Saturday, June 17, 2017

Philado Castile - How Can We Prevent This?

Photo Credit: LLroomtempJ
 
How do we stop things like what happened to Philando Castile from happening? There are several areas that can be addressed. The two areas that stand out to me are how we determine who gets to be a police officer and how we determine who gets to stay on as a police officer.
 
Since police officers have great job security these two areas are essentially one in the same. The officers we hire are the officers we keep until retirement. 

Just to make sure that we're on the same page - this post is not about what justice for Philando looks like - it is about how we prevent this from happening again.

Justice is difficult. The fact is - officers are rarely charged with crimes and rarely convicted when charged. This is because police are hired to make judgment calls - so we cannot hold them criminally liable for doing the very thing they were hired to do. What we can do, however, is a better job of assessing their ability to make good judgment calls before hiring them and not hesitating to let them go when they demonstrate poor judgment on the job. 

It is often the case that we err on the side of job security FOR police who show lapses in judgment rather than on the side of protection for the community FROM officers who show lapses in judgment. This can be a function of a few things, top of mind for me are negligence, the blue wall of silence and/or very strong collective bargaining agreements from police unions that prioritize job security above public safety.

So what can it look like to do a better job assessing police? Here is an abbreviated solution suggestion:

    1. Create a high national standard to become/maintain status as a police officer


    Possibly the equivalent of a security clearance with in-depth background checks and tenure reviews for existing officers, etc. With this standard, demonstrated lapses in judgment can be grounds for revocation of this clearance. No grace here - you mess up, you're gone. Excessive force? Gone. Impropriety? Gone. There are obvious implications here for collective bargaining agreements that are currently in place - my radical recommendation is to rewrite each of them to ensure that the safety of the public is what is held in highest regard, rather than the job security of police officers.

    2. Higher police salaries


    The job is just as hard, but with higher standards comes lower job security.

    To address lower job security and to ensure a steady talent pipeline, police officer salaries would need to increase by a factor of 1.5-2 - if not more. In my mind, the higher societal benefit (e.g. prevention of another Philando Castile-like murder) is worth the cost. Higher salaries will also attract better talent - solid people with solid judgment who previously would have pursued careers in...say operations at a technology company... who will now answer the call to protect and serve.
      

    3. Independent federal oversight of police departments


    This is unlikely to happen in our current administration, but common sense is bound to return to the oval office after this Trump disaster is over and we may see the federal government return to playing a role in holding rogue police department, like the Chicago Police Department, accountable.

    Similar to the centralized national standard, centralized oversight (e.g. A federal complaint and review board) will help to protect citizens from corrupt departments who do not uphold the national standard. Something like this will also potentially help to address the blue wall of silence.

    4. Police department consolidation


    There are too many police departments in this country. We currently have 18,000 with independent standards and oversight/non-oversight. I would propose 51 (50 states and Washington DC). It is easier to manage consolidated entities.



    Would love to hear your thoughts. 

    POST SCRIPT (6/19/17): It is important to note that Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who shot Philando Castile, had a clean departmental disciplinary record, graduated at the top of his class while studying for a degree in enforcement from Minnesota State University and was considered to be polite, friendly and helpful, having a sincere interest in public service and he was loved and lauded by his friends and classmates.(source)

    So it goes without saying that my recommendations are not a panacea - but I still stand behind them as a potential move in the right direction. I believe that corruption and protectionism are the problems that plague our police departments and I believe that addressing those issues will keep bad cops off the streets.