of the third-party doctrine (to which I say good riddance).

Wolff compares a cell phone to a safe, a metaphor I’ve seen used other places. As she rightly states, the Fifth Amendment prevents the government from compelling you to tell them the combination to the safe, but they can still use “jackhammers, drills, and explosives” to break into it.

Broken Safe
Photo by infomatique

But that’s not the right metaphor. The argument isn’t that the government can’t crack your cell phone. They can use whatever tools at their disposal to unlock the phone themselves.

But just like they can’t force you to unlock the safe yourself (either by telling them the combination or forcing you to do it yourself), they can’t force you unlock your cell phone.  Current law makes the distinction between compelling you to type in your password and placing your finger on the phone. Westmore says that distinction doesn’t makes sense, given the advances in technology.

I think that’s the right call. More importantly, it’s logical extension of Carpenter and to simply dismiss it as an error in understanding the Fifth Amendment drastically understates Carpenter’s importance and does an injustice to Westmore’s ruling.