Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Policing: escalation versus de-escalation

Guns do kill people/when your primary tool is a gun, people get killed.  For years I've been "surprised" when people express outrage when a mental illness distress call is made to the police, and the incident ends with the person being killed by the police.

Police officers tend to have a limited tool set, a gun being the primary tool.

The increased militarization of police departments, with SWAT teams used to execute warrants for low-level crimes, armored vehicles, etc., reiterates that too often, the primary tools that police officers have--at least in the US--are violent.

Broken windows theory.  There has been controversy lately over "broken windows" theoretical approaches to policing because of the stop and frisk case in NYC as well as the recent death of a person arrested for illegally selling cigarettes, who died in custody ("NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio walks thin blue line in chokehold aftermath," Christian Science Monitor).

WRT "broken windows theory," there are two elements.  One is the general idea of order maintenance and management in communities ("Broken Windows," Atlantic Monthly, 1982).

In my personal experience, living in places that had been reasonably tough (if you call living a few blocks from a major crack distribution area "tough") the broken windows theory--that if you don't maintain order by for example, fixing broken windows, removing abandoned cars, picking up litter, eradicating graffiti, etc., order tends to further decline, including vacant properties being taken over by criminal elements, etc.--is an important, powerful, explanatory, and useful theory that is borne out by practice and observation in the real world.

The other aspect is as a policing technique.  What William Bratton originally figured out is that criminals who commit big crimes tend to commit small crimes too, so if you arrest people for crimes that do matter but are little, such as turnstile jumping on the subway, you catch "big criminals" in the process.   The same goes for going after guns and gun crimes.

Unfortunately, too many police departments think that it means arresting or ticketing any offense, no matter how small, such as taking up two seats on the subway when there is plenty of room but is still against the law, as opposed to when the trains are full.

Take this too far and you break the sense of trust that is necessary between police who exercise "the coercive power of the state" and citizens.

Note that George Kelling, one of the original co-authors of this work, argues that the theory is better termed "problem-oriented policing" and focusing limited personnel on interdicting problems and crimes in specific, directed ways, rather than merely reacting or "being passive."  (Literature review, "Community Oriented and Problem Policing," US Department of Justice)

As crime drops do police officers have less to do?   One of the problems, in cities like New York City, is that as crime drops, police departments need to keep their statistics and action up, so they have more time to focus on minor crimes, but which can backfire, such as with the deaths of people taken into custody.

Ferguson, Missouri.  Sunday's Richmond Times-Dispatch has an editorial, "Today’s top opinion: Law enforcement — the Brown slaying," about the recent tragedy of the shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old, the resulting protests and the police department's response, which has escalated problems.

From the article:
it will require proof of extraordinary circumstances indeed to find the killing justified. Police are supposed to act professionally and with restraint even when ordinary citizens do not. They receive training in how to de-escalate confrontations. Shooting Brown did not, to put it mildly, achieve that end.
I guess I disagree. Police departments don't spend enough time training police officers in de-escalation.

It happens that I was reading an old National Georgraphic (June 2009) and it reported on research in the UK about "embedding" police officers in crowd situations, especially soccer games, to reduce the likelihoood of violence.

From the article:
Actually, "crowd control" is the wrong phrase. ...  Rather than focus on cowing a crowd, officers look at its members.  If a person acts criminally, the cops step in.  They also encourage organizers to monitor their events.  "We are nervous every time." ... But the approach is promising. 
Clifford Stott ... studies soccer riots.  His conclusion?  If officers are embedded in a crowd they aren't seen as a threat and can quietly nab hooligans.
This FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin article, "Crowd Management: Adopting a New Paradigm," covers the same work (image above from this article).

Granted it won't work when the police department is so different and disconnected from the demographics of the community it is policing, when various elements (like Bay area anarchists) are focused on fomenting violence, and when the police department adopts militaristic techniques ("Ferguson and the Shocking Nature of US Police Militarization," US News).

Conclusion.  There needs to be an upgrade of requirements on police departments in terms of training, especially in de-escalation, for both crowds and individual acts, and de-militarization (see the book Rise of the Warrior Cop, Wall Street Journal article by the author).

States are in the position to be able to regulate the operation of police departments.  However, the herocization of police officers, demonization of the poor, and the power of police unions in political campaign financing at the state and local level will make this difficult.

Labels: , , , , ,


At 12:04 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

You're making the assumption that the job of the police is to stop crime - in reality it is to arrest criminals.

(much like the problem with fire fighters, who are becoming even more irrelevant).

And you distinction with "broken windows" is very useful. In fact that is what happened in MO: stopping a kid for jaywalking would have resulted in an arrest for grand larceny.

I'd agree that the snipers. body armor, armored vehciles are not useful for police. I ran into a mounted Park Police in the park yesterday while running and that is also pretty intimidating.

That said, riots seem to be about demonstating street power, and are highly destructive for urban areas. Has South Central been gentrified yet?

At 12:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as someone who has been in DC since before the 68 riots I am not favorably inclined to sympathize with murderous hoodlums and losers wrecking stores and properties and going unpunished. The riots screwed this city and others and led to a drastic decline and was a disaster for American urbanism. My other side of it all is that - yes- it is true- there are police out there that love to pull the trigger and I am against militarization of police. I would love to see a non-lethal means of bringing down perpetrators- a sort of tranquillizer dart. If we can do it with animals we can do this with people. There is absolutely no good reason NOT to do this- it is only cultural practices and excuses that keep this from being developed and used. It would give police more options. Yes sometimes lethal force is imperitive but many more times it is not. I would like to see something like this be put into use if it has to be.

At 1:21 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Police used to have more access to non-lethal force -- tasering then beating the crap out of someone. The lawsuits against the police in re: Rodney King pretty much stopped that.

At 2:45 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

you'd think that video/smartcams etc. would start to have more effect.

To be "fair" to the cops, when you're in the moment, people aren't obeying (e.g., Rodney King is on PCP) and you're afraid, etc., things quickly escalate.

There was a case recently when a police officer "beat" a homeless woman in LA. The lady was darting in and out of traffic on a freeway and he was trying to stop her and she wasn't obeying.

At 3:22 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Also this:

and this:

At 3:50 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I f*ed up in college due to perfectionism making it hard for me to finish papers. But when I was interested in doing a masters degree in how universities are organized, I had a bunch of thesis topics.

One was not exactly related. It took the idea of Kohlberg's moral development theory and I wanted to do a study of police officers.

In K's theory, stages 3 and 4 are about conformity and following the law. It's stages 5 and 6 that are about "universal ethical humanism" and being able to "draw outside the lines."

Policing is all about chain of command, following the rules.

It's like sending troops to Afghanistan or Iraq. Really they needed to be PhDs in anthro etc., not people going there to shoot 'em up.

Police officers, I hypothesized, pretty much aren't able to go outside of the bounds of stage 4.

And all the situations that require judiciousness--like the girl with the illegal "water" in VA or the mentally challenged guy who wouldn't leave the theater in Frederick and who died in the custody of police officers--most police officers lack the capacity to be able to deal.

I don't think it's just having less lethal force like tasers (which can still be lethal to some depending on their electro-chemical makeup).

At 11:38 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... the other thing I forgot to mention is that mostly, police officers come into contact with criminals, so they tend to get shaped in believing that everyone is a criminal.

At 3:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

we must not stereotype police officers either- I have known many in my time and not all are jerks by a longshot. This- along with a general hostility towards whatever they do gives me pause. I see nothing positive in giving in to people that want to wreck and destroy property. The very people that were most sympathetic to the black underclass in 1968's riots were Jewish and Greek store/business owners- and they were often brutally victimized by these thugs. I have no use for guys like this- and most of them are guys- some female- but it is a male cultural problem in this group/population. The women also get the shaft- they have to support these guys while they go around causing problems. There are two sides to every story.

At 2:11 PM, Anonymous charlie said...


Post a Comment

<< Home