Monday, June 1, 2020

Don't Escalate

Maggie Koerth and Jamiles Lartey at 538:
Watching a peaceful protest turn into something much less palatable is hard. There has been a lot of hard the past few days, as people in dozens of cities have released pent-up anger against discriminatory police tactics. Cars and buildings have burned. Store windows have been smashed. Protesters and police have been hurt. When protests take a turn like this we naturally wonder … why? Was this preventable? Does anyone know how to stop it from happening?

Turns out, we do know some of these answers. Researchers have spent 50 years studying the way crowds of protesters and crowds of police behave — and what happens when the two interact. One thing they will tell you is that when the police respond by escalating force — wearing riot gear from the start, or using tear gas on protesters — it doesn’t work. In fact, disproportionate police force is one of the things that can make a peaceful protest not so peaceful. But if we know that (and have known that for decades), why are police still doing it?

“There’s this failed mindset of ‘if we show force, immediately we will deter criminal activity or unruly activity’ and show me where that has worked,” said Scott Thomson, the former chief of police in Camden, New Jersey.

“That’s the primal response,” he said. “The adrenaline starts to pump, the temperature in the room is rising, and you want to go one step higher. But what we need to know as professionals is that there are times, if we go one step higher, we are forcing them to go one step higher.”

There’s 50 years of research on violence at protests, dating back to the three federal commissions formed between 1967 and 1970. All three concluded that when police escalate force — using weapons, tear gas, mass arrests and other tools to make protesters do what the police want — those efforts can often go wrong, creating the very violence that force was meant to prevent. For example, the Kerner Commission, which was formed in 1967 to specifically investigate urban riots, found that police action was pivotal in starting half of the 24 riots the commission studied in detail. It recommended that police eliminate “abrasive policing tactics” and that cities establish fair ways to address complaints against police.
Of course it's not a simple problem and there are cases where one police response gets great results on one block and leads to an explosion of violence on the next block. But I think it's hard to watch what has happened over the past few days and think that tough policing is generally the way to go.


G. Verloren said...

Robert Peel, inventor of modern policing, laid out nine fundamental principles of policing, roughly a century and a half ago. He recognized then the vital importance of not resorting to force, among other equally important measures.

American police today break all nine of Peel's Principles. At every turn, we defy the foundational tenets of successfully policing a modern society. We do not hold our officers the most basic philosophical ideals of their occupations. And until we do, nothing will change.

We need a total comprehensive reform of our police system - or more accurately, our police systems. We need to standardize and centralize into a single national system, and it needs to take policing in America back to the absolute basics. Our current Balkanized organizational structure is a clear failure with obvious susceptibility to corruption and abuse of power.

The police must be reminded that they are not above the public - that they ARE the public, and serve at the behest of their fellows. They are CIVILIANS like the rest of us, and are not to be protected against the ire of their fellows, but rather held to the highest standards possible as a matter of course.

If we want change, if we want justice, if we want peace and decency and not least of all effective means to reduce and prevent crime, we MUST put Peel's Principles into action, and make enacting them as the very foundation of our entire country's police system our highest priority.

Mário R. Gonçalves said...

Very well said, police are the public, they are civilians like any citizen; so they are not all superbeings, perfect and noble. A policeman can fail and commit felony, under stress or bad judgement, like any civilian. He must answer in court. All you said about police forces, must be said about looters and rioters: it's understandable, fair, logical, human, that you show your anger against criminal discrimination; but it must be oriented against that crime, not against "society". The violent mobs should also be prosecuted and condemned, in the media as well as in court (those who can be identified as leaders). They are not above the police, not above the People, not above the State.

And, by the way, rioters and looters and criminals are also the media who explore those images, constantly exhibiting the violence, shouting for vengeance. Something like Peel's principles should be made law to rule the irresponsable media.

JustPeachy said...

Right now, the police are under local, elected authority. The county sheriff. How exactly is federalizing them going to make them more citizen-like?