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Redefine police.

My Facebook feed is full of videos of police acting badly. The news is full of stories of police brutality, aggression, militarization, racial bias. Our prisons are full of people with mental illness, addiction, poverty and the worst pox in America- being black.

The system is broken, expensive, and fundamentally flawed. In Ohio, you don’t even need a high school diploma to be a cop, and it’s good to see that you don’t need one in journalism either- almost all news sources directly quoted Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine saying that Ohio is one of three states that don’t require this- but none found out what the other two are.

Police officer training in Ohio is loosely regulated and mostly insufficient, but Ohio is just a microcosm of the state of police training in the United States. It’s debatable if we have any semblance of an idea of how to go about training police, and I’m going to blame 40 years of progressively more violent portrayals of police in film and television as a starting point for our failure.

We’ve gone from Andy Griffith as Sheriff Taylor to Michael Chiklis as dirty cop Vic Mackey in The Shield. Sgt. Joe Friday barely pulled his gun in Dragnet, but Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens in Justified, shot at least 18 people and still had a job. The TV show SWAT, was the beginning of cops thinking they could be soldiers and criminals got the idea that machine guns were status symbols for gangsters with Scarface. Not that it hadn’t been done before; during prohibition where every bad guy had a Tommy gun in our portrayal of Al Capone and John Dillinger.

In reality, the best cops I know are more social worker than bully, and could probably qualify for a master’s in counseling better than their target shooting skills. The sad thing is, the violence they have to deal with is mostly borne out of  other issues that our society refuses to address: drug abuse and mental illness, chronic poverty, inequity. Just changing the training isn’t enough- we have to change the whole concept of what a “free society” really is supposed to look like.

More surveillance isn’t the answer

Right now, the leading solution to police brutality issues is bodycams- a very expensive and misleading approach. Take a look at your cellphone camera- and think of how many unindexed, untagged, unorganized photos and videos you have. Now, think about storing video of you at work, every day, for at least 30 days- for you- and all of your coworkers- all to be made available on demand?

And personal video is only an after-the-fact solution- no matter what studies say about people behaving better when they know they are being observed. Need proof- watch this video showing what happens when a black man with corn rows openly carries an AR-15

There is a video on Facebook which takes this video and juxtaposes it with this video  of a white guy doing the same things- without the same result- but making it seem like it’s the same people organizing it (it’s not)

Needless to say, being on candid camera isn’t the answer.

More guns aren’t the answer either.

There has been a mad rush for “self protection” in this country, which is sad. In most civilized nations people don’t think they need a gun to be safe. Statistics clearly show this, but, thanks to our founding fathers (who can’t possibly have made a mistake) we’re convinced that having a deadly weapon is almost a god-given right.

In many countries the police don’t even have guns. Go look at your average beat cop today- a gun, a taser, a bulletproof vest, a shotgun or AR-15 in his trunk or mounted next to him inside the cruiser.

The poverty penalty

You have a right to a speedy trial, you have a right against unlawful detention, but, it seems this is more likely for wealthy white people than for poor black people. A recent opinion piece in the New York Times suggested abolishing bail.

This is a national problem. Across the United States, most of the people incarcerated in local jails have not been convicted of a crime but are awaiting trial. And most of those are waiting in jail not because of any specific risk they have been deemed to pose, but because they can’t pay their bail.

In other words, we are locking people up for being poor. This is unjust. We should abolish monetary bail outright.

Some will argue that bail is necessary to prevent flight before trial, but there is no good basis for that assumption. For one thing, people considered to pose an unacceptable risk of flight (or violence) are not granted bail in the first place. (Though the procedures for determining who poses a risk ought to be viewed with skepticism, especially since conceptions of risk are often shaped, tacitly or otherwise, by racist assumptions.)

Source: Too Many People in Jail? Abolish Bail – NYTimes.com [1]

Sometimes the really big ideas are the simplest.

But, back to police training. Arguments can be made for higher standards, longer training hours, more continuous education, but so much of what we’ve focused on for our police officers is based on reacting to worst case scenarios: terrorists, “active shooters” and tactical supremacy.

Maybe what we need to focus on is a totally different approach to police work, training, hiring, and perception.

The riots in Baltimore weren’t caused by a menace to society. Freddie Gray was a loser x-con with a knife clipped to his belt- who “fled” police. Walter Scott was pulled over for a tail light violation that was questionable, and shot in the back when he ran. Somewhere, we’ve made a dramatic mistake on who we’ve chosen to “serve and protect.”

I return to the changes in police as portrayed in the media. I don’t recall the national FOP protesting the violent portrayal of police officers. I have heard FOP officials defending cops repeatedly for using a gun before their mouths. I’m still haunted by the shooting of John Crawford in a nearby Walmart- while holding a bb gun and talking on the phone, and the shooting of the 12-year-old Tamir Rice on a playground by an overzealous cop.

There is a video that inspired this post- of four Swedish police officers on a NY City subway, subduing a fight [2]. Listen to their language, and watch how they treat their “perps”- this is a start:

https://youtu.be/dDAB35SYIr0

If you’ve seen a really good cop doing his/her job, it looks and sounds more like this- than a gunshot ending all chances to discuss matters.

It’s time to set some national standards for police training, ethics, situational awareness and integrity, before we have more riots caused by police reacting badly. It’s time to reexamine our criminal justice system, which is putting record numbers of people behind bars who are more of a threat to themselves than to others. It’s time to invest in peace in America before we worry about peace in the Middle East.

You can’t take care of the world, while your own backyard is full of injustice.

UPDATE

the next morning- a very good NPR morning edition piece on changing police training: http://www.npr.org/2015/05/18/407619610/ways-to-avoid-community-violence-after-local-police-encounters [3]

Listen carefully to the part where they changed the images in the academy, stopped falling in silent at attention- instead greeting one another, and the focus on the constitution.

INSKEEP: Whether a city explodes in protest or not, may depend on decisions made years before an officer ever pulled his gun or a citizen started recording video. Sue Rahr believes something similar. She’s thinking about police training. She is in charge of the police academy in Washington state.

SUE RAHR: You always want to create space and time so that you have the opportunity to engage in some kind of de-escalation strategy with the person first.

INSKEEP: Rahr points to a police shooting in Cleveland, Ohio, last year. An officer approached a man with a gun and killed him. The man turned out to be 12, and the gun turned out to be a toy. An investigation continues. Rahr says the officer might have learned to approach more carefully. That would avoid any sense of danger until he understood the situation. For two years, Rahr says, she has been adjusting the training for every local police recruit in Washington state. They’re supposed to focus less on being warriors and more on being guardians of citizens’ lives.

RAHR: We changed the training environment itself. We removed a lot of the symbols and the tools of the trade that were on the walls with murals of the Constitution. And we spent a great deal of time talking about the Constitution and what it means to a police officer. I tell my recruits in the first week there at the academy, my entire career, my training on the Constitution, consisted of how to work around it so that I could make an arrest and prove a case. It never occurred to me when I was working the street that I was there to support the Constitution. I viewed myself as being there to enforce the law. Some of the other things that we’ve done is move away from some of the military protocols. Instead of requiring recruits to snap to attention and be silent when a staff member passes, we require them to engage in conversation because that’s a skill they need in the field. Effective police officers are able to engage community members in conversation.

INSKEEP: So you’ve started this training – changing training – in Washington state before the incidents of the past year. But now we’ve had the incidents of the past year. And on this program, our correspondent Martin Kaste spoke with a number of officers who spoke of the risk of police becoming passive. They may be videotaped and scrutinized at any time, all their actions could be called into question – things they did in a split second and maybe it would be better for them to drive past that apparent crime scene than to get involved. How do you deal with that risk?RAHR: Well, I think it – you avoid that risk by the culture that is set in the police department where the officer works. And this is a part of policing that we don’t talk about often enough and that is the internal culture of the police department itself. There’s a cultural anthropologist named Simon Sinek. And Simon Sinek said the most important influence on the behavior of an officer on the street is going to be the internal culture of that police department. And so you need to focus on building a strong culture internally, where the leaders in the police department demonstrate respect and they set the tone for what they expect of their officers. Their behavior needs to model the kind of behavior they want to see on the street. So if you have a police department with a very strong, healthy culture and the officers know that if they are doing their best on the street and they’re wading into a difficult situation, they know that their leaders will support them, even if things don’t go well, if the officers are following policies and procedures. If an officer works for an agency where they believe the leaders are going to throw them under the bus if they make a mistake, then you’re absolutely right. The officers are going to drive past and not dive into that because they don’t want to take the chance of being unfairly criticized and punished.

Source: Ways To Avoid Community Violence After Local Police Encounters : NPR [3]

 

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Marianne Stanley

EXCELLENT, David!!!

John Ise

Great, great post David! If you have the time, Al Jazeera America (a great news source that is serious about investigative journalism…if you can get beyond the name) did great segment on the militarization of our police: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vciY_1e8n2o

Bill

Why is it every article written about “police violence” never addresses the underlying issue of the violence they are responding to? You can cite a few one off tragedies but trying to make them the norm instead of an anomaly is not supported by the faces. There are many studies available to you that show officers under use deadly force when every fact would support it, the last report I read indicates that in only 14% of deadly force authorized situations do they use it and only 8% of the time do they do it when addressing a young black male. Those numbers tell us that the issue is not the police it is the society they are being forced to raise. I will support any endeavor that lessens the deadly force use by police, but failing to address the underlying issue of the criminality and violence of a segment of society is turning a blind eye. In almost every case of deadly force or deadly result you will find a person failing to do what the officers ordered them to do. The Cleveland killing in my view was wrong, the shooter was put into the position of feeling forced to shoot by the “training officer” putting the car in such proximity, but lets be clear the young man was pointing a very realistic firearm and he was not playing cowboy’s and indians. The Crawford incident in my view could have been handled differently. I think the emphasis on “active shooter” training caused that incident, but once again a young man was holding a realistic weapon in allegedly was told to put it down and did not. If you don’t want people arrested for petty offenses, change the laws. Remove the requirement for police to decide which crimes to enforce on which day. There will always be bad cops, more so now that the public has turned it into a profession that no one with a brain should sign up for. Imagine doing a job every day that not only could get you killed, which is no bigger a deal… Read more »

Bill

the cops are forced to be parents, therapists and ombudsmen on a daily basis. We no longer point out bad behavior on the part of any person or segment of people. The blame is always put elsewhere. The lies told about police violence is awful and easily disproven but folks do not want to believe the truth, much like the hands up don’t shoot lie was proven to be a lie, the false story that black men are overwhelmingly slaughtered by police is also a lie, but a lie told often enough in the mind of a sheep becomes the truth. The root cause of violence in police work can be directly tied to parents who do not parent and a society that does not hold people accountable for their personal bad behavior. I spent 38 years in law enforcement and there is no way I would do that job now with the public treatment. I fear who they will hire knowing what they are going up against and the lowering standards to fill quotas is not going to help in the long term either.

Bill

“It’s time to set some national standards for police training, ethics, situational awareness and integrity, before we have more riots caused by police reacting badly. It’s time to reexamine our criminal justice system, which is putting record numbers of people behind bars who are more of a threat to themselves than to others. It’s time to invest in peace in America before we worry about peace in the Middle East.”

Your statement above David could be used as the poster boy for blame. You are blaming the police for “reacting badly” Please take the time and explain how one should react when an 18 year old man is flinging deadly projectiles at your head. Tell us how to react when a line of young people break into a liquor store and to show support for their dead “brother” begin ruining a shop keepers life work. You point out problems, blame the cops and the “criminals justice system” for the poor behavior of criminals. At what point does the guy standing on the hood of a car screaming burn this bitch down become responsible for his actions and words? Training is sufficient, laws are sufficient, what is not is holding people directly accountable for their behavior.

David Lauri

Bill says, “You can cite a few one off tragedies but trying to make them the norm instead of an anomaly is not supported by the faces.”

Sure, most police officers are good people who try to do their jobs well.

However, enough police officers have not only failed at their jobs but also gone beyond failure into the realm of breaking laws that this is a situation that needs to be addressed, not dismissed.

The good cops shouldn’t be defending the bad ones; they should be demanding that the bad ones be removed in order to protect the good name of the good cops.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cases_of_police_brutality_in_the_United_States

http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/p/police_brutality_and_misconduct/

http://www.policemisconduct.net/

Bill

Okay Dave, thought you might not become your usual douchebag self and might really want to address the issues, but clearly your opening line shows your true colors. Go discuss with like minded folks. See ya

Bill

I have friends that tell me you are a despicable person and I try not to judge until I experience. Your view of my comprehension scores and your derogatory method of debate proves which one of us have the issue. You made it personal. David I am a retired fed with test scores and training well in advance of anything you have achieved. I have saved more lives, arrested more bad people and protected more good in my life by accident than you could ever dream. Your perspective on this is clear. I choose to disengage and wish you well. I see you hope to do good, it is sad that your disadvantage is you are not capable of it.

Bill

Got plenty of friends who discuss but don’t belittle. You make some pretty broad brush statements, you should rethink your method of communication. You don’t stand taller on someone else’s shoulders. I’m done, clearly your agenda is such that someone else’s perspective is not valued. Have a good life.

Ice Bandit

…wanted to comment, but unfortunately, dear David, found your responses to Bill condescending, rude and beyond the bounds of civil discourse and debate. Not gonna’ jump into this mud pit nor dignify it with a response…

Hudson Rush

Dave you are way out of line with your pompous responses in this post.

At what point do we ,as society, hold the criminals accountable for their actions? Political correctness is nothing more than the means to change the end result. I believe that 99.9999999% of law enforcement does an amazing job despite people like you Dave, second guessing their every move. If it’s so easy Dave…sign up, show America how to properly police society.

Michael Fairchild

Recall when a cop (Biell) put her gun down to reason with a felon-she was shot and ultimately died. To hell with criminals.

Michael Fairchild

No, that is the point-she coddled the criminal, which is what you espouse, and now she’s dead, and the city less safe.

In an age of ever violent neighborhoods, especially the west side, we need an police force equipped as an army.

David Lauri

A fun article on vox.com from May 28 — “I’m a black ex-cop, and this is the real truth about race and policing by Redditt Hudson:

On any given day, in any police department in the nation, 15 percent of officers will do the right thing no matter what is happening. Fifteen percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70 percent could go either way depending on whom they are working with.

He continues:

That remaining 70 percent of officers are highly susceptible to the culture in a given department. In the absence of any real effort to challenge department cultures, they become part of the problem. If their command ranks are racist or allow institutional racism to persist, or if a number of officers in their department are racist, they may end up doing terrible things.

Michael Fairchild

Re poverty…

Much like a food stamp benefit, give low income persons a voucher for 5000 dollars worth of legal services per year. Studies show lack of access to legal services major setback for poorer individuals.

David Lauri

The Guardian has an ongoing feature called “The Counted: People killed by police in the US.”

In addition to keeping a running count (470 people as of June 2), they show totals by race/ethnicity and by state, and they list the names and show photos of the dead.

David Lauri

Do You Know Why I’m Pulling You Over, Being Wildly Aggressive, And Charging You With Assault Today, Sir?

Good afternoon, sir. Go ahead and roll your window all the way down for me. My name is Officer Daniel McEwen from the Greene County Police Department. Now, do you know why I’m pulling you over today, being overly aggressive, and charging you with a felony count of assaulting a police officer?

David Lauri

“That’s Our Standard in Policing … Fear”: An ex–Baltimore cop explains why police are so violent toward young black men

In this video, you’ll meet [Michael] Wood while he drives the streets of the city where he served as a police officer for 11 years, and hear him lay out his conception of what’s going wrong in the world of policing and how it could be made right.

David Lauri

The latest total from The Counted is 700, an additional 230 dead since June 2.

David Lauri

The latest total from The Guardian‘s project “The Counted” is 1134, as of December 30, 2015.