California

Is There a Better Way to Measure Earthquakes?

8/27/14
Image
Stephen Lam/Reuters

Two hundred years ago, Missouri was rocked by an earthquake so severe it made the Mississippi River flow backward and set off church bells in Boston more than a thousand miles away. 

These details help convey the staggering scale and reach of what was a remarkable geologic event. Today, along with those accounts, we would also get a number: the magnitude of the earthquake. But that number is based on a logarithmic scale, and can be hard to grasp.  

Earthquakes aren't measured linearly, but in orders of magnitude. Which means a 6.1 magnitude quake like the one that shook Northern California over the weekend is about twice as big as the 5.8 earthquake that rattled Washington, D.C., in 2011—and nearly three times as strong in terms of the amount of energy it released. Some more context: The 7.0 earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010 was eight times bigger than the Northern California quake, and released 22 times more energy. None of this jibes with the linear way people use numbers for most measurements in daily life.

Here's how Jesse Singal explained it over at New York magazine earlier this year: 

On a linear scale, we know that four is twice as big as two and eight twice as big as four. This is what a casual observer of earthquake magnitude scales would expect: that an earthquake of 6.0 packs twice the punch of a 3.0. But no! In reality, a 6.0 quake releases 31,622.776 times as much energy as a 3.0 quake. And a 7.0 releases 31.622 times as much energy as a 6.0.

So why do geologists talk about earthquakes this way? Why not use a scale that operates more like the ones used to measure weight, or length, or temperature, or any number of other natural phenomena?

The answer, it turns out, begins in outer space. "My amateur interest in astronomy brought out the term 'magnitude,' which is used for the brightness of a star," said Charles Richter—the scientist behind the well-known scale of the same name—in a 1980 interview.

The Richter Magnitude Scale is the method of earthquake measurement widely used in the  United States last century. Richter's idea was to track the amount of energy released by a quake the way an astronomer would measure the brightness of a star. Each number on the magnitude scale indicated an earthquake 10 times stronger than the last—which means the quake strength between each increment of one on the scale grows as the numbers climb. 

Today, earthquake magnitude is measured using another logarithmic system—usually called Moment Magnitude or just Magnitude—that's calibrated to the Richter Scale but can measure bigger quakes than the Richter Scale could. And while it might not be the most intuitive system, it's a far more useful one than a linear scale would be.

"The logarithmic magnitude scale also allows for comparison of earthquakes on relatively the same terms even though their impacts to society and structures ... can be quite different," Robert Williams, a geologist in the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program, told me in an email. "Compared to a linear scale the logarithmic scale provides an easy and more manageable way to represent this wide range of ground motion amplitude (often many orders of magnitude) and energy release for different quakes within an easily understandable range of numbers."  

Richter identified some of the reasons linear alternatives aren't really workable when he and colleagues established the scale in the 1930s. Again Singal: "If you rescaled things to a linear scale—such as how much energy is produced by a given quake—suddenly you’d be dealing with huge numbers for the big quakes. And huge numbers are another thing most people aren’t particularly good at grasping."

Besides, even though Richter apparently acknowledged that "logarithmic plots are a device of the devil," they're actually widely used, as geologist Williams reminded me. "Logarithmic scales are commonly used in other sciences, for example, the decibel scale in sound measurements and the pH scale in chemistry for rating acidity."

For now, at least, it seems we're stuck with charting earthquakes this way. And for those who find thinking logarithmically doesn't come naturally, USGS has a handy online calculator that shows just how different quakes compare with one another. ​

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.








Chad: International Medical Corps Calls for Increased Humanitarian Support in Chad

8/27/14
[Thomson Reuters Foundation]California -Already host to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Sudan's Darfur region, Chad is moving center stage as armed militants drive large scale population displacements and instability throughout the region. Having operated for a decade in Chad, International Medical Corps is calling on the international community to expand its support to this oft forgotten humanitarian emergency where religious extremism, chronic malnutrition, high maternal mortality rates and extreme levels of poverty threaten to destabil

If You Have Allergies, Talk to Your Doctor About Cap and Trade

8/27/14
Image
AP/Shutterstock/The Atlantic

The polar ice caps feel remote. The threat of orioles permanently leaving Baltimore for cooler climates might be a little more compelling. But researchers are learning that the most effective way around climate-policy ambivalence is to invoke imminent dangers to human health. "What's killing me today?"—with emphasis on "killing" and "me" and "today."

For one, when there is more carbon dioxide in the environment, plants produce more pollen, which is no good for allergies and asthma. Rutgers allergist Leonard Bielory recently warned that pollen counts are projected to double by 2040. Likewise, U.S. foresters recently calculated that trees seem to be averting around $6.8 billion in human health costs annually, largely due to mitigating effects of air pollution (even if they do produce pollen). And already the World Health Organization is warning that air pollution is responsible for one out of every eight human deaths, largely because combustion of fossil fuels results in invisible airborne particles that get lodged in our lungs and suspended in our blood.

But is that worth the cost of implementing policies that limit carbon emissions? Some say yes.

This week, researchers released findings that say an economy-wide cap on carbon emissions stands to pay for itself about 10 times over in near-term human medical benefits, specifically reductions in costs associated with respiratory diseases, like asthma, and premature death. A standard, economy-wide cap and trade program, the MIT-based research team found, would result in a net benefit of $125 billion in human health costs. The work is published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“We were looking at ozone and particulate matter, the two biggest air-quality issues in the United States,” Tammy Thompson, a research scientist at Colorado State University with the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environment, told me. 

Reasonable people disagree over the economic effects of cap and trade, the politically divisive market-oriented system designed to limit air pollutants with incentives that reward efficiency and innovation. But Thompson, along with Noelle Selin, Sebastian Rausch, and Rebecca Saari at MIT write that any cost-benefit analysis of climate policy that omits the health effects of regional air pollution “greatly underestimate[s] benefits.”

There are national air-quality standards that cover ground-level ozone and particulate matter, but this study showed that policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions could improve air quality in amounts comparable to those specifically targeting air pollution. “When you put a constraint on carbon emissions in the economy,” Thompson explained, “with that comes co-benefits, where you’re also reducing nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, and other pollutants that react to form ozone and particulate matter that can cause human health issues.”

As carbon emissions are reduced, so are nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, and therefore ozone and particulate matter. So this research model estimated how the latter would be reduced under various carbon policies. In addition to an economy-wide cap and trade, the researchers also looked at narrower cap-and-trade regulations that would focus on the energy and transportation sectors individually, which are known for human health-associated air pollution.

In June, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the Clean Power Plan, which the agency claims will prevent 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths in 2030 alone, as well as 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children. It imposes carbon emission caps that focus on the electricity sector, a model that Thompson and company found less economically efficient than a broader limit on carbon emissions for the entire economy. Thompson said that’s not a surprise; the more narrow and stringent the policy, the more it costs to implement: “I think economists have been screaming this for decades: Let the market decide.” 

“We were really interested in looking at how the health response would change if we targeted these sectors that were known to cause air pollution," Thompson said. "We were surprised to see that the human health benefits did not change very much from scenario to scenario. The cost-benefit ratio was largely driven by the cost of the policy, and the economy-wide policy had fewer economic constraints, so that was the cheapest option.”

Lest this research, which was supported by EPA funding, seem like a clear call for economy-wide cap and trade, Thompson pushed back at my suggestion that she had solved the puzzle.

“To say that is absolutely the way we should be going is beyond this study," she said, almost laughing. "There’s a lot more involved in getting people motivated and getting people to cooperate.”

The air quality co-benefits of climate policy examined in the MIT research don’t even include the health costs of air toxics like mercury, or the social cost of carbon (benefits of climate change in terms of food supply and other ecological boons). And there are other externalities like that discouraging vehicle use may improve health by encouraging walking and bicycling. California Representative Henry Waxman also projects widespread economic prosperity. "People would not be looking at the huge number of unemployed in this country," he recently told Politico. "There’d be enormous investments in alternative fuels and fuel efficiency in ways to make the transition to a low-carbon economy."

Particulate matter can cause cancers as well, but, Thompson explained, “Cancer is more associated with air toxics, which we didn’t look at. There would likely be benefits associated with reductions in air toxics," above and beyond what the study measured. But economy-wide cap and trade legislation died in the Senate in 2009. Until the next attempt at passage, there are always trees to plant. Or as researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health recently suggested as a means of enhancing our kidney's ability to excrete the carcinogenic air toxic benzene, we might all eat more broccoli.

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.








Who Is Douglas McAuthur McCain? American Killed Fighting For ISIS

8/26/14

Douglas McArthur McCain, an American citizen from California, was killed over the weekend fighting for the extremist Islamic State in Syria, NBC News reported Tuesday. The Free Syrian Army, the rebel faction that fought the militants (aka ISIS), discovered they had killed an American when they found $800 in cash and a U.S. passport on McCain’s body.

What Does It Really Cost to Live in San Francisco?

8/26/14
Image
Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Is living in San Francisco unreasonable? That depends on who and how you ask. 

The California Housing Partnership Corporation released a new report demonstrating that, yes, it's totally unreasonable to live in San Francisco. The report describes a shortfall of nearly 41,000 affordable homes for low-wage workers in the city, a problem well beyond the scope of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee's promise to build at least 10,000 below-market-rate housing units by 2020. 

A San Francisco household requires a salary of about $78,000 to afford a two-bedroom dwelling at Fair Market Rent without spending more than 30 percent of earnings on rent. While a two-bedroom apartment might sounds like a Victorian manse to a young childless Millennial, it starts to get into squeeze territory for families. For very low-income households and (especially) extremely low-income households, life in San Francisco can fall out of reach. 

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, living in San Francisco isn't just unreasonable, it's basically impossible. This report lists San Francisco as the most expensive rental jurisdiction in the nation. "San Francisco’s minimum wage is nearly $3 more than the federal minimum wage, yet it is three-and-a-half times less than what is needed to afford a decent two-bedroom unit in this expensive jurisdiction"—or $37.62 an hour. Or, $78,250 a year. Either way: Time to blockade a Google bus.

A demonstration blocks a Google bus in the Mission District. The busses ferry workers from their homes in tony SF neighborhoods to work at Google in Silicon Valley. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

But the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is asking people to rethink the way they think about housing affordability. Living in San Francisco, New York, or Washington, D.C., isn't so bad when you think about in terms of location affordability.

Location affordability (and the Location Affordability Index) factors for a number of transportation costs: automobiles per household, annual vehicle miles traveled, transit expenditures, and so on. Follow this simple chart and you're on your way to an index of affordability that accounts for a neighborhood's walkability—or, conversely, the long commutes that residents register to and from work every day.

Using this index, the Citizens Budget Commission of New York put together a report to show that not only is location affordability pretty reasonable in San Francisco, by the same measure New York is a damn good deal. In fact, factoring for location affordability shows that Washington, New York, and San Francisco are the three best deals for any large metro in the nation.

(Citizens Budget Commission of New York)

However, HUD is quick to point out that the "typical regional household" income used for these measures is an area median income that is quite high for metro areas. Meaning that the people paying the most for housing are both making the most money and spending the least on transportation.

Squint, and suddenly location affordability starts to look like another measure of income inequality. For a very low-income single worker, the location costs of New York City amount to 101 percent of his salary. For other categories, location costs amount to nearly half of all household earnings. Unlimited Metrocard or no, that isn't a deal most Americans can afford..

What's more interesting about this chart and the notion of location affordability in general is not what a great deal the top metro areas are for the wealthy, but what a terrible deal other metros are for everybody else. A typical Indianapolis household earns an annual income of $53,000. This household spends 23 percent of that on housing, which counts as affordable. But Indianapolis also demands another 20 percent of earnings in the form on transportation costs. And that's to pay for the privilege of driving more than 22,000 miles per year.

(HUD Location Affordability Index)

Suddenly, San Francisco doesn't sound so bad. And of course it doesn't—San Francisco is lovely! Unless you are a low-income worker, or even just not wealthy.








What Does It Really Cost to Live in San Francisco?

8/26/14
Image
Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Is living in San Francisco unreasonable? That depends on who and how you ask. 

The California Housing Partnership Corporation released a new report demonstrating that, yes, it's totally unreasonable to live in San Francisco. The report describes a shortfall of nearly 41,000 affordable homes for low-wage workers in the city, a problem well beyond the scope of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee's promise to build at least 10,000 below-market-rate housing units by 2020. 

A San Francisco household requires a salary of about $78,000 to afford a two-bedroom dwelling at Fair Market Rent without spending more than 30 percent of earnings on rent. While a two-bedroom apartment might sounds like a Victorian manse to a young childless Millennial, it starts to get into squeeze territory for families. For very low-income households and (especially) extremely low-income households, life in San Francisco can fall out of reach. 

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, living in San Francisco isn't just unreasonable, it's basically impossible. This report lists San Francisco as the most expensive rental jurisdiction in the nation. "San Francisco’s minimum wage is nearly $3 more than the federal minimum wage, yet it is three-and-a-half times less than what is needed to afford a decent two-bedroom unit in this expensive jurisdiction"—or $37.62 an hour. Or, $78,250 a year. Either way: Time to blockade a Google bus.

A demonstration blocks a Google bus in the Mission District. The busses ferry workers from their homes in tony SF neighborhoods to work at Google in Silicon Valley. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

But the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is asking people to rethink the way they think about housing affordability. Living in San Francisco, New York, or Washington, D.C., isn't so bad when you think about in terms of location affordability.

Location affordability (and the Location Affordability Index) factors for a number of transportation costs: automobiles per household, annual vehicle miles traveled, transit expenditures, and so on. Follow this simple chart and you're on your way to an index of affordability that accounts for a neighborhood's walkability—or, conversely, the long commutes that residents register to and from work every day.

Using this index, the Citizens Budget Commission of New York put together a report to show that not only is location affordability pretty reasonable in San Francisco, by the same measure New York is a damn good deal. In fact, factoring for location affordability shows that Washington, New York, and San Francisco are the three best deals for any large metro in the nation.

(Citizens Budget Commission of New York)

However, HUD is quick to point out that the "typical regional household" income used for these measures is an area median income that is quite high for metro areas. Meaning that the people paying the most for housing are both making the most money and spending the least on transportation.

Squint, and suddenly location affordability starts to look like another measure of income inequality. For a very low-income single worker, the location costs of New York City amount to 101 percent of his salary. For other categories, location costs amount to nearly half of all household earnings. Unlimited Metrocard or no, that isn't a deal most Americans can afford..

What's more interesting about this chart and the notion of location affordability in general is not what a great deal the top metro areas are for the wealthy, but what a terrible deal other metros are for everybody else. A typical Indianapolis household earns an annual income of $53,000. This household spends 23 percent of that on housing, which counts as affordable. But Indianapolis also demands another 20 percent of earnings in the form on transportation costs. And that's to pay for the privilege of driving more than 22,000 miles per year.

(HUD Location Affordability Index)

Suddenly, San Francisco doesn't sound so bad. And of course it doesn't—San Francisco is lovely! For the people who can already afford to live there, that is, and for them alone.








Who's Willing to Move? The Young, the Poor, and Those Who Already Live in Cities

8/26/14
Image
Frontpage/Shutterstock.com

Since the start of the recession, Americans have been moving to new places far less often than they used to—only 11.6 percent of U.S. residents switched homes last year, compared to 20 percent in the 1950s. But 36 percent of the U.S. population would consider packing up a U-Haul relatively soon, according to the new Atlantic Media/Siemens State of the City Poll.

That's not to say there isn't still a firm sense of rootedness among the populace. About two-thirds of those surveyed said they're fine where they are for the long-term. But in cities, there's a bubbling sea of wanderlust: 47 percent of U.S. urban residents surveyed said they're open to the idea of moving in the next year or two, compared to only 30 percent of non-urban residents.

So who exactly are these Americans with roving, if perhaps optimistic, aspirations? The State of the City Poll revealed four key demographic factors that appear to significantly influence Americans' willingness to move: being a city dweller; being young; being non-white, and being relatively low-income. Factors like education level, gender, and political leaning, did not appear to play a significant role.

Bailey Elliott, a 20-year-old college student in Las Vegas who took the survey, would at some point like to experience a new environment. "As far as Vegas goes, I've lived here my whole life," she says. "There are really no major ties for me to it other than family."

Age was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a significant predictor for willingness to move. Respondents aged 18-34 like Elliott were the most prone to transient thoughts, with 49 percent of them saying they'd consider moving soon, compared to 36 percent among those aged 35-49, 33 percent among those 50-64, and 23 percent among those 65 and older. 

Minorities across the U.S. were significantly more amenable to a hypothetical move than whites, at 42 percent and 33 percent, respectively. Among minority groups, African Americans were the most likely to consider moving (46 percent), while 39 percent of those who identified as Hispanic said they'd be willing to move. 

Income also played a big role. Those who make less than $30,000 a year were much cozier with the notion of moving (44 percent) than those who make between $30,000 and $75,000 (35 percent) or those who make more than $75,000 (31 percent). Perhaps that has something to do with housing situations: More than half (54 percent) of those dreaming about living elsewhere were renters, compared to 26 percent among those who own their homes.

Respondents who said they would consider moving soon were also asked about specific reasons why they might move. Within that group, urban residents were slightly more likely to cite economic opportunity as a reason to move (73 percent) than non-urban ones (68 percent). 

Overall, just 28 percent of respondents said they would consider moving soon in order to live a "more city style of life" than where they are now. That sentiment was somewhat stronger with the youngest demographic group, those aged 18-34, among whom 34 percent cited the chance to live in a city as a key reason to move. Only 14 percent of those 65 and older and 20 percent of those aged 50-64 said the same, while 30 percent in the 35-49 age group agreed.

Forty-nine percent of city dwellers like Mary Comstock, a 38-year-old mom and community-theater member in Santa Barbara, California, said better public schools would be a reason to move. That compares to 32 percent of non-urban residents who said the same. Comstock says she'd like to move with her husband and home-schooled kids to someplace bigger than her current apartment.

"We've been renting for eight years and our financial situation has changed," she says. "So we can finally, hopefully afford to move and buy our own place."

Urban residents who identified themselves as parents were also much more likely to say a lower cost of living would be a reason to move (81 percent) compared to the urban childless (66 percent). And inhabitants of the U.S. Northeast (87 percent) were more likely to consider moving for a lower cost of living than any other region (69 percent in the Midwest, 67 percent in the South, and 62 percent in the West).

Bow Gray is one of those people who'd like to think he'll move when more money starts flowing in. He works as a day laborer in Amarillo, Texas, but is taking courses to become an expert with computers. "Being a software engineer, there's not too much going for me here in a city of about 200,000 people," says Gray, who's 32.

He imagines getting a place on the outskirts of a city, preferably near the ocean, which he finds "awe-inspiring." He hasn't picked a destination, though. "If I make it in software engineering, I'll have lots of money and can pick and choose," he says.

But does Gray actually think he'll be across the country in a couple years, gazing at the ocean? That depends on how things go with his love interest, who has a child.

"I mean, I would love to move personally, but the thing is with this girl I want to be around her," he says. "I'm not going to say, 'Hey, leave your son behind and come with me.'"

The Atlantic Media/Siemens State of the City Poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,656 U.S. adults by telephone between July 23 and August 4. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. For more details on the poll's methodology, go here

Top image courtesy of Frontpage/Shutterstock.com








Who's Willing to Move? The Young, the Poor, and Those Who Already Live in Cities

8/26/14
Image
Frontpage/Shutterstock.com

Since the start of the recession, Americans have been moving to new places far less often than they used to—only 11.6 percent of U.S. residents switched homes last year, compared to 20 percent in the 1950s. But 36 percent of the U.S. population would consider packing up a U-Haul relatively soon, according to the new Atlantic Media/Siemens State of the City Poll.

That's not to say there isn't still a firm sense of rootedness among the populace. About two-thirds of those surveyed said they're fine where they are for the long-term. But in cities, there's a bubbling sea of wanderlust: 47 percent of U.S. urban residents surveyed said they're open to the idea of moving in the next year or two, compared to only 30 percent of non-urban residents.

So who exactly are these Americans with roving, if perhaps optimistic, aspirations? The State of the City Poll revealed four key demographic factors that appear to significantly influence Americans' willingness to move: being a city dweller; being young; being non-white, and being relatively low-income. Factors like education level, gender, and political leaning, did not appear to play a significant role.

Bailey Elliott, a 20-year-old college student in Las Vegas who took the survey, would at some point like to experience a new environment. "As far as Vegas goes, I've lived here my whole life," she says. "There are really no major ties for me to it other than family."

Age was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a significant predictor for willingness to move. Respondents aged 18-34 like Elliott were the most prone to transient thoughts, with 49 percent of them saying they'd consider moving soon, compared to 36 percent among those aged 35-49, 33 percent among those 50-64, and 23 percent among those 65 and older. 

Minorities across the U.S. were significantly more amenable to a hypothetical move than whites, at 42 percent and 33 percent, respectively. Among minority groups, African Americans were the most likely to consider moving (46 percent), while 39 percent of those who identified as Hispanic said they'd be willing to move. 

Income also played a big role. Those who make less than $30,000 a year were much cozier with the notion of moving (44 percent) than those who make between $30,000 and $75,000 (35 percent) or those who make more than $75,000 (31 percent). Perhaps that has something to do with housing situations: More than half (54 percent) of those dreaming about living elsewhere were renters, compared to 26 percent among those who own their homes.

Respondents who said they would consider moving soon were also asked about specific reasons why they might move. Within that group, urban residents were slightly more likely to cite economic opportunity as a reason to move (73 percent) than non-urban ones (68 percent). 

Overall, just 28 percent of respondents said they would consider moving soon in order to live a "more city style of life" than where they are now. That sentiment was somewhat stronger with the youngest demographic group, those aged 18-34, among whom 34 percent cited the chance to live in a city as a key reason to move. Only 14 percent of those 65 and older and 20 percent of those aged 50-64 said the same, while 30 percent in the 35-49 age group agreed.

Forty-nine percent of city dwellers like Mary Comstock, a 38-year-old mom and community-theater member in Santa Barbara, California, said better public schools would be a reason to move. That compares to 32 percent of non-urban residents who said the same. Comstock says she'd like to move with her husband and home-schooled kids to someplace bigger than her current apartment.

"We've been renting for eight years and our financial situation has changed," she says. "So we can finally, hopefully afford to move and buy our own place."

Urban residents who identified themselves as parents were also much more likely to say a lower cost of living would be a reason to move (81 percent) compared to the urban childless (66 percent). And inhabitants of the U.S. Northeast (87 percent) were more likely to consider moving for a lower cost of living than any other region (69 percent in the Midwest, 67 percent in the South, and 62 percent in the West).

Bow Gray is one of those people who'd like to think he'll move when more money starts flowing in. He works as a day laborer in Amarillo, Texas, but is taking courses to become an expert with computers. "Being a software engineer, there's not too much going for me here in a city of about 200,000 people," says Gray, who's 32.

He imagines getting a place on the outskirts of a city, preferably near the ocean, which he finds "awe-inspiring." He hasn't picked a destination, though. "If I make it in software engineering, I'll have lots of money and can pick and choose," he says.

But does Gray actually think he'll be across the country in a couple years, gazing at the ocean? That depends on how things go with his love interest, who has a child.

"I mean, I would love to move personally, but the thing is with this girl I want to be around her," he says. "I'm not going to say, 'Hey, leave your son behind and come with me.'"

The Atlantic Media/Siemens State of the City Poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,656 U.S. adults by telephone between July 23 and August 4. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Top image courtesy of Frontpage/Shutterstock.com








Where More Americans Die at the Hands of Police

8/25/14
Image
Security forces face demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, nearly two weeks after unarmed black teen Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer. (REUTERS/Adrees Latif)

The death of 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer has reintroduced police-related killings as a topic of major national debate. Brown is just the latest in a long line of young, unarmed black men killed by law enforcement agents.

It's been widely reported that roughly 400 Americans die at the hands of police per year. And yet, that figure is likely a significant underestimate, as Reuben Fischer-Baum details at FiveThirtyEight.

We ask a slightly different question: Where are Americans more likely to die at the hands of police or while under arrest?

With the help of my colleagues Charlotta Mellander and Nick Lombardo of the Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI), we mapped data from two sources: “arrest related deaths” from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, and from the FBI’s annual Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) on “felons killed by police.” We also got input from three leading American criminologists: Alfred Blumstein and Daniel Nagin, my former colleagues at Carnegie Mellon, and John Roman of the Urban Institute.

It’s important to reiterate that both data sources suffer from serious deficiencies, not the least of which is under-reporting. Roman worries about "reporting bias," particularly the possibility that "more responsible agencies"—those least likely to use force in the first place—"are more likely to report, and less responsible agencies are less likely to report." But he also adds that what looks like missing data may not be. "It might be that few policing agencies have an officer-involved shooting and the agencies that don't simply don't report any data," he writes in an email. 

But, taken together and in light of their limits, the maps are broadly suggestive of the geography of U.S. police killings as well as the states where arrests are likely to result in more deaths. As Roman puts it: "It is important to shine a light on the subject. Because there is such limited data, our ability to define the scope of the problem greatly limits our ability to form an appropriate response."

The Geography of Arrest-Related Death

Bureau of Justice Statistics

We start with the BJS data on arrest-related deaths. Nearly 5,000 (4,813) arrest-related deaths were reported between 2003 and 2009. These contain everyone who died in the custody of law enforcement officials, including suicides, deaths from intoxication and accidents. Homicides by police accounted for roughly six in ten of all arrest-related deaths between 2003 and 2009, as the chart to the left shows, and ranged from a low of around 55 percent in 2005 to a high of 68 percent in 2009. BJS also cautions “Data are more representative of the nature of arrest-related deaths than the volume at which they occur.”  

The first map charts all arrest-related deaths throughout the country. The BJS data cover 2003 through 2009, from which we calculated the average annual amount for those periods. 

Martin Prosperity Institute

As the map shows, California, Texas and Florida – all big states – had the largest average numbers of arrest-related deaths per year, with 111, 99, and 75 respectively. New York (38), Arizona (34), Pennsylvania (31), and Illinois (30) also had significant numbers of arrest-related deaths. Missouri, where Michael Brown was killed, falls in the second lowest quintile, with an average of 4 arrest-related deaths annually. 

The next map charts average annual arrest-related deaths per million state residents, to control for population size. 

Martin Prosperity Institute

These range from a high of 6.5 deaths per million people to a low of 0.27. Some states, in other words, have nearly twenty times the number of deaths than others. At the top end of the scale is the District of Columbia, which we note as usual is an outlier because it is 100 percent urban, as opposed to states.

Leaving the District aside, Arizona leads with 5.2 deaths per million, followed by New Mexico (4.1 deaths per 1 million), Florida (3.9 deaths) and Texas (3.9 deaths). Note the broad swath of dark red running across the Southwest. The West Coast follows closely behind, with Utah (3.5 deaths), California (2.9 deaths) and Oregon (2.8 deaths).

Northeastern states have relatively low levels of arrest-related deaths. New York has just 1.9 deaths per million residents, and New Jersey is even lower, with 1.3 deaths. Massachusetts is among the states with the lowest arrest-related deaths, at 0.9.

A few Southern states have low rates as well. Arkansas had 0.4 deaths per one million residents; Georgia had 0.27. And Missouri posted one of the lowest arrest-related rates in the nation, at 0.6 per million.

The Geography of Felons Killed by Police

The second set of maps cover felons killed by police. These data are from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports for 2012, the most recent year available. These figures, too, are problematic. The FBI’s data is self-reported and not all police departments participate in the reporting process. The data only capture the deaths of those who were convicted of or were in the process of carrying out a felony. Furthermore, as Fischer-Baum points out, "unjustifiable homicide by police" is not a classification, so deaths like that of Michael Brown might not be counted. Also, a number of states – New York, for instance – have zeroes entered, suggesting there are missing values and serious under-reporting. 

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The third map, above, charts the total number of felons killed by police by state in 2012. Again, the Southwest and West Coast have the highest levels of police killings. California tops the list with 114, followed by Texas (54), Pennsylvania (29), Arizona (27) and Georgia (20). Missouri falls into the upper band of states, with 11 police killings of felons, below New Jersey (13) and above Michigan (10). 

The fourth map, below, shows the number of felons killed by police per one million people, again controlling for population. Once again, Southwestern states have the largest concentrations. Arizona leads with 4.2 deaths per million, followed by Maryland (3.3), California (3.0) and Nevada (2.9).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are low concentrations throughout the Upper Great Lakes. The states with the least killings per one million residents were Ohio (0.3), Connecticut (0.3), Mississippi (0.3) and Utah (0.4).  Missouri, with 1.8 felons killed by police per million people, again falls in the middle of the pack.

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There are similarities and differences between the two sets of maps. The Southwest and West Coast have relatively high values according to both measures. Conversely, Mississippi, Minnesota, and Kentucky have relatively low levels of both.

Still, differences persist. The Sunbelt, which fares far worse on arrest-related deaths, does not have nearly the same level of police killings of felons. The Northeast does better on arrest-related deaths than police killings, with Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Vermont all scoring higher on the rate of felons killed by police. There is a particularly drastic change that occurs between the two maps in the Deep South and lower Midwest. Missouri, Tennessee, and Georgia have low levels of arrest related deaths per million, but rise to the top on felons killed by police.

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The divergences on these maps highlight the need for better data on people killed by police. Knowing how many Americans are killed by police officers is important far beyond the outcry over the case of Michael Brown. A 2003 American Journal of Public Health study notes that the perception that someone was killed by police officers or by government agents has been the spark for “almost every major civil insurrection that has occurred in the United States in the past century.” Such incidents can and often do precipitate even more injuries and deaths, and cost their communities dearly, both economically and socially. When people no longer trust the police to handle things nonviolently, the study further points out, they are much less likely to cooperate with them or even to report crime at all. "The ability to accurately assess the incidence and characteristics of justifiable homicides committed by police officers is central to the development and evaluation of policies that promote public health and safety," the report concludes.

Meanwhile, some journalists are trying to fill in the gaps in data on their own. At Deadspin, writers are crowdsourcing data collection by asking readers to use Google’s search tools to find and submit shooting deaths via a special public submission form.  

The bottom line: We need complete and transparent data on Americans who die in the custody or at the hands of police. Crime data is notoriously problematic, with under-reporting a common occurrence. But we are talking about people dying while under arrest or at the hands of police – very different from a random, simple, nonviolent crime, like somebody stealing a bicycle. The prospect of the state killing its own people is a very serious one. And the U.S. must mandate reporting of all such incidents, collecting and publishing detailed accounts of how, why and when these killings have occurred.

Only when we have that information can we even begin to pinpoint the problems within our justice system – and to begin the process of fixing them.