Posts Tagged ‘Police Reform’

Police reforms that won’t change much

June 18, 2020

In size and scope, the Black Lives Matter protests against police killings are like nothing else in my adult lifetime.

Unjustified police killings are just an extreme example of the routine abuse experienced by poor and black people at the hands of police, which in turn is just of the ways in which poor and black Americans are abused.  Protesting police killings is just a start, but it’s a good place to start.

Public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans of all races are fed up with the way police treat poor and black people.  Yet, at the same time, only a minority want to get rid of policing all together.  The majority, including a majority of black people, just wants police to do their jobs.  But is this even possible?

Click to enlarge.  Source: 8can’twait

Click to enlarge. Source: Campaign Zero.

Very few people in any occupation want activities to be scrutinized by outsiders.  Physicians and lawyers hardly ever report malpractice by other physicians and lawyers.  We newspaper reporters do not react well to ombudsmen scrutinizing our writings.

We feel that nobody understands what we do except each other.  When we see one of our own kind make a big mistake, our reaction is, “There but for the grace of God go I!”  But the police are a special case.

The sociologist Max Weber defined the state as the institution that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.  Two institutions are given the legal power to use deadly force—the military externally, the police internally.

Power corrupts.  The power to order people around, and the authorization to use deadly force, are a temptation that a lot of people cannot resist.  It stands to reason that police work will attract the wrong kind of person.

Statistics indicate that the rate of spousal abuse is four times as high among police officers as among the general public.  Maybe potential abusers are attracted to police work; maybe the strain of police work leads men to become abusers.  But it stands to reason that someone who is abusive at home will be abusive on the street.

Police typically consider themselves a warrior brotherhood.  They think they are misunderstood and abused by the voting public and their elected representatives, and do not feel compelled to obey.  In local politics, they are the nearest equivalent to the military-industrial complex and secret intelligence agencies—the so-called “deep state”—on the national scene.

The issue is not rules they should follow.  The issue is how to get them to follow rules.

This is not just a problem of African-Americans and other minorities.  Black Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans.  But a non-Hispanic white American is 26 times more likely to be killed by police gunfire than a German is in Germany.  Police killings are numerous in Montana, West Virginia and Wyoming, where victims are almost always white.  The Black Lives Matter protest movement may be saving white lives as well as black lives.

I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations about police.  I don’t have either the personal experience or the research work to do that.  I am sure there are many police officers who quietly do their jobs without abusing anybody.  But the response of police departments to high-profile abuse cases, past and present, shows the strength of resistance to change.

In other words, changing the rules is not enough.

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Camden, N.J., police force was disbanded

June 8, 2020

George Floyd protest in Camden, NJ.  (Cherry Hill Courier-Post)

Some Black Lives Matter protestors are demanding that their local police departments be disbanded.  This actually was done in Camden, N.J., in 2013, with good results.

Camden, with a present population of just under 74,000, is just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Despite its small size, it was famous for its high crime rate.

Its murder rate was five times as great as Philadelphia’s and 18 times as great as New York City’s.

Police in Camden took an average of one hour to respond to 911 calls, which is six times the national average.

The city paid out millions of dollars in damages to citizens whose convictions were overturned because of planted evidence, false reports and other forms of police misconduct,

Then the city dissolved its police force and invited Camden County to form a new force.

According to Jim Epstein, writing in Reason magazine, the new force was more effective because it wasn’t bound by the old union contract.

Civilians were hired to do the desk jobs, and all police officers were sent out to walk beats.  Advanced surveillance technology is pinpoint the location of any gunshot and the nearest police car.  Recruiters sought candidates with inter-personal skills, and training emphasized community-building tactics.

This may not be exactly what the Black Lives Matter protestors had in mind.  I think some of them were thinking more of replacing professional police with beefed-up neighborhood watch patrols or something like that.  But they probably would approve of the results.

Based on Epstein’s report, I think the biggest change is a change in thinking.  Too many police think of themselves as a warrior brotherhood.  They think like a military force whose goal is domination.

The new force, by all accounts, has a “protect and serve” mentality.  This makes all the difference.

Camden is still an extremely poor community.  Its murder and violent crime rates are still relatively high.  There are problems still to be worked out, the Cherry Hill Courier-Post reported; many have to do with the inexperience of many members of the new force.

And there would be problems in trying to duplicate their effort with populations and police departments as large as Minneapolis’s or Chicago’s.

Still, it shows that bad policing is not a given.  It is possible to do something about it.

There was no civil disorder in Camden as a result of Black Lives Matter demonstrations.  The police, in fact, participated.

LINKS

How Cops Are Beating Crime in America’s Poorest City by Jim Epstein for Reason.

Revisiting Camden by Alex Tabarrok for Marginal REVOLUTION.

As chaos engulfed Philadelphia, peace reigned across river in Camden by Phaedra Trehan for the Cherry Hill (NJ) Courier-Post.

Do We Need More Police or Better Police? by Daniel Bier for Freethinker.  Interesting research and analysis.  [Added Later]

Camden Is Not a Blueprint for Disbanding the Police by Rann Miller for Truthout.  [Added 6/17/2020]  Important.

Campaign Zero policy platform, explained by Vox

September 19, 2015

blog_campaign_zero

Vox news had a good summary of proposals for police reform by Campaign Zero, a brother movement to Black Lives Matter.   I think it worth reproducing as a separate post.

  1. End broken windows policing.  This refers to a style of policing that goes after minor crimes and activities, based on the notion that letting minor crimes go unaddressed can foster and lead to even worse crimes in a community. In practice, this tactic has disproportionately impacted minority Americans — in New York City, the vast majority of stops in 2012 were of black or Hispanic people.  Campaign Zero proposes ending this type of policing by decriminalizing or deprioritizing public alcohol consumption, marijuana possession, disorderly conduct, trespassing, loitering, disturbing the peace, and spitting, as well as ending racial profiling and establishing mental health response teams that are better equipped to deal with mental health crises (which can result in, for example, disorderly conduct) than police.
  2. Community oversight. When a police officer engages in misconduct, the most likely organization to investigate the situation is the police department the officer comes from — creating an obvious conflict of interest.  Campaign Zero proposes adding more community oversight over police by making it easier for citizens to file complaints and establishing civilian-run commissions that will help set policy at police departments and make recommendations for discipline following a civilian complaint.
  3. Limit use of force. Police officers are currently allowed to use deadly force when they merely perceive — albeit reasonably, according to courts — a deadly threat, even if a threat isn’t actually present. And police departments aren’t required to report uses of force to the federal government.  Campaign Zero proposes authorizing deadly force only when there is an imminent threat to the officer’s life or the life of another person, and the use of force is strictly unavoidable to protect life. It also proposes changing police policies, including reporting and use of force standards.
  4. Independently investigate and prosecute. Following a police shooting, investigations are typically headed by the police department and the local prosecutor’s office, which has close ties to the police department — both of which create conflicts of interest.  Campaign Zero wants governments to establish independent prosecutors at the state level for cases in which police seriously injure or kill someone, which would now require an investigation. The campaign also suggests reducing the standard of proof for federal civil rights investigations of police officers.
  5. Community representation. In some communities, the racial demographics of the police force are wildly different from the community they represent. Ferguson, for example, is about two-thirds black, but only three of 53 commissioned police officers were black at the time of the Brown shooting. Campaign Zero says police departments should develop and publicly release plans to achieve representative proportion of women and people of color through outreach, recruitment, and changes to policies.
  6. Body cameras and filming the police. Most police departments still don’t fully equip officers with body cameras, and many don’t have dashboard cameras for their cars. But recording devices have played a crucial role in holding police accountable — in Cincinnati, for instance, a body camera filmed a campus police officer’s shooting of Samuel DuBose, leading the local prosecutor to conclude that the shooting was “asinine,” “senseless,” and “unwarranted” before he pressed charges. Campaign Zero suggests equipping all police officers with body cameras, as well as banning cops from taking people’s cellphones or other recording devices without the person’s consent or a warrant.
  7. Training. Many police departments only require training on an annual or one-time basis, and the training tends to focus on use of force, not on deescalation or racial bias. Campaign Zero suggests requiring officers to go undergo training on a quarterly basis, with greater focus on addressing subconscious racial biases and other prejudices against, for example, LGBTQ people.
  8. End for-profit policing. In some jurisdictions, police are used by local governments as a revenue generator. One of the most damning findings from the Justice Department report on Ferguson is that the police department and courts issued fines and fees to help fill local budget gaps. Campaign Zero tries to eliminate these perverse incentives by ending police department quotas for tickets and arrests, limiting fines and fees on low-income people, and stopping police from taking money or property from innocent people, as they currently do through “civil forfeiture” laws.
  9. Demilitarization. The Ferguson protests captured nationwide attention after police deployed militarized equipment — sniper rifles, riot gear, camouflage, armored trucks, and chemical agents such as tear gas — against largely peaceful demonstrators. But police have this type of gear in large part because the federal government subsidizes it or gives it away to local and state police. Campaign Zero proposes ending the 1033 program that provides militarized equipment to police, as well as limiting when local and state police can purchase and use this type of equipment.
  10. Fair police contracts. Police unions have negotiated strong contracts for their officers over the past few decades, sometimes imposing big hurdles to investigations — such as the 48-hour rule, which prevents investigators from talking to an officer involved in a shooting until 48 hours pass. Campaign Zero aims to eliminate these types of barriers while requiring police departments keep officers’ disciplinary history accessible to the public and ensuring officers don’t get paid while they’re being investigated for seriously injuring or killing a civilian.

Source: Vox

Click on Campaign Zero for the original, more detailed version of these proposals.