Police Debates Need More Policy, Less Emotion

Solutions possible.


The latest debate over policing understandably has become an emotional one, following the horrific murder of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, and the deeply disturbing videos of police officers shooting men to death in Minnesota and Louisiana. Some conservatives say there's a "war on cops" and are demanding a return to "law and order," while many liberals believe there's a police war on minorities and have led protests that sometimes look more like riots.

In a free society, the public has a right—actually, a duty—to look closely at how the government and its employees behave. Here are some crucial policy issues that neither side is discussing:

Police unionization protects bad officers and stifles reform. The current unionized system makes it nearly impossible to discipline, fire or remove problem officers. That's no surprise, given the clout of police unions, which get their way from members of both parties in the state Capitol. A recent study from the Chicago Police Department finds that a tiny percentage of officers cause the preponderance of lawsuits and settlements there, which confirms this point. If agencies could more easily get rid of a handful of officers, there would be fewer problems.

I compare the situation to public education. Because of union-backed work rules, there are some bad teachers, who are nearly impossible to remove from the classroom. Hence, districts engage in the "dance of the lemons," as administrators shuffle around poor performers. The vast majority of teachers are good, professional people, but such a bureaucratic system is immune from reform. It's similar in the world of law-enforcement agencies.

Secrecy aids and abets the worst actors. We all know sunshine is the best antidote to corruption and other ills. Because of union muscle-flexing at the state Capitol, it's been a non-starter for civil libertarians to secure even modest oversight laws of police agencies. In 2006, the California Supreme Court ruled in the Copley Press, Inc. v. Superior Court decision that police disciplinary proceedings are not public, thus barring the public and media from learning about allegations of misconduct. Efforts to alter that ruling have been beaten back repeatedly. Problem officers can continue to wreak havoc without anyone outside the department knowing about it.

Cops increasingly view the people as cash cows. After the Ferguson, Missouri, riots, most on both the left and right were focused on the shooting incident that sparked the fracas. But a federal Department of Justice report explained why so many residents of the mostly African-American suburb were so upset (even before the race-baiters came to town). As Bill Moyers reported last March, "DOJ found that the city 'exhorts' police to maximize revenue via stops, citations and arrests, and in some cases punishes them for failing to meet targets….Hunger for revenue influences how officers act, resulting in excessive uses of force—with Tasers and dogs—violations of free speech and unreasonable stops or arrests, according to the DOJ."

Drug war and militarization ramp up the hostility. This "cash cow" phenomenon is driven by the drug war. In a free society, police are not supposed to be an occupying army, but a trusted part of the community. The drug war has militarized local police and created an antagonistic situation—a siege mentality– especially in poorer and minority neighborhoods.

"Simply put, the police culture in our country has changed," the late San Jose Police Chief Joe McNamara wrote years ago in the Wall Street Journal. "An emphasis on 'officer safety' and paramilitary training pervades today's policing, in contrast to the older culture, which held that cops didn't shoot until they were about to be shot or stabbed."

There are other issues, too. Our nation has too many picayune laws police must enforce. The "3 percent at 50" pension scheme in California incentivizes officers to retire early, thus depriving departments of older, less-aggressive officers.

The videos aren't going away. It really is time for soul searching by police authorities, who are so accustomed to getting their way at the Capitol they forget the words emblazoned on the side of many squad cars: "Protect and Serve." Right now, the best way to serve the public is to look deeply at the policies at the heart of the current unrest.

NEXT: In a Party Filled With Cowards, Cruz Stood Apart

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  1. Cops increasingly view the people as cash cows

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  2. You forgot the courts being extremely complicit in allowing all of this bullshit.

  3. True – American police forces are now openly copying the Israeli strategy of ‘creating friction’ with the population and then using that to attack and arrest and sometimes kill. They are trying to export their private security infrastructure to our shores – an armed guard outside every bar and convenience store. No thank you.

    1. I’d far prefer a stronger role for private security vice placing more and more power in the hands of the state.

      In my experience living among the foreigns, private security is polite to the punters and stays the fuck out of the way until shit goes down. They don’t employ a strategy of ‘creating friction’ to justify shit because they don’t want to have to deal with shit.

      1. This. there are actual, meaningful consequences to a private company that has an employee accidentally kill someone and no friendly prosecutor/court on their pocket.

      2. I’d far prefer a stronger role for personal security through decriminalization of concealed carry laws in places that are targets for such violence.

  4. Police Debates Need More Policy, Less Emotion

    It wouldn’t be Culture War with less emotion. What? Do you want them to just stop the Culture War? Pfff. Can’t be done. Don’t you understand how important the Culture War is? It is considered to be much more important than policy.

    1. Like it or not, emotion is what impels action. Dry policy arguments impel coverage on CSpan – usually from some DC thinktank where a bipartisan committee is then created in order to murder trees

  5. Look for the union label when you are bleeding to death in the street.

  6. Asinine policing directly correlates with asinine governing strategies- the which will be perpetuated for all the timelines gods enjoy.

    Avoid your government and its resulting snaggle-toothed henchman with the same level of fervor applied to the avoidance of hospitals and graves.

  7. Let’s face it, BLM comes across like a riot waiting to happen.

    This is an election year, and Trump sees opposing them as a winning issue.

    Hillary Clinton can’t oppose them. Trump can, so he exploits that.

    Most people don’t go out and vote for intellectual reasons. It’s about emotion.

    Is there an intellectual reason to play Pokemon Go?

  8. It all boils down to “laws for thee and not for me”

  9. Police Debates Need More Policy, Less Emotion

    The problem isn’t with police or “police culture”, it’s with overcriminalization and no-broken-windows policies.

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  11. Good article with solod points, although I would question the legitimacy of the “few bad apples” narrative as supllied by the internal research of a police department. While it is entirely possible that a relatively small number of officers are responsible for an ungainly proportion of civil liability, this is not evidence that a larger amount of officers are not engaging in behavior for which they *should* be held responsible. Its just evidence that a small number of officers are caught & held accountable. Ive reviewed hundreds of police shootings of pets for PuppycideDB, and even though the majority of those cases are horrific, civil suits only occur in ~5% of cases, and those suits result in a ruling for the plaintiff or settlement in less than half those cases.

    1. The point is that using metrics related to IA investigation results, civil cases or criminal charges brought against police is not an objective means of measuring the actual occurence of LEO abuses. Our justice system very much appears structurally incapable of investigating & adjudicating abusive police. There are too many conflicts of interest. LE special interest groups are too firmly ensconced in local politics, there is no effective check on the power of LE & prosecutors within either the court or the ballot box, the list goes on too long to cover here. The illusion that the problem with police is abusive individuals must be smashed. The problem is abusive institutions enforcing abusive laws using abusive methods. Nearly everything about modern US law enforcement is absolutely antithetical to liberty & human dignity. The fact is that if the murder of innocents by police ended tomorrow, if every officer were replaced with a robot incapable of excessive violence or racism, our system of law enforcement would still be broken beyond repair, because these perfect police would still be enforcing some 150 years of law & precedent thats grown like a cancer until what remains is a state for which there are no limits and a people who have lost the ability to even imagine a society in which that is not the case.

  12. Didn’t shoot until they were about to be shot or stabbed? Since getting shot or stabbed can take only a split-second, too fast to react, did the bad guys of yore warn the officers before they shot or stabbed them? Very sporting if they did. We apparently have a worse class of criminal today. Here’s a video, shot in full daylight so that the “officer” has the best possible vision, as opposed to what they often have. Watch this and decide for yourself how much credence McNamara’s statement deserves:

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