What Do Police Say about Police Reform?

I tried to find out what police say is the way to reform police. Didn’t find anything.

Did find a report from the National Institute of Justice circa 2000 that showed at least some police in some departments were aware of the problems. See National Criminal Justice Reference Service: National Institute of Justice: May 2000: PDF: “Police Attitudes Toward Abuse of Authority”. It’s based on a National Police Foundation survey.

At least moderately surprised it wasn’t completely one-sided. But would still be interested in hearing what police think is the way to reform, given lots of reporting that they’ve often viewed retraining with derision.

At that time, for example, majorities thought police were permitted to use as much force as needed, that going beyond allowable force was unacceptable. A fifth acknowledged officers in their department at least sometimes used more force than necessary. About half acknowledged the omertà followed by some law enforcement officers.

They also asked about controlling abuse. While about 93% said their departments already took a strong anti-abuse stance, about 85% thought a chief taking a hard-line against abuse would help prevent it. About 90% also said immediate supervisors were important in that effort. But only 55% thought changes in methods of supervision would be effective.

Worse, supermajorities answered that training in ethics, interpersonal skills, and in cultural awareness could reduce abuse—but these are the very sorts of training that are often dismissed as wastes of time or as jokes or unrepresentative of the real world by police.

There is a racial breakdown of results, which shows an expected divergence in views between white officers and Black officers. That divide is muted but still apparent on questions around methods like community-oriented policing and citizen review boards.

But these are 20-year-old results, and they don’t tell us too much about what police think reform should look like. They do tell us, at least then, many saw problems that justify reform. More importantly: lots did not. That is an obvious place to begin efforts of reform: it’s a lot easier to make a system better if more of those involved aren’t in denial about the problems.

This also fits the general pattern that those in the best position to make reforms are silent or in denial of the need, which will ultimately mean a longer road to reform, and reforms that aren’t as well-tailored to the problems as they could be.

Police have a lot of problems. Their profession has the highest suicide rate. The problems policing causes to society, particularly minority communities, is well-documented. Part of the issue is the sort of HAL 9000 effect—that their primary directives are often contradictory, which makes them do a job that often fails to have a full-on successful outcome.

That is, if you have to protect people and punish people, that’s not workable. If you’re protecting them, then the criminals aren’t punished. If you’re punishing the criminals, then they’re not protected. Part of that is due to the system of prisons and jails, which is built to be punitive rather than rehabilitative. Police know that punishment is part of the job, but unlike nurses and doctors, they almost never get to see positive outcomes of arrests. They typically aren’t getting thank-you cards from past arrestees.

Anyway. Point is mainly that I’d be interested to see more data about how police think their jobs can change for the better.

The election comes in fifteen weeks.


Analogies: Better Pocket Protectors

This is a general analogy. It can apply to police reform, but it’s generally applicable.

The basic analogy is that people used to wear shirts with breast pockets and keep pens in them. Those pens would leak, and it would ruin the shirts. So some people took to wearing pocket protectors—small containers that would be inserted into the pocket and if a pen leaked, it would catch the ink and keep the shirt safe.

The analogy is is for a policy deficiency, where rather than fixing the problem of the leaky pens, there’s a call by some for better pocket protectors. That is, the source of the problem, leaky pens, is not addressed. What are the conditions that lead to leaks in pens? Shoddy manufacturing, poor storage conditions, whatever. But these things, prevention of the conditions that lead to ink being spilled, are left alone. The focus is placed on better pocket protectors.

So, for climate change, for example, the pocket protector might be things like doing geographic surveys to figure out what land will be inhabitable and arable in the future and relocating people, but otherwise not doing anything about carbon pollution.

Or, for police and justice reform, it’s calling for more police and police militarization, rather than redevelopment of distressed areas, better social policies, etc.

Or for wildfire policy, it’s moving mountains to fight fires rather than doing controlled burns and groundfuel management.

For immigration policy, the wall is a very expensive and mostly useless pocket protector. Lacking policies that both encourage orderly immigration and economic stability in other parts of the world is a good way to find out exactly how useless a pocket protector it is.

For pandemic policy, containment was supposed to be the strategy to get control over the caseload while alternatives became available, including testing and tracing. That’s right—sometimes, and usually for a limited time, a pocket protector does make sense. We put a hardcore pocket protector in place to give time to work on tracking leaky pens. But many of the governors and president never actually worked on tracking leaky pens. They removed the pocket protector anyway, and now we see ink running over much of the nation.

We’re also not too picky when it comes to pandemic pocket protectors—we would love to cease every case and be free of this plague, but honestly if a combinations of masks and scheduling and tracing, or a vaccine, or whatever reasonable and practicable policy combination can simply lower the rate of transmission so that it is stopped, that’s what any reasonable government should be working toward.

Or consider the problem of nuclear waste. It is currently stored in what was intended as temporary storage at the power facilities, and a permanent storage was planned, but has never opened. Given the nature and longevity of that particular sort of pen, a pocket protector might be the only viable solution for long-term protection.

The main purpose of this post is to highlight the connection between disparate policy areas. That the same patterns exist in various policies is worth understanding. When possible, common principles should be brought to bear in policy matters and therefore more consistency can be had in regulation and governance.

The particular choice of a pocket protector, instead of, say, tupperware or antimatter containment units, is not particularly important. Depending on the policy area, a different container might be more appropriate.

The characteristics of a containment policy are necessary for the application of the analogy. Taxes and spending policies are seldom meant to be outright containment, and so are ill suited to this analogy.

On an unrelated note, the term reopened early is incorrect. The timing of their opening is not at issue, but the condition in which they did so. Reopened unready would be more apt. The main point here is that these places delaying their opening wasn’t going to magically prepare them any more than they were, and their lack of preparation is the flaw, not how soon or late they took an unprepared action.


Plagues of Denial

There are certain things we see coming, and, this being 2020, things we didn’t see coming. Until an event actually comes to pass, it’s easy enough to think it may or may not.

An example will help. The Civil War.

For the decades before the war, there was a lot of effort made on both sides of the horror of slavery. Slaves struggled and sometimes freed themselves. They were captured and sent back, or they kept their freedom and worked to free others. Some folks agitated for emancipation. Some manumitted in their wills, others upon inheritance.

But the talk of disunion wasn’t a novelty come the Civil War. It had been seen coming. But still, it did come.

For decades, then, you had the slave states seeing this thing coming. They chose to let it come, and indeed they inaugurated it in attempting to cast off the bond of the Union.

Another example. The Revolutionary War. Again, Britain surely saw that risk, and yet they continued to press with taxation, with bad choices.

I’m sure there are more unseen inevitabilities than seen, but these aren’t hiding. These governments and parties are buying advertising space on their own foreheads. The ads read: “I know it’s coming, but I’m pressing on.”

Denial doesn’t tell the whole story. They know what’s coming. They are the reason it’s coming. They are what creates the conditions. Yet they do not stop or change. We have enough reporting that they’re aware of what they’re doing on some level, so it’s not full denial.

It’s more of a socially-constructed denial. That appearing weak, or making any move to change the course or ease the transition, or to admit to themselves the reality, would… this is where I struggle. The most concise image still is that of Wile E. Coyote. They don’t want to look down. They don’t want to fall. But the farther they go past the cliff, the farther the drop. It’s quite disturbing to watch. The farther down the path the naked emperor parades, the more who see him naked, until that one boy pipes up.

Would it not be better to turn around at the gate of the palace, fire the tailors, put on some trousers? Would it not be better to admit to the inevitable, to change and get ahead of it to be able to smooth the transition?

There are those who did that. Who restored the dignity they or their forebearers had stolen from their fellow men. Who quit their redcoated loyalist ways to become unionists. And there are some in the various coming crises who also do work to mend first, rather than to wait for the forces of nature to rend.

Perhaps it is all in the design of those who seek leadership and power that they cannot lead in crisis. That’s the stuff of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions—the notion that they in the established order cannot bring about anything but crises, and that those who rise up to meet the crisis will supplant them.

But I don’t believe that, not entirely. It lets them off too easily. They are positioned to do exactly what they believe they cannot: to lead.

The governors who opened too fast, who have failed to heed the obvious warnings, they are still in a position to lead. It is not that they are incapable. It’s that they won’t. The system wasn’t designed to, sure. But that they won’t change it as they see the world change before them, that’s a damn shame.

The best analogy that presents itself is that of machine learning. These face recognition systems, trained on biased data, cannot properly recognize some faces. It is the same with those in power, scientific and otherwise, and their failures. The machine learning system, were it articulate, would likely admit its limitations, though. It would seem that a first step toward change would be convincing those in leadership positions the need to look at the world differently than they have. But so far, the only way that happens is after a crisis, not while it is on the horizon.

(To be clear, the list is broad. It includes social media companies who dragged their feet on dealing with hardcore hatemongers on their platforms. It includes police departments and governments that too long ignored or promoted brutality. It includes the reckoning that will someday come for the real estate industry, not just for segregation, but for being a horrid, broken mess with all sorts of crime and misery at work. It includes the climate crisis, and pollution more broadly. The gun lobby. All these myriad problems in society, all known, all coming to heads on their own timelines, but few if any actually dealt with by those in the place to do so.)

Happy Independence Day! On a personal note, my book now has a lower price, at least for the month of July.


Proof of Capacity for Change

If we learn no other lesson from this plague, let it be that we are, in fact, still capable of widespread change. Of rapid change. Of drastic change.

So are the monuments and flags coming down—many are remnants of a false value system and in their pigeonholes new symbols can be made to replace them.

That when we pick a symbol, when we choose a pattern of organization, if it serves well enough we keep it, flaws and all. But when it becomes a harm, when it impedes moving forward, we uproot it. Going to the offices and shops amid a pandemic meant a risk of life and limb, so people stopped abruptly. But for many, those trips or any trips meant maybe they would be pulled over and face the possibility of a false value system of policing that represents everything that a flag can’t: you aren’t secure in your person, your house, your papers and effects. You are a forced plea or a gunshot away from ruin.

That system is harder to replace than a monument. It’s got no grommets hooking it to a pole, instead it’s woven into so much of our governments’ budgets, bolted down, shackled to our culture and media. But we can, as sure as we all wear masks to stop stray particles of pestilence.

Our lack of change is not down to inability. It is often not even a lack of will or of political disagreement, but of instinctive pushback. Take the Senate, where McConnell and the Republicans put already-cold milk into the cooling saucer and are now waiting for it to cool some more. They acknowledge a need for change, but enough of their members rely on being opposition that they can’t push a comprehensive bill.

The way to overcome this kind of nothing-by-default system is to use their pressure points. Qualified immunity, for one. Instead of their bill being a carrot for states that reform, it should be: states that do not reform will lose qualified immunity.

The argument that nobody in the Senate can make is that the officer that murdered George Floyd should not be subject to a lawsuit for it. Donald John Trump and some Republicans want to protect qualified immunity, then that’s the barrel to get them over and make them pay at least table stakes for it: reform to enable qualified immunity.

It’s a reasonable proposition: jurisdictions that make reasonable efforts to guard against civil rights violations by police should be given some greater measure of assurance as a result.

But that’s for this limited case. For the greater case, change means changing. Look for opportunities big and small to do differently tomorrow than what you did today.

In 18 weeks the nation can vote to change.


Bostock: What Does Sex Mean in Antidiscrimination?

The SCOTUS decided to recognize the law protecting employees from firing for discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The decision hinges on the meaning of sex in the statute banning discrimination on that basis.

The question arises, what does it mean to ban sex discrimination? And that’s what the court had to answer.

Imagine for a moment you are trying to hire a person to push buttons in your factory. The applicants all come in dressed in those big mascot costumes. Their names are all types of clouds, like Cumulonimbus and MicroAmazon. But, you, being of the false belief that women are better at pressing buttons, want to hire a woman for the job. So you try to find some way to decide one mascot is a woman, and hire that one.

But over the course of ten years, you never do find out who it is in that mascot suit pressing all those buttons. It remains a mystery.

That is what the Supreme Court decided. We all have to buy and wear mascot costumes. I, personally, will be getting a costume to look like a Supreme Court justice, so you’ll have to find some other idea. Sorry.

Anyway, the above situation is meant to elicit the basic idea of expression. Without expression of sex, there is no discrimination of sex, because nobody would know how to discriminate on that basis. This happens to be true for the other protections in Title VII, as well, though oftentimes race and sex are assumed on some apparent characteristics, ultimately it comes down to expression. And religion, of course, always relies on expression, as nobody knows what anyone truly believes and only knows what they espouse. Also, national origin, which relies on express documentation and perhaps an accent or knowing a lot about your home country.

Without expression of these characteristics, there is no basis to discriminate. One could still be a bigot without, as in the example trying to hire the mascot with a woman inside, but one would never know if one was a successful bigot. And, besides, unsuccessful bigotry still violates the law against discrimination. If you fire someone because you believe they are one of those things, even if they aren’t, that’s still discriminatory.

Okay. So once you arrive at the realization that what sex really means is expression of sex, what is that? People don’t generally go around introducing themselves: “Hi, I’m Silver Lining and although I am dressed as a rubber chicken, I’m actually biologically female.” People almost never say what sex they are. Think about it, when was the last time you said aloud what sex you are? (And no cheating and saying it right now!)

Expression of sex, your social sexual identity, is based on some behaviors including how you dress, speak, your sexual orientation, the type of bicycle you ride, etc. Now, some people may express their social identity differently, by biting the heads or feet off the gummy bears first, for example. The court has to decide where to draw the line on what is a protected expression of sex, and what is just being a bit weird with your candy, dude.

And that analysis, which wasn’t really done in Bostock, probably comes down to commonality of a type of expression. That is, just because you express yourself in a unique way doesn’t mean it’s not protected. But is that expression of a type that is common to humans generally expressing their sex?

Anyway, the election is in nineteen weeks.