Sunday, June 14, 2020

Rethinking Policing

Finally, Black Lives Matter and millions of allies have taken to our streets in mostly peaceful protests against policing abuses against our  fellow citizens who are black and brown .  But, in addition, and it is an important addition, Americans are now having a national discussion about our policing practices overall.  In particular, the massive resources of our tax dollars to municipal, county, state and federal budgets to our criminal justice system overall that in the main, miss serving our society.

Law and Order has been the battle cry of both conservatives and liberals concerned about public safety and our overall protection against abuse by others.  But in the course of our evolution from frontier justice to what many believe is a police state in America, we have now begun to understand that policing and the criminal justice system itself often heaps abuse on us. The data clearly says the abuse is disproportionately experienced by persons of color.  So lets talk about policing, and specifically where the criminal justice system starts......with arrests.

The FBI maintains national databases on arrest statistics from all policing agencies and provides a report annually.  The most recent such report tells us that while arrests are declining slightly overall, arrests of all kinds totaled 10,310,960 in 2018.  One strange aberration of their reports is that of those ten million arrests, 3.2 million, 30 %, were for unexplained "all other offenses of the 28 categories of arrests they report.  Not a clue as to what those arrests can be as their 27 other categories cover a broad range of violence, property and drug/alcohol and other anti-social  related categories. 

The really big 3 categories comprise 99% of arrests: 29% related to property, 20% related to violence including DUI which I consider a threat of violence and 20% related to drugs and alcohol.  So, presumptively 99% of policing and support staff time is dedicated to these three categories.

So, if we peeled off drugs and alcohol from their workload by decriminalizing or legalizing drugs and ending the War on Drugs, (mainly a war on minority citizens) we might reduce their workload and maybe staffing and funding by some comparable percentage....20%, and redirect solutions and public protection to other more qualified specialists such as health and counseling experts.

"Other offense"  arrests, cumulatively account for the largest arrest number, again 30%.  If these are such esoteric infractions and disruption to the public order as to not be counted as activities of either violence or property misappropriation, might at least a major part of them be handled by professions more properly trained to discipline or rehabilitate this mysterious category of offender?

We now have addressed potentially half of the time and resource allocation to policing and redirected that work to other professions.   Roundly, this is potentially a huge burden lifted from policing so as to reallocate their attention to work they might be better prepared and trained to address, violent crime which poses the greatest existential threat to us citizens.

Now as to violent crime, we know that some significant cause of violence is attributed to mental and emotional health problems. A significant number of persons suffering these kinds of issues are children; some of these vulnerable people can be identified early in life through both the medical and educational arenas, with solutions provided to many through vastly better funded and trained professionals in both fields. Yes, it is likely some perpetrators of violence, both children and adults would need to be at least temporarily removed from society for therapy, treatment and rehabilitation. In fact, the data says 50% of arrests involve young people.  Yes, most certainly we citizens will need protection from some perpetrators of any age as they threaten violent acts or are in the process of committing them.  But, certainly, some of those persons threatening violence can be better handled by persons expert in psychology and deescalation.

Thus, some percentage of policing time and resources can be redirected to those experts..Yes, policing will be required for some who are judged not restrained by non-policing professionals and certainly we will need policing protection from those in the process of committing violent acts.  And some, the sociopaths, might be beyond treatment and rehabilitation and will require incarceration to protect the rest of us.  But the recruiting and training of the remaining duties of policing, the prevention, intervention or cessation of violent acts by citizens  will require a complete rethinking of what kind of personalities are best suited for these tasks.  The evidence is clear that currently persons with authoritative personality traits are attracted to police work as now defined.  This has caused much of our heartbreak as a people in dealing with policing.  And, we have not yet seemed to be effective in screening out persons with overt racist views.  Likewise, there is evidence that programs to reduce implicit racism in us have not been effective.  Racism and authoritarian mitigation have to be our highest priority in revamping recruiting and training  police officers for the future of the reduced role of this service.

There are suggestions that police applicants have at least a college degree in criminal justice and certification and renewal, continuing education requirements similar to nurses.  Seems quite reasonable. In addition, there may be evidence that the stress of policing work might cause some PTSD.  All should be tested for this and other psychological issues with regularity.

So, now were are left with property related crime arrests, 29%.  We know that some, in fact many are related to drug addicted persons needing funds to satisfy their drug habits.  Couldn't we make a huge dent in property crimes by addressing vastly expanded drug treatment or legal provision of needed narcotics?  And another major dent in property crime committed to persons desperate for basic life supporting goods due to poverty, underpayment and joblessness.  Yes, some likely are social miscreants who have no respect for the rights of others to own possessions.  We need protection from those via arrest by trained police and more than likely some will require confinement if they are not treatable or cannot be rehabilitated. Likely, this will be a minority percentage of those arrested.

Traffic control work by fully trained police officers seems an under use of their significant training having little or nothing to do with policing driving violations.  Very likely, specially trained traffic/safe driving specialists could more appropriately provide safety for citizens in that arena, joined by EMS and police in situations of  road clearing, injury or acts of violence on the roadways of our country. 

Surveillance technology on cars and roadways can be cautiously explored in application to unsafe/illegal driving as possible replacement of invasive human intervention, though civil liberty implications must be carefully assessed.

There seems little doubt that over time, likely decades of revamping the  policing and criminal justice system, we can dramatically reduce the footprint  and task list of policing in America and yet provide safety, security and peace of mind for our our citizenry.  Thank you Black Lives Matter for charting a course for a much better America.