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, October 23, 2017

The research results of the DC police body camera study: idiographic vs. nomothetic approaches

Over the weekend the DC police department reported on an internal study of the effectiveness of police body cameras in reducing complaints and instances of excessive force ("A Big Test of Police Body Cameras Defies Expectations," New York Times). The study did not find that the use of body cameras reduced the application of excessive force nor the number of complaints. From the article:
For seven months, just over a thousand Washington, D.C., police officers were randomly assigned cameras — and another thousand were not. Researchers tracked use-of-force incidents, civilian complaints, charging decisions and other outcomes to see if the cameras changed behavior. But on every metric, the effects were too small to be statistically significant. Officers with cameras used force and faced civilian complaints at about the same rates as officers without cameras.

“These results suggest we should recalibrate our expectations” of cameras’ ability to make a “large-scale behavioral change in policing, particularly in contexts similar to Washington, D.C.,” concluded the study, which was led by David Yokum at the Lab @ DC, a team of scientists embedded in D.C. government, and Anita Ravishankar at D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department (M.P.D.).
People shouldn't be surprised the research study didn't find improved behavior on the part of police officers wearing body cameras. Instead of taking a systems approach, the focus has been on "calling out bad seeds."

Likely the problem with use of force is a structural issue, a result of the way officers are trained and the culture of policing.

Reading a journal article recently, and not having taken social science methods courses I was exposed to terms used to refer to personalized vs. systematic approaches: idiographic and nomothetic.

The bias in the way people approach such matters is to presume that the system is fine, and that the problem individual is not.

In my experience, most elected officials approach "policy" in idiographic ways, as opposed to systematic/structural nomothetic approaches.

Also see the Burlington Free Press article from today, "BPD training teaches de-escalation."

Past writings:

-- "The state of "broken windows" versus "problem oriented policing" strategies in 2016: Part 1, theory and practice"
-- "How police departments become corrupt," 2015

The reprinted blog entry below mentions the complete overhaul of the Fullerton, California police department after officers beat a homeless man to death.  The department was restructured, is regularly evaluated by a third party, and regular reporting on the status of the department occurs.

DC Public Safety Survey/Search for a new Police Chief, February 2017

DC has launched a public safety survey as part of the process of selecting a new police chief. Some of the questions are poorly written but overall it's an ok survey. Here are some of my responses for qualitative questions.

About the police department's effectiveness

The survey question is poorly written, as you don't give a neutral option. I'd say that the dept. is reasonably effective, but could be a lot better, were it to have a more structural approach to addressing crime in particularly hard-hit areas. Examples would be the Community Safety Partnership in LA, which is discussed here or better approaches to dealing with people with mental health issues.

What should the department focus on?

DC's police department has more police per capita than any other city police dept. in the US, and that doesn't include the other forces present in the city (Housing Police, Park Police, Capitol Police, Uniformed Secret Service, etc.).

[The City Paper just published an article about this on 9/21/2017, "D.C. Is Teeming With Police Officers, So The Mystery May Be Why Crime Happens At All," but it didn't say much.]

I worry about the constant call for more police officers when MPD has so many more police officers compared to other cities. One question you aren't asking is "better use of police officer time."

Plus, there is a big difference between "zero tolerance policing" and "broken windows policing." It's not clear from these questions that you know the difference. There is also a difference between "increasing the size of the police force" and "maintaining the size of the police force" and making better use of the time of sworn police officers.

What professional experience should the city be looking for in a police chief?

DC government is not known for innovation. This is true for the police dept. too. I'd like to see a police chief with a sense and inclination for innovation, e.g., programs like the Community Safety Partnership in LA, the way that the Fullerton Police Department in California has completely reformulated in response to a beating death of a homeless man by police officers, the way the High Point, NC police dept. deals with domestic abuse, the way that Boston dealt with monitoring of people on probation, ("Problem-solving probation" and "On probation, at a turning point," Boston Globe), the need for more structured approaches to CPTED and pattern crime, the connected approach of Chris Magnus, now chief in Tucson, formerly of Richmond, CA; the approaches by police departments to mental health matters in San Antonio, and Boston, etc.

Other thoughts on the police chief search

Besides what is mentioned above, I am an urban planner. There isn't a "plan" or "master plan" for the police dept. It would have been useful to create one in advance of selecting a new chief. See "State of Tennessee public safety plan as a way forward to link #BlackLivesMatters agenda with crime dampening" and "Seattle Police Department master plan is quite impressive."

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At 1:44 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Chicago experiences decline in murders/shootings from the use of IT, prediction-decision support software.


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