Authors Mac Donald, Sparrow Differ Sharply On Policing, Crime

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Since the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, the nation has been debating whether it is crime or policing that is out of control. Two new books attempt to set things straight, but their arguments could not be more different, says New York University law Prof. Barry Friedman in the New York Times. In “The War on Cops,” Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute, delivers a broadside against those who view the cops, rather than black criminality and violence, as the problem. She urges a return to aggressive tactics like stop-and-frisk. In “Handcuffed,” Malcolm Sparrow of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, doesn’t see evidence that this sort of policing works. Instead, he provides a wonky account maintaining that we need more community policing.

Friedman says that, “the two books share one stunning feature: Both authors write with an air of absolute rectitude. While disagreeing about almost everything, each is certain he or she is right.” Mac Donald is sure of two things. First, the “Ferguson effect”: In the face of negative scrutiny of their work, police officers are standing down, and as a result crime is going up. Second, that there is a “false narrative” of racial discrimination in policing. In truth, she says, blacks commit far more crime, and policing simply follows the crime. Sparrow takes a different tack, arguing that the relentless push to drive down crime rates, which already are at historically low levels, may be self-­defeating. He says: “Continuing to demand reductions at that point is like failing to set the torque control on a power screwdriver. First you drive the screw, which is useful work; but then you rip everything to shreds and even undo the value of your initial tightening.”

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