Department Of First Things First
Hard to imagine that, in this picture, my father was younger than I am now and I was younger than my daughter Belle is now
Gone from this earth; always present in our hearts and minds. Chester (“Chet the Jet”) Bryan Parnell died this evening, thirteen years ago.
* * *
Department Of One Solution To A Seemingly Unsolvable Problem?
“The rift between police and Black Americans can feel impossible to bridge. But in his work with police departments across the U.S., Yale psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff has found novel ways to address the problem.”
(Hidden Brain website)
Okay; everybody drop what you’re doing right now – unless you’re doing something really important, like making me dinner. Whether you have ever (or never) had any encounters with police officers, or you y’all’s own self are a police officer, please listen to this podcast episode: Hidden Brain: Changing Behavior, Not Beliefs
HB host Shankar Vedantam:
“I find it fascinating that you’re effectively addressing problems related to racial disparities in policing, without accusing police officers of being bigots. There’s very little finger-pointing in your work, right? “
“In my day to day when I’m talking with law enforcement, when I’m talking with communities, when I’m talking to my team, we talk about racism a *whole lot.* What we *don’t* talk about is whether or not you meant to (a cop acting in a way that promotes racial disparity), or are ‘a good person.’
We don’t talk about ‘character,’ almost ever. But everybody who can answer the question, ‘Would you like to kill fewer people – would you like to be engaged in less racial disparity?” with a ‘Yes, I would like to do that morally obvious thing,’ there are things that can be done. But we don’t have to talk about racism the way most people talk about racism, because the way most people talk about racism is what kind of person you are, and I have found that to be almost entirely irrelevant to making the problem get better.” 
Psychologist Goff says the key to changing policing disparity and lowering incidences of police using unnecessary force is focusing on the *behavior* of officers, not on their *character.* Whether or not a person holds entrenched/racist beliefs is subjective, difficult if not impossible to assess – how do we really know what is in a person’s mind?  – and ultimately impossible to screen for (truly racist applicants would learn how to “lie”, on both tests and in interviews, if they were determined to join the police force).
And whether or not an officer aspires to be a card-carrying Klansman or considers himself to be the reincarnation of Mr. Rogers is not the issue – his behavior is. And his behavior is directly influenced by his training, which colors his perceptions (even when the officer is a POC  ) of what kind of persons and situations are inherently dangerous.
Goff and others studying the situation point to the fact that it is the police officer’s behaviors, not indiscernible attitudes or “character,” which cause problems. Goff argues for DE-escalation, not defunding, for police. He calls for changing the training for officers and for those who deploy them, including recognizing situations where employing officers with badges and guns should only be a last resort and not a first response (i.e. most traffic infractions and mental health calls and neighborhood disputes).
The character of police officers involved in, for example, the shooting of an unarmed Black man, is impugned or assumed: “The officers must be racist! That may or may not be the case, but Goff argues that we should focus our attention on what we can measure and alter, rather than what the officer’s “character” might be, which we can only presume. We should look at the behavior involved, including:
* how officers are trained to react a certain situations
* knowledge of the fact that certain situations predispose the officers to respond more violently and/or fearfully: such as, the foot chase and high speed auto chases. And even – especially, as it turns out – the lowly, “routine” traffic stop.
“Thanks to police culture and training, many officers have been conditioned to believe — *wrongly* — that traffic stops are high-risk, the report explains. (Research has indicated that the chances of a police officer being killed during a traffic stop are actually less than 1 in 3.6 million.) The high-risk mindset leads to overreaction and hyper-violence against people who are not a threat.
‘All [officers have] heard are horror stories about what could happen,’ Sarah Mooney, assistant police chief in West Palm Beach, told the Times. ‘It is very difficult to try to train that out of somebody.’ ”
( “New Report Details How and Why Routine Traffic Stops Turn Deadly,”
The first time moiself heard or read about the call to, “defund the police” I expressed my concern that the term was *extremely* poorly chosen. It is fear-inducing for many if not the majority of citizens, and likely to put police officers on the defensive and refuse to listen to rational calls for reform.
One acquaintance shared her opinion that “…it doesn’t actually matter (what phrase you use) because they (police departments) are going to disagree no matter what you call it.”
Maybe…? With a large, mmmmmmmm.
Second thought: No; it does matter what you call it. Because, words and phrases both carry and impart meaning – that’s the whole point of arguing about them.
And the meaning of “defund the police” is different from the desired outcome for police reform, which is not slashing essential police budgets, but reassigning and re-delegating certain tasks police have had to handle. These specific tasks are those which police officers and departments across the nation have complained about for decades – tasks that have been defaulted to police to handle, despite police lacking the training or mandate to handle them, e.g., the post deinstitutionalization mental health crises.
“When a person has a mental-health crisis in America, it is almost always law enforcement—not a therapist, social worker, or psychiatrist—who responds to the 911 call. But most officers aren’t adequately trained to deal with mental-health emergencies. And while laws intended to protect civil liberties make it exceedingly difficult to hospitalize people against their will, it is remarkably easy to arrest them.
As a result, policing and incarceration have effectively replaced emergency mental-health care, especially in low-income communities of color. In many jails, the percentage of people with mental illness has continued to go up even as the jail population has dropped. Today, nearly half the people in U.S. jails and more than a third of those in U.S. prisons have been diagnosed with a mental illness, compared to about a fifth in the general population.”
(“The Truth About Deinstitutionalization,” The Atlantic )
The mental health issue is arguable the most complex, with almost all sides involved in the discussion admitting that there is a huge problem, but offering no doable solutions…other than agreeing on the fact that the vast majority of mental-health related calls to emergency services should not involve or be handled by police. But there are several less complicated fixes to other issues that could make a big difference in racial disparities in policing. One of these fixes involves simply reducing the amount of unnecessary citizen-police encounters in non-life-threatening situations.
There’s no reason for badges-and-guns officers to be involved in citing minor traffic infractions, non-violent mental health crises “checks,” or policing petty neighborhood disputes, when community resources – e.g. trained mediators, mental health professionals, road cameras or even 1920s-style “traffic vigilantes” [see below] – could be used.
Some cities and police departments recognize this, and are advising their police officers to “no longer pursue drivers for low-level traffic infractions — including expired plates and broken headlights — unless related to an immediate safety threat.”  These recommendations are due in part to studies showing wide racial disparities in traffic stops, including one massive study cited by Kelsey Shoub, a professor of political science at the University of South Carolina, which analyzed data from twenty *million* traffic stops. The study’s data provided “…few big takeaways,” Professor Shoub said, “…and the first two are probably not surprising.”
“The first is that DWB (‘driving while black’) is very much a thing; it’s everywhere and it’s not just a North Carolina or a Southern problem but across the United States. ….The second thing is that it appears to be more systemic than a few ‘bad apple’ officers engaged in racial profiling.”
Significant findings from Shoub’s and her colleagues’ analysis of the study’s dataset include:
* Blacks were 63 percent more likely to be stopped even though, as a whole, they drive 16 percent less. Taking into account less time on the road, blacks were about 95 percent more likely to be stopped.
* Blacks were 115 percent more likely than whites to be searched in a traffic stop (5.05 percent for blacks, 2.35 percent for whites).
* Contraband was more likely to be found in searches of white drivers.
“So, black drivers were stopped disproportionately more than white drivers compared to the local population and were at least twice as likely to be searched, but they were slightly less likely to get a ticket,” Shoub says. “That correlates with the idea that black drivers were stopped on the pretext of having done something wrong, and when the officer doesn’t see in the car what he thought he might, he tells them to go on their way.”
(“Racial disparities revealed in massive traffic stop dataset.”
U of SC post, 6-12-20 )
A driver speeding 100 mph through red light after red light? That person is a danger to everyone – go get him, asolutely. But having and guns-and-badges officers pull someone over for expired registration tags or for failing to properly signal a right-hand turn or exceeding the speed limit by 5 mph? Use capture camera footage or whatever – send them a ticket in the mail, but only escalate when absolutely necessary.
“Traffic stops are the most common form of police-citizen interaction, but for many citizens, they are also the most dangerous.
Although many people view traffic enforcement as a basic aspect of policing, this has not always been the case….
How traffic enforcement evolved over time
Traffic enforcement has been a responsibility of policing since the invention and wide use of automobiles and other vehicles. Cars were seen as dangerous, and originally, there were no rules or regulations governing their use. Outraged over accidents and other safety concerns, civilians demanded public safety support, despite law enforcement’s own lack of automobile use.
Traffic enforcement started in the 1920s with ‘traffic vigilantes’ who regulated driving by handing out tickets, keeping track of license plates, and following high-speed drivers. As police gained access to more technology, this role increasingly fell to them. Since then, police have used traffic stops to stop, detain, and search people they believe are engaging in criminal activity.
Traffic stops are now one of the most common acts of policing. Officers engaged in traffic enforcement have the discretion to decide whether to stop a driver based on a long list of potential violations, including not using a turn signal early enough, not using headlights on a cloudy day.… Officers have further discretion in how the stop is handled, including whether they will conduct a search of vehicle, issue a citation, arrest the driver, or let them go.
The deeply entrenched racial disparities in traffic enforcement and the continued killing of Black drivers show that regardless of intentions, the harms of traffic stops far outweigh any potential public safety benefits. Traffic stops result in neither increased trust in the police nor increased perceptions of safety among community members, and they often have the opposite effect.”
( “Police Traffic Stops Have Little to Do with Public Safety,”
Urban Wire: Crime Justice and Safety )
* * *
Punz For The Day
Yesterday I saw a police officer wearing a pilot’s uniform.
I thought it was odd; then I realized he was one of those plane clothes cops.
There’s a mysterious crime spree going on at our local IKEA.
The cops are having a hard time putting the pieces together.
Police officer: “I’m arresting you for downloading all of Wikipedia.”
Suspect: “No, wait! I can explain everything!”
I got pulled over by a cop who asked me if I had a police record.
I said, “No, but I’ve got a Sting CD.
* * *
May you remember that what you call something matters;
May you find another term for “defunding the police;”
May you get out that old Police album – or picture of a departed loved one – and appreciate
how the gifts of the past can enrich the present;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 The first footnote is not actually a footnote. This does not bode well for the completion of my Ph.D.
 We may have legal standards for proof of “intent,” but such standards are legal – not scientific – constructions.
 “Racial bias isn’t necessarily about how a person views himself in terms of race, but how he views others in terms of race…. In the case of police, all cops are dealing with enormous cultural and systemic forces that build racial bias against minority groups. Even if a black cop doesn’t view himself as racist, the way policing is done in the US is racially skewed — by, for example, targeting high-crime neighborhoods that are predominantly black. These policing tactics can also create and accentuate personal, subconscious bias by increasing the likelihood that officers will relate blackness with criminality or danger — leading to what psychologists call “implicit bias” against black Americans. Combined, this means the system as a whole — as well as individual officers, even black ones — by and large act in ways that are deeply racially skewed and, potentially, racist. ( excerpts from ” How systemic racism entangles all police officers — even black cops,” Vox )
 “Portland police halt minor traffic stops, citing disparity.” Abc news.