Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Study: Bad cops immune to criticism, need greater oversight, accountability

At Texas Standard, we find a report on a new study by Shefali Patil out of the UT-Austin business school proclaiming that police accountability activism causes liberal cops to become dispirited and do a lesser job than their conservative colleagues.

Basically, Dr. Patil and her researchers created four datasets: 1) They surveyed 164 officers at two agencies, then 2) had veteran police managers review body cam footage from those officers and score them. 3) They examined supervisors' ratings of 82 officers across four agencies. And 4) they ran a "time-lagged survey of 184 officers in a single agency."

Leaving aside the small sample sizes described there, and the VERY small sample sizes from which the opinions of subsets of officers would be drawn, as it turns out, the peculiar definitions of "liberal" and "conservative" may underlie the conclusions in this study. Here's what they were measuring when they say "liberal" and "conservative":
More-liberal individuals believe in creating communal relationships between authority figures, like employees, and the people over whom they hold power, while more-conservative individuals believe in maintaining the dominance of authorities and us-versus-them power dynamics
This, my friends, is a weird definition for conservative and liberal in 21st century America. And in the context of policing as a profession, it's not really a distinction between liberal cop and conservative cop but "good cop" and "bad cop."

If you're a cop who believes the sum total of your profession amounts to "maintaining the dominance of authorities and us-versus-them power dynamics," you don't understand your job and probably should find other employment.

Meanwhile, show me the police chief who is not interested in "creating communal relationships between authority figures, like employees, and the people over whom they hold power."  That's the goal of every well run department and if it's not, WTF?

It should also be mentioned that the conservative/liberal axis used in the study is more or less foreign to any common, political context in which those words are used. For example, when I googled "conservative ideology" and "liberal ideology," here were the top-of-page definitions which came up:
As a general ideology, Conservatism is opposed to the ideals of Liberalism and Socialism. Conservatism generally refers to right-wing politics which advocate the preservation of personal wealth and private ownership (Capitalism) and emphasize self-reliance and Individualism. 
Liberalism, political doctrine that takes protecting and enhancing the freedom of the individual to be the central problem of politics. Liberals typically believe that government is necessary to protect individuals from being harmed by others, but they also recognize that government itself can pose a threat to liberty.
One might bicker with the particularities of those definitions, but they certainly don't have much in common with the very particular axis of authoritarianism along which the study authors want to divide their research subjects.

The authors of the police study are describing an authoritarian mindset, not a "conservative" one. (Liberals, after all, can use government power to impose their authority, too.) On the "liberal" side, they're describing a "liberal" belief in civil society in the broadest, historical sense, not adherence to political liberalism, a Democratic voting history, etc.. They could have run voting records for their research subjects but did not. I'd be interested to learn how many "liberal" cops vote in Republican primaries.

So this study is really saying that authoritarians who have no business being cops in the first place don't really care when people criticize police, and it's only the folks who're trying to do a good job and feel unfairly criticized who become dispirited.

If true, that's still a problem. The police accountability movement needs to learn to create an atmosphere where good cops feel supported and the bad ones become dispirited and feel pressured to leave.

But failing to criticize bad cops won't change things, either, and neither will kowtowing to authoritarians who "believe in maintaining the dominance of authorities and us-versus-them power dynamics."

Neither does the study really tell us that "liberal" cops are more dispirited. Instead, the definition of "liberal" chosen is a euphemism for officers executing the mission statement of nearly every department in the country.

Instead, let me turn to where I agree with the study's authors: on what should be done to address the problem of authoritarian officers who are immune to public criticism. According to Ms. Patil:
“What I found in a related study is that when officers face these misperceptions, they actually perform better if they have standard protocols that they have to follow in specific situations.” 
But doesn’t giving workers more autonomy usually improve job performance? “Not in this case,” Patil insists. “Police officers with high autonomy often do worse.”
So less autonomy for police officers (read: stricter management, more oversight, greater accountability) is the researcher's prescription for solving the problem she's identified.

One doesn't have to buy into her definitions of "liberal" and "conservative" to agree with that. Campaign Zero and the Police Executive Research Forum think the same thing.


Anonymous said...

"I'd be interested to learn how many "liberal" cops vote in Republican primaries."

I've known "liberal" folks who always vote in Republican primaries in predominately Republican districts in an attempt to minimize the winning Republican candidate's extremism, knowing a Democrat would never get elected in that gerrymandered district. Suggest it may also apply to some cops voting in primaries. For what it's worth.

Anonymous said...

What post did you read? :/

JC said...

I wonder how this theory applies to rural America (or Texas?) where the requirement to have the support of a community can be a matter of life or death. Perhaps this is just a major metropolitan theory?

Anonymous said...

There's really no other way to discourage police officers from committing crimes against the public than for them to be aggressively prosecuted. Any attorney who has ever worked as an assistant DA will tell you that we prosecute many crimes primarily to discourage others from committing similar acts, (hot car deaths, etc) and the resulting publicity accomplishes this. Same way with police officers, they watch how the DA treats their colleagues and every one of them knows what they can or cannot get away with. I'm in McLennan County and have watched as our DA has refused to prosecute officers and how this has served to only embolden them to commit even more egregious crimes against the public.

Gunny Thompson said...

Let me make this point: Here we go again, the game of divide and conquer. It's not about Liberal or Republican minded public officers, it's about following the law. The experiences of Anon.@ 4;00 PM, of McLennan County, is universal. Prosecutors of all stripe are required to rely of police in obtaining information for prosecution and often times should be recused from determining whether to prosecute. My position is that public officers must be prosecuted by federal authorities.

This report offers support for our position that If you see or hear of a Fascist Brown Shirt in violation of the law, it's incumbent on you to report it. Abuse of citizens, in any manner, is unlawful, as is, making a threat is a "Hate Crime' and must be reported and prosecuted. Don't leave it to others to carry your load

Anonymous said...

Hey Scott, saw this and thought it would interest you and many of your readers.


john said...

The Cops War On America has never been "conservative," certainly not libertarian (who?). But is it only their fault? Nope.
Bullies & sociopaths make tremendous enforcers, and the wimps in charge of them love it. Politicians have politicized the agencies, as well. Today, sociopaths make up a lot of politicians. Most Americans abhor & ignore such evil, and play with their recreational devices and substances.
It's not an easy job to Cop, but while enforcing one law(s), other laws should not be broken--with special consideration of neighbor citizen RIGHTS. But Cops are under tremendous pressure, from the more-vile corrupted-absolutely lawyers, unions & esp. judges (who are mostly on their way to more power to become rich filthy). It's complicated, when there's no way nor will to wipe the slate clean and reboot. (This is the problem The D.J. T-Rump faces, in trying to drain the cement swamp.)
A BIG PROBLEM IS THE HONEST lawyers, etc., MUST NOT BE SILENT MAJORITY---THEY MUST SPEAK UP, SO THE SWAMP IS PLUGGED FROM WITHIN. Yet, what Earthlings risk comfort by speaking up? It happens a small minority of the time.

(Yes: illegal-alien undocumented criminals are ALREADY breaking the law. Because the feds and then local electees politicized that whole situation, it always gets worse.)

Anonymous said...

John dude..you sound like a rambling crazy person. Every time you post on here I get a genuine laugh. I picture you as some dude down in his mom's basement typing on the computer all day long only stopping long enough to yell "Mom more pizza rolls!"

Anonymous said...

Why limit oversight to police? Parolees over the age of 80 that have walkers and wheelchairs, sometimes oxygen tanks, hardly pose a threat to anybody and yet they have to report to parole offices, buy books about improving their sex (?) perceptions, pay parole officer fees for oversight, as well as fees to attend sex lectures.

Small wonder cell phone cameras are forbidden at parole offices.

Even by Texas "standards" this is absurd/

Anonymous said...

I agree that the "liberal" "conservative" monikers were ham fisted and largely irrelevant descriptors. Perhaps the better terms would be those holding a problem-solving philosophy of policing and those holding a legalistic philosophy of policing. Both have pros and cons and it would be interesting and perhaps instructive to see how the researcher's hypotheses play out within those philosophical categories.

Anonymous said...

Cops are so out of control it's like we're in Nazi Germany. Look at these Gestapo tactics to silent opposition. https://theappeal.org/a-black-man-called-the-cops-nazis-and-was-charged-with-a-hate-crime/

Anonymous said...

11:44 Cops are the Gestapo.