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February 19, 2012

Too Good to Be True

Dear Statisticians:

“If a statistic sounds too good to be true, be wary,” Glenn Kessler wrote in his Washington Post “Fact Checker” column today (which is on a completely different issue that I’m not even going to mention), One instance of that cautionary rule came up in Mayor Gray’s State of the District address, which I wrote about in themail on February 8. One applause line that I didn’t mention was this good news: “And the Metropolitan Police Department posted an astonishing 95 percent homicide closure rate compared to the national average of just 56 percent.” The audience responded enthusiastically, but the statistic sounded too good to be true. And it was.

Long time Post crime reporter Cheryl Thompson had enough sense to be wary of the statistic. She investigated, and found how the MPD determined its homicide closure rate. She wrote about it today in “The Trick to DC Police Force’s 94% Closure Rate for 2011 Homicides,” “But an examination of District homicides found that the department’s closure rate is a statistical mishmash that makes things seem much better than they are. The District had 108 homicides last year, police records show. A 94 percent closure rate would mean that detectives solved 102 of them. But only 62 were solved as of year’s end, for a true closure rate of 57 percent, according to records reviewed by The Post. DC police achieved the high closure rate last year by including about 40 cases from other years that were closed in 2011.”

Kessler’s good advice applies whenever you see a statistic that is unusually high or unusually low; it especially applies if it is unusually appealing and if it comes from a seemingly authoritative source.

Gary Imhoff


Legislating Good Behavior
Dorothy Brizill,

On Tuesday, the city council will consider and vote on a resolution, PR19-590, that Council Chairman Kwame Brown has introduced to amend the council’s Code of Official Conduct regarding the “decorum of councilmember.” Under the resolution, “during any meeting of the council that is open to the public . . . a Councilmember shall treat other Councilmembers with dignity and respect, and refrain from using profane, indecent, or abusive language directed at another Councilmember or to Council as an institution.” Enforcement of the new rule will be the responsibility of the council chair, who “shall maintain order during any meeting of the Council” and “may order the removal of a Councilmember from a meeting.” For some strange reason, however, the bill’s only enforcement provision (i.e., removal from a meeting) does not “apply to any regular, additional or special meeting of the Council or Committee of the Whole.”

PR 19-590 is an outgrown of a recent spate of incidents in which councilmembers have exhibited particularly bad behavior on the council dais, at public hearings, and at legislative breakfast meetings. It remains to be seen whether the council can, in fact, legislate good behavior.


Things Fall Apart
James Treworgy,

Things fall apart [February 15], but DC will always be able to fall back on its strengths. The same thing it’s always been good at: shaking down its residents, We may not be good at running the city in any useful way, but fear not! As long as it’s still technically legal to drive in DC, we have a guaranteed revenue stream: traffic tickets. Never mind that it takes them thirty days to let people know they’ve received one, meaning if you happen to pass by that place every day, you’ll probably rack up a grand or so in fines before you hear about the first one.

I believe that the city should starts applying the “unlimited jeopardy” proposition to all administrative offenses, since obviously, there are vast untapped revenue streams out there. Ahem. I mean, vast safety problems that need addressing. I propose that if you don’t shovel your sidewalk, we don’t stick a citation in your mailbox. Well actually, we don’t do anything now, since I’ve never heard of this crime (which actually is a safety problem) being enforced. But what money there could be! So, assuming it ever snows again, we will send out a “safety inspector” who will attempt to slip and fall, and simply hit you with a personal injury lawsuit the following spring.

Then, if you leave your trash can out past 6:00 p.m. on trash day, we will record a citation every time we see your trash can outside your property line, and stop picking up your trash until you call us to ask why. Since your trash isn’t getting picked up, you might be tempted to leave it out until the next day, another opportunity to issue a ticket! At which point we’ll advise you of the hefty pile of fines you’ve got waiting, which must be paid before trash collection can resume. Hey, it’s a clear winner! What else you gonna do?

These approaches would unify the city’s definition of “safety program” across all administrative areas so that enforcement of all such crimes is consistent: don’t try to raise awareness of, or prevent. the crime, but rather try to make as much money off it as possible, by waiting as long as legally possible to tell the person they’ve committed a crime, all the while citing them again and again. It’s just like bowling for dollars! Because it’s for the safety of everyone.



Black Dispatches, February 25
Bruce Snyder,

Author Kenneth Daigler will discuss the extensive role of African-Americans in Union espionage during the Civil War, including a spy with a photographic memory in the Confederate White House. Saturday, February 25, 2:30 p.m., first floor auditorium, Cleveland Park Library, 3310 Connecticut Avenue, NW.


Woman’s National Democratic Club Luncheon, February 28
Patricia Bitondo,

Robert M. Brandon, Voter Suppression Legislation and the 2012 Election. Robert Brandon is the cofounder and president for the Fair Elections Legal Network., a public affairs firm that works to advance public interest and grass roots goals. He is an attorney with over twenty-five years of public policy, legislative, media, and campaign experience at the federal, state, and local levels. Recognized as one of the nation’s leading consumer advocates, he works closely with a variety of public interest groups around the country.

His organization has been actively engaged in several states in the battle against voter suppression laws, including voter ID requirements and changes to laws that make it hard for organizations to conduct voter registration drives to help people register to vote. Don’t miss this opportunity to get the current information on what is happening to destroy the opportunity for citizens to exercise their right to vote. At the Woman’s National Democratic Club, 1526 New Hampshire Avenue, NW. Bar opens at 11:30 a.m.; lunch 12:15 p.m.; lecture, presentation, Q&A: 1:00-2:00 p.m. Members $25, nonmembers $30; lecture only $10. Register at


National Building Museum Events, March 1
Stacy Adamson,

Thursday, March 1, 6:30-8 p.m. Making Performance Public: Mandatory Disclosure of Energy Use in Buildings. Nearly a dozen municipalities across the country have passed laws mandating property owners to measure and publicly release the energy use of their buildings. Representatives from Austin, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, discuss the challenges of implementing new reporting requirements and their impact on local real estate markets. This program is a collaboration with the Urban Land Institute. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at Prepaid registration required. $12 members, free students, $20 nonmembers.


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