The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg
Anne Milgram: A City Invincible
Chuck Rosenberg: Anne Milgram, welcome to The Oath.
Anne Milgram: Thank you for having me. It's great to be here.
Chuck Rosenberg: Well, it's a real pleasure to have you on the show. You're a Jersey girl?
Anne Milgram: East Brunswick, New Jersey. Right almost smack in the middle of the great state of New Jersey.
Chuck Rosenberg: And with one sister?
Anne Milgram: Yeah, I have an older sister — Irish twins. She's 14 months older than I am.
Chuck Rosenberg: And how about your mom and dad?
Anne Milgram: My mom and dad are fantastic. My mom was a school teacher when I was a kid and then went back, got her PhD and became a professor at Rutgers where I went to college. My dad grew up in Philly. My mom grew up in New Jersey; my dad grew up in Philly and is an engineer, was an engineer, he's now retired. They still live in the house I grew up in.
Chuck Rosenberg: You mentioned Rutgers, I learned something interesting about it. It's one of the nine original colonial colleges in the United States.
Anne Milgram: Yeah, it's a college with a lot of history. And it was a great place to go to undergrad. And my mom, as you know, taught there and both my sister and I went there, for undergrad.
Chuck Rosenberg: Only nine colleges existed before the colonies became the United States of America and Rutgers is one of those.
Anne Milgram: That's right. It used to be called I think Old Queens? But the name was changed when Henry Rutgers donated a bell to the college. And so, it was named after him. There is a long-standing rivalry with Princeton of course for many years, that doesn't really exist anymore because they don't play each other in sports or have a lot of overlap in that way. It's a great institution and as you — as we've been following these conversations about the Supreme Court and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she of course taught there for many years, Elizabeth Warren also taught there for many years. So, I’m a proud alum.
Chuck Rosenberg: If I had only known Anne that all it takes to get a college named after you is to donate a bell.
Anne Milgram: [Laughter] Seriously!
Chuck Rosenberg: Now, though, neither of your parents were in law enforcement, you've said that you come from a law enforcement family. What do you mean by that?
Anne Milgram: My mom grew up — my grandfather, her dad, who was known as Chief — he had been a police officer and was the Chief of Police in a very small town called South Amboy, New Jersey. South Amboy is a great place. It's one square mile. For many years it prided itself on being the leader in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most bars per square mile. And my grandfather was the Chief of Police. My great grandfather, was also the Chief of Police and the Mayor and the Fire Chief. Again, small town, but, I definitely sort of grew up around a lot of police officers, and my uncle was in the US Military so, I definitely consider myself to be from a law enforcement family.
Chuck Rosenberg: I'm just curious about your great grandfather: Chief of Police, Fire Chief and Mayor, simultaneously?
Anne Milgram: I don't think so but I think there was overlap between the Chief of Police and the Fire Chief, but I think Mayor was a separate time.
Chuck Rosenberg: Though you come from a law enforcement family, you've also said that you didn't think you were going to follow that path.
Anne Milgram: No, that's so true. In high school, I was a congressional page, for a year so I was really interested in government and politics. You know, you sort of think about the practice of law as like advocacy and change and fighting for what's right and then you get to law school, and you're reading about cases from hundreds of years ago. And you know, I found some of it to be a little bit boring. I thought, ‘Man, I don't really want to be a lawyer.’ I staged as a pastry chef at Osteria del Circo and Le Cirque, in New York City, and I thought, ‘Oh maybe I'll be a chef.’ The best evidence that I wasn't sure I'd ever practice is the fact that I took Criminal Procedure pass/fail. And I literally said to all my friends in the course with me, like, ‘Come on, none of us will ever practice criminal law!’ You can imagine they've used a million times against me in the years since because I was the one of the five of us who went on to become a criminal prosecutor. When I graduated, I didn't intend to practice. But I did want a clerk. I was really interested in sort of seeing what it would be like to be in a courtroom, and it sort of why I’d gone to law school and then you spend three years. And at the time, the clinics were not really what they are today where you could get in-court practice. I went all through law school without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom. And then I, of course, clerked for a judge who had been a former prosecutor, and I fell in love with the courtroom.
Chuck Rosenberg: The judge you clerked for, Anne Thompson, as I understand it was the first African American and the first woman ever to serve on a federal court in New Jersey.
Anne Milgram: Yeah, that's right. And I think she was the third African American female federal judge in the United States of America. Which is sort of an astonishing thing, she was a Carter appointment. She's a phenomenal lady, an absolute trailblazer. She tried a lot of cases. She'd been a county prosecutor, as well as a public defender before she'd gone on the bench. And she loved the courtroom. It was infectious and we spent as much possible time as we could in the courtroom with her. That's where I fell in love with the courtroom and I watched what was happening in cases and I'd said, ‘I really want to be a criminal prosecutor when I grow up.’
Chuck Rosenberg: What made Judge Thompson, Anne Thompson, a good mentor?
Anne Milgram: We had lunch every single day with her, all together. We literally had a book club every day, at chambers, at lunch, and we would debate: Should the government have done this? Should the defense have done this? What about this? And it was just this extraordinary experience for a young lawyer who hadn't tried a case to sort of hear the judge, who'd been a judge for a long time, tried a lot of cases, say: What do you think is effective? Why? And then to sort of like take that over into the courtroom. Every single day, we would talk with her about cases. Also so supportive of all of us in our careers and in our interests. I don't think I could have asked for a better judge to have clerked for.
Chuck Rosenberg: Anne, was she someone you stayed in touch with as your career progressed?
Anne Milgram: I talked to her all the time. I talked to her recently. She had some advice for me. She still does, it's like, you know, kind of like your mom calls you and be like, ‘Well, what do you think about, about this or that?’ She's gone senior status, but she still tries a lot of cases. I mean, she has a schedule that most more junior judges, don't keep. So, she's really an amazing woman, we are still close. And I feel really lucky to have her.
Chuck Rosenberg: You had mentioned that one of the things you heard as a clerk in her courtroom, were federal prosecutors announcing that they were appearing on behalf of the United States of America. And that resonated with you.
Anne Milgram: I think that that's just a tremendous moment, when you're representing the United States government. It's really been the honor of my career that when I was an Assistant DA in Manhattan, I would say I'm here on behalf of the People of the State of New York. And when I was a federal prosecutor, later to be able to say, I'm here on behalf of the United States of America. And I first heard that in Judge Thompson's courtroom. All of us who've sort of served and have done it because we care about our communities and the greater good. It's a very powerful thing to say that you're there to represent the community in which you live and are a part. You know, the first time I ever said it, I had chills myself.
Chuck Rosenberg: Despite the fact that you took Criminal Law pass/fail at NYU, you ended up becoming a prosecutor when the clerkship ended.
Anne Milgram: Yes, there are few times in my career where I've said I'll never do something. And that's a great example of when I said I will never do it. And then I went out and I did it. I applied to be a prosecutor in Manhattan. Robert Morgenthau was the District Attorney at the time. As you know, he was a legendary DA. He passed away, pretty recently, just shy of being 100 years old. I went to NYU Law School. And there were not a lot of folks from NYU who became local prosecutors. At the time, a lot of folks wanted to be federal prosecutors. There was a hiring freeze. I just wanted to be in a courtroom and I wanted to be a prosecutor and, learn the sort of ropes and so I applied to Mr. Morgenthau’s office. They took me. And of course, I'd seen federal trials. But I'd never been there myself. On Day One, I had no idea really what it meant and what that job would be like, and I spent the next three and a half years there. It's the point of my career where I, in a short amount of time, just learned so, so much about the law and practicing and being a prosecutor.
Chuck Rosenberg: I'm struck Anne by the fact that to this day you still refer to him as Mr. Morgenthau.
Anne Milgram: Everybody did. That was who he was. You know, his successor Cy Vance, everyone refers to as Cy or Cyrus. But Mr. Morgenthau, even when I was the Attorney General for the State of New Jersey, and I would see him, I called him Mr. Morgenthau.
Chuck Rosenberg: That's who and what he is: Mr. Morgenthau.
Anne Milgram: He was an icon by the time I got to the office. His goal was to basically have the lawyers in the office, follow the facts and the law and not be caught up in politics or in anything other than just trying to do what was right. And at the time I was there, we had, just, enormous discretion. I mean, it was my second year out of law school, and I could make a decision to charge cases or to dismiss them without supervisory oversight. I mean, it's a pretty amazing thing if you think about that level of authority and discretion being given to junior lawyers. I don't think it's quite the same today. I remember being so struck on day one with just understanding that there are people's lives behind every single case, and that I had been entrusted with making these decisions. And you know, when you start, you feel like you're in over your head, you just have no idea how to do that and how to do it in a way that’s right and fair.
Chuck Rosenberg: You said it was a surprising thing, was it a good thing or a bad thing to have that degree of autonomy and responsibility as a young prosecutor?
Anne Milgram: I loved it. I've now seen offices where there's a huge amount of discretion given to line prosecutors. And I've also seen offices where literally every single decision that gets made is supervised. And I tend to fall somewhere in the middle on it. It's a little bit like raising a child. You draw a box around what activities are okay. You know, in my view, it's great to have that box be pretty big, to have a lot of discretion within what's okay. But then there are limits and their boundaries beyond which you don't go without authorization or conversations or approvals. And so I sort of feel like it's important to be clear about: Okay, here are things that people can do on their own, here's where that changes. Now, that being said, I'm a huge proponent of being data driven. And I think one of our failures in criminal justice, — and I take this as a personal failure, but it's hard to do it otherwise — when you're a prosecutor, it's case by case. So, in any moment, a police officer may come in someone's house was burglarized, someone was robbed at gunpoint. You look at that specific case and the facts of that case in isolation. And so that's what you're supposed to do. You're supposed to judge each individual case by the facts and the law. But once you become a supervisor, or if you're in charge of setting those boundaries, I think it's really important to understand how is it actually working? Are you being fair? Is what you hope the outcome will be? Are you aligning your resources and your time and your energy and funding with where you want the outcome to be? I really have come to believe that discretion plus really a good sense of oversight and understanding what's happening are key and sort of one without the other doesn't feel right to me either. You could have lawyers who are doing completely different things within the same office. You know, both of us know, facts can be different in two cases but there's certainly also a question of legitimacy of wanting cases that look and feel the same to be treated the same. That's where I fall now.
Chuck Rosenberg: I very much want to talk to you, and we will, about the importance of data in this type of work. But I also wanted to ask you, do you recall taking the oath when you started as a brand-new assistant district attorney in Manhattan?
Anne Milgram: I walked into this really crowded packed room. A typical New Yorker, I had my newspaper in one hand, my coffee in the other hand. I sit down. The guy next to me, who later became a good friend of mine said, ‘Wow, you're pretty relaxed about this.’ [Laughter] And in that moment, I knew ‘Oh, maybe there's something serious happening.’ I had no idea we were being sworn in by Mr. Morgenthau. Again, I sort of like got the email saying, you know, show up at 8:30, go to the eighth floor. You know, of course, now is infamous when you're an assistant DA. That's where Mr. Morgenthau and the DA’s office is. So we showed up, he gave us like, two minutes conversation. He was inspiring. And he talked a lot about there are people's lives behind every case, that he was giving us discretion to do what was just and what was right. And that we should never be afraid to ask for help or to make mistakes. And that, you know, we were in it together to sort of protect the community. It was really inspiring. And then we all stood up and we raised our right hand, and we took the oath of office.
Chuck Rosenberg: Something you've probably done many times since and something you've probably also administered to others.
Anne Milgram: Like I think it's one of the greatest honors, when someone asks you to administer the oath to them. To me, I sort of come back a lot to the fact that you hold those seats in the public trust. And it is that one moment where you're really being told, like: I'm swearing you in because this is your role on behalf of the public. And, and I feel like there's a really important moment where you stop being a lawyer to becoming a government lawyer and someone who's responsible for the greater good.
Chuck Rosenberg: No, I couldn't agree more. And I have a question for you. And it may seem frivolous, but I don't intend it that way. Because I know it sort of helped you to start thinking more broadly about the criminal justice system. And so the question is about sucking tokens.
Anne Milgram: Oh, [laughing]
Chuck Rosenberg: And now for people who haven't been to New York City or haven't traveled on the New York City subway or not from urban areas with subway systems, what is token sucking? And how did that help you think about what you ought to be as a prosecutor?
Anne Milgram: We were talking about Mr. Morgenthau giving us huge amounts of discretion. When you start in any prosecutor's office, you start with the lowest level crimes. And I now appreciate just how serious even they are in the sense that they can have huge implications on someone's life. If you plead guilty to a misdemeanor, there are huge impacts on your ability to get loans, public housing – it really does impact your life in profound ways.
Chuck Rosenberg: That's an important point Anne, low level for you may not be low level for the person pleading guilty to the misdemeanor.
Anne Milgram: Very much. But it is, in terms of sort of the hierarchy of crimes. When you're in a DA’s office or you’re in a local prosecutor's office I mean, it's really murder, rape, robbery — what are known as the index crimes — those are the most serious cases. And you start with what are generally considered to be the least serious cases. And so they're things like driving without a driver's license, jumping a turnstile, or token sucking, as we'll talk about, but that's where Mr. Morgenthau started all of us. I had no idea what token sucking was. And then I show up to court. Token sucking, I quickly learned, was when New York City had the metal tokens. Basically, instead of paying the fare to go into the subway and having a token, what they would do is they would wait until someone had paid with a token and was going through the turnstile. And there was a way in which it didn't always click through. And so the token which would have usually when the turnstile clicked through, it would have dropped to the bottom, it stayed there. And so there were two ways that people could essentially take the token out. The token, of course belong to the MTA at that point in time.
Chuck Rosenberg: The MTA is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the entity that runs the subway system in New York, among other things.
Anne Milgram: That's right. There were two ways people would take that token out. One way is that they would put their mouth on the turnstile, the area where you put in the token, which rightly and the audience will not be able to see your face, but it's like a huge “ew” [laughing]. It's the right reaction. And the other the way I sort of preferred is that someone would take a straw and just suck it out. But either way, someone was basically sucking the token out and getting it and they would use it to sell to somebody else, they might use it themselves personally. If it sounds like not the most serious case in the world, that's because that's true, it was a very low-level offense. And we handled a lot of these cases. In Manhattan they've actually stopped prosecuting them, because it comes down to — and there's been a dispute about mostly because it comes down to collecting money for the subway system. And of course, you don't want people to illegally enter the subway, but it also sort of becomes a question of: do you really want people to have criminal convictions for sucking a token?
Chuck Rosenberg: But there is a bigger lesson here, right Anne? I mean, the notion that, as you said earlier, even a low-level infraction or misdemeanor can affect someone's life. Their ability to get a job, to obtain housing or other benefits. And so, you know, what is the lesson of that? Because you have sort of a binary choice: you either prosecute a case or you don't. I mean, I guess there are intermediate solutions. But if you're not prosecuting the case, that means you're not enforcing the law. So how do you think about that?
Anne Milgram: I think we should be thinking about this and talking about this a lot more, because I think it's easy to see, with more serious crimes, and particularly crimes of violence, the impact that that has on our communities and people's lives, and that it's important to hold people accountable. Right? And to have conversations about that type of accountability and what it looks like. I think we've gone a little bit of the opposite way on misdemeanors and low-level offenses, where, we haven't really talked enough about what accountability can and should look like. And that to me is a question: Do I think people should be allowed to jump turnstiles or, the other case we handled a lot in Manhattan where people stealing things like Enfamil, from Rite Aid, or Walgreens, and that's baby formula. It happens to be one of the most expensive things that you often can buy in a pharmacy. A lot of those folks would use it themselves. But a lot of those folks would also sell it, because it had high value. And so, again, you know, small level crime, it could be done because of poverty, it could be done for yourself or to make money for you or your family. But again, accountability is important. The issue, I think, is that we have always equated accountability directly with jail, for those offenses. You know, we did a lot of research when I was at the Arnold Foundation around what impact jail has. And the question I always ask is: what makes community safer? I mean, to me the driving principles like how do we make our communities as safe as possible? And when you look, you see that people who are incarcerated, basically, for more than 24 hours who aren't long time criminals, who aren't people who are high risk to commit new offenses or to commit serious crimes or violence, they tend to commit more crime, both before trial if they get released, and after, if they're incarcerated. Incarceration is one of the tools that we have and have used, but the real question as to be particularly: What does accountability look like? And what other things can we do, to hold people accountable, so that we dissuade them from committing crimes, but we also don't necessarily do the thing that we always just automatically do, which is to put them in jail. We end up with more crime. You know, and if you think about it, people who are stealing subway rides or who are stealing Enfamil, they're often living day-to-day, paycheck to paycheck, or not even having a paycheck, and they can lose housing, they can lose jobs. It really is destabilizing when you think about, particularly people who have kids, putting them in jail. So I'm not saying no to jail and prison. But I think we have to look a lot harder at, at what we do to hold people accountable.
Chuck Rosenberg: No I couldn't agree more, we have to be more thoughtful about this. And I imagine Anne you also saw a disparate racial impact when you were prosecuting lower level crimes?
Anne Milgram: I would say this also, you know, when you're an assistant DA you handle at any given time, 150 to 200 cases, and you're not always in court. And I didn't realize this completely when I was an assistant or even a prosecutor at the Department of Justice. You really do look at your specific cases in front of you. And so you're not thinking about what's the racial makeup of everyone coming before me and you're not always in court seeing it — right? And so, years later, when I went to the Arnold Foundation, we started looking at questions of racial disparity. It's really jarring when you look at the high-level data and statistics. I work with a city, we literally pulled for them the rates of being held in jail on bail and length of detention. And it's really clear that people who are Black and Latino, and you match on everything else, meaning you match on the offense on the prior criminal history. So you're really isolating it down to what impact does race have on decisions? Higher bail, more often detained, longer sentences after being convicted by a significant margin. And so I think we have to be honest about the fact that even if you isolate each individual police officer, lawyers looking at each individual case, the ultimate outcome is unfair and unjust. And that's part of the conversation I think we need to have
Chuck Rosenberg: And when I was a line federal prosecutor, I used to say that I saw nothing and did everything. And that when I ran the office, I did nothing and saw everything. Meaning I didn't have —
[Laughing] Totally. Yeah, that's perfect.
Chuck Rosenberg: I didn't have an appreciation for what the individual cases meant to the overall criminal justice system.
Anne Milgram: When I became AG and I wanted to understand what was happening, it was really hard to find out. And it was really hard to get information about, just to be able to see into everything that was happening even in our criminal cases. And so it took me weeks to get the information on: Who were we charging? What were we charging them with? What parts of the state were we focused on? What were our top, you know, priorities? And that's a problem throughout the United States, like we have not been smart enough and thoughtful enough about thinking higher level about what are my priorities? How am I going to do them in the office? And how am I going to make sure I'm watching and understanding what's happening? As a line attorney, you just see the case in front of you, and then you become a boss, and you see the bigger picture. And it really changes the way, at least for me, it really changed the way I thought about the system.
Chuck Rosenberg: So let's jump to that Anne if you don't mind, because you became the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey at the age of 36. I think the second youngest person ever to hold that office in New Jersey.
Anne Milgram: That's right. Yep. John Degnan was the youngest. I think he was 34 or 35, under Governor Byrne. He used to remind me of that, which is why I know that.
Chuck Rosenberg: Well, what I think is really interesting about that job is not how old you were when you took office, because you were more than qualified. But how much authority the Attorney General of New Jersey has. And I was hoping you describe that because Attorneys General in the 50 states have varying degrees of authority. But in New Jersey, you have as much if not more than any other state in the nation.
Anne Milgram: New Jersey is probably in my view, the most powerful AGs office in the country outside of the federal government. I'm talking state AGs here. In part because of the way that the state of New Jersey is set up. The Attorney General is not elected, is appointed by the governor. And so the Attorney General in New Jersey has full law enforcement jurisdiction. Is by statute, the chief law enforcement officer for the state. So that meant as AG I had oversight of more than 30,000 police officers, more than 500 individual police departments, 21 county prosecutor's offices, we had our own group of prosecutors and investigators in the AG’s office. I had oversight, direct oversight, it was in my office of the state police. That's 5000 individuals, little over 3000 sworn. And so it really is a very different job. Most State AGs do not have criminal jurisdiction. Some have it to varying degrees. So, New York has a little. Rhode Island has full criminal jurisdiction. Some other states do. But when we would have conversations in AG meetings, it was really me and like four or five other AGs, who could have the conversations on criminal jurisdiction. And I can tell you that I didn't realize how different New Jersey was until I went to my first AG meeting where the 50 state AGs come into a room. I sat in the chair for New Jersey, of course. And it was very focused on civil cases. Of course, I handled civil cases in the state of New Jersey, we did 15 or 20,000 civil matters a year. We had hundreds of lawyers doing that. And I should just sort of run through this. We had the state police, civil division of law, criminal division, a civil rights division, a gaming division, because New Jersey has Atlantic City, Consumer Protection Agency. We had elections at the time I oversaw the state elections. I transferred that out to the Secretary of State later. We can talk about that separately. It's a lot for an AG to handle, as you can tell already. One of the first days I had to approve something on mixed martial arts. And I was like, ‘Wait, like, how did how did MMA come before me?’ And so you know, again, the breadth of that office is really big. And I was sitting in this AGs office meeting, and I was the one who was constantly on calls and doing emails, and I looked to one of my colleagues and I was like, ‘Man, I feel so busy.’ And he said to me, ‘That's because your office has everything. Like the rest of us are, you know, mostly civil lawyers representing the state and state matters.’
Chuck Rosenberg: Anne how do you even begin from a management perspective to get your arms around something that big? I mean, the state police report to the state and county prosecutors report to you, as you listed, you have a whole bunch of agencies that report to you, how do you manage something that large?
Anne Milgram: I came into that job having been a manager at DOJ, but a very different kind of manager. So, I was the special litigation counsel for human trafficking and involuntary servitude and slavery at DOJ. So, I played a management role, but it wasn't operational. It was sort of like I oversaw cases, and I helped attorneys make cases and bring cases and when there were disputes between DOJ and US Attorney's offices I would be involved. But I wasn't directly supervising the day-to-day activities. When I started in the AG’s office, it was almost 10,000 people, and all these different divisions. I think I learned a lot about management the hard way my first year. I made a ton of mistakes. I was really lucky to be able to bring fantastic people into our front office. John Vasquez was my first assistant, he's now a federal judge in New Jersey. Michael Shipp was my counsel, he's a federal judge in New Jersey. Lisa Thornton was Chief of Staff. She's now the presiding judge in one of the New Jersey counties. These are extraordinary individuals. And really, I can tell you, I would not have survived a single day without them. There were also a number of other folks. But, you know, I sort of started wanting to prioritize everything and do everything. And even with that kind of authority in that kind of job, you know, I was one person and my time was limited. And so it really had to be focused on the sort of key things. And then you have to have the right team in place.
Chuck Rosenberg: And you mentioned mistakes. And, I'm glad you did. I always knew about the mistakes I made. What really scared me were the mistakes I made that I didn't know about. And in order to learn about them, you need people not only who you trust, but who trust you. Meaning that if they bring bad news to you, you're not going to throw a stapler at their head. How do you learn about the mistakes that you don't know about?
Anne Milgram: There was a senior CEO who I had lunch with shortly after I became AG. He wanted to sort of give me the wisdom of his experience. What he said to me is, ‘you'll make 1000 decisions a day, when you're the Attorney General for the state of New Jersey. 900 of those, you'll never know whether they were right or wrong. And they're probably fine. In the bigger scheme of things, don't worry about those. But there's going to be, whether it's 50 or 100, you're going to make a mistake. You just have to keep moving. And of the hundred, that you've made a mistake on 50 of those you're going to be able to fix and 50 are going to be too late. What I'm telling you with all these sort of numbers is you just have to keep going. And you have to keep making decisions. And you fix what you can fix. And if you've made a mistake, you learn from it.’ And I thought it was really important because I've seen people in big jobs. You can get overwhelmed, you can lose focus, and you can really stop making decisions. And that is one of the worst things I think that can happen in a big government office. To your point though I did something else, which I really think is critical, which is I sought out people who had different views than I did or sort of who would come in and tell me what they thought I was doing wrong. And I'll tell you one quick story about Shavar Jeffries, who, he was my counsel also for time. He's a lawyer in private practice. He also runs Ed reform now. He ran for Mayor of Newark, New Jersey a few years back, and he's one of my favorite people in the world. He had sued the state of New Jersey a number of times in the education space. And, I knew he was a fantastic lawyer. He has an amazing personal story as well. And he's just one of the most amazing and wonderful human beings you'll ever meet. But I literally went to him three times, Chuck, and he did not believe me that I wanted him to sit in the State of New Jersey. He had sued the state so many times. He was a professor at the time at Seton Hall. And it just took a lot for me to convince him. ‘No, I want you here because you've taken opposing positions, because I think you want to reform.’ He ended up overseeing juvenile justice for us, and a number of other things. But I wanted that voice. And that sort of counter in the room. And you know, it's a sign of I think our society that people almost don't believe you when you say like, ‘I actually want to hire you to come in and to tell me what I should know and to disagree with me when I've made a mistake and to call me out on it.’ It's not something you see enough I think.
Chuck Rosenberg: One of the hardest things I had in management positions was getting people to admit mistakes. I mean, I would try and start off all the meetings by telling them all the things I had screwed up, just to try and flatten the hill and by that, I mean, when you're running something, you're at the top of the hill. When you're a brand-new assistant district attorney in Manhattan working night shift and handling misdemeanors, you're at the bottom of the hill. But the person at the bottom may have really, really important information for the person at the top. But it won't get there if they're scared to bring it.
Anne Milgram: There's a great book called “Being Wrong.” I mean, the truth is, we're all wrong, all the time. And the more you're able to own that and understand it, the better I think you can be at your job and that you can be with others. But I can tell you, I mean, I've made countless mistakes. And I think all of us have and I still remember one day forgetting to subpoena a witness to come to court in a trial and the judge basically being like, ‘Who did this?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, that would be me.’ [laughing] You know, it's like, owning up and taking responsibility and saying, you know, ‘I'm sorry, I made a mistake. Here's what I'm going to do to fix it.’ And, you know, when you do that you get through it. At least that's been my experience. But yeah, I think it's, it's really important.
Chuck Rosenberg: I used to implore people to admit, identify and fix mistakes, because they're going to surface to your CEOs point, some will and some won't, but the worst ones will. And if you identify it yourself, admit it to those with whom you work and fix it, you can usually address whatever problem you created.
Anne Milgram: I agree very, very strongly. And I think you and I can probably both relate having run offices that the worst thing is to not have people tell you the bad news. I think this is also a tendency to want to sort of have everything be great and sugarcoat it, and it's when something explodes, and you know it happens frequently, something will go wrong. It's really a bad position to be in. And so I always sort of I'm very much aligned with you on, on that thinking.
Chuck Rosenberg: Anne, I learned from reading about you and preparing for this interview that the great American poet, Walt Whitman, had spent much of his adult life in Camden, New Jersey. And I also learned that the Camden city motto comes from one of his most famous collection of poems “Leaves of Grass.” “In a dream I saw a city invincible.” The Camden that you saw when you were Attorney General was anything but invincible.
Anne Milgram: I love that Whitman line. And he lived in Camden at a time that it was a flourishing port city in the United States of America. And he actually chose to live out the end of his life in Camden, it was a vibrant place. When I first joined the AG’s office, I joined as First Assistant. I was First Assistant Attorney General for about a year before I became AG. And I heard a little bit about Camden. I was asked a couple times to sit in meetings on behalf of then Attorneys General. There were two Attorney Generals that I worked with. But I didn't fully understand what was happening until almost around the time that I was sworn in as AG when I really came to understand that a prior AG, Peter Harvey, had taken over the Camden Police Department. And just to go back, the AG in New Jersey is the chief law enforcement officer and has the power to supersede any police department, meaning to take control of it. Attorney General Harvey had taken it over. I think he put in place a Police Director. And he'd done it because at the time, it was the most dangerous city in America. And so when I was there, it was, at varying times, still the most dangerous city in America. I think one year it was number one, one year, it might have been number two. And on par with third world countries with some of the most dangerous places you and I could think about… in the world. And I didn't know that much about Camden. My dad had grown up in Philadelphia, as I said, and we spent a lot of time there. Literally right across the river from Philadelphia. And so I'd grown up going across, and probably through Camden over the Ben Franklin bridge, but I didn't I just didn't really have any conception of it as a city. And so, when I was sworn in as AG, it was still an incredibly dangerous place. I wanted to understand like, what were my priorities going to be and what should be happening? I had this feeling and I think it came out of having been a local prosecutor and prosecuting a lot of violent crime, about being responsible for a place that was so deeply unsafe. And it really it upset me, it angered me, it, it made me feel like I was, you know, frankly, like, in over my head. You know, I became AG I'd been a criminal prosecutor for years. You know, you could have handed me any file, I would have walked into court with it. No problem. But the idea of like sort of tackling a failing police department in a city that also had the lowest per rate of income in the state of New Jersey, I think it was something like $15,000 a year was the median income, it was a really difficult place to go to. So I wanted to understand what's happening. I said to the police department that I wanted to come down and visit. And, basically on the fifth day after I was sworn in as AG, there was a murder of a young man. And at the time, you know, no one even called me to tell me. And remember, I ran the police department, that there had been this murder. It had happened on July 4, it was the fifth day after I'd been sworn in as AG. And I came to understand that it was a young man named Pee Wee Coleman who had just turned 12, who was basically assassinated gangland style outside of a housing project. And he was living in an Oldsmobile.
Chuck Rosenberg: You said in fact Anne that Pee Wee was assassinated in the back of the Oldsmobile in which he was living. He had $500 in cash on him. It wasn't a robbery.
Anne Milgram: He had $500 on him. And it looked like it was not a robbery, it looked like he was killed by folks who sort of own that turf for drug sales. And that's a strange way to say it but, there were warring drug trafficking organizations, gangs that were basically operating the streets in Camden. At the time, Camden had hundreds of open-air drug markets. I mean, meaning people just bought drugs on the streets left and right. People came from out of the city. It was clear that there was a group of folks that were selling on that block, and it appeared to us again, from the best we could tell that maybe Pee Wee had started to sell drugs or was associated with someone who was selling drugs. But it's clear he wasn't murdered because somebody wanted to steal the money. And it was clear that it was intentional that it was Pee Wee who was the target of this assassination. And it was more than 20 bullets from an AK-47, done at 11 o'clock at night. And so Pee Wee's killer was never identified and prosecuted. There were ideas about who had done it. That individual was a member of a gang in Camden was later himself assassinated, murdered, by a rival drug dealer. You know, it's hard to explain now, on day five, trying to figure out sort of what do you do and how do you do it? How do you run this massive office? To have that happen and realize, like, you know, oh, ‘my God, that's like, I'm responsible for that child, and I'm responsible for what's happened.’ And so, I drove through with a young police captain. I drove through the city of Camden to understand like, what was happening? Why was this going on? And, you know, it's 10 miles. It's a small city. I was struck by the fact, Chuck, I didn't see a single police officer on the streets. I didn't see a single police car. I heard sirens in the background, but I didn't see in the most dangerous city in America, what you would expect to see, which was a police officer walking the streets. And I did actually see a young boy who looked like he should have been in school. He was young, I don't know if he was 10 or 12, do a hand-to-hand drug deal right in front of the unmarked police car that I was driving in. There's no way that kid who did the hand-to-hand didn't know it was a police car, right? Like, everyone in Camden knew it was an unmarked police car. And he did it anyway.
Chuck Rosenberg: It might be unmarked, but they're pretty obvious.
Anne Milgram: Yeah. And so that was a sign that the rule of law had just broken down. You know, at the moment at which you will do that in front of an unmarked car means, you know, you don't think you're going to be caught. You don't think it matters. And so, it was just a moment for me of I don't know what I'm going to do but I have to do something,
Chuck Rosenberg: It must be jarring to drive through Camden, and not see a single police car on the streets.
Anne Milgram: And remember, I'd worked in New York City, I'd worked in Washington, DC. You see police officers. It's impossible for me now. And I've since been back to Camden. And not to sort of skip ahead too much but, you cannot drive through Camden today without seeing a police officer walking a beat, and without seeing a police car. And that's the way it should be.
Chuck Rosenberg: How did you get from the Camden you saw, right after Pee Wee Coleman, the 12-year-old who was murdered, to the Camden of today?
Anne Milgram: I had youth in my favor, Chuck, which sounds funny to say. But I also had the fact that I hadn't been a police officer. So, I asked a lot of questions. And I asked a lot of basic questions that someone who was a little bit more savvy about politics or the way the world would have stayed completely away from what I did and how I did it. But I was asking a lot of questions about it. Because I just wanted to understand what we were doing, whether it was working, and whether we could do something better. And it's as simple as that. We tried to pull data. We tried to understand what was happening. It was, it was really hard. Everything was in paper files. I sent a senior man who worked with me, Joe Cordero, who's amazing. And he'd been the Police Director in East Orange, he'd been a police chief in Massachusetts. I sent him down to basically help me run CompStat there because, I'd gone one day, and I tell the story a lot, but I'd gone one day to basically say like, ‘What's happening? Who's doing the shootings?’ I wanted to see their CompStat meeting, which is when, you have, usually senior police officers, are held accountable by the leadership of the department. And the leadership is asking, like, ‘Why is crime up in your precinct? Why is there an open-air drug market? What are you doing about this murder? How are you going to solve it?’ And literally, all I saw was a room filled with officers who were trying to do the right thing, but just had no idea what they were doing. And they were, you know, writing crimes on yellow stickies and putting it on a map.
Chuck Rosenberg: So, to your point Anne, as a young assistant district attorney in Manhattan, you're just working your inbox, you're not seeing the big picture. When you mentioned data, and CompStat, which is a system that is designed to help officers and management understand their jurisdiction. You're trying to pull out of Camden information that will help you do that, and it just doesn't exist.
Anne Milgram: Yeah, and just the most basic information. And I think it's really important for people to understand that a lot of American policing is still this way. And so I would say ‘Why do you have people on this street corner? Why are you focused on this neighborhood?’ The answer would be, ‘Well, we had a case a few weeks back,’ or ‘This has always been a problem for us.’ And then ultimately, when we pull the information in the data, it was often not true. Or it was anecdotal meaning like, yeah, one officer might have had one situation, making them believe that this was the right place to be. But when you looked at the city as a whole, it was clear like, ‘Oh, that's not your problem.’ I can give you one very basic example of this, that I think is also really true in a lot of American cities today, which is 911 calls. So 911 it's this incredible technological innovation, but it's also taking cops off the street. Because instead of just walking around and being like, assigned to the community, we often send officers on patrol from 911 call to 911 call. And so, when I got to Camden, there were probably, I don't know 12 or 13 911 calls. At the high point someone told me recently was like 20 911 calls per shift per officer. And that means that cop is literally in their car just responding, responding, responding. In a city of 80,000 people there were, you know, again, more than 10,000 911 calls. That's a lot of 911 calls. Per year, every single year. And so the police department couldn't explain to us what was happening. We went in, we pulled the data, and we found our response times were terrible. It was taking us forever to get to the scene of a call, including violence in progress, which is really important. There's nothing more important than someone picks up the phone calls 911 and says, ‘Someone was just shot’ or ‘There's a man with a knife.” Like the police have to be there immediately. There were long delays in response time, there were people calling repeatedly because it was taking the officers so long to get there. And then there were people who are saying, ‘shots fired’ because if you didn't say ‘shots fired,’ if you said ‘my car was stolen,’ no officer would show up for three hours. And so that — all of that distorts the system. When we finally looked back, we learned that the dispatchers were sending the officers that they thought were closest to the scene of the crime, but they weren't ever the right people who were closest. There are countless reasons why that unit might not be the closest unit. And so we put GPS on the cars, we automatically dispatch the closest units. And we went to like less than 4000 911 calls in a year. And our response times to crime dramatically changed.
Chuck Rosenberg: And the answer’s in the data. So there's a bunch of things you have to do, you have to know the answers in the data, you have to obtain the data, you have to interpret the data. And you actually have to use the data. And that is a hard thing to do when you're working your inbox, when you're under resourced, and when you're overwhelmed by day-to-day events. Like where do you get the time and space to do that thing that, you know, has to be done to make you better?
Anne Milgram: Yeah, and part of it is also we just haven't valued it. So we valued you know, like, look, my grandfather learned from his father. Like they’d police the same streets the same way. And I would argue we, we literally, most of America places the same way we police for the last 30 or 40 years. And we'll do a short roll call in the morning. And then we send an officer out for the day. But we're not understanding what the concerns and the issues are in a community. We're not being responsive to them in the same way we need to be. And we're not really understanding like, again, thinking about how are we using our workforce? And how are we solving problems? And I think about this a lot, because in Camden what we ultimately did — we made a ton of changes. And we dropped violent crime by 40% in the first year I was working there. And we started holding ourselves accountable, meeting with the community, opening up the lines of communication. But we also did this really important thing where, we realized that we were just in this 911 loop. That it was basically the officers were waiting for the 911 call to happen, then they were responding. And we had to change it. And so we instituted literally hundreds of thousands of directed patrols, meaning you send an officer out because we know people have been selling drugs on the street corner, we're going to send an officer out there 15-20 minutes, we want them to be a presence in the community. We know that there's been a series of burglaries in this neighborhood, we're going to send an officer out into that neighborhood, ask some questions, talk to some folks. It's game changing because you're not waiting for the next 911 call or the next problem. And we also prioritize violence. We spent a lot of time understanding who were the small but critical number of people committing violence and we prosecuted those folks. But, again, it's a seismic change in a really short amount of time… that was based largely on the ability to understand what was happening and think about how to do things differently.
Chuck Rosenberg: My uncle was a cop in New York City many years ago Anne before police cars were air conditioned, which meant that he had to drive around, even the summer, with his windows down. And that meant he could hear things and people could talk to him even from a distance. And it was his view, and I've heard this elsewhere, and I'd love your view, that even air conditioning our cars put one more layer between police and the people they serve.
Anne Milgram: I could not agree more with him. I didn't see a single police car the first day I was in Camden, but I was back there so often I did see them sometimes. And when I saw them, windows were always up. And they were driving down the street. They were not engaged. They weren't stopping getting out of their cars. And I said this at one of the meetings, that bunch of the officers now refer to as like Black Monday, I gave the speech of ‘Look, I want you on this team. But the goal right now is to protect the people of Camden, to do the right thing by the people of Camden. And we're going to make changes so we can do it. And I want you with us. But if you don't want to be with us, you can get off the bus. Like I want you on the bus. But this is where we're going. And we're going to change your schedule.’ And this is hard, right? Look, if you're a police officer, is it better for you personally to work Monday through Friday 9 to 5? Of course it is. You have a family, you have a life. But the reality of crime is that that's not when it happens. So everybody can't work 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. And so we had to make a lot of changes, we had to get people out from behind desk jobs. You know, I sort of gave this talk and I said, ‘Look, I want you windows down, out of your cars’. And I will never forget, Chuck, that one of the officers said to me, ‘Look, I'm going to be honest with you, I don't feel safe. I'm one person, I may be walking into a crowd of like six people. I don't necessarily want to do that engagement.’ So that was a really reasonable thing. Let's put two officers into each car. We know we need the windows down. We know we need to out walking around a community. I want officers to feel safe and protected in that environment but, they also need to do the job. This comes from your uncle, but I could not agree more that I think modern policing — like some of the conveniences we got, as much as they may have helped make the day-to-day life of the officer easier, they actually, didn't help do the things we needed to do in communities with police.
Chuck Rosenberg: So, what is the Camden of today like? What is Walt Whitman’s “City Invincible” look like today, Anne?
Anne Milgram: Camden is an amazing story. And part of it is that I led the beginning of the transformation. So for the first two and a half years, we spent a fair amount of time pulling data. We did an automated system for a lot of the data you and I are talking about. Like to understand, how long was it taking us to get to 911 calls? Was there an increase in certain types of crime? Like just monitoring. We pulled in CCTV with individuals who could watch it, cameras that we could rotate. And that enhanced our ability to sort of see what was happening on the streets. We completely changed the way we used our officers. And we became proactive instead of reactive. And we dropped crime by more than 40%. It was transformational. And then Camden hit a rough patch where, I left office, a new governor came in, slashed funding to the city. We had hired about 50 new police officers, gotten a whole bunch of new police cars. That had a huge impact on the city. They ended up firing all the newer officers. They were sort of like the vanguard of culture change. We did a lot. And we implemented it into sort of like the policies and practices of the department, but you still need a certain number of officers to do it. And those sort of newer officers were really driving forward community engagement. They let them go. Camden hit it's almost high watermark for homicides. And this was 2012, 2013. And I consulted a lot with folks in South Jersey around this. They formed a separate police, they basically formed a county police department, because the contracts, the union contracts, particularly in Camden, the way they've been drafted, they were just really difficult to be able to like hire back some of the newer officers, to be able to have the resources they needed. And the contracts were just really expensive. And so they needed to sort of figure out with less resources, how do we go back to where we were? Camden today is at its lowest crime rate in more than 50 years. It's far from perfect, but it is nowhere near the most dangerous city in America. And it is, I can't begin to tell you when you go there, it's a city you can walk down the street in. And that was just not the case. It's one of those things where we think about Camden and we think about the transformation a lot. One of the things I think is really important and is a little bit lost, in the conversation today is the power of the community. When I came in the view was that Camden was intractable. That nobody could ever change it. Nothing would ever work to sort of drop crime, make the police accountable, engage with the community. And we did all of those things. And it changed the conversation in a way that when trouble hit and when the finances disappeared, and Camden was struggling, the community demanded safety. Like they just demanded that things be changed. And that was just a huge catalyst for the new police department. A lot of people sort of when I first began sort of took the view that Camden is always going to be dangerous. It's just a dangerous place. There's a lot of poverty. And I don't believe that I think every single city in America can be safe. I think the difference is how we, as law enforcement, handle it. Once you accept that, you can actually control violence, and you can be proactive, it just changes the way you see it. And the community demanded it. And so I think that to me is like one of the like lessons of Camden is the power of people to demand good policing.
Chuck Rosenberg: One of the things Anne that I like about you, and how you describe this is that you use the pronoun “we”. And part of that “we” was a wonderful Police Chief, that you hired, to lead the Camden Police Department, a gentleman named Scott Thomson. And I was hoping you'd say a word or two about him.
Anne Milgram: Scott’s the best. And he is, he's like a brother to me. When we were looking around the police department, and you know this, but the path to promotion in police departments, it's often done through civil service. Someone has to take a test, and then their name might be selected by a supervisor. And it's a lot in my view, also of what's wrong with American policing, is that the people who get promoted and particularly the people who become Chiefs, they have 22 or 23 years on the job. They're about to retire. They have one foot out the door, they generally have worked the political system and the civil service system. And we don't reward innovation. We don't reward people who are trying to figure out like, How do you do the best that you can do? It's just not the way it works. We found Scott and he was I think he was 14 years on the job when I made him the Acting Chief with me. That was 2008. And we did it because he knew things were wrong, he wanted to learn and he believed in the city and the people and then it could be better. And so he worked very closely with Joe Cordero, who was my Head of Law Enforcement. And the two of them essentially, built this complete redeployment. They built the data and the technology structures. And Scott, he's an incredible leader. Like he's the guy who would give out his cell phone at a community meeting, and basically say to people like, ‘I will never let anyone disrespect you or treat you differently.’ He’s the guy that put into place just a couple years ago think, the best use of force policy in the country that mandates de-escalation.
Chuck Rosenberg: In fact Anne, he did give out his cell phone number at community meetings.
Anne Milgram: He did. And he and I had this conversation once and we sometimes joke about it, but, he was not the community's first choice. And we haven't talked a lot about the politics and the pushback. But I can tell you that there's nothing I've ever done in my career that was harder. I don't want to say that the sort of entrenched political forces were pushing for a dangerous city. But, government systems push — again, they don't want change, right? Like they don't, they don't like change. And they sort of, you know, on this journey, we didn't know exactly where we would end up or where we were going. We just, in my view, we knew we hit rock bottom, and we had to try other things. So I literally said to Scott, it was one of the last things I said to him, when I turned over the police department back to him because I did before I left, basically, instead of, my being the overseer, as I left being AG basically said, you know, ‘Okay, you're now the full time Chief.’ He’d been an acting chief, and you run the police department, not the State AG. And one of the last things I said to him was, ‘You are the community, the police in the community, it's not us versus them. This is a critical piece of it. And you need to be at every single community meeting.’ And I can tell you Chuck, I've been at community meetings with him. And, you know, back in the day, they were not easy. I don't know how many of these, you've done when you've run offices. But you know, people were upset in Camden. We wanted to engage with people, but there was a lot of hostility and distrust. And so Scott just, like he dove into it, he believed it, he made it happen. He really became just a hugely important part of community engagement in the city. And he did give out a cell phone. You know, he's still walking around the streets of Camden. He's retired just within the past year, but he really is to me, he's one of the best police leaders in our country. And he just, he gets it. And Camden's, the safest, it's been in, you know, more than than five decades, more than 50 years. And so it's a tribute I think to his work.
Chuck Rosenberg: And Anne when you say ‘it can't be us versus them,’ that kind of underscores something I wanted to ask you about, the transformation of police from a warrior mentality to a guardian mentality of cultural change.
Anne Milgram: Scott talks about this a lot. And I could not agree more. You know, you and I both know this, but it's worth towards sort of talking through a little bit in the context of the murder of George Floyd. Like I've even been looking at a specific police department's 911 calls recently. And when you look at it, I mean, I think a lot of people assume the 911 calls that go to the police are all policing related or crime related. And the truth is they're not. And I think it's a really important conversation, we're starting to have, that if about half of those or even 40% of those, relate to you know, a welfare check on someone, someone who's mentally ill, someone who's homeless. I think nationally, we have to have this conversation about who should go out. In Camden one of the things that Scott did, over time, was he stop sending police officers to car accidents with no injuries. Why do you need an officer there? It can escalate. It’s just, it's bad for everyone to basically have it be an officer. I think as we start to think also about this guardian question, we also have to be very honest about what the job is. The job is not the SWAT team breaking down doors, like we see in TV and movies. It may be the reason that some people are drawn to policing, but that's really not the job. The job is being a part of a community and thinking about all the ways you can protect a community. And in my view, you know, it's a huge failure, if a police department says to me, ‘we did a great job, there was a homicide, we caught someone.’ That's a failure. The great job is to prevent that homicide. And to sort of think about a kid walking to school being safe. A family being able to play in a park, just people in communities feeling safe in their homes and in their lives. That is the success and we have to really, I think, think a lot harder about how we sort of flipped this conversation around.
Chuck Rosenberg: Well Anne you've been a part of the conversation for a long time. “In a dream I saw a city invincible.” The work that you and Scott Thomson and Joe Cordero and many others did to make Camden a safer city. It was extraordinary. Are you an optimist? That seems like a very, very big problem. And sometimes it seems like one step forward and two steps back.
Anne Milgram: I'm a huge optimist. I will tell you why. People sometimes now think of Camden as a unicorn. As like something that rarely happens. That's really hard to do. It's not. It's the opposite. It's simple to do. It's hard to do. It takes money and commitment. It takes being data driven, it takes being really critical. Why are we sending police officers to chronic, commercial burglary alarms? Why are we — Why are we not understanding what the community concerns are and directing police officers to be in communities to try to address them? We have to reframe it to be proactive, and pro community. But I totally believe it can happen. And the reason why is you and I both worked in law enforcement for a long time. I think the men and women who go into it, truly do want to make their communities safer. I think they want to do the right thing. I think there is absolutely blame for individual officers. There's also blame for our institutions. And I think, we have to be really critical of how we run those institutions and what they are. But I still think that if you take a lot of people who are trying to do the right thing, and if you can get the political will — and that's a big part of it is again, you know, getting people to be willing to change things. The sky's the limit. And Camden to me is like, when I first called a local state senator to say this is back when I was like, you know, first AG ‘Look, I'm going to work on Camden.’ I will never forget that. He basically said to me, ‘Don't do it. It's a loser for you. You won't get through it. It will hurt your reputation, it will hurt your career, you're going to spend all your time…’ And to me it was kind of like, ‘How can you not do this’? Right, like? This is what the job is. Like this is the, why you take this oath, which is to you know protect the people and do the best thing you can. And so, I think, we have to talk a lot, honestly about moving through the politics of it, but 100% I think that policing can be transformed,
Chuck Rosenberg: You know Anne I'm really glad that you're one of the people doing it, because you're smart, and you're thoughtful, and you're experienced. There is a value to becoming Attorney General when you're 36 and not believing that this is the way it has to be, and not taking no for an answer.
Anne Milgram: I was, I was like today, I was braver than I was smart. [Laughs] Which is still true, by the way. Still true.
Chuck Rosenberg: Well, a lot of folks are better off because of that Anne. But, you know, I'm a huge baseball fan. I love the sport. Many years ago, I read Michael Lewis's book “Moneyball.” I think I read everything that Michael Lewis has ever written. But it was such an important book, not so much for baseball, but for the way we think about all big complex organizations. That you're one of the leaders in the country Anne at adopting the lessons of “Moneyball” to the criminal justice system, and to law enforcement. So what did “Moneyball” describe, and how does it wash over to the world in which you live now?
Anne Milgram: It's such a great question. And, and to your point, I think it actually applies to almost every space I talked to or touch. I gave a speech to a huge agricultural tractor maker once. I mean, everybody sort of deals with this this similar problems, which is basically: how do you run an organization? And traditionally we've run organizations by anecdote and gut. And so if you think about baseball like, you know, they're great scenes from the book of the baseball scouts going out, and they want to watch the pitchers play, they want to watch all the players play, and they're going to tell you based on their gut whether that's the right player to, to join to the team. And you have Billy Beane who joins the Oakland A's. By the way, this was also true of us in Camden a little bit, which is like: Billy Beane is motivated because he has no money.
Chuck Rosenberg: So, Billy Beane is the general manager of the Oakland A's, and it's an under-resourced team. They're not the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers of the Boston Red Sox. They have a very small budget for players, so they can't compete for high priced, and perhaps overvalued free agents.
Anne Milgram: So, they, they don't have the money or the resources to like, buy the dream team. So they have to figure out how do they play to the best of their possible ability with the resources that they have? And there's a data analyst who works with him who basically, you know, convinces Billy Beane, like, ‘Let's run all these numbers.’ And they run them. And they find that the key to a player is not actually, you know, people were looking at, like hitting scores and things like that.
Chuck Rosenberg: May I help you here Anne?
Anne Milgram: Please.
Chuck Rosenberg: I want you to maintain your credibility. So, let's go with batting average.
Anne Milgram: [Laughing] Thank you. Yes, they were looking at batting averages. And, they, and not at on base percentage. And so one of the things they realize is that, actually, it doesn't really matter how you get on base, what matters is that you get on base, and then you can score runs. And that those runs translate into victories, and they translate into more successful teams. And so Billy Beane goes out, and he uses this. And there's this huge uproar from the scouts who say, like, you know — you may have been in some of these rooms. I cannot count how many times I've now been in a room or someone has told me like, ‘Oh, I just know, I don't need to look at data, I don't need to look at facts, I just know. My gut tells me whether someone's going to commit a crime or what neighborhood I should be in, in the policing world.’ And Billy Beane took this on, and he built this incredible winning team at the Oakland A's by shifting sort of what they looked at and how they judge players. And, again, he still uses scouts, but it's not just scouts. So, it's this combination of instinct and gut, plus the data and the information. One of my favorite examples of this, as I was working a lot with judges on who they detain, when I was at the Arnold Foundation, just sort of asking this question of when you actually pull the data you see in almost every major city that we do this, and you see that a lot of the people who are the highest risk to commit new crimes, or to commit serious violence are being released. Like half of them. It's a very small percentage of overall people, but they're the people we worry about the most. And then there's a huge number of people who are actually what we would call low risk. They're unlikely to commit a new crime, they're unlikely to commit violence. But a lot of them are also detained. And so we were trying to sort of square this with judges, who would tell us ‘well I only detain the serious, dangerous folks, and I release everybody else.’ And then you pull the data and it turns out not to be true. So, I was sitting with one judge who, initially, really resisted this sort of data driven work and came on board, full stop. But, in a really candid moment, one day, I was like, you know, ‘How do you decide like, you're sitting there, you're hearing the government argue there should be $100,000 bail, you're hearing the defense counsel say somebody should be released, like, how do you know?’ He just looked at me and said ‘Look, I just look, I listen, and I use my Spidey sense. And I pick. I pick a number, right?’ And like he was sort of arguing, like I have experience, I know what I'm doing, based on that. But he was one of those people that when I went through the data and said, like, ‘Look, I know what you think you're doing and what you're trying to do. But look at your actual numbers.’ And no one had actually gone through that with him before. It's transformational because, he wanted what happened in his courtroom to be aligned with what he believes should be happening, but it wasn't.
Chuck Rosenberg: And so to your point Anne, the data, if you're willing to look at it and think about it, and use, it doesn't just make us more fair, it also makes us more efficient.
Anne Milgram: Very much. And it makes us really push ourselves to understanding what our priorities are? And then think about, you know, how we get there and measure ourselves. And Chuck, because you're a baseball nerd, let's talk about one other thing that I've been thinking a lot about. I don't have exactly the right framework for it yet, but. You know, in baseball, there's something called WAR, the WAR stat.
Chuck Rosenberg: Wins Above Replacement.
Anne Milgram: That is a statistic. And it's not just one factor. It's a combination of different things that you look at when you're trying to decide like, should I keep this player? Or should I swap them out for another player? And we started to think about it a lot in some of our work when it comes to public safety and cities. Because we often just measure homicides, for example. And we know it's an outcome. It's a fairly reliable outcome. But it's one of a number of things that probably could help us to judge the safety of a city. So instead of it being just this binary question of how many murders do we have a year? We've talked a lot about, could you build a WAR stat around public safety, which goes far beyond just the ultimate outcome of homicides? It could include, you know, are kids safe to walk to school? What are the high school graduation rate? Like what are the things that we know correlate with safe communities? And could we build a WAR stat around that. We haven't gotten that far, but since you're a baseball aficionado, and a stats fan, I figured I would, you know, throw it out there.
Chuck Rosenberg: I'm glad you switched my description from baseball nerd to baseball aficionado I appreciate that. Anne if you're relying on data, if you want data driven analysis, is there a danger of garbage in garbage out? If your data is not valuable, then your answers won't be valuable?
Anne Milgram: It's a great question. And it's part of this overall conversation about how you run an organization. The first and most important thing I can say is that there is a first level of data work that is not happening in most police departments that needs to happen. Which is simply understanding what you are doing. Where do your 911 calls come from? Where do they go to? What are they for? Where are you deploying officers? How many officers are working a certain shift? How often are officers out in the community? I would call this almost like descriptive. It describes what the situation looks like. My strongest advocacy is for that. When you go into a doctor, you say, ‘I don't feel good.’ And your doctor sometimes can look at you. But a lot of times your doctor runs tests. And so they're not just going to look at you, they're going to take your blood, they're going to do an EKG, they want to know what's happening. And they want more than just your anecdotal version of it, or their gut instinct. When you think about how organizations run, once you're more than like three or four people, you get to this point where you need to have information because there's no way that a boss or a leader can just know where everybody is and what they're doing. And so that's the first cut. And I think, you know, we talk a lot about is data biased? Can it be biased? The answer is absolutely yes. But we also have to take a couple things into consideration, which is one: that's not a reason not to know what's happening. Even think about it in the equity context. This conversation about how many black officers? How many Latino officers are on the force? How many women are on the force? How often are black people stopped in relation to how often white people are stopped? This conversation we had before about the sort of disparate levels of being held in on bail or being convicted, or being sentenced. So, you have to understand that. And anyone who says that you shouldn't be collecting data for that purpose like I think it's just a way of going back to the gut instinct, anecdotal view of the world that I personally just I really think it's a huge, huge mistake. And so okay, you start from that point of data being essential. There are always data quality issues. I have yet to work in a single police department in America where there aren't significant data quality issues. I'll give you an example. You're trying to understand how long it takes police cars to answer a 911 call to the scene of a violent crime in progress say. And a significant percentage of those calls have 00. They have no number on it. Why would that happen? It would happen because an officer may have self-initiated. This is deciding to go to the scene of that crime. They may not have put in when they started and when they left. They might have been the second unit that deployed or the third unit, they might not have been specifically told to go there. So, the way that we capture information may not be accurate. And so we may not know, well actually, it took that second unit 15 minutes to go they shouldn't have even shown up. Or they were there in 30 seconds and it was a great success and we really needed that second unit. So again, there are data quality issues, but even knowing that 00 tells me something, right? It tells me how they're recording information, what they're capturing. And it gives me a window into where I potentially can make changes and improve the way the policing happens. And then on the last question of, you know, is data biased? I mean, I think that the short answer is we have to be honest about: Yes, there's disproportionate police contact in minority communities, there disproportionate arrests. But even more importantly than that, I think we have to sort of fundamentally accept that, in my view, the American criminal justice system, and I don't mean individual officers or individual prosecutors, but the system is discriminatory. When you hear people talking about systemic inequality, at the institutional level, that's a huge part of the conversation we're going to have to have. The fact that the data that comes out of that has problems, should not be surprising to anyone. It doesn't mean you don't use the data, it means you have to use the data to fix the system, and you have to use better data.
Chuck Rosenberg: So, data can be unreliable. It can be misleading. But we still need to look at it to understand it and make the most informed decisions that we can.
Anne Milgram: And actually, I think it will transform policing. If we really decide to move into a place where we're proactive and not reactive, we need to use data and we need — it really can be I know how simple it sounds, but it builds a bridge of accountability also to the communities we serve.
Chuck Rosenberg: One of the things that concerned me when I ran a big law enforcement agency was hearing from experienced leaders in the field, men and women, ‘That's the way we've always done it.’ And that seemed to pass for analysis. And that frightened me because, it may be the right way, and it may be the wrong way. But without actually thinking about it, I can't tell.
Anne Milgram: If I had a nickel for every time someone said — I finally banned it in my office. I was like ‘the answer cannot be because that's the way we've always done it.’ It's a way of getting out of really taking responsibility for what you do and why you do it. I really push people not to sort of pull back to that this is how our practice is this is how we've done it. It could be true that that's been a practice for years. But all of us have to be asking the question, ‘well, what's the best way we can do something? And how do we improve it?’ And without data or really understanding that, it's really hard to have that conversation.
Chuck Rosenberg: I wanted to thank you for a couple of things, not just for spending time with us, but for a remarkable career as a district attorney in Manhattan, as a federal prosecutor at the Department of Justice, and for your work as the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, where you improved the lives for millions of people.
Anne Milgram: Thank you. Well, you know, I feel the same about you and your service as a US Attorney in the head of the DEA. It's such a joy and pleasure to be able to have this conversation with you.
Chuck Rosenberg: I enjoyed it immensely Anne, thank you so much for your time.
Anne Milgram: Thank you.