Wed. Mar 22nd, 2023
MILWAUKEE, WI: A woman rests her head on a man's shoulders as a group of supporters stop and pray after a not guilty verdict is returned on four of the five charges against the three former police officers on trial for beating Frank Judas Jr.
Enlarge / MILWAUKEE, WI: A woman rests her head on a man’s shoulders as a group of supporters stop and pray after a not guilty verdict is returned on four of the five charges against the three former police officers on trial for beating Frank Judas Jr.

After news broke in 2004 that a group of Milwaukee police officers brutally beat an unarmed black man named Frank Jude, the city saw 911 numbers drop by about 20 percent for more than a year — about 22,200 lost in all. reports of crimes — according to a new study by a group of sociologists at Harvard, Yale and Oxford Universities.

The result wasn’t unique to Jude’s beating, the researchers found. Looking at the city’s 911 call data from 2004 to 2010, they noted similar declines following other highly publicized local and state cases of police brutality against unarmed black men.

The findings are consistent with previous research showing that communities — particularly black communities given recent events — become more cynical about law enforcement after incidents of violence. But the new study, published in the Oct American Sociological Review, shows for the first time that people actually change their behavior on the basis of that heightened distrust. Indeed, members of the community are less likely to report crimes to law enforcement, likely out of fear of interacting with the police or skepticism that the police will take them seriously and help.

This, in turn, can contribute to spikes in crime. In the six months after local media first reported Jude’s assault in February 2005, the homicide rate rose 32 percent over the past six months. The researchers noted that it was the city’s deadliest period in the seven years they studied.

“Police departments and city politicians often view a publicized case of police brutality against an unarmed black man as an ‘isolated incident,'” the authors noted. “However, the findings of this study advance a more sociological view of the issue by suggesting that no act of police brutality is an isolated incident, both in cause and effect.”

The drop in 911 calls also casts doubt on another common theory: that crime rates rise after such brutality cases as communities lash out and police become fearful of using force. But reluctance to use force is irrelevant if the police do not respond to crimes. Instead, it’s community members’ fears that seem to be making a difference, the researchers suggest.

Frank Jude’s beating

The researchers, led by Harvard’s Matthew Desmond, chose to analyze 911 call records surrounding Jude’s beating because it was one of the city’s most publicized cases and was also shockingly brutal. On October 23, 2004, Jude and his boyfriend, Lovell Harris (both black), accompanied two women to Milwaukee police officer Andrew Spengler’s housewarming party, according to news reports and court documents. Jude and Harris quickly became uncomfortable around Spengler and his officer friends, who were mostly white. They decided to leave. But as the four drove away from the house in their truck, a group of at least 10 officers surrounded them and accused Jude of stealing Spengler’s police badge. The officers got the four out of the truck and began attacking Jude and Harris and making racial slurs. After Harris slashed his face with a knife, he ran and escaped. However, Jude did not. As summarized by Desmond in the study (warning: the following contains graphic details):

Spengler and several other off-duty police officers began beating Jude on the face and torso, while another pressed his arms behind his back. When Jude fell to the ground, the officers kicked his head. A few officers on duty arrived around 3:00 a.m. (Jude’s female companions had called 911 before partygoers confiscated their phones.) A uniformed officer, Joseph Schabel, stamped on Jude’s face until he heard bones break. The other duty officer watched. An off-duty officer picked up Jude and kicked him in the crotch with such force that his feet lifted off the floor. Another took one of Schabel’s pens and pushed it deep into Jude’s ear canals. Another bent Jude’s fingers back until they snapped. Spengler put a gun to Jude’s head. Jude lay naked from the waist down on the street in a pool of his own blood.

When more officers on duty arrived, Jude was taken to the hospital. In addition to bruises, broken bones and cuts all over his body, his left eye bled for 10 days. He also suffered permanent damage to one hand, vision problems, as well as night terrors and PTSD. Meanwhile, all officers continued to work and refused to cooperate with an internal investigation into the incident. Spengler’s badge was never found and Jude was never charged.

The public was not aware of the gruesome beating until February 6, 2005, when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a Sunday article accompanied by a photo of Jude’s bloodied face. Community protests broke out. A month later, nine officers were fired and four were sentenced. Spengler and two other officers were initially tried and acquitted by all-white juries in a state court. However, eight were later charged in federal court and seven were found guilty. Spengler and two others are now serving prison terms of 15 to 17 years.

Dropped calls

Desmond and his team compiled the 911 records from March 2004 — more than six months prior to Jude’s beating — to December 2010. The period included more than a million calls. After sorting out those not related to crime (medical emergencies, automatic alarms, car accidents and fires), the researchers were left with 883,146. They controlled for neighborhood characteristics, crime rates, and calling patterns in their subsequent analysis.

At the time of the beating, investigators saw no change in 911 calls, suggesting that the word of mouth of Jude’s case wasn’t strong enough to have a noticeable impact. However, right after the sentinelIn the February article, the researchers noted a significant drop in calls. While calling rates gradually recovered, it took a year to do so — and even longer in black communities. In total, the researchers estimate that about 22,200 calls were lost. About 56 percent of those calls would come from black neighborhoods.

The researchers noted similar declines after news broke of the 2006 assault of 19-year-old Danyall Simpson by a white officer in Milwaukee and the 2006 murder of unarmed Sean Bell by white officers in Queens, New York on the wedding day of Bell.

As a control, the researchers found no such declines in 911 calls related to car accidents, which are often required for insurance purposes, over the relevant time frames.

“Police misconduct can forcefully suppress one of the most basic forms of citizen involvement: 911 calling for matters of personal and public safety,” the authors conclude.

American Sociological Review2016. DOI: 10.1177/0003122416663494 (About DOIs).

By akfire1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.