Churn at the top

July 23, 2021

Some 40 major U.S. cities have changed police chiefs in the last 18 months, according to this article. Increased turnover at the top is not surprising given recent events, and it’s clearly a 2-edged sword. As one observer put it, old school chiefs are “making a wise decision by leaving the profession,” and their departure opens the door for reforming and reimagining policing. However, it’s also true that it takes time and effort to implement change, especially culture change. Frequent turnover of chiefs can interrupt the change process, resulting in stops and starts in different directions and little real progress. Another problem is that many of the chiefs who have recently departed were progressive, not old school, but were caught up in situations where satisfying the community, political leaders, and members of the police department — the proverbial 3-legged stool — was simply impossible. 

A cop’s miserable life

July 19, 2021

This column by an experienced police reporter reflects on the daily grind of police work, made that much more challenging since George Floyd’s murder last summer. He notes the impact of relentless 911 calls — officers “slowly turn bad because of  the twisted, unhealthy conclusions they draw from their time on the force … too much, too long, too many, too ugly.” For all cops, he thinks “Psychologically, the ‘inputs’ are all bad. Crime is terrible. We can’t make a difference. We’re 911 robots and nothing else. This neighborhood is filled with dirtbags. Everyone hates us. No one has my back except for my partner.” He recommends more diversity in the ranks and much more frequent mental health checks for officers. Overall, he worries that “in a profession crying out for reform and a more thoughtful approach, and badly in need of enlightened recruits, the path forward is pock-mocked with obstacles both daunting and not widely understood.”

Poll finds little support for defunding police

July 12, 2021

Only 22% of respondents in a recent national poll support defunding the police, as reported here. A large majority would like to see increased police budgets and more officers on the street. But a majority also support using some of the police budget for community policing and expanded social services. Only 22% believe police treat all people equally, and 81% want police-involved shootings investigated independently. Respondents rated crime their #1 concern, followed by “political extremism, climate change, health care, government budget and debt, and immigration.” The pollster summed it up as “Strong majorities support increased police funding to combat crime, making it clear that America is still a law and order country … [but] most Americans recognize racial inequalities in law enforcement, suggesting many Americans want justice in addition to safety.”

Issues around traffic enforcement

July 9, 2021

Proposals to eliminate traffic stops for equipment violations, restrict consent searches of vehicles, and even civilianize traffic enforcement have been common over the last year or two as ways to reduce police use of force and disproportionate impact on people of color. This article discusses these suggestions, incorporates traffic crash data during the pandemic, and adds in the results of a recent survey of over 1,000 officers. Another consideration that’s mentioned is the advent of autonomous vehicles — “As AV become ubiquitous, the controversies about police traffic stops will largely be moot. Vehicles not violating traffic laws won’t be stopped; those not crashing into one another will also avoid police scrutiny.”

Defunding losing steam in Atlanta

July 8, 2021

In Atlanta, defunding the police had a lot of momentum a year ago, but has faltered, as reported here. Residents are worried about increased crime, an affluent section of the city has threatened to secede, and the mayor has announced she won’t seek a second term. One resident thinks “the fact is, defund the police was never a winning message. Without the cops, I know folks would be up running into my house,” adding, “The more I think about this, I think we need to change American culture more than we need to change the cops.” In the view of a local historian, “Police are much better here than they were years ago. There’s diversity in terms of people and practice. But you’ve had a few outstanding incidents where the violence could have been de-escalated and nobody had to be shot. That’s what police have to work on.”

Accountability for federal agencies

June 30, 2021

Reform efforts to increase police accountability have mostly ignored or overlooked federal law enforcement agencies. Some local departments have withdrawn from federal task forces because body-worn cameras were prohibited. Pressure now seems to be mounting, as reported here in an article about a recent task force shooting in Minneapolis. According to a former DOJ official, “Task forces are a huge problem across the country and … are much less accountable than any local police department.” Besides the absence of BWC, unlike with local forces, “citizens can’t make complaints to be reviewed by a civilian board, for example. There’s more restrictive access to public information, and the federal government is harder to sue.”

New program links university students with PDs

June 29, 2021

The U.S. has hundreds of criminal justice programs in colleges and universities, enrolling thousands of students, but most lack a close connection to police departments. As recruiting has grown more difficult, Ohio is launching a new program that links upper-division CJ majors in two universities with local agencies, as reported here. Students will be paired with “law enforcement mentors who will help them develop leadership skills. Upon graduation, the participating students are guaranteed a job with one of 12 participating law enforcement agencies in the state.” According to Ohio’s governor, “this program will create a pool of pre-qualified applicants with a strong understanding of criminal justice issues and the know-how to form positive relationships within their communities.”

Challenging situation in Portland

June 28, 2021

After a year of contentious and frustrating protest policing, members of the Portland Police Bureau’s Rapid Response Team resigned their posts recently, as reported in this article and public broadcasting segment. They cited deteriorated morale, lack of confidence in their superiors, and unfair discipline — “After the fact, they’re finding out that changes in legal interpretations, policy interpretations — all those things — are looked back at retroactively and they’re saying, ‘No, that’s in fact wrong even though you thought you were doing everything right.'” In addition, relations between the police and the district attorney are strained, the agency is short-handed, and shootings and homicides have dramatically increased.

Reducing Crime podcasts

June 26, 2021

Professor Jerry Ratcliffe interviews police leaders and influential thinkers on his monthly podcast series Reducing Crime, available here. The interviews are always interesting, thought-provoking, and humorous. Each podcast is about 40 minutes in length. The most recent, #35, is an interview with Carmen Best, who was police chief in Seattle until she resigned about a year ago in protest over proposed draconian cuts to the police department.

National strategy for countering domestic terrorism

June 25, 2021

The federal government recently released a National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, available here. The authors of this column compliment the strategy, based on their research into both international and domestic terrorism, which has included interviews with over 700 terrorists. They note the importance of a multi-faceted approach including information sharing, short-term and long-term prevention efforts, as well as disruption. Interestingly, they have found that “hate and ideology itself do not appear to be the primary motivating factors for those who join white supremacist groups. Relationships and identity, belonging, and being imbued with a sense of significance, dignity, and purpose were far more important in joining.”