Saturday, August 05, 2017

Exploring (long-term) ups and (short-term) downs of police shootings in Texas

Last month's Reasonably Suspicious podcast from Just Liberty featured a new segment titled "Suspicious Mysteries" which focuses on questions to which there are no definitive answers. The topic this time: possible reasons why deaths in police custody in Texas doubled from 2005 to 2015, then steeply declined in 2016. A friend in another city asked if I could pull the 4-minute segment out as a stand-alone for use by advocates, so here you go:

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Find a transcript of this segment below the jump.

Transcript: Excerpt, "Suspicious Mysteries" segment from Just Liberty's July 2017 Reasonably Suspicious podcast.

Scott Henson: Next up, we're introducing a new segment on the podcast we're calling Suspicious Mysteries in which we discuss questions to which there are no definitive answers. Today, we examine some new data from our friend, Amanda Woog, who recently took a job at the Quattrone center at Penn.

Amanda Marzullo: Where all of the finest lawyers are trained.

Scott Henson: Because that's where you were trained, of course.

Amanda Marzullo: Well, exactly. Go Quakers.

Scott Henson: The fighting Quakers. Good Lord, that's just sad.

Amanda Marzullo: What, you don't find some Mennonites to be particular intimidating?

Scott Henson: Terrifying. Regardless, Woog's numbers showed that, after several years of steady increases in the number of people in Texas shot by police and/or who died in police custody, 2016 saw a sharp decline. Both Amanda and Brandi Grissom at the Dallas Morning News reported on the sharp rise of deaths in custody in Texas over the last decade. Deaths in custody reported by Texas police and sheriff's department reached a high of 175 in 2015, then dropped like a stone to 125 last year. That's the lowest total in a while, but it's still much higher than in the past.

In 2005, for example, just 84 people died in police custody, so the 2015 max was more than 100% [above] that total. So Mandy, what do you think caused the increase in police shootings over the last decade, and what might account for last year's drop?

Amanda Marzullo: Well, I doubt it's one thing that caused both the increase and the decrease, but looking at the front end of this, I think what is sort of surprising about the rise in deaths and custody is that it corresponds with a drop in crime.

Scott Henson: A big drop in crime.

Amanda Marzullo: A huge one, so you would expect that there would actually be less contact between the public and law enforcement.

Scott Henson: It also corresponded with a big drop in the number of traffic tickets given. Hundreds of thousands fewer traffic stops occurred over this period.

Amanda Marzullo: What you're actually seeing is a rise in the violent interaction rate and in the treatment of individuals once they're in custody, so it's hard to suss that out. What's going on there? It could be problems with training. It could be problems ... Really, training seems to come to mind as the big one, but [crosstalk]

Scott Henson: Lack of discipline when officers do engage in misconduct, that can set a bad example so that then other officers feel like they can engage in similar behaviors. There's a number of things, but like I say, I guess that's why this section is [called] Suspicious Mysteries. It's impossible really know what it is. We can guess. We can speculate, but it's really hard to know …

Amanda Marzullo: …what's causing it. Then, with the decrease, it could be just noise because we're talking about very small numbers, but at the same time, there are a number of things that have been implemented in the past year that would make you think that it could've had an effect on law enforcement behavior. So, things like body cameras: the fact that more Texas police officers are wearing them now and having to have them on. I'm sure that a lot of police agencies have had training. Also, there have been a lot of lawsuits across the state for deaths in custody, which probably triggers a policy response at the local level.

Scott Henson: As well as major publicity surrounding shootings by police. And even though we haven't seen too many convictions, we've seen quite a few officers indicted which didn't use to happen very often. So it's possible that, like you say, all of these things together are changing the culture facing police officers as they make those decisions. But it's really confusing when you try and pin down, well, what's the cause one direction or the other? There's really no one thing you can point to in that way.


Steven Michael Seys said...

The reason for the huge. Increase in violence and killing by law enforcement officers is a combination of fear, in a few cases genuine, and impunity. When officers are taught to fear the people with whom they come into contact, the natural human response is self-preservation. And when officers literally get away with murder, there is no incentive to alleviate that fear which is the underlying cause of the problem.

Anonymous said...

One thing we overlook is the strong belief of criminals that "you can't tell me what to do." This plays out when an arrest is attempted and the suspect struggles and resists arrest. I know that many criminal believe that if they pitch a fit then the cops will give up and leave them alone. Many believe that resisting arrest is a smart strategy. For some reason we are not allowed to mention this part of the equation.