It’s About the SYSTEM!

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“A black cop shoots a black man who displays a gun while fleeing an arrest and black folks are upset? I don’t get it…”

What is it we who are white cannot understand? I hear this too often: “A black cop shoots a black man who displays a gun while fleeing an arrest and black folks are upset? I don’t get it…”

We are so far beyond this simplistic response that it stuns me. It’s no longer just about white cops shooting unarmed black youths. It’s about a system that needs to be greatly changed; to be reformed!

So what is this system? It is a system plagued with unfairness, disrespect, and excessive use of force. It is no longer about Darrel Wilson in Ferguson and Michael Brown – it’s now about what not only is happening in America but what has happened historically for a long, long time.

Our system of criminal justice needs major reform because it is unfair, it doesn’t work for everyone, and it does not do what it is supposed to do — rehabilitate offenders so they come back into our society as better and less aggressive people.

I have devoted my life to the art of policing. When I look at the system I see the same wrong things I saw over 50 years ago. At that time I firmly believed what I still believe today — police can make a huge positive difference. If a citizen must wait for a judge or jury to receive justice it is far too late. The opportunity to grant justice and fairness begins on the streets of America and the people best positioned to do that is our police.

An educated, well-trained, mature, honest, respectful, and emotionally controlled police officer can do more to assure fairness and justice in our country than any prosecutor or judge can ever accomplish.

What we need today is for police leaders to agree to take on that role: to be the justice leaders, to be the guardians and protectors of our Constitutional values and our way of life. What police leaders are positioned to do is enormous as they uphold the sacred values and principles of our great democracy.

At the same time, these leaders must continuously improve the systems in which they work; that their work systems and procedures are fair, non-discriminatory, and assure justice for all. This means constant vigilance in matters, for example, of force use, stops and searches, and citation use, and the practice of Procedural Justice throughout their organizations. In short, “what comes out the spout” in the delivery of police services, not what is promised. There should be hard data to support organizational claims.

So let’s not overly focus on bad cops as much as look for organization’s that do not, collectively, practice what the community desires their police to be and do.

And the only way we are going to know we are improving policing is by having real-time data available; that is, personally gathering information regarding the quality of police-citizen encounters. If we, as a nation, can know the state of our economy and job-availability on almost an hourly basis, we ought to know whether or not our police are doing a good job.

13 Comments

  1. ” If a citizen must wait for a judge or jury to receive justice it is far too late. The opportunity to grant justice and fairness begins on the streets of America and the people best positioned to do that is our police.”

    Can you give an example of this. One of the main complaints is that police administer “justice” in the field. Particularly stated as judge and executioner. I know you don’t mean negative justice, so when you start talking about police granting justice what do you mean.

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    1. I try to make those points collectively in this blogsite and in my book, “Arrested Development.” I am talking about the ability to be just, fair, and respectful in the substantial encounters any one police officer has on a day to day basis. It is the concept, the idea, of simply doing good; be a just and honest person, showing empathy to those who are considered the least among us… “Do justice, walk humbly,,”

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  2. System? The inequities and disparate treatments in our system of justice were glaringly apparent to me very early in my career. My experience though is that the vast majority of injustice comes after the police have ended their involvement in a particular case. I have seen people treated unjustly by individual police officers and organizations, but that pales in comparison to the other injustices in the system. We are currently suffering the availability heuristic writ large. The media has chosen to frequently highlight incidents of police use of deadly force. The police have become the convenient whipping boys for society’s political, social, and economic ills. The irony is that we are now the victims of bias and the perpetrators of very little bias.

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  3. Mr. Bowman, the police play a large part in helping to create the society’s political, social and economic ills because of the police officer’s own bias and prejudices as individual and as a collective group.

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  4. Pingback: Improving Police
  5. Mr. Gunther:

    Please offer some evidence to support your assertion. Where it has been measured police biases tend to mirror those found in the population in that area. Research has also shown that training can reduce the extent to which biases, which we all possess, affect actions.

    Correll, J., Park, B., Judd, C.M., Wittenbrink, B., & Sadler, M.S. (2007). Across the thin blue line: Police officers and racial bias in the decision to shoot. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1006-1023.

    Correll, J. (2009). Racial bias in the decision to shoot? The Police Chief, 54-58.

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  6. Mr. Bowman, I suggest you read the book Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America by Kristian William where it talks about the cops playing a large part in contributing to political, social, and economic ills of this country. Also, read the book To Protect and to Serve: The LAPD’s Century of War in the City of Dreams by Joe Domanick.

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  7. I haven’t read Williams’ book, but I did review the Selected Bibliography. I saw very few references to peer reviewed empirical research. Anyone can have an opinion. Judgments are formed based on empirical evidence. If you state a causal relationship you should be able to support that assertion with empirical evidence that demonstrates correlation, temporal relationship, and that rules out other reasonable causal factors.

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  8. Cops play a large part in creating the conditions that this country faced when you look at how they crush lablor unions, illegally spying on the American people for years, terrorizes Afro-American for decades, etc. Those are the facts; otherwise, why is it that the police have so much trouble with trying to get along with the rest of American society?

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  9. “If you state a causal relationship you should be able to support that assertion with empirical evidence that demonstrates correlation, temporal relationship, and that rules out other reasonable causal factors.”

    Well, just about everyone in the South knew that you had entire police departments that were members of the KKK or sympathize with the KKK. How much empirical evidence do you need on that issue?

    If more cops would follow your advice, they would not be in so much trouble with getting sue for sending the wrong person to prison or fighting tooth and nail to prevent an innocent person from being released from prison. I also wish conservatives would present empirical evidence that liberalism, unions, and socialism have been destroying this country for decades but we all know they can’t produce one shred of evidence to prove it. Finally, you have corporations denying climate change and how we are finding out that companies like Exxon know all about it from their own research back in the 1970s, but suppress it for years. It shows you just how much CEOs only care about money instead of society.

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  10. “The police have become the convenient whipping boys for society’s political, social, and economic ills. The irony is that we are now the victims of bias and the perpetrators of very little bias.”

    Offer your evidence that cops are the whipping boys for society ills and are the victims of bias? Cops of little bias. If cops could contain their bias, we would have an impartial police force that would stand up to the corporations and the wealthy elite.

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  11. Correll, et al. referenced above is empirical evidence of the level of bias in a region being similar to that found in police officers and that training obviates the adverse effects of bias in decision-making.

    Before black swans were discovered in Australia everyone knew that all swans were white.

    Listen to many commentators following a police shooting who characterize that shooting as murder or as an extra-judicial execution before the facts surrounding the shooting are known to even those tasked with investigating the shooting, Some of those commentators might be ignorant of the legal definition of murder but many who make those statements are not ignorant. Those people and the media are creating the potential for widespread use of the availability heuristic (see the Nobel prize winning work of Kahneman and Taversky).

    I can offer anecdotal evidence of being a victim of bias. While on patrol one afternoon I saw a vehicle traveling with a young black girl standing in the foot well of the rear passenger compartment directly behind the female driver. The child was obviously young enough to be at least seat belted or perhaps in a child safety seat. I stopped the female driver, who I found was the child’s mother. The child’s mother was aware that her child was not seat belted as she should have been. The mother stated that the only reason I stopped her was because she was black. While I don’t expect thanks from anyone for ensuring the safety of a child, I shouldn’t be accused of being a racist.

    Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that blacks in America disproportionately don’t use seat belts and child restraints and as such are injured and killed in vehicle crashes disproportionately. Every culture, and notably the police (NHTSA data show that a little over half of officers in fatal crashes aren’t wearing seat belts), has dysfunctional norms. We say we value diversity because it brings different values, experiences, etc…. to the table, but when confronted with the reality that some differences are dysfunctional we either turn a blind eye or accuse those who point out those differences of being racists. Disproportionate representation in the criminal justice system is not evidence of bias.

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  12. “Disproportionate representation in the criminal justice system is not evidence of bias.”

    Tell that to the Afro-Americans of Ferguson, MO who were being used as a cash cow to fund the city treasury or to the many poor and minorities in Chicago who were sent to that secret police detention that was in existed for years. You can bet that no wealthy white person was sent to that place; otherwise, it would have been exposed a long time ago.

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