Violence by Police Led to 911 Call Drop in Milwaukee

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Photo by ICMA Photos via Flickr

Milwaukee residents were outraged when they learned, about three months after the fact, that Frank Jude, a biracial man, had been severely beaten by several white off-duty police officers also attending a party. Jude was left with a broken nose, bruises, and severe bleeding in his ears, a result of having pens pushed into them. The 2004 attack, which came to light after an article in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, prompted protests. In the fallout, nine officers were fired by the Milwaukee Police Department; three were eventually convicted on federal charges of violating Jude’s civil rights. New research says the case also  led to a drop in 911 calls in Milwaukee notifying the police of crimes, reports the New York Times.

The lag between Jude’s beating and its becoming widely known created a natural experiment for sociologists interested in learning whether mistrust of the police can play a role in a community’s reluctance to report crimes. The results may also influence debate over the effect that wider dissemination of instances of police violence, which can now be recorded on cellphone video and spread quickly via the internet, might have on fighting crime. In the American Sociology Review, sociologists Matthew Desmond of Harvard, Andrew Papachristos of Yale and David Kirk of Oxford drew a direct link between widely publicized acts of police violence and the number of 911 calls neighborhoods make. The researchers pored over 110,000 calls in Milwaukee, one year before and one year after the beating. They estimated that 17 percent (or 22,000) fewer calls were made than would have been likely if the attack had never happened. They found that the effect lasted roughly one year. Desmond said that the results “kind of blew us away; we weren’t expecting to see such a big effect and an effect to last so long.”

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