Friday, January 05, 2018

Austin press coverage of police contract still sucks, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends that deserve readers' attention even if I haven't had time to turn them into full, independent blog posts:

Austin press coverage of police contract still sucks
The Austin press continues its one-sided coverage of the City Council's rejection of the police-union contract, larding their articles with quotes from contract supporters and minimizing the views of critics without fully explaining them. In an Austin Chronicle story published yesterday, for example, contract supporters were given a platform for predicting doom while contract critics were dismissed as know-nothings (e.g., my wife was dubbed a "gadfly"). According to reporter Nina Hernandez, council members who voted against the contract (all of them) "hadn't exactly considered the consequences of their decision," though there's no sourcing, much less factual basis offered for that opinion. Later, appearing to contradict herself, she complained that the council was "suffering information overload," which hardly jibes with her earlier calumny that they hadn't sufficiently studied the topic.

The truth is, MSM reporters in Austin appear as a class to have misunderstood and misreported this entire debate from the get go. Ms. Hernandez now says she recognizes that, as one council member instructed her, "the Council's vote was more about the money" than the oversight piece (which means the press were the only ones in the room that night who didn't understand what they were watching). But no one in the local media is yet reporting on the most important implications of the scuttled contract: Freeing up around $10 million that the city council can spend in the current fiscal year over and above their current budget. How and when to spend that money is where the actual debate has moved at city hall, as well as among the activist players involved. But the press continues to flail, having missed the story and spun false narratives for so long that they don't now know how to begin to catch up. It's as though there's an almost willful decision by the local Austin press corps not to publicly report on what these debates are actually about.

Texas law mandates bad bodycam policies
Note to reporters who want to localize a story about police bodycams based on the Leadership Conference/Upturn recommendations, like this recent SA Express News story: Texas' law is the source of the most important bad practices, like letting officers accused of misconduct review video before they're questioned, or erecting barriers to accessing video under open records. Increasingly more departments, most recently Arlington and Plano, are purchasing body cameras for their officers. MORE: Here's a new academic piece on body cameras from Seth Stoughton for the to-read pile.

Private prison company gets rep on Windham task force
One of the governor's new appointees to Texas' task force on "Academic Credit and Industry Recognition" at the Windham School District (which operates educational programming at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice) works for a private prison company, reported the Longview News Journal.

Maybe time to tone down the 'war on cops' meme
The number of police officers killed in the line of duty in 2017 was the second lowest total in 50 years. While every death of an officer is a tragedy, this low total doesn't comport with the "war on cops" meme that's been prevalent for the last couple of years. Suicides and traffic deaths remain the more significant killers of sworn police officers.

Analyzing 2017 shootings by police
The new report from Mapping Police Violence is a must-read. By their count, 1,129 people were killed by police in America in 2017. MPV researchers "were able to identify officers in 534 cases. At least 43 had shot or killed someone before. 12 had multiple prior shootings." Also, "Most killings began with police responding to suspected non-violent offenses or cases where no crime was reported. 87 people were killed after police stopped them for a traffic violation." The number of those killed who were unarmed was 147. Notably, "Police recruits spend 7x as many hours training to shoot than they do training to de-escalate situations." FWIW, the Washington Post came up with a slightly lower number for Americans killed by police; Grits doesn't yet understand why the difference. It's remarkable that the number of people shot and killed by the government isn't tracked more closely than this in an official capacity. This should be a number we know.

Why long sentences matter
Too much of 2016 and 2017 was spent debating Prof. John Pfaff's position that long sentences weren't a significant driver of mass incarceration. He was wrong. This 17-minute podcast from the Urban Institute lays out the problem of too-long sentences and shows why reducing them is key to ending mass incarceration.

Healthcare spending reduces crime, violence
In the big picture, the observation from the Brookings Institute that health care spending prevents crime makes loads of sense. That's particularly true where health and crime specifically intersect - like drug abuse and mental illness, where treatment and related social-service supports can prevent crime both directly and indirectly. One study they cited "found that an increase in the number of treatment facilities causes a reduction in both violent and financially-motivated crime. This is likely due to a combination of forces: reducing drug abuse can reduce violent behavior that is caused by particular drugs, as well as property crimes like theft committed to fund an addiction. Reducing demand for illegal drugs might also reduce violence associated with the illegal drug trade."

Trump DOJ rescinds anti-debtors prison guidelines
The decision by the Trump DOJ to rescind guidance on minimizing debtors-prison practices was ill-conceived and a disappointment. But it was only ever guidance, and rescinding it in and of itself changes nothing. What has always mattered more is what state and particularly local actors choose to do on the ground, and that remains an open question. Texas legislators in 2017 took long-awaited first steps toward confronting the problem of arresting poor people over fines, but there's much more to be done. It remains to be seen whether - much like the push to reform asset forfeiture laws - movement conservatives continue to push for reform in spite of the Trump Administration staking out a more regressive agenda.


Steven Michael Seys said...

You're right, Scott, about getting rid of the falsehood of the "War on Cops" meme. The only people who really buy it are cops and the misinformed portion of the public too lazy to analyze the news in their feeds. I believe that this is the primary driver of police shooting of unarmed and non-violent citizens.

BarkGrowlBite said...

Not so fast on that "War on Cops" meme. There may be fewer cops killed but that does not tell the whole story. First of all, a number of the cops killed were ambushed for no other reason than that they were law enforcement officers. And then there were a significant number of cops that were ambushed and seriously wounded but survived the shootings. So don't give us any crap about there being no war on cops.

As for The new report from Mapping Police Violence, their "analysis suggests the majority of killings by police in 2017 could have been prevented." Not so fast there either. Those armchair analysts were not in the shoes of the cops who did the shootings. Granted that some of the fatal shootings were unjustified, but for the vast majority of fatal shootings, the officers thought their lives were in immediate jeopardy.

Can more and better training on deescalating situations reduce the number of fatal shootings? Probably, but not to a significant extent. I've worked the streets as a cop, and believe me, it's scary out there. That's something those armchair analysts never experience. As for Steven Seys, I'm sorry, but you just don't know what you are talking about.

Anonymous said...

Sorry bark, but the only people who still believe in the "war on cops" are the cops. You need to educate yourself on this subject.

BarkGrowlBite said...

Anon, if you ever need to call a cop, call a social worker instead! You're the one that needs an education on what it's like to be a cop. Then you'd sing a different tune.

Anonymous said...

So bark...if someone doesn't agree with the whole war on cops line, then they don't deserve police protection? I could care less about what it's like to be a cop and besides that has absolutely nothing to do with the topic anyway. Again..educate yourself.

Anonymous said...

Bark should provide facts and Scott should provide facts (which he does) and then see who is full of hype.

Unknown said...

Yes, overall, fatalities are down for LE. Yes, more LE fatalaties occur as a result of motor vehicle incidents (especially crashes) and suicides than by the hands of an assailant. However, that doesn't necessarily negate a rise in the number of officers that have been targeted, inlcuding fatal ambushes, in recent years. LODD data doesn't include assaults in which the officers survived.

As usual, life is much more complex than memes.

Anonymous said...

And law enforcement doesn't seem especially interested in doing any sort of root cause analysis on why they are being targeted on the few occasions they have been. Instead to borrow from J.M. Coetzee were supposed to stay at home, afraid and "waiting for the barbarians" while departments cash in on new financial aid to protect themselves from an unmeasured threat.

BarkGrowlBite said...

You Anons who believe there is no war on cops just don't know what's going on in the streets. I haven't the time to dig up the statistics on ambushes of cops, both fatal ambushes and those in which the wounded cops survived. As I said before, those facts Scott relied on do not tell the whole story.

"I could care less about what it's like to be a cop," makes it obvious that you don't give a shit about law enforcement officers. Shame on you!

Assaults on cops occur frequently. Just yesterday another assault occurred. From the Associated Press: A man was arrested Monday after he walked up to a Los Angeles County sheriff's detective outside a fast food restaurant, asked him if he was a law enforcement officer and then stabbed him in the chest.

So maybe only cops believe there is a war on cops, but they should know. They're in the trenches while you are sitting in the comfort of your home. And you and your family are probably safe because of the cops you could care less about.

Anonymous said...

Hey..the world is flat too and I will keep on saying it too and I also don't have the time to dig up the statistics to prove the world is flat, but so long as I keep saying it a lot of stupid people are going to believe it is flat.

Anonymous said...

So to add to that there a war on unarmed citizens being shot by cops? Of course you will say NO even though far more unarmed citizens are killed by cops than the scenario you are painting in the "war on cops".

BarkGrowlBite said...

There's no sense in arguing with anti-police blockheads. Say what you like about me or the police if that makes you happy.

Anonymous said...

Well bark, Scott provided some documented info on the so called "war on cops" to debunk that line of garbage, to which you got mad. Then you replied , but you won't and can't back up what you are saying. I don't think I need to say any more......

Trey Rusk said...

The war on cops began in Ferguson MO. Then it spread to targeting cops for prosecution in Baltimore. (All charges were dismissed) The Black Lives Matter group became vocal and cops started being ambushed. The irony of the whole situation was a lot of the protests were based on myths such as "Hands Up! Don't Shoot! It never happened in Ferguson, MO.

A black Harvard Professor, Roland G. Fryer, Jr. who was admittedly upset about the reports of police violence on black conducted a study and found it was not true. He said, "It was the most surprising result of my career." (See story in The Washington Post, July 11, 2016)

Law Enforcement is a dangerous profession and there is a war on cops based on rhetoric spread by BLM and others. This has encouraged cops being ambushed and killed.

Howie, you are right.

By the way, I heard top police brass had told the 5 Dallas area cops killed working the BLM Rally not to wear their plate vests because they might intimidate the protestors. Check it out

BarkGrowlBite said...

Anon 12:51, let me make one thing clear. Scott didn't make me mad. I happen to like Scott, even though we often disagree. But misleading statements such as there is no war on drugs do piss me off. Your "line of garbage" crack pisses me off. When it comes to cops, you don't know shit from Shinola! Cops deserve better than your line of crap.

Anonymous said...

Get over it bark. I already did.

Anonymous said...

I'm behind on my GFB readings but am going to jump in anyway. This "no one understands us" and "if you're not for us 100% you're against us 100%" mentality is a big part of LE being perceived by the public as being somewhat out of control. If no one understands you or what it's like, then you can justify pretty much anything. Yes, being a cop is a hard job and I don't have to be one to understand that to some degree. There are a great many jobs that are hard to do, hard for others to understand, and dangerous. Yes, there have been officers killed for no other apparent reason than they were officers. Just as we see people harmed for no other reason than they are gay / transgendered / Muslim / in a relationship with a batterer / happened to be manning the cash register / wearing a turban / were perceived to have cut someone off in traffic who happened to have a gun. That list is endless.

Trey Rusk said...

Anonymous 04:50:00

You're talking apples and oranges.