Who Serves Whom?

UnknownI have been thinking this week about the struggle going on regarding PERF’s call to “raise the standard” with regard to the “objective reasonableness” deadly force standard of USSC Graham v. Connor.

If Sir Robert Peel was right, that the “people are the police and the police are the people” and that police use of force in inversely related to public cooperation and support, then I ask, “Why is there an argument?”

Wouldn’t it be better to reduce use of force if it builds trust and legitimacy in the community? Are police to be treated differently than the community from which they are recruited?

Let’s take a look at some civic principles: In a democracy, people elect persons to represent them (majority rules with Constitutional protections) — people like mayors. Mayors (or an appointed police commission) appoint persons to be in charge of public safety — like police chiefs.

Police chiefs then work for mayors on behalf of the electorate, manage subordinate police, set policies, hire and promote, promulgate rules, create training programs, and establish standards of police conduct.

So who does the police chief have to listen to? The mayor? His or her officers? The community? In a free society the answer is all three. While there exist many varied, and sometimes conflicting, voices among these interest groups, it is the job of a chief of police to discern those voices and how they will impact the direction of the police all while keeping the actions of the police within the Constitution and its Bill of Rights.

So if the public wishes their police to reduce their use of deadly force in the community, that is, to raise the current standard, can the police chief simply say that changing the standard would compromise the safety of his or her officers and that’s the end of the discussion?

I don’t think it should work that way.

What do you think?

7 Comments

  1. If a Police chief can’t or wouldn’t do anything about raising the standards of reducing force by using modern de-escalation techniques plus getting his officers into a martial arts program where they learn patience, be physically fit, develop self-confidence, grow as a person mentally and spiritually, plus getting their butts kick by the Dojo instructor and other students, then the chief should not be a chief at all.

    Like

  2. “Wouldn’t it be better to reduce force if it builds trust and legitimacy in the community?” Reducing force may or may not increase trust and legitimacy. The research tells us that we increase trust and legitimacy by increasing perceptions of procedural justice. Increasing perceptions of procedural justice ought to be our objective. We should use only that force necessary to achieve legitimate police objectives regardless of whether that increases or decreases trust and legitimacy. Coupling the two objectives limits the extent to which we can accomplish either.

    “Are police to be treated differently than the community from which they are recruited?” They are treated differently. My research has shown significant perceptions of injustice in a large police agency relative to pay and benefits, assignments, and promotions. From my experiences in dealing with police officers from all across America, the conditions in most police agencies are very similar to those I found in the large agency in which I conducted that research. Does the plumber’s rule apply? Other research has found that perceptions of injustice increase employee theft and mistreatment of customers. There is as of yet no empirical link between police officer perceptions of injustice and community perceptions of injustice. Of course there is not a long line of police chiefs at my door asking me to determine if the reason their citizens feel mistreated is because their officers are mistreated.

    You may recall a saying from the 60’s, “Before you clean up the world, clean up your bedroom.” Police leaders in America have been ineffective advocates for organizational justice for police officers. Often through terrible practices police leaders are themselves the source of procedural injustice.

    So if the public wishes their police to reduce their use of deadly force in the community, that is, to raise the current standard, can the police chief simply say that changing the standard would compromise the safety of his or her officers and that’s the end of the discussion? Yes. If the Mayor (the representative of the people) asks the engineer to design the bridge with less rebar to reduce the cost can the engineer simply say it that changing the standard would compromise the safety of those who drive over the bridge and that’s the end of the discussion? Yes. Or the engineer could buckle under to political pressure and build a bridge that is unsafe.

    The difference between engineers and police chiefs is that engineers adhere to professional standards established outside the political process. Most professions have found ways to operate in government without abdicating professional standards to elected officials. Policing has not yet become a profession and police chiefs consequently have no professional standards to which they should adhere. The only standards that are reasonably apolitical are those enshrined in the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and subsequent case law. It should come as no surprise that many police chiefs cling to those legal standards in the absence of professional standards.

    I believe that PERF’s recommendations are a start down the road to professional status. Unfortunately those standards rest on a shaky foundation of little research in the extant literature that should inform those recommendations. I am doubtful as to the likelihood of a strong regimen of original research that would expand and/or modify those recommendations. Professional policing would be costly.

    Like

  3. LAPD Police Chief Parker believed in professionalizing his department when he took over in the 1950s and not be subject to political pressures and/or being corrupted by the criminal underworld. He succeeded making his department free of criminal influence; however, he still use the department to back up the political, social, and economic status quo in LA even if it meant violating the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

    Policing has been in America for nearly 180 years. That should have been more than enough time to make it a profession.

    Like

  4. “Police leaders in America have been ineffective advocates for organizational justice for police officers. Often through terrible practices police leaders are themselves the source of procedural injustice.”

    You would think that police officers would be at the forefront of making justice fairly and equally for everyone considering the fact that they get mistreated by people in their own ranks.

    Like

Leave a Reply to Mark Bowman Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.