In the wake of riots following the Police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many other Black Americans, and Trump’s earlier installation the likes of Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr as Attorney General; let US Cities find now to be a particularly good time to look anew at what they, the people, think should be the proper role of Police in America. It is time and time to rethink Policing in America. Any and all changes made need be made nationwide, else we would wind up forever dragging around this same Policing Model, a model purportedly somewhat based on some interpretation of the Old Testament of the Bible, a Model with ties to Slavery and Servitude. It is time and time that Policing in America broadly reflects current American values and thinking.
Police being an inclusive term; including all law enforcement agencies.
Much of what we now have was brought forward from 17th Century English Laws premised on protecting the property of the landed gentry, including the Monarch, since modified as required to allow for the added responsibility for public safety, … Today, many Police and Sheriff Departments are Economic and Political Fiefdoms. In December 2019, Barr said, “They have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves, … And if communities don’t give that support and respect, they may find themselves without the police protection they need.” Safe to assume that Sessions would have agreed. Here we are two generations into the Age of Technology with an Administration out of the 1960s and before. Taking off from Albert Camus’ Absurdism, we past Absurd quite a long ways back. Houston, we have hit bottom.
In times like these, the question must be:
What should be the role of the Police?
All communities need to have an organized response to Emergencies. For Emergencies such as fires, the Police usually assist Firefighters by blocking off the area, rerouting traffic, facilitating access to other Emergency Responders… In times of large scale Emergencies, the Police may need to coordinate an evacuation, maintain order, provide assistance as needed to Firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians, EMTs, …
In many cities, EMTs are part of the Fire Dept. In many of these cities, members of the Fire Dept. are trained as EMTs. We’ve all seen private company EMTs on call in their vehicles in parking lots, in coffee shops, … during slow periods. This is not very efficient. Though these EMTs don’t get paid very well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when they do get a call, the rates for their services are astronomically high, higher still if you are uninsured. They charge us for the dead time. Most Firefighters get paid well, whether or not they are EMTs. We pay the Firefighters whether they are responding to an emergency, sitting, washing their trucks, sleeping, … Better that Firefighters also be EMTs; that EMTs are part of the Publicly Funded Fire Dept.
A lot of Police Emergency calls involve Mental Health issues. Yet, most Police are not trained in Mental Health. More progressive cities stipulate that, for the calls involving Mental Health issues, the Police must be accompanied by a Mental Health Professional. Should a significant number of each Police shift to be trained as Emergency Mental Health Technicians, EMHTs? It might make for better Policing if a significant and sufficient number of Police were EMTs and EMHTs. Maybe Fire Departments’ EMTs should also be required to take EMHT training. Or, better yet, why not have Mental Heath Professionals respond to Mental Health Emergencies with Police assisting as needed? If Police are to deal with Mental Health issues; let’s ensure that they have the needed training.
Rather than going forth with Policing Models premised on policies that reach back to the 1950s and beyond; we need: Policing Policies that reach boldly forward; Policing that employs today’s technology, knowledge, and best thinking; Police Policies that take the decision making in re Policy away from the most retrograde and hand it to the more enlightened younger generations where it rightfully belongs.
Things currently wrong; things that are not the proper role of Police.
We are asking Police across America to cope with the consequences of inadequate Mental Healthcare and the lack of Economic Opportunity. In a better America with a better Economic Model, these would be taken care of by a better functioning Government. Across the Globe, poorly functioning Governments require ever larger, ever more authoritarian Policing.
If someone’s life is in imminent danger, it is justifiable for the Police to use whatever force necessary to protect that life. But, Police have been accorded too much authority. They have been given undue authority to use physical abuse and lethal force. Police response should be proportionate the seriousness of the suspected violation or crime, proportionate the compliance of a suspect. Police shouldn’t have the right to disrespect any member of the public, to subject any other human being to an indignity.
US Policing inherited a great amount of its authority from its English roots. This authority has since been enhanced by State and Federal Supreme Court rulings. A lot has changed, a lot has been learned since 18th Century England; since 19th and 20th Century America. Today’s Policing should be based on what is known in this the 21st Century. In the late 20th and early 21st Century there were US Supreme Court decisions (majority opinion often written by Justice Scalia) absolving Police of responsibility for their actions, or for their failure to act. In 30 Police conduct cases before the US Supreme Court in the past 3 decades, the Court has decided against the Police only twice. The Court needs to revisit some of these decisions, free the Nation of this legacy. Congress needs to address this issue of Police authority.
Two US Supreme Court decisions, District of Columbia vs Heller and McDonald vs Chicago, made it more likely that anyone being stopped by Police might be armed. This has resulted in Police being more likely to draw their weapons, more likely to shoot a suspect. Disarming America would be a positive step toward reducing Police killings.
The concept of Qualified Immunity for Police was introduced by the US Supreme Court in 1967 as a means of shielding members from personal liability for acts performed in the line of duty. Over the years, Court rulings have provided more and more immunity. Today, this Qualified Immunity has become Absolute. This needs to be revisited by Congress and the Courts. To date, Cities have paid out $billions in settlements for Police Abuse claims. Cities have gone bankrupt over these claims settlements. This talk we hear of requiring Police to carry Professional Liability is a way of bringing some of the economic consequences of bad behavior to bear on the Police themselves.
Control and Management of Police Departments is the responsibility of City governments. Police Unions rightfully should negotiate work rules; they should not be making Police management decisions.
In Ferguson, MO, Police arrests and tickets were a source of revenue for the City. For years, before the Interstates, small towns throughout Utah, Arizona, Nevada, … had speed traps. These small towns got most of their operating revenues from traffic tickets given out to travelers passing through late at night. Until recently, the California Highway Patrol operated an exceptionally productive speed trap on Hi Way 95 near Bishop, CA, one with Bishop and the State of California joint beneficiaries. California outlawed speed traps in 1959. If patrol cars had cameras, traffic violations could be recorded and the ticket mailed. Camera equipped drones could record a traffic violation and the ticket mailed. How many of us have been given a traffic ticket for no reason other than the issuing Police Officer was having a bad day. One either can either pay the ticket, or they can take a day off from work and drive 50 miles to court to contest it. If there was a video record, an impartial judge could decide whether a violation actually occurred.
Today, in some southern states, Police enforce draconian laws premised on laws meant for the days of Slavery, laws little changed from their 17th English origins. These Police are a part of Legal Systems that feed Cruel, Antiquated, Corrupt, Prison systems that Market Prison Labor for Fee. Jeff Sessions comes from one of those states. Jim Sessions has shown himself to be incapable of changing his mind about Policing and law enforcement; to be someone not smart enough to change his mind. While the rest of the World has thought anew about Policing and Law Enforcement, Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr would impose their retrograde beliefs in these regards on the Nation. These Southern State Legal and Justice Systems need to be abolished and then reformed along with the reformation of those of the rest of the Nation.
Sheriff Departments across America are growing by leaps and bounds. They’ve gotten the public to fund the doubling of their force size, the buying of lots of new vehicles, and the building of ever bigger jails. The source of this growth? Drugs. Drug use may be up because of lack of economic opportunities, is very bad for Society; but it’s been very good for the Business of Law Enforcement.
The ready availability of video evidence of Police Abuse during arrests, in response to demonstrations, has been transformative. There’s no going back to the good old days when the public was dependent on the media; when the media might choose to not show Police Abuse. Police Unions have too long been successful in keeping Police personnel records from the Public. This is finally, rightfully, changing. Another change that, too, needs to be Nationwide.
All drugs (except antibiotics) should be OTC for adults.
Great post Ken,
I got through this and came up with 13 big umbrella questions to really ponder, 3 on the philosophical question of how we can improve current roles police are appropriately undertaking and 10 on the factors outside of them that influence diff’t law enforcement agencies in diff’t but many times similar ways. Three major notes I find worth mentioning:
– You are spot on with the mental health (and I’d add disability) training, 50% of police brutality victims are disabled in some way. Also, better mental health coverage for law enforcement is warranted. I federal building I used to work at was shot at by a ret’d officer having a serious, tragic and seemingly untreated mental issue episode.
– With all of this new research finally coming to light, and it seeming as if we are getting better evidence (https://twitter.com/samswey/status/1180655701271732224), I believe this could be a partial hook for reparations proposals by making substantive use of taxpayer money. I believe with perhaps a commission/ ALI analysis of those Southern laws could create a criteria checklist for which dept’s should be defunded/ disbanded/ reformed giving them time to modify their behaviors and laws. The reason I think reparations or some other bill is necessary is because it is very difficult for the federal gov’t to interfere with local policing.
3- I’d like to know how you propose separating police union work negotiation rules from their management of themselves as levarage for said negotiations? Honestly, that one has me stumped.
Amid all that somber contemplation, I read Davebarnes comment and could not stop laughing. Thanks for that.
Factual correction. US 95 is in Nevada. US 395 runs through Bishop.
You may call it a speed trap, but as someone who has driven that road every week since ’92, what I see is the number of speeders not ticketed far exceeds those that are. It is not uncommon to see southbound traffic coming into Bishop hit speeds in the 80’s or higher, and that is just coasting downhill. Northbound into Bishop is almost as bad, and the flat terrain does not give you a good feel for how fast you are traveling. I set my cruise control at the limit or +5mph, and have never had a ticket. I don’t even see that many people getting stopped. Bishop is big enough to have stop lights and cross traffic, but the two towns just South of here don’t, and when someone blows through town at 65 or higher my friends are the pedestrians they are endangering. Locals drive in their cars just to cross the street, because it is too dangerous to try to walk. Not just us old folks, either.
Interesting commentary. I live in Michigan. On US 23 heading northbound, 70 is the speed limit. Today, 80 is the new 70 in the slow lane. The chief of police in Green Oak told his officers he does not want his officers out on US 23 ticketing. This stretch of road near US 96 is one of the more dangerous segments. Not sure what it will take to get people to slow down other than enforcement in a reasonable manner. The stats show, the faster you go and the closer you drive to another driver, the higher the stats for death.
It seems to mostly come down to stopping police from interacting with the public while wielding weapons. You can either take the weapons away from the police, or you can take the police off the streets, or both (retaining where absolutely necessary from actual public safety related crimes, i.e. not giving traffic tickets).
For Republicans you would think this would be red meat. They get to union bust, they get to cut government payrolls, they probably get to collect more fine and fee revenue too. If they don’t want to, then something else is up.
In my town the police used to be responsible for issuing parking tickets. Needless to say, enforcement was spotty at best, and plenty of people took advantage of it. Once a parking department was established, you started actually seeing people go get their neighborhood stickers, and every morning you’d see a long line of subway rider cars with tickets. There are a lot of things that people who aren’t police are just better at.
@Dave Barnes – yea, but where are going to find adults. They can’t even find one to be president.
Amid the tumult over police brutality allegations across the country, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to reexamine the much-criticized, modern-day legal doctrine created by judges that has shielded police and other government officials from lawsuits over their conduct.
In an unsigned order, the court declined to hear cases seeking reexamination of the doctrine of “qualified immunity.” Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, saying the “qualified immunity doctrine appears to stray from the statutory text.”
It takes the votes of four justices to grant review of a case.
…Two Supreme Court justices have repeatedly urged the court to reexamine qualified immunity doctrine: Sonia Sotomayor, arguably the court’s most liberal justice, and Thomas, arguably its most conservative.
In one previous dissent, Sotomayor said the court “displays an unflinching willingness” in allowing the lower courts to grant qualified immunity to police officers but “rarely intervenes” when lower courts go too far. This “one-sided approach” transforms qualified immunity into “an absolute shield for law enforcement officers,” she wrote.
Similar unusual ideological alliances have been formed by organizations that file briefs regularly at the court — from the conservative/libertarian Cato Institute and the Institute for Justice to the liberal American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, all of which have urged the court to revisit the qualified immunity doctrine.
An officer’s average income is ~$53,000 compared to a median income in the US of ~$63,000 and a mean income of ~$90,000. Kind of tells you something, heh? Top end loaded skewing the average? Appears to be a matter of paying taxes to attract and hire better officers who lack the warrior mentality. Perhaps???
Low taxes does not necessarily equate to hiring better people . . .
From David (The Wire) on Amanpour & Co
Have you used opioids?
The battle has been against the wrong agency. People do not control the supply of illicit drugs, businesses do. Here is an example:
Fighting Opioid and Painkiller Addiction
I am going to take you to one post of mine which documents how this all started and you can watch the numbers increase year after year from the start of OxyContin going forward. And see where it was at previous to the introduction of this opioid. You can even see how Purdue and other companies sold Opioids as being nonaddictive. It is all there Ken, corporate interests sold addiction to the American public and when it was stymied, other countries brought it in through NY, CA, Canada, Michigan, etc. as the Chinese started to pollute the US.
Everything is here Ken. If you want to learn how we got into this situation from 1968 onward, this post will tell you ho it happened for opioids. The timeline is there. The misuse of a letter to the NEJM is there. The numbers of citations of that letter are there. If you want a 2000 or so quick history on how we got most of the way to today, here it is. Opioid Use since 1968 and Why It’s Abuse Increased
To one commenter, I said: “Do you understand what I am saying in this post? The Opioid epidemic was a deliberate calculated move by the pharma industry to cause people to become addicted through the lies in using the NEJM letter/paragraph and the blocking of legislation.”
This is far better than what this guy is saying. I am going to the source and he is attacking the end result. Follow the money.
I agree with everything you say about Opioids, Purdue, …
Simon, a former Baltimore Sun Police Reporter, is famous for writing the 2002-2008 TV Series ‘The Wire’. The drugs in the Wire, as I understood it, were of the international sort, coming in from offshore. Simons point in the interview, which isn’t obvious from watching ‘The Wire’, was that the war on drugs destroyed policing, destroyed neighborhoods, … while denying the underlying economic, lack of opportunity, basis for the problems. The waterfront, longshoremen, season; the drug corner season, … these could all be seen as failures of the economic model. I don’t think that it was at all that obvious, but Simon says that pointing out the problem of the war on drugs was what the series was all about. Economics and lack of opportunity, no doubt, played a big role in the Opioid Epidemic.
It was started in the US by Purdue and other companies later. They sold the myth that opioids were not addictive. Read the NEJM letter from 1980 and understand how it was abused to promote OxyContin. It only migrated off shore when they started to crack down on abuse in the US. We did it to ourselves.
I find the juxtaposition of these two stories most interesting: