Patterico's Pontifications

1/27/2005

Interesting Letter Regarding the L.A. Times

Filed under: Dog Trainer — Patterico @ 6:49 am

After posting my recent L.A. Times year in review in two parts, I received many e-mails. One particularly interesting one was sent by Prof. David Klinger, a professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Prof. Klinger has agreed to let me post his e-mail in its entirety. Here it is:

Sir:

I just read (with great interest) your year-end post re: bias at the LA Times. I was particularly interested to see Matt Lait and Scott Glover mentioned prominently, for I have a burr in my saddle about those two gentlemen.

To make a very long story short, I am a professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who studies, among other things, police shootings. (In the late 1990s, for example, I received funding from the U.S. Department of Justice to interview police officers who had shot people in the course of their duties). I am also a former LAPD cop who killed a guy back in 1981, so I know a thing or two about deadly force in police work.

Matt and Scott tracked me down a few years back and wanted to chat with me about my take on some data they had on LAPD shootings. We spoke several times (they even drove down to San Diego to meet me when I was out visiting my mom on vacation!) about a variety of issues re: deadly force, including why some cops are involved in multiple shootings even though most officers (about 90%) never shoot anyone.

They wondered if maybe multiple shooters are cops who simply like to shoot people. I explained to them that that there could be a variety of reasons and that the one that most likely applies in most cases is this: some cops simply find themselves in a disproportionate number of situations in which bad guys try to kill them or another innocent (e.g., their partner), because rare events are not distributed in the fashion of a “normal” curve, but rather tend to have some clusters. I even went so far as to show them the Poisson distribution that characterizes rare events and point out that some people are struck by lightning more than once. I also pointed out to them that some police officers are themselves shot more than once during their law enforcement careers (including a friend of mine who did not survive the second gunshot wound he sustained, a contact wound to his forehead), something that cops certainly do not seek out.

With all that as background, I was shocked to read their piece “Frequent Fire” as part of the hatchet job they pulled on the LAPD back in October (“Frequent Fire appeared on 10-18-04). I won’t bore you with the details, but they posited that cops who shoot more than once are a big problem and that only messed-up, psycho, or just plain bad cops are involved in multiple shootings. They did not cite me. They did not present the points I had made to them. They just put out a misleading, incomplete, and clearly biased story.

Just wanted to alert you to another case where the LA Times (and particularly Matt and Scott) laid an incredibly biased egg.

Sincerely,

David Klinger

P.S. You can check out my credentials at www.killzonevoices.com which is a
site devoted primarily to the book I wrote on police shootings called INTO THE
KILL ZONE: A COP’S EYE VIEW OF DEADLY FORCE (a copy of which I sent to Scott and Matt about seven months ago).

P.S.S. Happy New Year!!

Prof. Klinger has since sent me some follow-up material that made it clear that the contacts he had with the Times reporters related to this story, and not a different one.

I had hoped to add my own thoughts about the article Prof. Klinger is criticizing, but I just haven’t had the time to examine the issue comprehensively, though I did go back and look at the article. In a nutshell, I concluded that the reporters had some very interesting interviews and anecdotes, and probably had a point that LAPD should monitor frequent shooters. But the piece offered no real statistical evidence to indicate that the problem lay with the officers rather than other factors, such as the environment in which they worked. I think the piece could have benefited from an explanation of the relevant statistics involved. It appears that Prof. Klinger could have provided part of that explanation, and it seems to me a shame that it wasn’t done.

UPDATE: I asked my father-in-law, who was a stats professor, if the statistics set forth in the article could be explained by the Poisson distribution. He said, in essence: no, not entirely — but the article’s statistics nevertheless don’t rule out (or even address) the possibility that other factors would explain why relatively few officers have multiple shootings.

In essence, the article acts as though the statistics prove something, but almost totally fails to look at any control variables. This kind of thing would never pass peer review as a statistics paper. As journalism, it’s hardly stellar — especially given all the time they apparently had to work on the piece.

8 Responses to “Interesting Letter Regarding the L.A. Times

  1. A very interesting take on LAT bias, but of course not unexpected by regular readers of your site.

    However, I would point out that there is much compelling work in the field of study on cops who have repeated citizen complaints about abusive treatment by cops. When approached from the perspective of why twenty or thirty percent of the officers seem to have no or limited people interaction problems one gets to try and spread identifiable “best practices”

    I enounterd a series of papers on “best practices” in connection with my responsibilities for a large school district with “Campus Assistants”

    Regretably, I don’t remember the titles of any of the papers, but I just did a google search that returned several good possilties. (cops, trouble, best practices)

    Clearly not directly relatable to shooting incidents, but in the Risk Managment business, we learn that when you reduce the frequency of underlying precursor incidents, you get less of those events that result from an escalation of those incidents.

    A little bit like the “community policing” effort of stopping little crimes to reduce bigger ones. From my experience, it works.

    Brian Frohmuth
    Visalia, Ca

    Brian (c5c6a3)

  2. With regard to relying purely on statistics, have you noticed what has happened in the UK regarding crib deaths (aka SIDS)? A judge recently ordered the release of about 250 women from jail, because a few “experts” had developed a theory, based largely on statistical probabilities, that said women who had two or more children die of SIDS had probably killed them.

    Of course this is not necessarily so, but it seems that as the result of this “expert” theory not only did more than a hundred women suffer the unexplained deaths of their children, but were then wrongfully convicted of murdering them. In fact, there is a strong genetic link to some cases of SIDS deaths, there are possible infections which contribute, and factors such as low birth weight also show a strong correlation. If one twin dies of SIDS, for example, studies have shown that the other twin is six to twelve times more likely than the average infant to also die of SIDS – and these are in cases where abuse has probably been ruled out.

    Police officers don’t all work in the same circumstances or the same neighborhoods. There are some who will be exposed to far more violence and danger than others. One should be very wary of assuming that cluster events automatically are caused by the person designated as the center of the cluster. It leads to great injustice.

    There are bad cops, but there are ways to deal with them that are far more efficient and productive than simply labeling as bad all cops who are working in areas or in climates that are controversial. Not only is this unjust, but it will inevitably lead to police officers avoiding danger and scenes of conflict, instead of doing their jobs by intervening.

    Btw, I am no defender of bad cops. In two places where I have lived there have been cases of extreme abuse of power involving the police force. But no one should be condemned purely on the basis of statistics. No one.

    MaxedOutMama (6b9b97)

  3. The LAT works like Viacom did on the Rathergate incident. They paid three document experts for advice who told them the docs were fake (all 3 were women living in Southern and Westrn states, interviewed on Larry Elder’s show in late Sept). In the Rathergate report they acted like the only experts they talked to was the guy who they said suported their smear. BTW even he is now saying that Viacom misrepresented what he said.

    Once again the MSM burys facts that they have but that do not support their spiel.

    Rod Stanton (f1688c)

  4. Make that expert singular

    Rod Stanton (f1688c)

  5. Professor Klinger’s point on the Poisson distribution helped me to understand why during my year as a medic in the army and 6 to 9 months as an ambulance driver I very seldom was on duty when something really disasterous would happen. On my shifts I would get the fallen drunks. Others would get the explosions and once a train wreck. This was fortunate for those involved because I was terrible in the first aid business. I could recount here some more of the incidents but instead will just say I believe the professor over the LAT.

    Paul Young (8967df)

  6. Catching my eye: morning A through Z (UPDATED)
    Here’s what’s caught my eye so far this morning: When the Geneva Food Crimes Tribunal meets, Beautiful Atrocities’s No-Bake Meatloaf is certain to be indicted. A dialogue with Socrates (although not precisely a Socratic dialogue) about Bush’s inaugurat…

    The Glittering Eye (80002b)

  7. SOUTHERN CALIFORNIANS should know how journalism is done
    at the LA Times — nothing in that regard could be more revealing than L.A. Times” href=”http://patterico.com/archives/003259.php”>this letter from a former LA cop to Patterico. Damning stuff….

    PRESTOPUNDIT -- "An intense brain-buzz, guaranteed" (2blowhards) (84db7a)

  8. […] Many of you will remember Prof. David Klinger, who wrote me earlier this year about an encounter he had with Matt […]

    Patterico's Pontifications » NPR Story on Police Shootings (0c6a63)


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