Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Abandon fatalism, embrace accountability on police shootings

The Dallas Morning News editorial board has struggled of late to discern a viable path forward in the aftermath of the shooting deaths of five DPD officers in July and the continued, periodic videos emerging of wrongful or questionable police shootings. A recent staff editorial titled, "Police reform easy to demand, tough to deliver," typified their opinions. At root:
Something must be done to ease the escalating tension and mistrust between law enforcement and communities of color.
Reform, however, is easy to demand and tough to deliver, especially when you're dealing with 15,400 local law-enforcement agencies nationwide. And nothing will be effective until we get beyond the simplistic black-lives-vs.-blue-lives impasse.
Grits appreciates the "something must be done" part, but I'm much more sanguine than the News that police reform is possible. For starters, that's because I concern myself only with the 2,500 or so law enforcement agencies in Texas; I consider the rest somebody else's problem.

Of those, just a handful are responsible for the overwhelming majority of police shootings, with Houston PD outdistancing everybody else by a country mile. So, focusing on HPD gets you a great deal of bang for the buck, similar to how, until recently, their DA's office set the statewide tone and accounted for much of the volume on death-penalty cases.

So the effort to reduce police shootings in Texas effectively focuses on just a handful of departments. Changing things there a) reduces shootings in the jurisdictions where they're most common and b) influences policing culture and practices in other departments if and when the reforms work.

The rest of the article uses what Grits considers a phony journalistic "balance" framing to imply that every possible reform faces equally valid arguments against it as in favor. For example, "One idea that has gained traction post-Ferguson is de-escalation* training for officers. The goal is to reduce the number of fatal confrontations, but critics say it can reduce police safety." Of course, deescalation training emerged and gained traction BEFORE Ferguson, which is why when the recent movement happened there was a fully developed body of evidence-based training alternatives for the Police Executive Research Forum to champion, and jurisdictions that have already started putting them into practice. There is no evidence that these tactics reduce officer safety and some evidence that they tend to increase officer safety.

Next we get this statement: "We support policy experts who say it's possible to achieve one without risking the other. One key is finding the right balance." So you don't support policy experts who are right, you support those who say things with which you agree. Got it.

Other points similarly link platitudes and partial truths  Somewhat fatalistically, they suggest "recognizing that even the best policies won't be 100 percent effective. For instance, Betty Jo Shelby, the Tulsa officer charged with manslaughter in the Sept. 16 shooting of Terence Crutcher, had received de-escalation training. That doesn't mean the training isn't helpful."

But we don't know what that training looked like, and not all deescalation training is created equal, much less based on the 30 Principles suggested by PERF to reduce police use of force. For instance, DPS told the media it received its deescalation training from the Texas Police Association, a group whose Facebook page is filled with Blue Lives Matter re-posts, DPS terrorism notifications, and little else. (They've got a deescalation training coming up in San Antonio in October.) Grits doesn't particularly trust that training from that bunch will help prevent these situations, whether the word "deescalation" is in the course title or not. So Ofc. Shelby took something labeled deescalation training. Were her actions consistent with that training or did they contradict it? How does that training stack up to PERF's 30 principles? There's a lot we don't know.

We also don't know whether the Tulsa PD administration truly embraced the deescalation notion and enforced its tenets in the field after officers received the training, or was it just a one-off with little relevance to day-to-day expectations when out on patrol?  Often, a big reason deescalation training works is that administrators have embraced the philosophy and want it to succeed. Which is why the DMN could write: "We've seen the results in Dallas. Police Chief David Brown has said the Police Department's de-escalation training helped reduce excessive-force complaints against his officers from 147 in 2009 to 13 last year." DPS, by contrast, to the extent they've administered deescalation training at all (and their claim that troopers do more than 70 hours of it is a bad joke), it's been grudgingly, perhaps using a vendor with a predisposition for justifying questionable shootings rather than reducing them.

Training is great, especially when it breaks up behavior patterns which cause officers to escalate violence at traffic stops and other encounters with the public. But if not matched with administrators who embrace changing officer behavior patterns, it won't be enough to overcome departmental culture and historical practices, especially for folks who've been on the force a long time.

In that light, I wouldn't say, essentially, Let's implement deescalation training but we must still expect lots of people to die. Instead, the stance should be, Let's implement deescalation training and then hold police administrators accountable for results. The paper's fatalism precludes editorial writers from taking the next step to inform readers who in government should be held responsible, as if lamenting the problem were sufficient.

* For reasons I cannot explain, the DMN, many other press outlets, and even police trainers are using a hyphen when discussing deescalation training. Since "deescalation" is actually a word, Grits sees no need for the hyphen after the prefix and does not understand why they're using it. I shall not.


Anonymous said...

Any comprehensive police reform must have intensive psychological evaluations at the very tip-top of the list.

Apply for employment with a Fortune 500 company and you will be given a battery of personality tests which will tell the examiner more about you than you know about yourself. Conducted behind a computer monitor with questions flashing quickly, these tests are considered infallible as the questions are reworded several times to confuse the applicant and will even show if he is being untruthful.

Similar tests were part of the police officer hiring process prior to passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Afterwards, tests were gutted primarily because so many applicants registered as psychopaths and it hindered departments ability to hire.

Anonymous said...

Any reform should also lighten the load on what is expected from LE. Officers wear so many hats (first responder, mental health, investigator, terrorism related, etc).

John55 said...

Studies at the Chicago police dept have found that the majority of complaints come from 5% of the force. The problem there is nothing is done about it.
Two civil juries have recently awarded multimillion-dollar settlements to men who said the police had abused them. The department will pay $4 million to one, Coprez Coffie, who testified that he was sodomized with a screwdriver. A jury awarded the other man, Timothy Finwall, $2 million for being framed and falsely arrested.

Jon Loevy, whose law firm represented the men, said the Police Department had shown no interest in dealing with the problem, noting that internal reviews had found no wrongdoing or need for disciplinary action in either case.

Brian McGiverin said...

De-lightful de-construction

Chris H said...

Purely a semantic argument follows. The use of "escalate" was derived from "Escalator", an electronic ladder trademarked in the early 1900s. Trying to place a prefix in front of a prefix ("e-", for electronic) is what makes it hyphenated. Only everyday use has eliminated the hyphen.

Anonymous said...

I would love to know how many applicants were not hired because of high intelligence.

Anonymous said...

I would love to know how many applicants were not hired because of high intelligence.

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