The history of policing in many countries is somewhat of a mixed bag of results, some positive and some very negative. Police at the end of the day are people doing a task which is enforcing prescribed laws and such laws often impact on whether police are seen as good or bad. The problem with this is that when corruption occurs or when bad policemen take advantages of situations or abuse their authority it may seem that all police are bad. Is this a reasonable and logical conclusion? Is simply defunding the police a satisfactory solution? Let us consider how to destroy economies and cause social breakdown.
Imagine a surgeon has been taken to court, the charge is gross negligence, dereliction of medical duty and serious breaches of medical ethics. The doctor is found guilty. Would it be reasonable then for the judge in sentencing, to declare the entire medical profession to be deficient, and then make a call to arrest all doctors and close all hospitals? The answer is of course no. The harm caused would far exceed anything even the guilty doctor could manage by himself.
Image then that such a doctor existed for every 100 doctors in practice. The scrapping of the entire medical field would not help, nor would it even if the number of corrupt doctors went higher, say 50 or 60 percent. In such a case, reform would be needed, especially investigations to understand a) how many doctors are corrupt and b) why corruption has become to widespread. Both such questions need to be answered to avoid creating a flat, univariate analysis. Such an investigation would require MORE allocation of resources, both monetary as well as in terms of human capital.
Imagine once again that such an investigation took place. The findings concluded three underlying factors:
In situation 1, funds would need to be allocated either to change the immediate environment or to find other solutions such as hiring more staff, an option requiring more funding.
In situation 2, insufficient, incorrect or absent equipment would require not only funds to acquire proper equipment but also funding to train doctor to properly use such equipment.
In situation 3, investigators would need to be paid to properly identify and prosecute corrupt doctors. Another are involving additional funds and not less.
Now let’s go back to the police. What do police actually do? As stated at the outset they enforce the law. However, what does that really mean? In a balanced society, they grease the wheels, keeping things in working order, removing undesirable or harmful elements and assisting the weak. True, in some countries this is not the case, however, community safety is meant to be the final goal of policing. Large amounts of policing work goes into prevention, that is to say, removal of elements that lead to antisocial or criminal behaviour before such behaviours occur. Hence, there are community outreach programs and the most successful police departments always work closely with their communities.
Policing takes training, especially good policing. In the case of Korea, police attain at least an Associated degree in policing with numerous degrees of specialisation (Bachelor’s and Master’s) also being available. Police are trained in de-escalation techniques that help prevent conflicts from devolving into physical encounters. Serious altercations and death are rare. Such training needs financial resources.
The case can be made that guns are common in the US and not so in Korea. True as this may be there are other factors to consider. The majority of the male population has undergone conscription and martial arts training, meaning that they are per capita more dangerous in close quarters especially with blunt or sharp items.
This is an issue police still have to contend with.
In the American case, police corruption has been advertised by popular media as being a race based disparity. At a glance, it would appear that the research supports this:
“Police violence is a leading cause of death for young men in the United States. Over the life course, about 1 in every 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by police. Risk of being killed by police peaks between the ages of 20 y and 35 y for men and women and for all racial and ethnic groups. Black women and men and American Indian and Alaska Native women and men are significantly more likely than white women and men to be killed by police. Latino men are also more likely to be killed by police than are white men.”
(Edwards, F., Lee, H. and Esposito, M., 2019. Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race–ethnicity, and sex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(34), pp.16793-16798.)
This study however fails to account for specifics in demographics. Another study showed that lifestyle and occupation heavily skewed results, for example a black man who was a member of a gang and who dealt in drugs was found to have a one in four chance of being killed by another gangster over a period of four years. Which makes the chance of death for such an individual 250 times more likely than the risked posed by a police officer.
(Austin, A., 2006. Getting it wrong: How Black public intellectuals are failing Black America. iUniverse. P.25)
How data is presented can often also change the way it is perceived. For example when comparing rate as opposed to total number. Approximately double the rate of blacks (37 per million) are killed as opposed to whites (15 per million) in America, a number often highlighted, but when comparing totals 1,550 blacks compared to 2,960 whites are killed annually by police in America. The majority of those killed by police are male, 95% in fact.
Studies do not support the race-death correlation hypothesis. Rather, underlying patterns show that inexperienced police have a higher chance of shooting or getting into confrontational situations. Specifically when multinominal regression methodology is used, the race based disparity seemingly disappears instead showing regional disparities. The study by
"white police officers actually kill black and other minority suspects at lower rates than we would expect if killings were randomly distributed among officers of all races." and "we find that non-white officers kill both black and Latino suspects at significantly higher rates than white officers," the reason they speculated was "This is likely due to the fact that minority police officers tend to be assigned to minority neighbourhoods, and therefore have more contact with minority suspects."
Of course, this does not mean to imply that corruption does not exist; “ For example, the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation of the behaviour of police officers in Ferguson in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown found “a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct”: the department was targeting black residents for fees and fines and treating them as a source of “alternative revenue” for the city (DOJ 2015).”
(Menifield, C.E., Shin, G. and Strother, L., 2019. Do white law enforcement officers target minority suspects?. Public Administration Review, 79(1), pp.56-68.)
This interestingly coincides with the number of homicide victims per race as perpetrated per race.
FBI statistics consistently demonstrate that the most significant chance of a white person being killed is by another white person and a black person by another black person.
No studies currently seem to focus on underlying behavioral patterns. A question should be asked “Do behavioral cultural clues make it more likely that a police officer will interpret a behavior as a threat?”. What does that mean? Alright, let’s break it down in animal terms. A goat may stamp the ground and bare its horns, a cow would understand this and see it as a threat display. However, a horse or a zebra would be unlikely to understand and would therefore not engage. In a similar way, individuals from different cultures or subcultures may not recognize or interpret behaviors as a potential threat, therefore failing to react to them, causing a decrease in confrontational behavior. A case of lost in translation.
To understand why police react the way they do requires research which requires funding. Updating training to focus on de-escalation also requires MORE funding and not less. Less funding also means that vulnerable elements in the community will lack protection.
Lower salaries means lower quality police, lower quality police means more brutality and more corruption.
Lower funding means lower quality training or equipment making officers more nervous and more likely to shoot.
Sadly, in America, many police departments are locally funded meaning that poorer communities, the communities that most need police assistance, are the most unlikely to receive good quality policing.
(Rushin, S. and Michalski, R., 2020. Police funding. Fla. L. Rev., 72, p.277.)
This then becomes a vicious circle, as organised crime elements target the poorer communities, especially children for grooming into gangs or exploit them via human trafficking to support various illegal and harmful activities.
Defunding is therefore a sure method for destroying local economies, increasing crime and antisocial behaviour as well as putting additional pressure on low income communities.
It is the same as defunding hospitals because some doctors are found guilty of malpractice.
Alaric Naudé is a professor specialising in education, linguistics and social science. He is widely recognised as having a great face for radio.