Musings from the Bunker 8/17/20
I have been studying French off-and-on since Junior High School. I love the language and regret never having developed a greater proficiency. I have come to the conclusion that my feeble attempts to improve will result in only modest results. The only way to really improve is through immersion with native speakers of the language. The idea that immersion can bring better understanding might provide a good metaphor for improving policing in our communities.
TO FUND OR NOT TO FUND?
We have been hearing a good deal about “de-funding” the police. I’m not sure any thinking person really accepts the silliness of a society without protections from crime and threats to public safety. But I suspect all of us agree, to one degree or another, that policing requires some serious change. This means redeploying funding to reducing the militaristic profile of the police and more closely connect the police with the communities they serve.
The cornerstone of an effort to reimagine policing could be a requirement that police training involve living for some period of time in the communities they will serve—getting to know the people and places of the community in a way that cannot be understood without immersion. There are a number of other changes that could happen in the short-term requiring not more funding or less—but a redeployment of resources. I am curious what others think about these ideas:
1. More time learning. Today the average time a newly minted graduate spends learning his or her job of the police academy learns his or her job is 13-14 weeks of training. Some put this number at 20 or so weeks. Whatever the length, it’s too short. This compares to two to four years in Germany. More education leads to better results. My suspicion is that the expense of longer and better training may actually be cost effective, enabling the training program to better ferret out “bad” police and resulting in fewer costly lawsuits and settlements in the future.
2. Community-based experiential learning. What about requiring police officers to have to live in the communities in which they serve during their training program? Why not purchase group homes in various communities throughout Los Angeles and require officers in training to rotate through for several months at each location? This might extend in the future to “continuing education” by returning to these communities for a few weeks a year during their time on the force. They would be forced to see the community at a human level. They would by necessity have to go on walks in the neighborhood, shop in the neighborhood, go to the local Starbucks, attend the local church, and actually have a feel for the people and communities they will serve.
3. Learning about the history of policing. Police officers in Germany are required to learn about the role the police played in the rise of the Nazis. Given the atrocities they learn about, including visiting places where tortures and murders at the hands of the police occurred, they have increased sensitivity to the risks of over-policing and police state practices. We should be teaching our policing forces about the past failings of the police.
4. Community-based policing. We need to get back to officers being integrally involved in their communities. They should be actively engaged in civic organizations and gatherings. And they should learn the meaning of the phrase, “to protect and to serve.”
5. Employ more social workers. Much of what police do is counsel domestic squabbles and neighbor arguments. Why not have some units staffed by a social worker and a police officer, rather than two officers? Dispute resolution is key to de-escalation of tension and avoidance of crimes before they are committed.
6. Train on how to de-escalate situations, particularly when firearms are involved. The first instinct ought not to be to fire on people but get people to surrender their arms with consequences that involve something less than prison time.
7. Reduce the number of guns on the street. Police kill more here than elsewhere in part because they’re scared. Many of their encounters are with people armed with deadly weapons. Let’s increase background checks, require firearms licensing, and institute buy-back programs. Fewer guns will reduce the likelihood of killings in response to perceived risk.
8. Disengage police unions from disciplinary proceedings. There are great reasons for unions—fair pay and hours come immediately to mind. But acting as part of the defense in all matters in which a police officer is facing discipline—even when the evidence is overwhelming against that officer—is a bad use of resources, makes it difficult to discipline bad officers and thwarts creating an environment of better behaviors.
Speaking of police states…
What went on in Portland—the long protest and occupation followed by an aggressive federal response (decried by the local authorities)—deserves some comment. There seems to me no question that there were large numbers of peaceful protesters. There also were probably some number of more violent or destructive hangers-on. That the protest continued an occupation of public property for a prolonged period of time probably deserved some sort of response at some point to disperse the crowd and move on.
There have been articles written—by some folks supportive of Black Lives Matter—arguing that the sort of occupation, while symbolic of fatigue or disappointment with inaction—doesn’t really achieve much. And it may cause harm by providing those fearful of these protests fuel to justify retaliatory action. Some commentators suggest it is now time for the protesters less on protesting and more on trying to achieve actual change.
That said, the response was excessive and gave rise to a more violent response to the federal violence. Many suggest that the federal response was not only over-the-top and might give rise to scenes of destruction, but it may have been designed to do just that. I hope that in a Biden administration there can be a balance between enforcement of the law and respect for the safety of the very people supposedly being protected.
THE POSTAL SERVICE
Most thinking people are concerned that the President’s repeated harangues against mail-in balloting will yield problems. And his defunding of the Postal Service and throwing roadblocks interfering with its ability to deliver ballots will result in confusion and potential catastrophe. Indeed, many have suggested that in some states, the President may be in the lead on election night and simply maintain that all uncounted ballots (which presumably would come from Democratic votes) should be negated. Lawsuits will follow in myriad States.
But much of the speculation to date has been around the state-by-state actions and lawsuits. What if, instead, the focus on the postal service is an attempt to “federalize” the national vote? States manage their own elections, as mandated in the Constitution. But what if the President determines on election day or shortly thereafter that all undelivered ballots are to be seized by Federal Marshals because of their presumed fraudulence, pending an investigation into what the President already has called the “most…FRAUDULENT Election in history”? I’m guessing he can find some trumped-up (sorry for the pun) improprieties justifying the federal government’s interest. Then all sorts of issues arise regarding the provenance of the votes and the lawsuits will take months to resolve. We are in for a rocky ride.