September 30th, 2017


Shooting, Kneeling, and What To Do About It

In all the fuss over athletes kneeling the original cause of the protest is being drowned out. Cops shooting too many people, specifically black people.

The Black Lives Matter movement put forward a set of solutions called Campaign Zero. It's a list of ten actions they want taken, exactly the format I love analyzing on this blog. Let's take a look. Note that the site I'm linking to has a much more detailed discussion of each item, with supporting links. If you're not sure what something I mention here means please consult the source.

End Broken Windows Policing
  • End Policing of Minor "Broken Windows" Offenses

  • End Profiling and "Stop-and-Frisk"

  • Establish Alternative Approaches to Mental Health Crises

This one is a trade-off. Loosening the low-level policing that keeps thugs from being able to commit minor crimes will lead to more of those crimes. Faced with a choice of fewer deaths and fewer burglaries, I'm going to choose few deaths. The detailed list included drug possession, which is something I want to reduce enforcement of in general. (Legalizing drugs would be more of a benefit than most of this list, but I guess the organizers didn't want to pick that fight.)

The mental health training is also necessary. Cops are prone to dealing with anyone noncompliant as a criminal defying their authority instead of someone who just doesn't understand the instructions their being given (or didn't hear them).

Community Oversight
  • Establish an all-civilian oversight structure with discipline power that includes a Police Commission and Civilian Complaints Office

  • Remove barriers to reporting police misconduct

Many of the egregious shootings have been committed by cops who'd misbehaved many times but were kept on the force. Enforcing standards would get rid of the few bad cops committing most of the offenses.

Limit Use of Force
  • Establish standards and reporting of police use of deadly force

  • Revise and strengthen local police department use of force policies

  • End traffic-related police killings and dangerous high-speed police chases

  • Monitor how police use force and proactively hold officers accountable for excessive force

Rapid escalation to lethal force is a key part of the problem. Nonlethal weapons and being willing to let minor criminals escape and be caught later would spare lives.

Independent Investigations and Prosecutions
  • Lower the standard of proof for Department of Justice civil rights investigations of police officers

  • Use federal funds to encourage independent investigations and prosecutions

  • Establish a permanent Special Prosecutor's Office at the State level for cases of police violence

  • Require independent investigations of all cases where police kill or seriously injure civilians

"Lowering standard of proof" is a phrase that normally sets my hackles up. In this case I'm okay with it, given that the existing standard is that the prosecution has to prove the mindset of the cop rather than the actions.

Community Representation
  • Increase the number of police officers who reflect the communities they serve

  • Use community feedback to inform police department policies and practices

I don't think this would provide the benefits BLM is hoping for. Half the officers in the Freddie Gray case were black. And Minneapolis' attempt to bring representation to the Somali community didn't work out well. We need to bring in more cops without giving up on high standards for people authorized to use lethal force.

Body Cams/ Film The Police
  • Body cameras and dashboard cameras

  • The Right to Record Police

Oh, hell, yes. Cops confiscating a bystander's camera or disabling their own should be kicked off the force. Accountability is essential.

  • Invest in Rigorous and Sustained Training

  • Intentionally consider 'unconscious' or 'implicit' racial bias

For all the talk of "militarizing" the police, cops don't get the thorough training soldiers do. Combat units are regularly trained in how to handle various scenarios. Police are frequently not given preparation to handle situations out of their normal routine. A cop with twelve years on the force may not have twelve years of experience, just one year's experience twelve times.

End For-Profit Policing
  • End police department quotas for tickets and arrests

  • Limit fines and fees for low-income people

  • Prevent police from taking the money or property of innocent people

  • Require police departments to bear the cost of misconduct

This was a large part of the pressure feeding into the Ferguson riots: towns balancing their budgets by extracting money from those least able to pay it. Add in police incentivized to go after the most profitable targets instead of the most dangerous and we get the legalized robbery of civil forfeiture.

  • End the Federal Government's 1033 Program Providing Military Weaponry to Local Police Departments

  • Establish Local Restrictions to Prevent Police Departments from Purchasing or Using Military Weaponry

  • Don't use SWAT teams or no-knock raids unless there is an emergency situation or imminent threat to life

Too many shootings happen because the police chief doesn't want the SWAT team sitting around and sends them out to serve warrants on non-violent suspects. But when you train someone to treat going around every corner as a life-or-death situation they're going to have the wrong reflexes for dealing with an innocent woken up in the middle of the night. Given them more powerful weapons just makes the damage worse.

Fair Police Contracts
  • Remove barriers to effective misconduct investigations and civilian oversight

  • Keep officers' disciplinary history accessible to police departments and the public

  • Ensure financial accountability for officers and police departments that kill or seriously injure civilians

If I had to pick one item from this list to make law, it would be this one. A big part of that is because it could become law instead of being bogged down in negotiations and court battles. Setting a rule that a cop isn't entitled to a different legal process from what civilians go through would be a huge step forward. Right now a cop pulling the trigger is balancing the decision between the risk of whatever threat he perceives and probably no consquence if he kills someone he shouldn't have. Taking away the special privileges of delayed interrogations, union intervention, and sealed records will improve the balance.