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Crime Analyst And FiveThirtyEight Commentator Concealed Law Enforcement Employment

A New Orleans-based crime analyst, who contributes to the national data-based journalism website FiveThirtyEight, claims he is an independent expert. However, documents obtained by Shadowproof suggest he is currently employed as a crime analyst by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana.

From 2013 to 2015, Jeff Asher worked as a “crime analyst” for the New Orleans Police Department’s Multi-Agency Gang Unit. In 2015, Asher went from a city employee to a consultant, listing himself as the owner of Jeff Asher Consulting, LLC, which is described as a “consulting company aiming to bring innovative analytic expertise to challenging problem sets.”

Asher’s author bio states he “used to work for the city as a crime analyst.” While he may no longer be an employee of the New Orleans Police Department, a response to a records request indicates he is working with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff’s office said they could not turn over records requested by Shadowproof “due to the nature of Mr. Asher’s employment as a crime analyst for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.” Disclosure may reveal sensitive information about ongoing cases, the office contended.

Asher’s failure to disclose his ties to law enforcement matters. His claimed independence lends credibility and an air of neutrality to his ideas, which benefit law enforcement agencies like the one that employs him.

In the post-Ferguson era, Asher became a talking head regarding the so-called “Ferguson effect,” a theory he helped give credence to as a contributor to FiveThirtyEight.

Asher argues that we need more proactive policing—as supplied by the drug war—to curb shootings. He lamented an increase in shootings and tied it to a decrease in the number of New Orleans cops, and also warned about the possibility of a Baton Rouge murder spike, because of more restrained policing after Alton Sterling, a 37 year-old Black man, was killed by an officer in 2016

On Twitter, where he goes by @Crimealytics, Asher’s commentary on crime often takes an alarmist tone. He focuses on spikes during a small span of time, such as one year to the next or even one month to the next. This is considered bad analysis and overlooks the fact that violent crime is about half of what it was in the 1990s.

For example, a local newspaper ran a story based on Asher noting in 2017 the date of New Orlean’s 500th shooting was slightly earlier in the year, when compared to 2010 through 2016.

Churning out these graphs like a factory on his Twitter account, Asher appears intent to convince parish commissioners to fork over more money to the sheriff’s office for more deputies.

While the independent contractor arrangement with the sheriff’s office benefits Asher, his community suffers.

Leon Cannizzaro, the District Attorney of the adjacent Orleans Parish, is likely the least ethical prosecutor in the nation. His office uses violent crime rates to justify its sordid practices, which include jailing several crime victims and the use of “fake subpoenas” to coerce witnesses to talk to his office under threat of jail.

When Cannizzaro jailed a rape victim, Christopher Bowman, the office’s spokesman, stated, “The district attorney is far more concerned with the numbers 55 and 204, which are, respectively, the number of people murdered and shot in New Orleans in 2017.”

Asher works for a sheriff in the same metropolitan area, and Bowman has retweeted Asher’s statements on shooting statistics. In April, Asher told this reporter that he needed to stay “neutral” about Cannizzaro.

The veneer of being an academic and the failure to disclose his work with law enforcement is unethical and allows people like Cannizzaro and Bowman to run roughshod over people’s human rights and dignity.

Shadowproof reached out to Asher but he refused to comment. FiveThirtyEight did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

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Rory Fleming

Rory Fleming