Monday, May 24, 2010

Catch-22: Perp-walks and race, again

I held off talking about the Courier's biannual "Catch-22" feature until all the journalistic perp-walks were done and I could compile them statistically. Each time this thing comes through there are accusations in the comments that Yavapai Silent Witness is unfairly favoring coverage of violent Latinos on the list, and the political implications are obvious. I've had this feeling myself, and this time as I watched the grainy old photos and tedious story reruns go by, I wanted a more objective take.

This was the fourth run, done each May and December (why those months, I wonder?) for a couple of years. The first run isn't fully archived. We've seen 14 of these names at least three times, and only three are new.

The results are interesting. Of the 22 names, 13 are Latino, not a statistically significant preponderance in a sample this small (unless you're looking at it as relative percentages of the larger population). But when I break them out by offense category, a quite different picture emerges, in which the violent criminals are almost exclusively Latino.

I separated the violent crimes (murder, mayhem, domestic homicide and sexual assault) from the non-violent (drugs, theft and administrative charges). In this group of 22 there are 15 alleged violent criminals, and 13 of those are clearly Latino. Of the two non-Latino exceptions, Travis Brewer is featured for ordinary assault and as caught already, and Adam Stevenson was a 26-year-old accused of "sexual assault on a minor female," meaning one between 16 and 18.

The rest of the violent scale is reserved for Latino suspects, reaching back as far as 1998. Further, of the 14 names appearing three times on the overall list, only three are non-Latino. I don't see how an ordinary reader could come away from this with any feeling other than that violent criminals are almost all Latino.

But this is a list specifically of people that police are seeking, so a thoughtful person might instead infer logically that our police agencies could simply be less competent at catching violent Latinos than violent non-Latinos. The nearby international border adds some weight to that inference.

Is Yavapai Silent Witness cherry-picking violent Latino suspects to present a racially slanted picture, or is it just allowing that picture to form out of what it doesn't say? The only way to get a handle on that would be to show us who's not on the list -- a breakdown of violent crime for the entire ten-year period by race and prosecution outcome, including acquittals. I think that would be a very illuminating piece for the Courier to present as a followup. In the context of deep public concern about crime by illegal immigrants, I'd also like to see that breakdown include immigration status, which is entirely absent from the Catch-22 features, thereby allowing scared people to see what they want to see.

Finally, I'm struck that with space for 22 violent criminals, we only have 15. I think it says something very positive about our county when a third of our Most Wanted are non-violent offenders, including a teenage sneak-thief, a bail-jumping drug mule and a drunk driver.

Here's my breakdown.

Miguel Franco: murder, 2006 3x
Claudio Lopez: murder, 2006 3x
Domingo Valdez-Anguiano: murder, 2004 3x
Joel Medina-Ortiz: murder, 2006 2x
Manuel Dera: homicide, 1998 2x
Valentine Hernandez: vehicular assault, 2003 3x
Luis Florez: vehicular assault, 2000 3x
Joel Vidrio: assault with a deadly weapon, 2004 3x
Pablo Arredondo-Herrera: att. murder, agg. assault, kidnapping 3x
Carlos Pimentel: home invasion, 2007 3x
Travis Brewer: assault 2x
Ruth Cardoso-Gomez: negligent homicide, child abuse 3x
(sexual assault)
Jose Herrera-Martinez: child molestation 3x
Adam Stevenson: sexual assault on a minor female, 2004 3x
Ernesto Romero-Salcedo: sexual conduct with a minor 2x
Tony Thomas: "drug-related charges" 3x
Robert Michaels: aggravated DUI 2x
Kory France: drug mule, jumped bail new
Kristen Martin: meth possession and auto theft, 2005 new
Jason Niedermeyer: theft and burglary 2x
David Dehart: failure to register 3x
Herschell Scott: failure to register new

PS in defense of the language: "Catch-22," invented by Joseph Heller for his novel, expresses the bureaucratic weakness of creating conflicting or self-referencing rules that effectively prevent sensible action. Using this expression as a catchy (sorry) slug for a wanted list is illiterate and ironically ridiculous, and erodes understanding among the reading public.

From December: The Catch-22 list again, ack

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