This is an astonishingly low rate if one thinks that the purpose of arresting people is to stop them from breaking the law, and it’s harmful both to the people arrested and to society at large. The incomparable Alexandra Napatoff, writing about misdemeanor convictions (although her argument is as strong regarding the arrests themselves, and even more so if the conviction rate is so very low), puts it like this;
Because the misdemeanor world is so large, its cultural disregard for evidence and innocence has pervasive ripple effects, not the least of which is the cynical lesson in civics that it teaches millions of Americans every year. In these ways, the misdemeanor process has become an influential gateway, sweeping up innocent as well as guilty on a massive scale and fundamentally shaping not only the ways we produce criminal convictions but also who is likely to sustain them.
This data sheds some preliminary light on what the HPOA’s purposes are in arresting so incredibly many people for such minor offenses.5 After all, the HPOA isn’t made up of morons. If they’re spending more than $1.5 million per year to arrest all these people for so few prosecutions, the prosecutions must not be the point. This is even more clear given that the 44 people I’m looking at here were arrested an average of 26 times each over the 7 years, which is more than 3.5 times per person per year.
It seems like an exercise in futility, but it can’t actually be. There must be some rational purpose behind the whole exercise. I think it’s most likely that the point is to make life in Hollywood so unpleasant for homeless people that they pack up and go somewhere else.6 As their cop buddies like to remind everyone, you can beat the rap but you can’t beat the ride.
If that’s what the HPOA is up to, it’s not only immoral and despicable and immensely harmful to the people being arrested so very often, but it’s a huge waste of public resources. That is, the BID pays its security guards $1.5 million per year, but the public pays for the LAPD to accept prisoners, for the LASD deputies who run the jail, for the deputy city attorneys who decide whether or not to prosecute and who run the prosecutions, and for the public defenders who defend those people whose cases get that far.
These kind of costs, that the BID can force the public to pay for but cannot easily be made to pay for itself, are known to economists as externalities. I have not found any way to add up the cost of these externalities, but it is surely too high for the citizens of Los Angeles to pay for a bunch of zillionaires and their misguided project of social cleansing. There’s not even any direct way for the public to make them stop doing it. And what good does it do the City as a whole to have the homeless population of Hollywood shifted around to some other neighborhood with fewer zillionaires per square mile than Hollywood happens to have?
Anyway, it’s not at all clear what can be done about it (yet), but an obvious first step is to force the BID to pay for their own externalities.7 After all, even if we bracket the question of whether BIDs should exist in the first place, it’s hard to see an argument in favor of their idiosyncratic operations being so heavily subsidized by the City, especially given that they provide no discernible general benefit.8
Image of Mike Feuer is a public record and I got it here. Image of Arthur Pigou is in the public domain and I got it here.
- In a personal communication.
- I made a mistake with Hagan, who has two different first names, and it’s too expensive to get Feuer’s office to rerun the report (it costs $30.22 a pop), so I just left him out of the following analysis altogether.
- This is a difficult process and the information is not complete. For instance, some entries don’t have an outcome listed in the City Attorney’s spreadsheet, and I neglected to request location data, so it’s not possible to tell exactly which of these cases originated in arrests by the BID Patrol. It turns out, though, that such uncertainty is endemic to even the professional studies of misdemeanor arrests and outcomes. The data is evidently poorly kept, poorly collated, and mostly very difficult to obtain, See e.g. Alexandra Napatoff’s important paper on the subject.
- I have not yet found a way to learn the outcomes of these cases.
- Mostly drinking in public, distantly followed by LAMC 41.18(d) violations (sitting on the sidewalk).
- This is consistent with the fact that they don’t track outcomes at all. After all, if they only want to harass homeless people by arresting them, why would they care what happens to them after that?
- Such a charge is called a Pigovian tax and is a reasonably well-accepted way to incentivize more responsible decision-making.
- Or, for that matter, even much of a special benefit to their property owners. After all, how many of them are actually affected by a couple hundred homeless people sleeping on Gower Street or Homewood Avenue? Probably not so many.