Police

Police Should Be Able to Accept Constructive Criticism

"Courageous conversations" among fellow officers could increase safety and decrease confrontation.

|

Did last month's mistrial of an officer charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man who died of a severed spine while in police custody, reveal a paradox that limits the potential of achieving serious police reform through the legal process?

Courageously Conversational
Pages to Pictures

An article published last week in The Atlantic, titled "Why Police Need Constructive Criticism," points out that the prosecution's focus was on the department's own policies, while the defense stressed that the dangers faced by police on a daily basis cause officers to regularly (and they argued, reasonably) throw out the rulebook as a matter of survival. The article's authors (a professor of law, a professor of criminology, and a police consultant) suggest that the disparity between these two arguments highlights the "necessity for departments and officers to self-critique their practices," but that such critiques tend to be met with indifference or outright hostility:

In many departments, officers have developed a pathological aversion to "second-guessing." There is a pervasive belief that scrutinizing officer's use-of-force decisions will lead officers to hesitate, exposing them to dangers that swift action might have averted. The result is a reluctance to engage in an in-depth, critical review of incidents in which an officer injures or kills a civilian and resentment when an outsider calls for such a review. That's a problem. When an incident ends badly, it should be critically dissected to identify what contributed to that result, as is done when an officer is seriously injured or killed. The primary purpose is not to blame an officer, although poor judgment and failures to follow policy and training must be addressed, but to learn how best to avoid a similar situation in the future.

Later, the authors argue that the roots of police considering themselves immune from constructive criticism stem from the War on Drugs and the subsequent militarization of police, which led to a "warrior culture" and an "aggressive, adversarial approach to policing."

To counter what one former police chief called "officer-created jeopardy," they suggest "courageous conversations," where law enforcement colleagues could engage in unofficial "peer correction." For example, "telling a fellow officer that they created a needless confrontation with a suspect by using an inappropriately hostile tone or that they put themselves into an avoidable use-of-force situation with unnecessarily aggressive tactics."

My colleague Ed Krayewski has written extensively about the efforts of police unions to halt any meaningful reforms, as well as their insistence that there is an ongoing "War on Cops," despite the empirical data that proves otherwise. Krayewski's piece on the "5 Cities Where Police Reform Efforts Will Play Out in 2016" naturally includes Baltimore, and is well worth reading in full. 

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

65 responses to “Police Should Be Able to Accept Constructive Criticism

  1. “..exposing them to dangers that swift action might have averted.”

    See, the cops cannot even be exposed to danger, so they have to act swiftly to limit their exposure.

    That’s not a gun, it’s a bottle of SP-500 Danger Spray.

    1. If you want safe, go make french fries at McDonald’s. At least until automation replaces your job.

  2. Cop 1: Hey, Cop 2, you wanna shoot some puppies?

    Cop 2: Hey man, I kind of like dogs. We can shoot some humans!

    Cop 1: Hey man, that’s sort of wrong… let’s just stick to dogs. We can taze and beat the humans, just not shoot them.

    Cop 3: You’re both way off. We can do all those things!

    Cops 1 and 2: Hey, he’s right!

    See how this works?

  3. Did last month’s mistrial of an officer charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man who died of a severed spine while in police custody, reveal a paradox that limits the potential of achieving serious police reform through the legal process?

    Fox, meet Henhouse.

  4. Police Should Be Able to Accept Constructive Criticism

    Right. And I should have a billion dollars and a Rolls-Royce. In either case, I wouldn’t be holding my breath.

    1. As far as cops are concerned, constructive criticism by other cops is crossing the thin blue line.

      From citizens it’s called disorderly conduct.

      1. From citizens

        This again. I keep hearing people, including the police themselves, refer to “citizens” in a way that definitely defines them as people who are not cops. So if all of these cops are not citizens, deport them!

        1. Better than “civilian.” But I get what you mean.

  5. I tend to agree with the thrust of the article. But do you actually think you will police on board calling it “courageous conversations”? I mean FFS. You might as well tell police that real men DO cry, and that as part of required reading, they will be tested on at least 2 Nicholas Sparks novels.

    How about appealing to their manhood like: “Being a hero means you put people’s lives AHEAD of your own!”

    1. How about appealing to their manhood like: “Being a hero means you put people’s lives AHEAD of your own!”

      HA! HA! HA! Good one! Next you’ll be telling me these sociopaths are capable of experiencing other social emotions, like shame or empathy. You are one funny Bear!

      1. I know. I know. Fat chance. I just figure if there is anyway to start to change the culture of policing in America, it certainly wouldn’t be by the touchy-feely approach.

        1. I’m with Bear on this one.

          The only thing that can “save” law enforcement culture is a competing culture of honor, duty, and sacrifice. You get that kind of culture by valorizing and promoting the people who display it, and ridiculing and firing the ones that don’t.

          Not by passing out hankies at some kind of unholy abomination of group therapy and a committee meeting.

          1. The only thing that can “save” law enforcement culture is a competing culture of honor, duty, and sacrifice. You get that kind of culture by valorizing and promoting the people who display it, and ridiculing and firing the ones that don’t.

            I think it was Swiss Servator who pointed out that, if they were in the actual military, the behaviors of a lot of cops would get them court martialed. Maybe if we’re going to have an increasingly militarized law enforcement in this country, it’s time we started demanding the police exhibit the same level of professionalism that is expected of our country’s servicemen and women.

    2. “How about appealing to their manhood like: “Being a hero means you put people’s lives AHEAD of your own!””

      How about appealing to their self-interest like: “You fuck up, you suffer the consequences!”

      1. Don’t get me wrong, I totally agree. But I figure that forcing them to suffer the consequences would require a complete overhaul of the entire justice system. Which we need. I was simply responding to the gist of the article in terms of police culture specifically.

        1. Problem is, appealing to someone’s ‘better nature’ has historically been a total dead end.
          Appealing to their self interest *always* works.

          1. I’d sure like to know how terrorists recruit suicide bombers, then…

            Mass movements don’t promote self-interest, they promote the sacrifice of a hated self to advance a cause that serves as a better, surrogate self. Given that opposing corrupt cops, even from within, is essentially suicidal and/or futile as an individual endeavor, I don’t know that anything short of a mass movement would produce any sort of actual change.

            1. ant1sthenes|1.4.16 @ 6:57PM|#
              “I’d sure like to know how terrorists recruit suicide bombers, then…”

              You’re kidding, I hope.
              ‘Getting to heaven’ is certainly a personal value; Mother Teresa was never other than self-intersted.

  6. It’s hard out there for a Minister of Defence.

  7. You Know Who Else wanted serious reform outside of the legal process?

    1. Fake Fleetwood Mac?

    2. Supreme Leader Snoke?

      Oh, did you know that Ren and Stimpy gets his arsed *kicked* by a dude who’s never picked up a lightsaber before?

      Conveniently.

      1. I can’t wait to see how big the next Death Star is though.

        1. It’ll be YUUUUUGE!

          Seriously, if they sneak a “Trump” easter egg onto it, I’ll applaud.

      2. BTW, I’m with you, Aga. This girl, who grew up a scavenger on a backwater world, might have a few fighting tricks, and could even plausibly be some kind of shade-tree mechanic from scavenging stuff, but no frickin’ way can she pilot a ship of any kind, and no way is she any kind of competent gunfighter or swordfighter with absolutely zero experience or training.

        I can suspend disbelief with the best of them, but c’mon.

        1. … and Luke skywalker was a moisture farmer from a backwater world with about the same amount of experience in figthing and piloting as Rey. Really, if you think this movie upped the “suspension of disbelief”, you haven’t been paying attention.

          1. Actually – Luke had *significant* piloting experience prior to the movie. Something that Lucas even bothered to *explicitly* reference during ANH.

            And let’s keep in mind that during ANH, before the end battle, he’s not shown as some sort of superhero. he’s just along for the ride. Then because he’s got a modicum of flight experience (including shooting at things that move) he’s tossed a manual and pointed to an X-Wing with the justification of ‘well, we’re all going to die anyway’.

            Not leading an X-wing squadron, just a new junior member to be trained.

            Rey points out herself that she’s never piloted anything before (or even shot a gun), hell – she’s never even set foot on the MF before this movie (though she’s seen it sitting there for years) and yet she somehow knows the startup and operating procedures and is familiar with all the modifications its had made on it post-Solo.

            1. He’s even counting on that piloting experience to get him into the Imperial Academy (and off Tattoine).

        2. The force makes them warriors. Or something.

        3. She is – like Luke before her – imbued with The Force. It wasn’t her doing all that implausible stuff, it was The Force.

          /These are not the plot holes you’re looking for.

          1. Yeah, I get that might be where they are going, but they did zero to set it up.

            Particularly odd, in light of all the training that Jedi are supposed to go through.

            They did a little more to set Luke up with piloting experience (zeroing womp rats, or whatever it was), and he did get some training from the old geezer, at least.

            She’s just some homeless chick, who as far as I can tell shouldn’t even be able to read.

  8. although poor judgment and failures to follow policy and training must be addressed

    I suspect that many incidents that end badly are a result of exactly following policy and training that teaches the cops not to use any judgement whatsoever. “Shoot first and ask questions later because officer safety” is not something that just popped up out of nowhere.

    1. No, it came out of numerous incidents where a cop should have been fired and/or jailed and was not.

  9. there’s a “pathological aversion to second guessing” in the legal system in general.

    1. there’s a “pathological aversion to second guessing” themselves in the legal system in general

      A regular citizen’s actions, on the other hand? Totally up for being second guessed.

  10. When an incident ends badly, it should be critically dissected to identify what contributed to that result, as is done when an officer is seriously injured or killed. The primary purpose is not to blame an officer, although poor judgment and failures to follow policy and training must be addressed, but to learn how best to avoid a similar situation in the future.

    Funny, the “warrior” bunch in the Army have After Action Reviews after EVERYTHING…

    1. In the Navy we do ‘lessons learned’ after everything – even routine training.

      1. In the fire service as well. But not cops, oh no. Everything they do is perfect. /sarc

    2. According to Sheriff Joey Terrell: “Our team went by the book. Given the same scenario, we’ll do the same thing again. I stand behind what our team did…. Bad things can happen. That’s just the world we live in. Bad things happen to good people…. The baby didn’t deserve this.”

      When you get criticized because the people you command threw a flash-bang in a baby’s crib and you point out that a) proper procedures were followed and b) if you had it to do all over again you would still throw the fucking flash-bang in the fucking baby’s crib you’re a sick fucking monster and scrutinizing the training and the policies and procedures ain’t gonna fix that one fucking bit.

      1. Add it all up, and he’s saying “Its a bad thing to flashbang a baby, and we’ll do it every chance we get.”

      2. They followed the rules. That is all that matters. There is no morality. Only rules.

      3. Sometimes the only viable solution is a woodchipper.

    3. Imagine if the military had unions…

      1. Only the aviators do.

        Crew

        Fucking

        Rest

        1. And access to drugs. Do other people in the military get to pop all the pills they want?

  11. Bill Bratton said when a police officer gives you an order, you should immediately comply no matter what because the police officer gave you an order. Let’s start the conversation about statements like that.

    1. I would have to agree. With the part about doing what a cops says. As much as I would like to stand up to a police officer who gives me an obviously unlawful order, I stand nothing to gain. Police have a zero tolerance policy for non-compliance, and a zero tolerance policy for anything that might endanger an officer’s safety. They are trained to use deadly force when they feel that their safety might be threatened, and they are also trained that standing up for one’s rights indicates that a person is both armed and ready to kill a cop. Non-compliance is interpreted as a threat on a cop’s life. Do it, and unless you’re really lucky, violence will be immediately visited upon you. And nothing else will happen. Remember that the common thread in every police shooting is that the person did not obey. They are not trained to enforce the law. They are trained to make people do as they are told, up to and including killing someone for it.

      Though I figure Bratton probably said that out of some religious-like reverence for government and the cops, not out of self preservation.

      1. for it for not doing so. You know what I meant.

  12. Here’s the thing. The police, and government in general, serve “the public.” “The public” is everyone but me and you and any individual who criticizes how people in the government do their job. The public is everyone else. Who are you, or anybody for that matter, to criticize the government, especially the police? You don’t serve “the public” every day. You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know what “the public” wants. Only those who serve can know those things.
    So take your criticisms and your reviews and everything else, and stick it up your ignorant asses.

    Seriously though, I fail to see how anyone could be an enforcer of government rules and have any sense of morality. As Bastiat said, when the two conflict, a person must choose one over the other. I chose morality. Fuck the law (or more accurately, “fuck legislation” since it is false to say the two are the same) and fuck those who enforce unjust law.

    1. I fail to see how anyone could be an enforcer of government rules and have any sense of morality.

      Well, that’s the whole thing – working for the government means trusting their sense of morality so much so that you don’t even think to use your own sense of morality. This is most obvious in the military – if you’re going to kill or be killed just on somebody’s orders, you damn well better believe that there’s no place for you to be second-guessing their decision, you must have absolute trust that their orders are absolutely righteous. If the government is “us”, or at least representative of a majority of us and you have implicitly or explicitly agreed to abide by the decisions of the majority, there really is no place for you, an insignificant minority of “us”, to be substituting your will for the will of everybody else. How much easier is it to rest your conscience by letting the state do all the wrestling and the hard thinking? Just trust that whatever the state says shall be done is what everybody else has already agreed is the Right Thing To Do. (Isn’t “sovereign immunity” just another way of saying “I was just following orders”?)

      1. Instead of “God’s Will” it is “The Will of the People.”

        Instead of “The Divine Right of the King” it is “Democratic Representation.”

        Different costumes. Same song.

        1. Different lyrics, same dance. Same play? I dunno.

  13. You allow constructive criticism today and tomorrow you have gangs of lawless gangbangers banging at your squad car’s doors demanding quid pro quo on respect.

    1. The lawless gangbangers *are* the ones in the squad cars.

      1. Indeed. The largest street gang in any city is the police department.

  14. “peer correction”

    You know, grab it and aim it for the guy.

  15. The thing is, the police are pretty much insulated because liberals love unions and government workers (the police are both) and conservatives love law & order and let’s be honest, often don’t seem to like blacks much (there’s really no other way to explain the support of Tamir Rice’s shooting among those on the right)

    1. I hang around some places where cops–the sort of aggressive cops everyone seems to want when THEY are in the hot seat–are dramatically represented, and most of them thought that that shooting was a complete f*k story.

      In fact I don’t know *anyone* conversant with the facts who “supported” the shooting of Tamir Rice. Yeah, there might have been a bit of “play stupid games, win stupid prizes” and “Why TF did his parents raise him to think that sort of shit was a smart thing to do”, but “support” his shooting?

      No one who knew what happened.

      1. Then why did a grand jury decline to indict, at the behest of a Cuyahoga County prosecutor?

        They may not “support” the shooting, as though that in and of itself means something, but they certainly don’t support anyone getting punished for it.

  16. Read through these comments and ask yourself if YOU would listen to people who had this sort of attitude about you and your job.

    “Fuck you you fucking pig” is not constructive criticism.

    Maybe what ya’ll ought to do is take your ass out into the ghetto and do a ridealong with the popo on when the eagle shits.

    1. Murdering and maiming children is not constructive law enforcement.

    2. “Fuck you you fucking pig” is not constructive criticism.

      Indeed! So why are you the only saying it?

  17. Fear is the enemy of reason. The police and there union contracts operate above the law. They have contracts that allow the police to execute people they deem worthless and receive paid lifetime vacations with benefits courtesy of the taxpayers. The police unions will threaten to kill anyone that tries to expose there criminal enterprises. The police unions and the FOP operate a criminal organization just like the mafia. With the help of the media which bases 90% of its programming to repeat word for word the police narrative without any investigation so be mindful of your news source.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.