Woke Police Reform Doesn't Work
This summer, street anarchists and militias doubled down on their exploitation of fatal police-involved shootings as straw arguments to legitimize widespread rioting.
A 2019 landmark, five-year study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by five university scholars reported that fatal shootings involving black and white officers disproportionately occur in minority neighborhoods with greater rates of violent crime and show no evidence of anti-black or Latino disparities. The study shook the sensibilities of the professoriate and raised the hackles of the anti-police movement.
The research drew an immediate rebuke and ejection from the journal, attended by an author apology over the temporary loss of their senses. It unveiled an effort by progressive academia to treat with utter contempt any research supporting the claim that fatal police shootings are remote events, blind to race, ethnicity, and gender, and negligible in situations where the police are found at fault.
Behind the campus gates, quantitative research has long gone woke. Simple math no longer adds up and science is bent through a political prism. Undesirable research outcomes are tossed out and replaced by idealistic assumptions about the world around us. Academic censorship stifles inquiry and deductive reasoning. Lost is any attempt to understand how a three-quarter million strong and armed police workforce can turn so many daily brushes with armed felons, the mentally ill, enraged motorists, and wife beaters into so few deadly outcomes.
For years, a movement of latter-day Jacobins, egged on by Democrat presidents, a cheering academia, and a collusive media, have been sounding an alarm that the police are intrinsically racist and must suffer deprecation. This illiberal view of police by the political Left doesn’t hold water. The Police Foundation found that three-quarters of police officers are well-educated, culturally savvy, and capable to confront any public safety challenge. For a plurality of departments, recruiting is a year-long examination and interview process, followed by three to six months of arduous in-service training filled with psychological, physical, and academic hurdles and topped off with a period of probation. Sworn officers return to the classroom several times a year, tested ad nauseum on rules and regulations, use of force policies, criminal law, and cultural and community relations. Career advancement comes through a highly competitive process of promotional testing or interviews. Few professions clear a bar set so high.
Misbehavior and racialism are not rampant in policing. Isolated police misconduct does crop up but advances in technology and supervisory accountability have combined to diminish those occurrences. With the advent of on-body and in-car videotaping and cell phone cameras in the hands of every motorist and pedestrian, the cop on patrol is a thespian in a real-life drama.
In 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rid himself and the DoJ of the Obama-era federal oversight of police departments. After 20 years of disrupting police operations in dozens of major cities, police consent decrees were revealed as ineffective examples of government overreach and a drawn-out money pit for local taxpayers. Federal monitoring teams, making up a parvenu of lawyers, retired major city chiefs, criminal justice scholars, and statisticians found themselves on park benches.
In the same way that white privilege has popped up to replace the declining stock value of race shaming, implicit bias training has come to rescue police from the sudden departure of federal watchdogs. A vintage psychology schtick from the 1990s, admitting to one’s unconscious biases was the perfect snake oil to frame police bigotry in ways that can be neither seen, touched, measured, or evaluated.
Implicit bias training persuades unwitting cops to recognize that they misjudge the book by its cover and need to think twice in place of snap decisions. That’s hunky-dory in the scripted setting of a slideshow, but unless you can foreshadow events faster than a speeding bullet, it doesn’t always lead to good outcomes on the street.
Implicit bias training uses fuzzy modeling in ways familiar to the university curricula of critical race theory, suggesting that the roles of victim and offender are reversed. Bringing cops to a lower opinion of themselves, their intuitions, and perceptions can bring about unintended and troublesome consequences, making them standoffish in community interactions and overly cautious when split-second actions are needed.
The social justice warriors may be jumping ship, however. The Huffington Post, a partisan blogsite never shy in their dim view of the police, has joined other progressive voices sounding a death knell for police bias training. HuffPo reports little evidence that it works in the long run, blaming the brevity of the instruction and no empirical evidence of its effectiveness on police behavior.
A more effective deterrent is that the stakes are high for cops found derelict in their duties. Legal and administrative punishments are often severe and well-publicized. By comparison, medical malpractice settlements and lawyer debarments are hushed backroom proceedings that shield culprits from embarrassing headlines. And while the scales of justice nowadays seem weighted in favor of street anarchy, springing dangerous inmates, and acquitting corrupt elections, the prospect of catching a rogue cop is still catnip for a federal agent or the political aspirations of a prosecutor.
All professions need to be brought back to the garage every now and then for a tune-up. Policing is no different. There have been several distinctive eras to American policing, some signaling the advent of technology and others retooling the way we fight crime. Many of these eras were ushered by association to a thoughtful concept, such as Broken Windows enforcement, CompStat, and community policing. All were the result of innovative collaborations between police executives and hands-on criminal justice scholars, driving three decades of crime reductions now reversed by political antics and empathies in Democrat-run cities.
A second Trump term will see police bias training and other critical race gimmicks drawn from public safety and quartered. Joe Biden, who may end up turning the White House into an assisted-living facility, will assert explicit bias in policing, restore DoJ intervention into local police practices, sue police departments into compliance, and impose oppressive federal consent decrees fueled by a progressive agenda beyond Obama’s wildest hopes and dreams.
The rank and file doesn’t need more classroom soul-searching; the chiefs do. Departmental leadership needs to focus on the needle rather than the haystack through the collection of patrol statistics, motor vehicle stop data, uses of force incidents, and citizen complaints. These are ciphers for compulsive misbehavior. Recalcitrant cops reveal themselves through the calculation of their actions and by comparison to their peers. Once singled out, swift intervention by supervisors or job termination can reduce or eliminate the future risk of destructive police-citizen confrontations. That’s what real reform looks like.
It is reflexive that those on the Left will always paint policing with a broad brush and in a bad light. The rest of us understand that policing is a noble and ethical profession made imperfect by recruiting from the human race.