MPR News: The meeting was slated as a Minneapolis City Council study session on police reform.
But for much of the two-hour meeting, council members told police Chief Medaria Arradondo that their constituents are seeing and hearing street racing which sometimes results in crashes, brazen daylight carjackings, robberies, assaults and shootings. And they asked Arradondo what the department is doing about it.
…Just months after leading an effort that would have defunded the police department, City Council members at Tuesday’s work session pushed chief Medaria Arradondo to tell them how the department is responding to the violence…More people have been killed in the city in the first nine months of 2020 than were slain in all of last year. Property crimes, like burglaries and auto thefts, are also up. Incidents of arson have increased 55 percent over the total at this point in 2019.
Bear in mind this is coming after just a few months of reduced policing, due in part to extra demands and difficulty and probably in part due to police pulling back either out of fear or reluctance (blue flu) as also happened in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray killing and consequent protests and riots.
A few true believers still remain:
Cunningham also criticized some of his colleagues for seeming to waver on the promises they made earlier this year to transform the city’s public safety system.
“What I am sort of flabbergasted by right now is colleagues, who a very short time ago were calling for abolition, are now suggesting we should be putting more resources and funding into MPD,” Cunningham said.
I’m a supporter of unbundling the police and improving policing but the idea that we can defund the police and crime will just melt away is a fantasy. As with bail reform the defunders risk a backlash. Let’s start by decriminalizing more victimless crimes, as we have done in many states with marijuana laws. Let’s work on creating bureaus of road safety. But one of the reasons we do these things is so that we can increase the number of police on the street. The United States is underpoliced and the consequences of underpolicing, as well as overpolicing, fall on minority communities. As I have argued before, we need better policing so that we can all be comfortable with more policing. Getting there, however, will take time.
In Why Are the Police in Charge of Road Safety? I argued for unbundling the police:
Don’t use a hammer if you don’t need to pound a nail…the police have no expertise in dealing with the mentally ill or with the homeless–jobs like that should be farmed out to other agencies. Notice that we have lots of other safety issues that are not handled by the police. Restaurant inspectors, for example, do over a million restaurant inspectors annually but they don’t investigate murder or drug charges and they are not armed. Perhaps not coincidentally, restaurant inspectors are not often accused of inspector brutality, “Your honor, I swear I thought he was reaching for a knife….”.
A small experiment was started several years ago in Alexandria, Kentucky.
Faced with a tight budget and rising demands on its 17 officer police department, the City of Alexandria in Campbell County tried something different. Instead of hiring an additional officer and taking on the added expenses of equipping that officer, the police chief at the time hired a social worker to respond in tandem with officers.
Anecdotally the results appear good:
“It was close to a $45,000 to $50,000 annual savings from hiring a police officer the first time to hiring a social worker,” [former Alexandria Police Department chief] Ward said. “They (police social workers) started solving problems for people in our community and for our agency that we’ve never been able to solve before.”
Ward believes the results in Alexandria, a city of less than 10,000, could be replicated in larger cities like Louisville, where officers respond to calls involving mental health, domestic disturbances, and homelessness an average of once every 10 minutes.
“Louisville is very big with services,” Pompilio said. “They have lots of things to offer families. It’s just a matter of a social worker connecting.”
Alexandria doubled down on its commitment and now employs two full-time social workers to work and respond with its 17 officers.
Hat tip: NextDraft.
Had a thought on the discussion of rising crime over the last few months inspired by your MR posts on mood affiliation that I wanted to pass along:
There’s been a bit of discussion lately about increased shootings in major cities in the wake of the George Floyd protests, and the two main narratives trying to explain them have been “protests fueling higher tensions” and “cops backing off and not patrolling as much or doing their jobs”. Interestingly, the latter seems to be based on a model where fewer cops and patrols results in more crime, so you might naively expect people who hold that belief would be more likely to believe that simple defunding and reduction of police presence would lead to more crime generally.
But if you believe that mood affiliation predicts opinions better than factual consistency, then it matters more that the former position sounds like “cops to blame, cops bad”, while the second sounds more like “cops are important, cops good”. And most commentators care more about the correct affect towards the police, rather than consistent models of reality, so you largely have commentators that are pro-defund police, but blame their lack of presence for crime increases, or commentators that are pro-police, think defunding would lead to increases in crime, but are less willing to entertain the idea that recent increases in crime are caused by the choices of officers.
That is from an email by Benjamin Hawley.
When Police Kill is the 2017 book by criminologist Franklin Zimring. Some insights from the book.
Official data dramatically undercount the number of people killed by the police. Both the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Arrest-Related Deaths and the FBI’s Supplemental Homicide Reports estimated around 400-500 police kills a year, circa 2010. But the two series have shockingly low overlap–homicides counted in one series are not counted in the other and vice-versa. A statistical estimate based on the lack of overlap suggests a true rate of around 1000 police killings per year.
The best data come from newspaper reports which also show around 1000-1300 police killings a year (Zimring focuses his analysis on The Guardian’s database.) Fixing the data problem should be a high priority. But the FBI cannot be trusted to do the job:
Unfortunately, the FBI’s legacy of passive acceptance of incomplete statistical data on police killings, its promotion of the self-interested factual accounts from departments, and its failure to collect significant details about the nature of the provocation and the nature of the force used by police suggest that nothing short of massive change in its orientation, in its legal authority to collect data and its attitude toward auditing and research would make the FBI an agency worthy of public trust and statistical reliability in regard to the subject of this book.
The FBI’s bias is even seen in its nomenclature for police killings–“justifiable homicides”–which some of them certainly are not.
The state kills people in two ways, executions and police killings. Executions require trials, appeals, long waiting periods and great deliberation and expense. Police killings are not extensively monitored, analyzed or deliberated upon and, until very recently, even much discussed. Yet every year, police kill 25 to 50 times as many people as are executed. Why have police killings been ignored?
When an execution takes place in Texas, everybody knows that Texas is conducting the killing and is accountable for its consequences. When Officer Smith kills Citizen Jones on a city street in Dallas, it is Officer Smith rather than any larger governmental organization…[who] becomes the primary repository of credit or blame.
We used to do the same thing with airplane crashes and medical mistakes–that is, look for pilot or physician error. Safety didn’t improve much until we started to apply systems thinking. We need a systems-thinking approach to police shootings.
Police kill males (95%) far more than females, a much larger ratio than for felonies. Police kill more whites than blacks which is often forgotten, although not surprising because whites are a larger share of the population. Based on the Guardian data shown in Zimring’s Figure 3.1, whites and Hispanics are killed approximately in proportion to population. Blacks are killed at about twice their proportion to population. Asians are killed less than in proportion to their population.
A surprising finding:
Crime is a young man’s game in the United States but being killed by a police officer is not.
The main reason for this appears to be that a disproportionate share of police killings come from disturbance calls, domestic and non-domestic about equally represented. A majority of the killings arising from disturbance calls are of people aged forty or more.
The tendency of both police and observers to assume that attacks against police and police use of force is closely associated with violent crime and criminal justice should be modified in significant ways to accord for the disturbance, domestic conflicts, and emotional disruptions that frequently become the caseload of police officers.
A slight majority (56%) of the people who are killed by the police are armed with a gun and another 3.7% seemed to have a gun. Police have reason to fear guns, 92% of killings of police are by guns. But 40% of the people killed by police don’t have guns and other weapons are much less dangerous to police. In many years, hundreds of people brandishing knives are killed by the police while no police are killed by people brandishing knives. The police seem to be too quick to use deadly force against people significantly less well-armed than the police. (Yes, Lucas critique. See below on policing in a democratic society).
Police kill more people than people kill police–a ratio of about 15 to 1–and the ratio has been increasing over time. Policing has become safer over the past 40 years with a 75% drop in police killed on the job since 1976–the fall is greater than for crime more generally and is probably due to Kevlar vests. Kevlar vests are an interesting technology because they make police safer without imposing more risk on citizens. We need more win-win technologies. Although policing has become safer over time, the number of police killings has not decreased in proportion which is why the “kill ratio” has increased.
A major factor in the number of deaths caused by police shootings is the number of wounds received by the victim. In Chicago, 20% of victims with one wound died, 34% with two wounds and 74% with five or more wounds. Obvious. But it suggests a reevaluation of the police training to empty their magazine. Zimring suggests that if the first shot fired was due to reasonable fear the tenth might not be. A single, aggregational analysis:
…simplifies the task of police investigator or district attorney, but it creates no disincentive to police use of additional deadly force that may not be necessary by the time it happens–whether with the third shot or the seventh or the tenth.
It would be hard to implement this ex-post but I agree that emptying the magazine isn’t always reasonable, especially when the police are not under fire. Is it more dangerous to fire one or two shots and reevaluate than to fire ten? Of course, but given the number of errors police make this is not an unreasonable risk to ask police to take in a democratic society.
The successful prosecution of even a small number of extremely excessive force police killings would reduce the predominant perception among both citizens and rank-and-file police officers that police have what amounts to immunity from criminal liability for killing citizens in the line of duty.
Prosecutors, however, rely on the police to do their job and in the long-run won’t bite the hand that feeds them. Clear and cautious rules of engagement that establish bright lines would be more helpful. One problem is that police are protected because police brutality is common (somewhat similar to my analysis of riots).
The more killings a city experiences, the less likely it will be that a particular cop and a specific killings can lead to a charge and a conviction. In the worst of such settings, wrongful killings are not deviant officer behavior.
…clear and cautious rules of engagement will …make officers who ignore or misapply departmental standards look more blameworthy to police, to prosecutors, and to juries in the criminal process.
Police kill many more people in the United States than in other developed countries, even adjusting for crime rates (where the U.S. is less of an outlier than most people imagine). The obvious reason is that there are a lot of guns in the United States. As a result, the United States is not going to get its police killing rate down to Germany’s which is at least 40 times lower. Nevertheless:
[Police killings]…are a serious problem we can fix. Clear administrative restrictions on when police can shoot can eliminate 50 to 80 percent of killings by police without causing substantial risk to the lives of police officers or major changes in how police do their jobs. A thousand killings a year are not the unavoidable result of community conditions or of the nature of policing in the United States.
In Why Are the Police in Charge of Road Safety? I argued for unbundling the police–i.e. taking some of the tasks traditionally assigned to police such as road safety and turning them over to unarmed agencies more suited to the task. A new report from Transportation Alternatives adds to the case. The report notes that the police in NYC aren’t even doing a good job on road safety.
For example, in 2017, there were 46,000 hit-and-run crashes in New York City. Yet police officers arrested just one percent of all hit-and-run drivers. In the past five years, hit-and-run crashes in New York City have increased by 26 percent. By comparison, DOT infrastructure projects designed to reduce these traffic crashes have proven effective and scalable.
Streetsblog (cited in the report and quoted here) also notes this remarkable fact:
Streetsblog recently reported that of the 440 tickets police issued to people for biking on the sidewalk in 2018 and 2019, 374 — or 86.4 percent — of those where race was listed went to Black and Hispanic New Yorkers. The wildly disproportionate stats followed another report showing that cops issued 99 percent of jaywalking tickets to Black and Hispanic people in the first quarter of this year.
LATimes: Los Angeles Unified school police officials said Tuesday that the department will relinquish some of the military weaponry it acquired through a federal program that furnishes local law enforcement with surplus equipment. The move comes as education and civil rights groups have called on the U.S. Department of Defense to halt the practice for schools.
The Los Angeles School Police Department, which serves the nation’s second-largest school system, will return three grenade launchers but intends to keep 61 rifles and a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle it received through the program.
A school police department with grenade launchers and a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle! Only in America.
The article is from 2014 but relevant to current discussions of militarized police.
Hat tip: Noah Smith.
While police officers may forgo mask-wearing for any number of reasons, from peer pressure within ranks that are loath to change to a desire to more easily communicate, the images have fueled a perception of the police as arrogant and dismissive of protesters’ health — perhaps even at the peril of their own.
And while several officers have conspicuously knelt down with or hugged people at rallies, the widespread failure to use masks is creating a more standoffish look, one that protesters say suggests that the police operate above the rules — one of the very beliefs motivating the nationwide movement.
“If you’re out here to protect the public, it starts with you,” said Chaka McKell, 46, a carpenter from Bedford-Stuyvesant who attended a protest in Downtown Brooklyn on Monday. “The head sets the example for the tail.”
The official New York Police Department policy is that officers should wear masks when interacting with the public. But in a statement on Wednesday, the department dismissed the criticism about the lack of masks as petty.
“Perhaps it was the heat,” Sgt. Jessica McRorie of the department’s press office said in a statement. “Perhaps it was the 15 hour tours, wearing bullet resistant vests in the sun. Perhaps it was the helmets. With everything New York City has been through in the past two weeks and everything we are working toward together, we can put our energy to a better use.”
“In a nutshell,” as they say, and here is the full NYT piece. This short vignette reflects two basic truths: first, there is a tendency to see oneself above at least some of the laws, and to follow defined procedures only selectively. Second, given the resources and constraints put on the table, such attitudes should not be entirely surprising.
I’ve been writing for years that the United States is underpoliced and overprisoned. Time for a review:
NYTimes: “The United States today is the only country I know of that spends more on prisons than police,” said Lawrence W. Sherman, an American criminologist on the faculties of the University of Maryland and Cambridge University in Britain. “In England and Wales, the spending on police is twice as high as on corrections. In Australia it’s more than three times higher. In Japan it’s seven times higher. Only in the United States is it lower, and only in our recent history.”
…Dr. Ludwig and Philip J. Cook, a Duke University economist, calculate that nationwide, money diverted from prison to policing would buy at least four times as much reduction in crime. They suggest shrinking the prison population by a quarter and using the savings to hire another 100,000 police officers.
Here’s a graph from Daniel Bier on the ratio of police to prison spending comparing the United States to Europe. The US spends relatively less on police and more on prisons than any European country.
And here’s a graph from President Obama’s CEA report on incarceration and the criminal justice system. The graph shows that the United States employs many more prison guards per-capita than does the rest of the world. Given our prison population that isn’t surprising. What is surprising is that on a per-capita basis we employ 35% fewer police than the world average. That’s crazy.
Our focus on prisons over police may be crazy but it is consistent with what I called Gary Becker’s Greatest Mistake, the idea that an optimal punishment system combines a low probability of being punished with a harsh punishment if caught. That theory runs counter to what I have called the good parenting theory of punishment in which optimal punishments are quick, clear, and consistent and because of that, need not be harsh.
Increasing the number of police on the street, for example, would increase capture rates and deter crime and by doing so it would also reduce the prison population. Indeed, in a survey of crime and policing that Jon Klick and I wrote in 2010 we found that a cost-benefit analysis would justify doubling the number of police on the street. We based our calculation not only on our own research from Washington DC but also on the research of many other economists which together provide a remarkably consistent estimate that a 10% increase in policing would reduce crime by 3 to 5%. Using our estimates, as well as those of some more recent papers, the Council of Economic Advisers also estimates big benefits (somewhat larger than ours) from an increase in policing. Moreover, what the CEA makes clear is that a dollar spent on policing is more effective at reducing crime than a dollar spent on imprisoning.
Can we increase the number of police? Not today but in recent years large majorities of blacks, hispanics and whites have said that they support hiring more police. It is true that blacks are more skeptical than whites of police and have every reason to be. Some of the communities most in need of more police are also communities with some of the worst policing problems. Better policing and more policing, however, complement one another. Demilitarize the police, end the war drugs, regulate people less, restrain police unions and eliminate qualified immunity so that police brutality can be punished and the bad apples removed and the demand for police will soar.
As we reform and unbundle policing let us remember that lower crime has been one of the greatest benefits to African American men over the past 30 years.
…the most disadvantaged people have gained the most from the reduction in violent crime.
Though homicide is not a common cause of death for most of the United States population, for African-American men between the ages of 15 and 34 it is the leading cause, which means that any change in the homicide rate has a disproportionate impact on them. The sociologist Michael Friedson and I calculated what the life expectancy would be today for blacks and whites had the homicide rate never shifted from its level in 1991. We found that the national decline in the homicide rate since then has increased the life expectancy of black men by roughly nine months.
…The everyday lived experience of urban poverty has also been transformed. Analyzing rates of violent victimization over time, I found that the poorest Americans today are victimized at about the same rate as the richest Americans were at the start of the 1990s. That means that a poor, unemployed city resident walking the streets of an average city today has about the same chance of being robbed, beaten up, stabbed or shot as a well-off urbanite in 1993. Living in poverty used to mean living with the constant threat of violence. In most of the country, that is no longer true.
More police on the street is one cause, among many, of lower crime. Chicago just had a horrendous day with 18 innocent people murdered in mostly random drive-by shootings, in part because the police were occupied with protests and riots. As we reform, unbundle, and reimagine, let’s be careful not to reverse nearly thirty years of falling crime which has produced a tremendous increase in the standard of living of the poorest Americans.
We need better policing so that we can all be comfortable with more policing.
It’s an unacknowledged peculiarity that police are in charge of road safety. Why should the arm of the state that investigates murder, rape and robbery also give out traffic tickets? Traffic stops are the most common reason for contact with the police. I (allegedly) rolled through a stop sign in the neighborhood and was stopped. It was uncomfortable–hands on the wheel, don’t make any sudden moves, be polite etc. and I am a white guy. Traffic stops can be much more uncomfortable for minorities, which makes the police uncomfortable. Many of the police homicides, such as the killing of Philando Castile happened at ordinary traffic stops. But why do we need armed men (mostly) to issue a traffic citation?
Don’t use a hammer if you don’t need to pound a nail. Road safety does not require a hammer. The responsibility for handing out speeding tickets and citations should be handled by a unarmed agency. Put the safety patrol in bright yellow cars and have them carry a bit of extra gasoline and jumper cables to help stranded motorists as part of their job–make road safety nice. Highways England hires traffic officers for some of these tasks (although they are not yet authorized to issue speeding tickets).
Similarly, the police have no expertise in dealing with the mentally ill or with the homeless–jobs like that should be farmed out to other agencies. Notice that we have lots of other safety issues that are not handled by the police. Restaurant inspectors, for example, do over a million restaurant inspectors annually but they don’t investigate murder or drug charges and they are not armed. Perhaps not coincidentally, restaurant inspectors are not often accused of inspector brutality, “Your honor, I swear I thought he was reaching for a knife….”.
Another advantage of turning over road safety to an unarmed, non-police unit would be to help restore the fourth amendment which has been destroyed by the jurisprudence of traffic stops.
As we move to self-driving vehicles it will become obvious that road safety does not belong with the police (eventually it will be more like air traffic control). We can get a jump start on that trend by more carefully delineating which police duties require the threat of imminent violence and which do not.
Defunding the police, whatever that means, is a political non-starter. But we can unbundle the police.
Here is the new paper by Tanaya Devi and Roland Fryer, full title being “Policing the Police: The Impact of “Pattern-or-Practice” Investigations on Crime”:
This paper provides the first empirical examination of the impact of federal and state “Pattern-or-Practice” investigations on crime and policing. For investigations that were not preceded by “viral” incidents of deadly force, investigations, on average, led to a statistically significant reduction in homicides and total crime. In stark contrast, all investigations that were preceded by “viral” incidents of deadly force have led to a large and statistically significant increase in homicides and total crime. We estimate that these investigations caused almost 900 excess homicides and almost 34,000 excess felonies. The leading hypothesis for why these investigations increase homicides and total crime is an abrupt change in the quantity of policing activity. In Chicago, the number of police-civilian interactions decreased by almost 90% in the month after the investigation was announced. In Riverside CA, interactions decreased 54%. In St. Louis, self-initiated police activities declined by 46%. Other theories we test such as changes in community trust or the aggressiveness of consent decrees associated with investigations — all contradict the data in important ways.
Here is more complete data on police expenditures, interesting throughout, via Charles Fain Lehman. The sociology of this issue I find fascinating. Usually in Progressive lore, if you defund an agency, you lower its quality and make it all the more dysfunctional. But in this case, defunding the bureaucracy, namely the police, is supposed to solve the problem. Is there anywhere a well-worked out model of why this particular bureaucracy might be different from the others? (Maybe it is, I would gladly link to such an argument!) Or, dare I say it, is this just mood affiliation and once again…politics isn’t about policy. I’ll give 4-1 odds on the latter.
Here is a 1971 debate on police brutality against blacks in America, with an initial focus on Detroit, and later a shift to Newark:
Via Ilya Novak.
Bill de Blasio has excused police officers who swing batons at unarmed protesters and ram their vehicles into crowds. He has repeatedly stuck by his commissioner, Dermot Shea, and maintained the police have acted with the utmost discretion, though eyewitness testimony and videos suggest otherwise. Former aides who worked to elect a mayor on a platform of police reform are aghast. What went wrong, exactly?
Why does the Mayor of New York City defer so egregiously to his police department? Why does this keep happening?
Mass protests aren’t new to New York City. Neither is police violence. The police department in New York is a paramilitary that operates with little accountability, relative to other city agencies. A police commissioner in New York can be thought of as an appointed mayor of a quasi-independent fiefdom. The police commissioner, ultimately, must answer to the mayor and City Council—mayors can fire commissioners at any time—but the police can cow those who oppose them politically. As recently as 2015, one year after Eric Garner died in police custody, the otherwise progressive City Council led a multi-year campaign to hire 1,000 new police officers. This year, in their latest stimulus bill, House Democrats included $300 million for a nationwide police expansion. Politicians of both political parties have supported bolstering police power for decades.
That is from Ross Barkan, here is more:
Police, in this calculus, safeguard property value. If police don’t do their jobs, a mainstream Democratic politician would tell you, the city could spiral into chaos. Crime would skyrocket. Property value would decline. The real estate and investor class would lose confidence in New York and stop investing their capital. Any pivot toward a model of social democratic urban planning—or even, at the minimum, a reduction in the NYPD’s near $6 billion budget—would trigger this unraveling. De Blasio’s appointment of Bratton, the Giuliani-era police commissioner, can be understood in this context. Bratton was a liberal mayor’s concession to a business and real estate establishment he believed needed to be placated. It was a signal that his administration, no matter its reputation, would never veer too far left. De Blasio is of the belief that any progressive reform can’t happen without police to maintain New York’s low crime rate. Any spike will sap political capital for his projects.
Police unions understand politicians. Pat Lynch has been leading the PBA since 1999. He has merely followed a playbook written by past union presidents, who literally staged riots and race-baiting, citywide referendums when mild reforms of the department were proposed. The threat police have dangled over mayors, left and right, is rather simple: you make us angry and we will unleash disorder.
There is more of interest at the link, and for the pointer I thank Jordan.
Hard to describe how rampant the looting was tonight in Midtown Manhattan and how lawless it was. Complete anarchy. Literally hundreds of stores up and down Broadway, Fifth Ave, Sixth Ave. Kids ruling the streets like it was a party.
Now, those are among the most visible and “high value” spots in the whole city and the NYPD has over 38,000 police to draw upon. So what is the best model of why all that trouble happened and indeed was allowed to happen? I see a few candidates:
1. Those police are not sufficiently well trained.
2. Those police are trained but they are afraid of confronting protestors and so they don’t do it.
3. The mayor de facto doesn’t want the police to be too involved, as that might be unpopular with swing voters in the primaries or even the general election.
4. The police union insists, de facto, that not many police be sent directly into such confrontations.
5. There is a general lack of accountability, and so there is failure at multiple levels, and so many good things simply do not happen, but for reasons which are not always entirely concrete.
6. The police do not have the right technology to handle these kinds of problems.
Which is it, and which other hypotheses am I neglecting?
As a more general observation, if this problem cannot be solved, complaining about Trump holding the Bible and the tear gas on the way to the church ultimately will fall upon deaf ears. Ultimately the American public are not going to side against “the thin blue line” (i.e., the police), so to win all those important civil liberties victories you also need the police doing the proper job effectively. Maybe I picked the wrong Google terms but “why didn’t New York police stop rioters” does not in fact yield anything substantive on the question I am asking. How can that be? While you’re at it, model that too!
Addendum: One reader hypothesis is to send a signal to the mayor for criticizing them. Another is here: “Similar to Baltimore, the police in Minneapolis will make it clear that looting and widespread private property destruction will be tolerated for the remainder of the protests as a way to conflate protesters and looters and “teach a lesson to” their liberal civilian bosses“
The post below, Police Union Privileges, from 2018 is worth revisiting. As I wrote in a follow-up, police union privileges are only one part of a system and reform requires system-thinking. Nevertheless, getting rid of these special privileges, including so-called qualified immunity and restoring the equal rule of law are good places to start. Need I also mention that police should not keep fines and forfeitures–the negative consequences of which I documented in To Serve and Collect, my paper with Makowsky and Stratmann.
Earlier I wrote about how police unions in some parts of the country (especially common in NJ and NY, yet a firing offense in some other jurisdictions, edit 2020) give to every officer dozens of “get out of jail” cards to give to friends, family, politicians, lawyers, judges and other connected people. The cards let police on the street know that the subject is to be given “professional courtesy” and they can be used to get out of speeding tickets and other infractions. Today, drawing on the Police Union Contracting Project, I discuss how union contracts and Law Officer “Bill of Rights” give police legal privileges that regular people don’t get.
In 50 cities and 13 states, for example, union contracts “restrict interrogations by limiting how long an officer can be interrogated, who can interrogate them, the types of questions that can be asked, and when an interrogation can take place.” In Virginia police officers have a right to at least a five-day delay before being interrogated. In Louisiana police officers have up to 30 days during which no questioning is allowed and they cannot be questioned for sustained periods of time or without breaks. In some cities, police officers can only be interrogated during work hours. Regular people do not get these privileges.
The key to a good interrogation is that the suspect doesn’t know what the interrogator knows so the suspect can be caught in a lie which unravels their story. Thus, the Florida Police Bill of Rights is stunning in what it allows police officers:
The law enforcement officer or correctional officer under investigation must be informed of the nature of the investigation before any interrogation begins, and he or she must be informed of the names of all complainants. All identifiable witnesses shall be interviewed, whenever possible, prior to the beginning of the investigative interview of the accused officer. The complaint, all witness statements, including all other existing subject officer statements, and all other existing evidence, including, but not limited to, incident reports, GPS locator information, and audio or video recordings relating to the incident under investigation, must be provided to each officer who is the subject of the complaint before the beginning of any investigative interview of that officer.
By knowing what the interrogators know, the suspect can craft a story that fits the known facts–and the time privilege gives them the opportunity to do so.
Moreover, how do you think complainants feel knowing that the police officer they are complaining about “must be informed of the names of all complainants.” I respect and admire police officers but frankly I think this rule is dangerous. Would you come forward?
How effective would criminal interrogations be if the following rules held for ordinary citizens?
The law enforcement officer or correctional officer under interrogation may not be subjected to offensive language or be threatened with transfer, dismissal, or disciplinary action. A promise or reward may not be made as an inducement to answer any questions.
What does it say about our justice system that the police don’t want their own tactics used against them?
In the United States if you are arrested–even for a misdemeanor or minor crime, even if the charges are dropped, even if you are found not guilty–you will likely be burdened with an arrest record that can increase the difficulty of getting a job, an occupational license, or housing. But even in the unlikely event that a police officer is officially reprimanded many states and cities require that such information is automatically erased after a year or two. The automatic erasure of complaints makes it difficult to identify problem officers or a pattern of abuse.
Louisiana’s Police Officer Bill of Rights is one of the most extreme. It states that police have the right to expunge any violation of criminal battery and assault and any violation of criminal laws involving an “obvious domestic abuse.” Truly this is hard to believe but here is the law (note that sections (2)(a) and (b) do not appear, as I read it, to be limited to anonymous or unsubstantiated complaints).
A law enforcement officer, upon written request, shall have any record of a formal complaint made against the officer for any violation of a municipal or parish ordinance or state criminal statute listed in Paragraph (2) of this Subsection involving domestic violence expunged from his personnel file, if the complaint was made anonymously to the police department and the charges are not substantiated within twelve months of the lodging of the complaint. (2)(a) Any violation of a municipal or parish ordinance or state statute defining criminal battery and assault. (b) Any violation of other municipal or parish ordinances or state statutes including criminal trespass, criminal damage to property, or disturbing the peace if the incident occurred at either the home of the victim or the officer or the violation was the result of an obvious domestic dispute.
In an excellent post on get out of free jail cards, Julian Sanchez writes:
…beyond being an affront to the ideal of the rule of law in the abstract, it seems plausible that these “get out of jail free” cards help to reinforce the sort of us-against-them mentality that alienates so many communities from their police forces. Police departments that want to demonstrate they’re serious about the principle of equality under the law shouldn’t be debating how many of these cards an average cop gets to hand out; they should be scrapping them entirely.
Equality under the law also requires that privileges and immunities extend to all citizens equally.