Tag Archives: James A. Bacon

True: Marijuana Arrests in Virginia Still Climbing

Based on data from the latest Virginia State Police “Crime in Virginia” report, Attorney General Mark R. Herring recently noted that Virginia arrests for marijuana-related charges increased 3.5% in 2018, capping off a tripling of marijuana-related arrests since 2002.

“While other states are moving to a more sensible approach to cannabis, Virginia is still moving in the wrong direction. It makes absolutely no sense,”Herring said in a press release. “Marijuana arrests are now at their highest level in at least two decades and maybe ever, meaning that even more Virginians, especially young people and people of color, are being saddled with criminal records that can drastically affect their lives. Now is the time to put a stop to this costly, unfair, and ineffective approach, and to pursue a better, smarter, fairer course.”

Yesterday I promised to take a closer look at the crime data to see if Herring’s representation of the marijuana-related arrest trends is fair. As far as I can tell, it is. But the conclusions he draws may not be. Continue reading

Police Antisocial Behavior, Not Addictions

It’s one thing to be intoxicated — another to pass out on a public park bench.

In an 8-7 vote, a federal appeals court has struck down a Virginia law punishing “habitual” drunks. The law targeted homeless people struggling with alcoholism, thus “criminalizing an illness,” reports the Washington Post. Further, the court found the law to be unconstitutionally vague.

There are reasonable arguments on both sides of this issue. Alcohol addiction is an illness, and money might well be better spent providing treatment to homeless drunks rather than incarcerating them. On the other hand, the law provided local police a tool for maintaining public order. Eliminating the law invites drunks and derelicts to occupy public spaces where they might infringe upon the rights of others.

To my mind, it is crucial to distinguish between the illness and the behavior — and this applies to intoxication with marijuana and other drugs as well as alcohol. While addiction should not be a crime, police should address public intoxication when a person’s behavior becomes threatening or disruptive.

In perusing the Virginia State Police “Crime in Virginia 2018” report, I note the following numbers (combining figures for adults and juvenile): Continue reading

A Closer Look at the 2018 Hate Crime Data

The Virginia State Police have published their Crime in Virginia update for 2018, and it is worth noting what Attorney General Mark R. Herring is focusing on in a press release issued today — the fact that marijuana arrests increased 3.5% last year, more than tripling since 1999. No mention of hate crimes.

Last year Herring launched his bid for the Democratic Party gubernatorial nomination with a roadshow decrying a supposed surge in white supremacist hate crimes. But the number of total hate crimes in Virginia, including those allegedly perpetrated by whites and those allegedly perpetrated against blacks, declined last year, continuing a long-term downward trend.

Not only were there fewer hate crimes reported in Virginia last year, most of them were minor in nature. None were homicides, only one was arson, and only seven were classified as aggravated assault. Given how elected officials and the media have magnified the issue of race and ethnicity in the public discourse today, the fact that race- and ethnic-based hate crimes declined in the Old Dominion last year suggests that the public attitudes and behaviors are not nearly as polarized as those of the political class. Continue reading

The Latest Front in Virginia’s Energy Wars: Rural Electric Co-Ops

One in six Virginians get their electricity from a rural electric cooperative. In theory, because co-ops are owned by their electrical customers, the interests of owners and customers and owners are aligned — in contrast to Virginia’s investor-owned utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Co., in which the interests of stockholders and customers often come into conflict. But in the real world, the agency problem intervenes: The electric co-ops are run by professional managers, and a question arises as to whether entrenched management is putting its own interests ahead of the owner-customers they serve.

The policies of Virginia’s electric co-ops has been the source of considerable consternation among environmentalists. As noted last month by Ivy Main, a Sierra Club of Virginia blogger and contributor to the Virginia Mercury, “While a few co-ops have adopted innovative customer-friendly programs, most actively resist change.”

By “actively resisting change,” Main refers to their reluctance to embrace the environmentalists’ clean energy agenda. Coal accounts for 75% of energy generated by electric cooperatives nationwide, compared to less than 28% for all utilities nationally. “Worse,” she writes, “failing to see the promise of distributed generation, most co-ops have locked themselves into long-term supply contracts that give them little room for self-generation with solar and wind. … In fact, stuck with the dirty black stuff, rural electric cooperatives are much more likely than investor-owned utilities to support coal and oppose climate regulations.” Continue reading

Starbucks Past and Future

From hole-in-the-wall…

For coffee lovers like Laura and myself, no trip to Seattle would be complete without a pilgrimage to Starbucks. Down at the city’s famous farmer’s market, the retail giant still maintains the very first store it opened (pictured above). The progenitor Starbucks shop sold coffee, pastries and spices. You won’t find spices there anymore. The king of caffeine finds it more profitable to peddle Starbucks-branded kitsch to a stream of tourists so endless that they line up outside and, to prevent overcrowding in the hole-in-a-wall shop, are waved through in twos and threes.

As Starbucks has grown into a globe-straddling enterprise, it experiments with new concepts. You can get a feel for the company’s new directions by visiting the Starbucks Reserve complex on Pike Street (pictured below). Don’t be surprised if some of these retail ideas appear in a shopping center near you.

…to sprawling retail mega-center

Continue reading

Seattle’s Pocket Parks


I’m back in Richmond, batteries recharged. Many thanks to Steve and Dick for keeping the fires of rebellion stoked in my absence. Laura and I visited the great Northwest, a region extending from Seattle and Victoria (British Columbia) in the south to Juneau and Glacier Bay in the north. As always, I kept my eyes peeled for examples of place making that might prove instructive to Virginians. Today, let’s talk about pocket parks. Seattle has lots of them.

By way of preamble, there are some things Seattle gets wrong. The city has one of the most acute affordable-housing issues in the country, and it has a homeless problem to match. We encountered numerous homeless people downtown, some of them begging, some of them sleeping in doorways or on benches, and a couple of them sprawled unconscious on the sidewalk. When we were walking off our jet lag early one morning, a woman dropped her pants in plain view and relieved herself on the pavement. So, I’m under no illusion that Seattle is an urban paradise.

But the city does have a lively downtown. The streets remain busy during nights and weekends — at least they do on balmy, sunny days like those we were lucky enough to experience. Downtown is highly walkable. The secret is wide sidewalks, vibrant streetscapes and pocket parks. Continue reading

The Most Cost-Effective Anti-Poverty Program Known to Man: Contraception

Back to exploring “root causes” of poverty… This chart shows vividly how poverty is a demography-driven phenomenon. Poor people have more children than the not-poor do, and they have children at a younger age. The consequence of this “disparity” in fertility rates is that the percentage of children raised in poverty is vastly higher than the percentage of poor people in the population as a whole. Even as thousands of Virginians succeed in lifting themselves out of poverty, the reservoir of poor people is continually replenished. Continue reading

Virginia Population by 2020: 8.7 Million

The Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia has published new projections for Virginia’s population in 2020. The population will continue to increase, though at a slower rate in the past, reaching an estimated 8.66 million next year. Most striking is a graphic (seen above) showing the relative distribution of the population between Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, metro Richmond, Virginia’s smaller metros, and the non-metropolitan areas.

2018 Hate Crimes Down

Looks like Attorney General Mark Herring will have to come up with a new campaign theme in his run for governor.  It’s bad enough that he got caught up in the blackface scandal. Now the central premise of his campaign launch — that the nation was in the grip of a surge of white supremacist violence — rings more hollow than ever.

The Virginia State Police has issued its 2018 Crime in Virginia report, and sadly for Herring (but good for the rest of us), the number of reported hate crimes was only 161 — down from 202 the previous year. The number of anti-black hate crimes fell to 62 from 68 the previous year.

The 2017 hate crime surge hyped by Herring turned out to be a blip in a long-term decline. The fact is, despite the best effort of politicians to stir up racial grievances, Americans and Virginians get along pretty well with one another.

Update: I updated some of these numbers when I returned from vacation and re-gained access to a PC.

STIs and Crime — a Moderate Connection

In recent days I have been examining correlates between various social/economic indicators and violent crime. I have found only a weak crime-poverty link and a weak crime-teen birth link, but a moderate connection between the percentage of single-parent households in a Virginia locality and violent crime. In this post, I show the connection between, of all things, Sexually Transmitted Infections and violent crime.

The graph above shows the correlation between the incidence of chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease, per 100,000 population and the incidence of violence crime per 100,000, as reported by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. There is a moderate correlation — an R² of .4972, far stronger than for poverty and teenage births, and stronger even than for the incidence of single-parent households.

Correlation, of course, does not indicate causation. It would be ludicrous to suggest that catching a sexually transmitted diseases causes people to engage in violent crime. But that doesn’t render the correlation meaningless. I hypothesize that the incidence of violence and STIs have common factors behind them. Continue reading

Teen Births and Violent Crime — a Weak Connection

I’ll be the first to admit, giving me an Excel spreadsheet is the intellectual equivalent of handing a chimp a machine gun. What I don’t know about statistics would, well… it would fill a statistics textbook. But I abuse statistics less than most journalists, commentators, and politicians, who, to paraphrase renowned economist Ronald H. Coase, routinely torture the data until it confesses. I count on readers to call B.S. when they see it and modify my findings accordingly. In the spirit of exploration and with all due humility, I present the following:

In a previous post, I disputed the conventional wisdom that “poverty” is a “root cause” of violent crime. The lack of income and material resources is undoubtedly a contributing factor, playing into feedback loops of tremendous complexity, but overall the correlation between the poverty rate and the crime rate across Virginia’s 100+ localities is weak — an R² of .1802, which is considered a small effect size. There is a much stronger correlation — an R² of .4007 across Virginia localities, a moderate effect size — between the percentage of single-parent households and violent crime.

If the percentage of single-family households in a population has a moderate influence on crime, I wondered about the percentage of teen births. Continue reading

Happy 4th! Enjoy Liberty and Prosperity While It Lasts

I love this country. I choke up when I sing the Star Spangled Banner and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I honor those who gave their lives to preserve and protect our freedoms. I revere this country as the greatest engine of wealth creation and prosperity in history. While other, smaller countries may have a higher GDP per capita or rank higher in surveys of happiness, they never fought a war to extinguish slavery, a war to liberate Spanish colonies, a war to end European monarchies, a war to demolish fascism, or a cold war to contain and defeat communism. For all our our flaws, America has been the greatest force for good the world has ever seen.

But I wonder if we are governable anymore. Can any society as big, sprawling, populous and diverse as the U.S., reflecting such widely divergent values, long stand as a single nation? Continue reading

Thousands of Virginians Getting their Licenses Reinstated

Angela Battle: one of thousands of Virginians to have their license restored. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Some 37,700 Virginians who couldn’t drive yesterday can drive today, thanks to a budget amendment to Virginia’s Fiscal 2020 budget, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. More than 600,000 drivers have suspended licenses because a failure to pay court fines and costs, creating a Catch 22 situation for thousands: People can’t repay their fines if they can’t drive to work, and they can’t drive to work if they can’t repay their fines. The Department of Motor Vehicles will contact other Virginians with suspended licenses to inform them how to get their licenses back.

Randy Rollins, president of the Drive-to-Work nonprofit that helps people get their drivers licenses reinstated, has tried unsuccessfully for the past 10 years to get the law changed, but Governor Ralph Northam was able to enact the new policy, for a year at least, by means of a budget amendment. Continue reading

P.R.C. Scraps Jefferson Birthday Celebration

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

With those immortal words in the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson declared the freedoms and liberties of Englishmen to be universal, applying to all people. As a slave holder, he failed to live up to the ideals he espoused. But his words inspired his generation to fight for independence, and inspired subsequent generations, who nearly succeeded in abolishing slavery in Virginia in 1831-82, fought a Civil War to end slavery, and fought and won Civil Rights for all. Without Jefferson’s words, without the principles he articulated and defended, those who now revile him would not enjoy the liberties they have today.

Showing an astonishing lack of historical perspective, the People’s Republic of Charlottesville (P.R.C.) City Council voted 4-1 Monday to scrap the decades-old April 13 holiday honoring the city’s most famous resident and, instead, will recognize Liberation and Freedom Day on March 3, the day Union army arrived in the city in 1865.

Speakers at the session denounced Jefferson as a racist and a rapist, reports the Daily Progress: Continue reading

Pious Platitudes about Poverty and Crime

The City of Petersburg has the highest homicide rate in Virginia, with 53.5 killings per 100,000 residents since 2013 — exceeding Virginia’s other homicide hot spots of Danville, Hopewell, Richmond, and Portsmouth. So reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch in a recent article.

In talking to the RTD, Petersburg Police Chief Kenneth Miller was reluctant to blame the violence on the city’s socioeconomic challenges. “I was raised poor and I’m police chief now,” he said. “I can’t give in and say, well, because we’re poor we can’t [behave in a more acceptable way]. I think poor people want good policing and they want [public safety] just as much as anybody does.”

Nevertheless, states the RTD, Petersburg police must contend with a litany of social ills. Twenty-seven percent of the population is in poverty, and more than half the population is enrolled in Medicaid. Median household income was less than half the state average. The graduation rate was the ninth worse in the state last year.

It is the conventional wisdom in the United States today — a belief that permeates the political establishment, journalists, and the pundit class — that poverty is a “root cause” of violence. The correlation between poverty and violent crime is so widely accepted that it needs no justification or empirical support. But is the connection as strong as the chattering class thinks it is? Continue reading