Friday, June 05, 2020

Police Reform

I'm increasingly of the view that the current protests are unlikely to have any lasting effect, which I think is unfortunate. There are several reasons why, but the single most significant is the lack of a clear proposal. Protests are not magic; they do not accomplish anything except as part of the proposal of a practical plan for solving what is being protested. This is why most effective protests are protests for or against very specific laws or policies; it just goes with the nature of such a protest that everybody knows what could be done to solve the problem being protested, and the protest raises the incentive for actually using that solution. But it's clear, if you look around, that there is no general association of the protests with specific solutions. And protests not generally associated with specific solutions don't get much done in the long run, because they aren't in fact incentivizing anything but looking like you are responding to the problem -- which is a dangerous thing to incentivize in politics.

This is not inevitable. There are proposed solutions in the air that could be brought down to earth -- the two obvious cases are eliminating qualified immunity and restricting police unions. As I've said before, I think the animus against police unions is misguided (and, if translated into results, will probably in fact be detrimental in the long run), but it is a popular animus and would certainly have resonance. And elimination of qualified immunity, while a limited response (qualified immunity only affects civil cases, not criminal ones -- the primary value of eliminating it is indirect, in that, since cities are the ones who would be paying out in the civil cases, cities with especially bad police departments would have much stronger incentive to do something about them), is also popular, and seems to have some traction already. But neither of these are particularly well-developed yet, nor do they seem on their own to be adequate to the effort and sacrifice being put into the protest.

There is one organization that has been doing some serious work to tie the protests to specific legal proposals, namely, the NAACP, which is the best organization to lead this kind of charge, because it has been advocating specific police reform proposals for years now, and thus has a lot of the groundwork already done. But almost of the actual effort in making this visible is being done at the level of local chapters; the national organization is doing remarkably little to point out the specific suggestions that it already has in hand. Part of the problem may just be that the website of the national organization, which would provide the obvious location for such information, is a slick-looking but poorly designed website that isn't useful for informing people about anything except the existence of the NAACP. And while its social media presence is somewhat better, most of that is devoted simply to calling attention to symbolic gestures of support. Part of the problem, too, may just be that national organizations are increasingly sloppy and not doing enough to talk with actual institutions dealing with the subject.

But local news organizations often are, and local chapters of the NAACP are often going out of their way to try to connect the protests to specifics. The best example I've seen so far is that of the Buffalo chapter:

According to Blue, the NAACP has established a list of needed police reforms.

"We would like a ban on the use of knee-holds and chokeholds as an acceptable practice for police officers."

Better de-escalation training also needs to be expanded for police, Blue says. Proponents argue such training would help officers calm tense confrontations involving the public.

"We also want the state to open up records of officers that have had misconducts and disciplinary history," Blue said. The proposal was also aired recently Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

"We want recertification of credentials...(to be)...denied for police officers if determined their use of deadly force was unwarranted by federal guidelines."

This is not a message specific to the Buffalo chapter; these are some of the major NAACP proposals. It's just hard to find statements of them that are as clear as this and that can be found without already knowing that they are there.

On the particular proposals, the banning of certain holds is entirely reasonable in light of recent events. I am skeptical of de-escalation training having much of an effect on its own, but it is probably the proposal that is most assured of being put into effect, and would at least be an extra point on which police departments could be held accountable. Opening up records and denying recertification are obvious proposals that could easily be done and stand a reasonable chance of improving matters.

Regardless of one's view of the proposals, for protests to have any lasting effect requires that they be tied in people's minds with specific responsive actions. Without that, I suspect we'll be repeating this bit of history.