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How to get the police to behave better - Input Junkie
December 3rd, 2014
04:07 am

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How to get the police to behave better
No police killings in Richmond, CA

A spate of high-profile police shootings nationwide, most notably the killing of a black teen in Ferguson, Missouri, has stoked intense scrutiny of deadly force by officers and driven a series of demonstrations across the nation and the Bay Area. But in Richmond, historically one of the most violent cities in the Bay Area, the Police Department has averaged fewer than one officer-involved shooting per year since 2008, and no one has been killed by a cop since 2007.


Training, training, training-- and thinking.

While police across jurisdictions have fairly uniform policies enabling them to use force when they deem there is a risk to themselves or the public, Tirona says the difference in Richmond includes the rigor of training, the emphasis on communication with armed suspects, the thorough review of all force used and the philosophy that force must only be a last resort.

Richmond officers undergo firearm training monthly and role-playing scenarios for disarming suspects four times a year, a higher average than many other departments, Nolan said. The role-playing exercises, in which officers bark commands while holding their guns and make split-second decisions when confronted by armed residents, began in 2008, the same time that officer-involved shootings in the department plummeted. Richmond cops shot five people, one fatally, in 2006-07.

Since then, violent crime in the city has plunged, no officers have been shot, and no suspects have been killed by officers' bullets.

Magnus has done something in Richmond that he believes is not done enough in other departments: He's been willing to second-guess the deadly force used by other cops.

"We use a case study approach to different incidents that happen in different places. When there is a questionable use-of-force incident somewhere else, we study it and have a lot of dialogue," Magnus said. "It's a model that is used in a range of other professions, but in some police circles, it's seen as judging in hindsight and frowned on. In my mind, that attitude is counterproductive."


Please note that the crucial thing is *not* punishing police who use force inappropriately. Instead, the approach is to prevent bad behavior by the police. I believe people (perhaps especially Americans) trust punishment way too much.

I'm not going to say punishment never works, but punishment is based on at least three unreliable premises. One premise is that people can't protect themselves from being punished, but sometimes they can, especially if they're police. Another is that if there's enough pain associated with an action, people will do what the punisher wants instead. However, people may not understand what's wanted, they may believe that the cost of doing what's wanted is too high for them, or they may not know how to do it.

Related to the first problem, punishment only has a chance of working if there's a specific sort of relationship between the punisher and the punished-- the person being punished has to accept the authority of the punisher. Otherwise, the punishment will be evaded or resisted.

Instead of punishment, the training system makes it a sensible default for the police to not attack members of the public.

I'd like to see more of this sort of policy-- I'm not sure how to get it. Publicizing police departments who use this approach seems like a good start.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1056843.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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From:inquisitiveravn
Date:December 3rd, 2014 11:05 pm (UTC)
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The thing you're missing is that punishment is inevitably post-facto. If you want to avoid problems, you have to take measures to prevent them before they happen, e.g. communicating expectations clearly and training the cops in de-escalating situations.
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From:drplokta
Date:December 4th, 2014 06:45 am (UTC)
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Richmond CA has a population of 100,000. Having one person shot dead by the police every decade or so is not exactly a triumph of good policing. If they were to achieve the same rate per capita as the UK (average of one fatal shooting by police per year in a country of 60 million), they'd need to be doing about sixty times as well.
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From:madfilkentist
Date:December 4th, 2014 10:37 am (UTC)
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Judging the effectiveness of a policy by comparing the outcome with another country, rather than with comparable communities or with past performance in the same community, isn't a meaningful approach.

Getting relevant comparison data is difficult, though. According to an article on the Washington Post's site, there's no reliable information on the number of fatal police shootings per year in the US.
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From:andrewducker
Date:December 4th, 2014 12:33 pm (UTC)
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I think that appreciating when systems improve is a vital part of encouraging them to improve and helping those improvements spread.
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From:apostle_of_eris
Date:December 6th, 2014 06:47 am (UTC)
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Institutional culture. In a lot of departments, it's toxic. Just not all.
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