Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How to reduce police ambush deaths

Based on a new DOJ analysis, the Washington Post reported (10/27) that the number of ambush assaults against police is on the rise, even as police officers' on-duty deaths remain fairly steady and overall assaults against officers are down. When one looks at the details of the study itself, however, it emphasizes much more than the Attorney General did how extremely rare ambush deaths are in practice. Even more interesting to this writer, though, was what the DOJ report had to say about strategies that might reduce police ambushes:
Fewer police ambushes. We found three organizational factors that were associated with reduced numbers of ambushes against the police. The effect of requiring new officers to have at least some college education was a 54 percent decrease in ambush assaults. In addition, agencies  that evaluated new hires on conflict management experienced, on average, 43 percent fewer ambushes than those that did not. Last, in-car cameras, measured by the ratio of cameras to patrol vehicles, were associated with fewer ambushes. Police agencies that had a camera in every patrol car experienced, on average, 61 percent fewer ambushes than those that did not.
Besides those three things - better educated cops, screening recruits for de-escalation skills, and cameras in patrol cars - there was no other statistically significant, causal factor identified by DOJ which reduced ambush attacks. (See pp. 35-36 of the pdf.)

Think for a moment: Why would more educated cops or screening for de-escalation skills reduce ambushes, much less cameras in patrol cars? To the extent these factors correlate strongly to fewer ambushes, does it follow that less-well educated cops without de-escalation skills create greater risks of ambush deaths?

This is hard to understand because the data appear to blame the victims. To the extent we're talking about episodes like Deputy Darren Goforth's murder in Houston, it's difficult to see how greater education or de-escalation techniques might have prevented his death.

Still, the correlations are so strong for those three elements, there must be some explanation. Regardless of the reason, this finding should be of interest to the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which received an interim charge related to investigating ways to reduce police officers' on-the-job deaths. Those three suggestions are a good place to start.


gravyrug said...

I would think that departments with better-educated, better-trained cops would pretty naturally suffer less ambushes. Cops that can de-escalate are much less likely to generate bad feelings in the community, so there's less tension to spill over into violence. This only works in general, though, and can't work on an individual level. Still, these are good suggestions, and are likely to have an impact on other aspects of police work as well.

Phelps said...

Gravy got it. Departments that have these characteristics have less use of force.

This is basic Peelian principles: "The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force."

Police ambushes don't happen in a vacuum. They happen in response to a feeling that the police have set themselves above and apart from the People (note that I said feeling -- reality doesn't matter.)

Chris H said...

Or given the small number of occurrences, does having a more educated (training and formal education) and more accountable (dash cameras) police department change how the assault is categorized?

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Anonymous said...

Statistically the ambushes occurred during dark or overcast periods at a rate of 8:1 over periods of sun with no overcast ergo a cop is 8 times more likely to be ambushed when the sun is not shinning therefore we must eliminate night or overcast weather conditions. Oh wait, maybe the perps just prefer to commit their psychotic acts when there is less chance of discovery.

You can't simply take the statistics, assume correlation, and tailor a solution based on the assumed correlation. Just because 98% of the officers were wearing a blue uniform does not mean we can eliminate or reduce the problem by changing the color of their uniforms.

john said...

Again such thinking ignores the real COPS' WAR ON BLACKS---and now, all Americans.
COPS have always abused blacks, but not only black, and now it's forever worse.
ASK ANY BLACK PEOPLE if they know of their folks, or have experienced cop brutality or abuse. These united States have the most people in prison of any land on Earth. Even still-Commie Red China, who have 5 times our population, has less.
If you hallucinate it's only a dirty few bad apples, YOU FORGET THE SILENT MAJORITY DESTROYS BY NEGLECT. Silent majorities ALWAYS suck and let the few run amok. The cops' unions are full of silent majority, at best.
We The Poor People are the real ones to FEAR FOR OUR LIVES though cops use that phrase as a get-out-of-jail free, to go on to paid administrative leave, during the cover-up and/or damage control.
THE POLITICIANS (the filthy-rich few) DID IT, AS WITH Federal alphabet Agencies--to protect themselves from THE PEOPLE. So COPS AND Agencies are now militarized like "just-following orders" zombies, and they are coming to get you, Barbara.

Dustin said...

The obvious explanation is that communities with more money have less crime and also can afford to be more selective in their public employees and equip them better. In other words, what is claimed to be causal is probably not. Are you less likely to have your home burglarized if you drive a new BMW? Yes. Is it because BMWs reduce crime? Nope.

Just swap cop ambush with burglary and education with race and my line of reasoning is probably more frequently used.