Thursday, April 25, 2013

NYC | The Mollen Commission on Police Corruption

L to R: Richard J. Davis, Ross Sandler, Judge  Harold Baer, Jr., March 20, 2012.
A little more than a year ago, in March 2012, I traveled downtown to the New York Law School on Worth Street for one of their breakfast meetings presided over by Professor Ross Sandler. 

The topic was a retrospective discussion of the work of the Mollen Commission. What brought me there - in addition to the fact that the breakfast meetings are run well and the top is interesting, I have a personal connection to the law school because among the alumni of NYLS is John A. Milholland, Harvard ’14 – brother of suffragette Inez, who married my great-uncle Eugen Boissevain.

The Mollen Commission was formally known as "The City of New York Commission to Investigate Allegations of Police Corruption and the Anti-Corruption Procedures of the Police Department". It is named after former judge Milton Mollen, who was appointed its chair in July 1992 by then NYC Mayor David Dinkins.
 In his introduction, Rooss Sandler - Director of the Center for NY City Law - noted that police corruption seems to surface at regular intervals and that successive commissions have wrestled with how to address it.
In 1972, just 20 years before the Mollen Commission was formed, the Knapp Commission issued its report on a sensational series of revelations about corruption in the NYPD, featuring Robert Leuci and Frank Serpico among others. Books and movies followed – “Serpico” and “Prince of the City”. Michael Armstrong, former chief counsel of the Commission, spoke about this report in a February meeting of the Center for NY City Law; his remarks are taped here. Ross Sandler comments on the 1972 report:
[It] memorably divided the types of corruption by the epigram of “meat eaters” and “grass eaters”. [The former] aggressively sought out opportunities… while grass eaters, the vast majority of the force, were officers who accepted small gratuities, but did not aggressively seek out corrupt opportunities.
Mollen's mandate was to examine and investigate “the nature and extent of corruption in the Department; evaluate the departments procedures for preventing and detecting that corruption; and recommend changes and improvements to those procedures”. The Mollen Commission issued a report in July 1994. Its conclusion was that the nature of corruption had changed since Knapp Commission days. 
Corruption then was largely a corruption of accommodation, of criminals and police officers giving and taking bribes, buying and selling protection. Corruption was, in its essence, consensual. Today's corruption is characterized by brutality, theft, abuse of authority and active police criminality.
The first of the two speakers this morning, U.S. District Judge Harold Baer, Jr., was a member of the Mollen Commission. He said that the first line of defense against corruption is inside the NYPD, in the form of the integrity control officers who report to the Internal Affairs Bureau. The IAB has a hugely difficult job without outside support. A Commission to Combat Police Corruption was created to monitor the IAB, but Mayor Rudy  Giuliani could not reach agreement with the City Council on the power of a Commission to Combat Police Corruption. It therefore became a non-statutory body, appointed by the Mayor.

Discussing the Mayor's Commission was Richard J. Davis, former Chair of the Commission to Combat Police Corruption. He had some simple recommendations for making an investigative committee effective. To summarize:

1.     The Commission should be statutory. The Mayor and City Council must agree on a permanent external monitoring body that can both prod and defend the IAB.
2.     It should have an independent board that is given authority.
3.     In particular, it must have the authority to issue subpoenas. Expecting an agency to respond to investigative questions voluntarily, in a timely way, is expecting too much.  
This was a useful discussion for anyone interested in how to investigate systematic corruption or violation of agency standards. Thank you Ross Sandler, et al. The full record on tape is here.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

NAVY BUDGET | Greece, 3rd Cent BC–Trihemiolia, Not Triremes

Photo of Trireme Model
A Fully Rigged Trireme During the Bi-Polar 5th Century BC.
As the U.S. Congress and President attempt to rebalance the FY 2014 military budget to address the challenges posed by terrorists and rogue governments, the evolution of the trireme to the trihemiolia shows how the ancient Greeks did it.

The trireme was the Greek equivalent of a 20th-century destroyer. It was well-adapted to the head-on conflict that this warfare at first entailed in the 5th Century BC in the era when the Greeks faced the Persians and then Athens faced Sparta.

Building of triremes was largely financed by wealthy Greeks who hired the captains and crews. It was a matter of pride and honor for them to do this.

During the 4th Century BC, the enemy changed. Instead of a bipolar world, the enemy of the Greek city-states became smaller-scale pirates. The trireme had to be adapted to travel faster and to switch quickly between a sailing ship and a human-powered ship. So the trireme was modified and became the more agile trihemiolia.

My work on this began in 1958, when Greek History Professor Sterling Dow sent me to the Widener Library to look at old issues of the Mariner's Mirror. In Rhodes for a few weeks in 2007, I picked up the theme, consulting the sailing museum libraries, especially proceedings of conferences or themed issues of journals on the subject of ancient technology.

I have also researched the Dodecanese Archaeological Services in Rhodes and the Sackler Library of the Bodleian at Oxford. Scott Bushey has recommended as a source the UK Nautical Archeology Society based in Portsmouth, UK. Another good published source is a 2007 book by Nic Fields published by the great military-history publisher Osprey Publishing (

Why Didn't Triremes Sink? 

As mentioned, my interest in Greek triremes started in 1958 when I was a first-semester Harvard freshman taking a course with Prof. Dow. He gave my paper on triremes an A despite my handing it in late ("lateness disregarded", he noted), which pleased me no end. I tried to answer the question - "Why Didn't Triremes Sink?" I'm still interested in the question. Here are some answers:

1. If the oarsmen were stacked as shown in some drawings, the triremes would indeed have sunk. Put one row of oarsmen on top of the each other like cabins are stacked on a ship, and the ship would indeed sink. Not only that, but the top oars would be too far from the water to handle. Anyone who has rowed would know that the geometry and the physics wouldn't work. In fact Professor Dow told me that a full-scale model was once made of a trireme and sank upon launching. (The experiment was repeated more recently with much greater success.)

2. The three layers of oars had to be staggered.  Most of the articles in the Mariner's Mirror and similar academic publications and books that discuss triremes are focused on how the oarsmen must have been staggered, not one on top of the other. In other words, instead of three floors, there must have been one floor and two mezzanines or half-floors, above them.

Why Were Triremes Important in 5th Century BC?

Judging by the frequency of mention of triremes, especially at the time of the battles between the Persians and the Greeks, 499-386 BC, triremes were important. Why?

1. Oared boats prevailed over boats with sails. Oared boats always had an advantage over boats under sail because they were not dependent on wind direction. The "wind over power" rule prevails because a boat with sails has less control over direction - so the powered boat gives way except in time of war. Warships could have sails, but they could not be under sail at time of battle.

2. With limited launching ability, ramming was the main tactic. The ship itself was the main weapon because the Greeks and Persians didn't have guns.  They had archers and soldiers (hoplites). The ships had to get up close and personal. Ideally, the trireme would ram the other ship and would then try to back off to let the other ship sink without being dragged down as well. Sometimes the plan would be to board.

3. Triremes were maximum power, the nuclear weapons of their day.  Because the course of a ship with sails could be predicted by their opponents, a ship with oars would always outflank and win over a ship without oars. The next step was to increase the amount of power on the boat and since it was based on the number of oarsmen, the job was to get the maximum number of oarsmen on the ship. Often a naval engagement would be over without any boarding, if the trireme could ram the other boat and sink it. The danger already mentioned is that in sinking the other boat one is dragged down with it. (Digression:  This has an analogy to negative campaigning. One can ram the other side but in going negative "semper aliquid haeret" - something always sticks - and that applies to both sides of the exchange.).

4.Triremes were the main battleships of the 5th century BC. Triremes were numerous on both sides of the Battle of Salamis, with the Athenians providing the largest contingent from among the city-states and Xerxes arriving with many more ships of which a large number were triremes. The strategy of the Greeks was to lure the Persians into a narrow channel where the superior numbers of Persian ships would not be of an advantage. This was the same strategy as the Spartans adopted at Thermopylae.The last major battle using oared galleys was at Lepanto in 1571, when the Austrian-led Holy League defeated the Ottomans. In that battle, the galleys on both sides were manned by slaves.

Triremes, 5th Cent. BC to Trihemiolia, 2nd Cent. BC

Photo by John Tepper Marlin
Marker for Trihemiolia. The aspiration, "h", after the
"Tri" prefix is not shown in the Greek. Photo by JT Marlin.
Photo by John Tepper Marlin
Trihemolia Relief on Stone. 
Photo by JT Marlin.
Although the rule in the 5th Century seems to have been - the bigger the trireme the better - by the 2nd century BC, the main enemy was not another superpower, but small pirate ships operating off the coast of Asia Minor.

The traditional triremes were therefore downsized to deal with the threat of pirate ships rather than an invading Persian fleet. 

A bas relief at Lindos on the Island of Rhodes shows the smaller and more maneuverable variety of trireme that was developed to defend against and chase after pirates, the terrorists or guerillas of their day.

The stone bas-relief appears near the midway point up the hill to the Lindos Acropolis. The Rhodian shipmakers trimmed their sails to fit the likely problem and a scaled-down trireme did the trick. (U.S. military procurement is facing the same issues.)

The smaller trihemiolia operated off Rhodes, close to Asia Minor and subject to periodic raids as a Greek outpost. Lindos was one of the three main cities of ancient Rhodes and had its own trihemiolia fleet. On October 21, 2008, I visited Lindos for the second time in my life.

Digression on Lindos: My previous visit was in 1959. Tourists at that time were few in number. I was there at the same time as Aristotle Onassis, Maria Callas, and Winston and Clementine Churchill. I have some good photos of Lady Clementine on a donkey riding up the dirt path to the Lindos Acropolis. The area has changed totally. It was a remote rural area that I had to reach by hiring a taxi for most of the day. (It wasn't very expensive then for someone with dollars.  The old dirt path is now paved and there are 20 times as many donkeys on hand. The donkeys don't like the paving - they prefer to walk on the side. I didn't use a donkey either time. The walk up the hill was more laborious than I remember it being when I was 17. Surprise.)

Why Were the Trihemiolia Smaller in the 2nd Century BC?

1. The nature of the enemy had changed - was now smaller and faster.  By the 2nd century BC, the main enemy was not another superpower, but small pirate ships operating off the coast of Asia Minor. The traditional triremes were downsized to deal with the new threat of pirate ships rather than an invading fleet. The bas relief at Lindos shows the smaller and more maneuverable variety of trireme that was developed to defend against and chase after pirates, the terrorists or guerillas of their day.

2. The trihemiolia were versatile. They could have a mast up for ordinary sailing, then convert to oars when a battle was in the offing, The mast would be removed and left in the aft of the ship.

Rebalancing the Military Budget - The Long Tail of Personnel Costs

The VA tries to help returning vets
with "Welcome Home" parties.
Economists for Peace and Security has just published a newsletter with some timely information on the sequestration of discretionary funds. One such article is by Harvard JFK School Lecturer, Linda Bilmes, in the March 2013 newsletter. It has a wealth of information on the long spending tail of returning veterans, since an increasing number come home with disabilities.

If the sequestration program turns out some day to have had some value, it will be in forcing an overdue rebalancing of the military budget. Bilmes shows how the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were grossly underestimated by the U.S. Government officials who initiated them, something I have written about before on Huffington Post.  

One reason costs are rising is that military benefits are a churning wake behind each age cohort, and they are rising fast because recent wars have fewer fatalities and many more injuries, both physical and mental. 
  • The peak year for World War I veterans' benefits was not until 1969. It's a long, long fuse. 
  • The peak year for World War II veterans' benefits was 1976. 
  • Vietnam? Too early to say - costs are still rising! 
  • The first Gulf War?  A short war, but we are spending $5 billion a year on benefits.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan? A long war - a huge budget impact, raising many huge questions.
America is going to have to pay these costs, and they will crowd out other military spending as the sequester program puts a lid on on overall spending. For budget experts, and for young men and women entering military duty, these trends should be worrisome.

For anyone who believes, as I do, that we should do everything possible to ensure that those who serve their country are properly prepared for the trauma of war, and are properly treated, one question is whether the underestimation of post-service spending is resulting in inadequate allowances for the cost of physical and mental injuries sustained by those who have served, and the impact of this on their famuily..  

Did you know that:
  • Someone serving 19.5 years in the military gets no pension (it has to be 20 years)? 
  • Only 17 percent of military personnel stay long enough to qualify for any retirement benefit?
  • Seven out of ten reservists do not have health insurance?
Start with the fact that military pay and health care are one-third of the DoD budget and are rising, and the need for budget rebalancing becomes obvious. Personnel costs have risen 90 percent since FY2001, when the United States invaded Afghanistan in search of bin Laden. Yet active duty troop numbers have risen less than 3 percent since before the invasion.

One place to look for savings is in the health care insurance programs. The Veterans Administration is a single-payer operation and ought to be less costly than an insurance-based system. Not in the article by Bilmes is a report that private insurance premiums exceeded $5,100/year as of May 2012.  Health care costs for a family of four covered by workplace health insurance exceeded $20,000 for the first time ever in 2012, rising to $20,728 - $1,335 more than in 2011. The premium component is for a preferred provider organization (PPO) plan, a common type of health insurance. In addition, those covered paid $3,470 in out-of-pocket costs, such as co-payments for doctor visits and prescription drugs. The rest of the cost of the health insurance is paid by employers. 

Private health insurance premiums have nearly doubled in the 2001-2011 decade. Military personnel are covered by Tricare health insurance. It includes both active-duty military and their families, and retirees -- 10 million people. During the decade, subsidized Tricare premiums have fallen by 21 percent. Naturally, more of the military are signing up for the subsidized Tricare system, jumping from 29 to 52 percent. By keeping premiums down, taxpayer costs are rising. 

A Tricare for Life program supplements Medicare and is expected to grow significantly in coming years.Also, Tricare is being expanded to reserve troops, only 70 per cent of whom have health insurance. Under ObamaCare, the percentage will rise to 89 percent.

The VA has expanded greatly over the past ten years. For example, claims for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are easier to apply for. VA can't keep up with the volume of claims.

Support for vets in Congress is high. For example, long-term care for disabilities is being urged whether or not the retirement age is lowered below 20 years. During the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, 2.2 million troops have been deployed to the war zones. Of them, 1.6 million have been discharged and 700,000 have filed claims for disability. The approval rate (in whole or part) for the these claims so far is 97%. Another 1.5 million claims are expected this year. The VA budget has grown from $60 billion in 2004 to $125 billion in 2012; for FY 2014 the VA is asking for $140+ billion.

VA and Tricare are the fastest-growing components of the national security budget, analogous to the GM pensions and health-care costs that required a bailout of the company. However, the VA disability system has become a default pension system.

In 2004 and 2005, the Bush Administration raised military pay to improve recruiting. In the last 10 years, says the CBO, military pay has outpaced private-sector pay by 25%. Recruiting is no longer a problem.

We are going to have to rebalance our military spending in a way that does more for our military personnel while giving the taxpayer more transparency and a better idea of where the money is going.

UK Peace Index - Two Lessons for the USA

They say: "Don't bring a knife to a gunfight." What do we make of the fact that outside of three big cities in the UK, the great majority of homicides utilize knives?

My conclusion is that residents of Britain don't expect to be in a gunfight, so a knife is enough. 

In light of the proliferation of guns in the United States, that's a pretty important takeaway. A knife-wielder can't kill a roomful of children in a matter of seconds.

My thanks to the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) for this insight, gleaned from their  just-released  ten-year review of the UK Peace Index. As a member of its International Advisory Board, I have been following the various versions of the Peace Index and I even helped develop some of them.

The elevator pitch for the survey of nonviolence in the UK is that violence in the UK is down 11 percent. The conclusion is based on seven years of work by the IEP and its founder, Steve Killelea, an Australian businessman who created a successful software business. (His last name is pronounced with the accent on KILL! He is comfortable with this paradox.) 

Killelea made it his personal quest to try to quantify the economic value of nonviolence, which the IEP defines as a combination of both (1) peace with other countries and (2) a low cost of violence within the country. The IEP has been looking for connections between non-violence and economic prosperity and has put professors and think tanks to work examining relationships between violence and the economy in every country in the world. 

The lessons for the USA from this report are multiple. I have picked out just two topics: (1) Implications for gun control, and (2) Cell phones and crime rates. To read the full study, go to

Gun Control Works

The IEP's UK report shows that two out of three US homicides are committed with guns, while in the UK the figure is only one out of thirteen. This is on the face of it a compelling argument for gun control and should be thrust in front of the U.S. Senate, which failed to pass a gun control bill despite polls showing 90 percent of the public favor such a law. Mayor Bloomberg warned on April 18:
You wait until next November. How are they going to … answer [the question], 'Why didn't you do something to stop that, senator?’ That can't be good politics. It just can't be.
Mark Glazer of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which Bloomberg founded, said:
The next step is tapping the extraordinary outrage in the country today and channeling it in a useful direction -- mainly at the senators who voted no and declined to do what 90 percent of the American public asked them to do. We'll do whatever it takes.
What Bloomberg and his organization are recommending is something that in fact happened after the March 14, 1996 shooting of 16 children at a school in Dunblane, near Stirling, Scotland. Through a strong public lobby, the Gun Control Network, the British Government has instituted a complete ban on handguns. In 2012-13, Britain had 87 gun deaths, more than half using shotguns; of them, 45 were suicides, nearly two-thirds of them using shotguns. Firearms offences have been brought down from 25,000 in 2002 to fewer than 10,000 in 2011. 

·    One result: Whereas gun violence occurs all over the United States - east-west, urban- rural, north-south - more than half of all gun-related offences in the UK occur in just three police jurisdictions, namely Metropolitan London, Greater Manchester, and West Midlands (Birmingham metro area). This suggests that gun use has largely been suppressed everywhere except in the hard-core anonymous big cities. 

·    So violent lawbreakers resort to knives. New UK offense categories such as ‘aggravated knife crime’ have been added. Measures like mandatory life sentences for those who commit a second serious violent crime or sexual assault have been put in place to deter knife crime in particular.

·    To summarize the contrast, in 2009-2011, for every American knife homicide there were five gun homicides. For every UK gun homicide, there were five knife homicides, the reverse of the U.S situation.

·                      Gun and Knife Homicides (2009-2011)
                                                   USA               ENGLAND & WALES
Guns                                          8,885                           47
Knives                                        1,754                         233
Ratio (Guns to Knives)                 5.1                           0.2

Cell Phones and Crime Rates

The other area where the UK Peace Index has made a contribution is in helping to narrow down the likely explanations of recent decreases in crime rates, which have for many years been in the news in both the UK and the United States. The London Economist issue of April 20 ran an article “Down These Not So Mean Streets” about the steady decline of British crime rates over two decades,to half its earlier levels despite a continuing serious recession.

The lead domestic story in Britain on April 25 was crime rates, as an official crime survey appeared at the same time as the UK Peace Index. The annual household British Crime Survey reported a continuing drop in crimes, a steady decline from the 19 million estimated in the mid-1990s to 8.9 million crimes – the same 50 percent drop that the Economist cited from police reports, although the police recorded only 3.7 million crimes. Compared with 2011, crimes fell as much as 15 percent in the UK for the category of criminal damage. Robbery (stealing with the threat of violence) was also down more than 10 percent.

The UK Peace Index at the same time showed that the incidence of violent offences – which is higher than in the United States – is falling faster in the UK than in other countries in  Europe or in the United States.

The Financial Times the next day pinpointed the newsworthiness of all of these reports, namely the incongruity between the data and theories propounded by economists and others. Headlined “Crime Drop Poses Puzzle for Social Scientists”, it cites the following factors as contributing the lowered crime rate:

Police Deployment. The British Government was quick to claim credit for the crime drop through better use of police, as the UK police force has fallen to the lowest level in more than ten years. Unquestionably, police are used more effectively than in the past. BUT crime rates have fallen long after police methods changed.

More Perps in Prison. Hard-liners in the USA and Britain argue that tougher sentencing that jails more criminals has pulled criminals off the streets and served as a deterrent others. Since the 1970s, starting with Nixon’s war on drugs, the USA built up the largest prison population in the world, to the recent level of 2.2 million, having increased the incarceration fourfold in 1978-2008. With less than 1/20th of the world’s population, the USA has one-fourth of its prisoners. Higher incarceration rates and sentences, originally targeting drug sales, later also rose for violent (murder, robbery, assault) and property crimes. BUT while U.S. incarceration rates have recently been declining, most crime rates continue to fall.

Reduced Air Pollution. If you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. High lead in the air has been linked to teenage misbehavior, so environmentalists like Jessica Reyes argue that reduction in lead pollution could explain lower crime rates. BUT is the impact likely to be so rapid and continuous?

Legalized Abortion. Stanford Law Professor John J. Donahue III and Chicago Economics Professor Steven D. Levitt in 2001 argued that legalized abortion meant that fewer children were being born to mothers who could not afford an abortion - or did not dare to get one - when it was illegal. BUT this event analysis could be confused with something else that is occurring at the same time. The original article is well-argued but the thesis and data, disseminated in Levitt’s Freakonomics book, have been widely disputed. Numerous critics of the theory observe that the presumed causality based on national law does not work very well with state data using state laws.   

Missing from the FT story is another hypothesis that does a good job of explaining both the decline in most crime rates and an increase in larceny (thefts from people's person without threats, i.e., skillful pickpocketing). 

Growing Cell-Phone Use.  Cell phones and pocket-sized communication and photographic technology started to come into widespread use in the 1990s. Three implications:
  • Cell phones provide users with the ability to call friends and police if they are threatened or come upon a crime, and could explain the drop in crime. The addition of cameras to cell phones made them even more effective. This theory is supported at both the national and  the state level, according to University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Jonathan KlickJohn MacDonald, chair of Penn’s Department of Criminology; and Thomas Stratmann of George Mason University, in their research paper “Mobile Phones and Crime Deterrence: An Underappreciated Link,”
  • Cell phones are increasingly the target of thieves. The increased incidence of small thefts, larceny, can be connected to the growing ownership of PDAs and laptop computers. Hence it is not surprising that one area of crime that is growing in the USA and Britain is small thefts. 
  • The increasing involvement of the police in keeping identification codes for computers and PDAs means that reporting of these crimes is likely to go up!