from the sabotaged-by-its-own-policing dept
You can't build a better police force if you can't get anybody to apply for the job. Perhaps this partially explains the hesitance of law enforcement agencies to rid themselves of badly-behaving officers. Without a healthy pool of potential hires to pull from, attrition can become a real problem.
Many people are dissuaded from pursuing law enforcement careers after negative interactions with officers. This is where agencies are hurting themselves. Racism in law enforcement is a problem that can't be ignored. Some of it is overt. And some of it is the only conclusion you can draw when incidents like the following occur.
Twelve McKinney, TX, police officers responded to a complaint about teens at a local, private pool. Like too many interactions, it escalated far too quickly, beginning with Officer Eric "Barrel Roll" Casebolt (who has since resigned) tumbling into the frame of the cell phone video before yelling at/cuffing anything black, culminating in him throwing a 14-year-old black girl to the ground and sitting on her, only momentarily interrupted by him chasing off two black teens who tried to come to her aid by pointing his pistol at them.
The teen who recorded this incident was white. No orders were ever yelled at him, despite him being close to the action and openly recording Casebolt's one-man raid. (If anyone can explain Big & Khaki's purpose/position in this incident, I'd love to hear it.) What was actually in the heart and mind of Officer Casebolt we'll never know. But we can certainly see what it looks like. And what it looks like is black=bad and everyone else of other races not worth giving a second look.
If this mindset -- or this appearance -- is ever going to change, there needs to be some more diversity in the police workforce. I'm not suggesting another mutation of affirmative action, but it would probably help community relations if responding officers had a bit more in common with those they're policing. As was noted in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, minorities were routinely being charged with the pettiest of violations (and arrested when fines weren't paid) by a police force that was predominantly white. In many other cases, it's been pointed out that many police forces not only do not mesh with the racial makeup of their communities, but often live miles away from the places they patrol -- distancing themselves both literally and figuratively from the people they serve.
In New York City, years of "broken windows" policing and stop-and-frisk tactics have combined to ensure its force won't be less white nor less disconnected from the communities the officers patrol, at least not for the forseeable future.
Commissioner William Bratton is blunt about probable causes. “We have a significant population gap among African American males because so many of them have spent time in jail and, as such, we can’t hire them,” he said in a 20 May interview. Because many black men have been convicted of a felony, they are automatically disqualified.This is a problem -- not just for the NYPD -- but for policing as a whole. Bratton (who has since clarified this remark -- more on that in a bit) is going to have trouble finding minority officers because his force spent most of the last 25 years either busting them for petty crimes (the "broken windows") or shoving them up against the nearest wall for suspicionless questionings and patdowns. Those who could make a positive impact due to their rapport with the communities they serve (because they grew up/live there) are already disqualified from serving.
As noted, Bratton has clarified this statement:
Bratton said that when he had raised the “unfortunate consequences” of an explosion in stop-and-frisk tactics as one of the factors behind a difficulty in recruiting African American officers, he had meant that being the subject of such stops could discourage black people from applying.While this points out that summons and misdemeanor charges won't keep black men from joining the NYPD, it doesn't make things much better. In fact, given the pervasiveness of stop-and-frisk, it possibly makes things worse. Rather than just disqualifying felons, it has alienated thousands more who were never arrested or charged. Their only interactions with the NYPD have been of the "hassled" variety -- stopped, patted down and questioned simply for being black, young and living in their own neighborhoods.
“Stop, question and frisk is not preventing people from coming on the job,” Bratton said on Wednesday. “It’s not something that prohibits them. What it might do, however, because of a negative interaction with a New York City police officer – why would they want to become a New York City cop when they feel that they’ve been inappropriately dealt with in stop, question and frisk?”
Now that stop-and-frisk has been dialed back significantly (only 48,000 last year -- compared to 4 million stops from 2002-2013), there's a chance this may, at some point in the future, pose less of a problem. This unconstitutional program -- in addition to alienating black applicants -- decimated the NYPD applicant pool for several years before someone finally realized what was happening.
Bratton said on Wednesday that at one time, police department applications had included a question about whether the applicant had ever been the subject of stop-and-frisk. But answering “yes” would not have disqualified the applicant, he said.Nearly 400,000 stops a year means tossing out tons of applications, presuming even a small percentage of those stopped weren't already deterred from entering the police force thanks to these largely-negative interactions.
“We changed that question,” Bratton said at the press conference. “They were asked starting in 2009 and 10, ‘Have you been, basically the subject of a stop?’ We took a look at that as part of the changes we were making as part of the overall stop, question and frisk program. We changed that question. Because really it was not a qualifier ... It’s really information that’s of no use or value to us in the application process.”
But this isn't just an NYPD problem. It's a problem for all police forces who spend most of their time coming down hard on minorities by enforcing petty ordinances to the nth degree or doing what Officer Casebolt did in the above situation -- "busting" black kids while whites and other minorities roamed free. If this sort of thing remains unchecked, hiring policies alone will prevent police forces from being more representative of the communities they serve. Left untouched, this will result in more and more agencies becoming predominantly composed of white officers, even as the population being policed remains a blend of minorities.
On top of any present racism (something unavoidable when hiring humans), the increasingly homogeneous police force will only exacerbate "us vs. them" thinking, as hired officers will be pulled from a pool of people who've never experienced the negative aspects of law enforcement.
The fix isn't Affirmative-Action-on-steroids. The solution is the elimination of tactics that lend themselves to racist behavior and further drive a wedge between the policed and the police. The only way to ensure you can get the best -- and most useful -- police officers is to stop preemptively culling your potential workforce with abusive behavior and policies. Internal housecleaning is also in order, but what the NYPD's experience shows is that bad policies lead to the continued deterioration of the police force… which leads to the continued deterioration of policework… and so on, until your police force bears almost no resemblance to the communities it polices.