Reforms are coming to America’s police, either with them or over them. Which?

Summary: For decades people have written about our unjust criminal justice system, dysfunctional in many ways from the arbitrary and unsupervised power of district attorneies down to our 3rd world-like prisons (e.g., overcrowding, run by gangs, with routine rape). However it worked sufficiently well for our elites to remain stable and repel criticisms. The people oppressed had little power and less legitimacy, so their complaints had no effect. Now the structure totters, undermined as technology washes away its foundation. Let’s hope we’ll get large reforms that produce a better system.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Shadow of the police
US News & World Report, 5 May 2015.


  1. DNA tests reveal kangaroo court justice.
  2. SWAT and militarization of police.
  3. Cameras plus YouTube = a revolution.
  4. The action results from the reaction.
  5. Opportunity knocks for the Left.
  6. For More Information.

(1) DNA tests reveal kangaroo court justice

The revolution produced by DNA testing tore the facade of justice off the system. The tiny Innocence Project has exonerated 325 prisoners so far, a microscopic fraction of those unjustly convicted now rotting in jail or tarred with a felony conviction. Worse, examination of their cases reveals their trials as travesties of justice: prosecutor misconduct, bungled laboratory forensics, perjured testimony, and pervasive witness misidentification.

Causes of Innocence Ignored
From the Innocence Project.

For links to articles about these things see About the collapse of the American Criminal Justice System. Still, these were just inconsequential dots in the daily news flow.

(2)  SWAT and militarization of police

The armored vehicles and army-like police raiding homes, breaking up peaceful demonstrations — plus the high body count that follows their raids (usually to deliver a summons) — transformed the image of police in the minds of many. We get a new police for our New America, but most prefer not to see these changes.  There were no substantial effects but, like the DNA testing, it weakened people’s confidence in their police.

McKinney incident
Chief Conley said that the actions of Officer Casebolt had been ‘indefensible’.

(3)  Cameras plus YouTube = a revolution

… the fact that this policeman was arrested so swiftly shows that there can be justice for victims so long as a bystander is nearby, has a camera phone on them, captures the whole interaction, and several dozen other circumstances play out in the precise sequence,” said North Charleston, SC resident Jenine Williams, echoing the sentiments of millions of Americans who told reporters they have faith that, as long as a fair-minded eyewitness happens to be passing by at the exact right time; has the inclination to stop and film; an unobstructed view; enough battery life and memory on their phone; a steady hand; the forethought to start filming an interaction with the police before it escalates into violence; is close enough to get detailed footage, but far enough away to avoid being shot themselves or seen by the officer and potentially having their phone confiscated; and it is daytime, then justice would certainly be served.

… The nation added that they were also hopeful the situation would change the behavior of police officers by making them look around to see if anyone was filming them before they moved from excessive to lethal force.

Nation Hopeful There Will Be Equally Random Chance Of Justice For Future Victims Of Police Abuse” in The Onion (tomorrow’s fantastic news, today).

DNA proofs of innocence only affected Americans for whom information influences their opinions, a number too small to matter (see Ezra Klein’s articles here, and here). Only something vivid and irrefutable could shake the deep pillars of our vast law enforcement apparatus, a deus ex machina. Now we have it.

Cameras plus YouTube have unleashed a series of explosions whose results we cannot yet imagine. We see police shooting harmless children, a man running away, and mentally ill people no longer posing a threat to anyone, plus numerous unjustified beatings. Plus the spectacle of so many police reports proved by videos to be perjury.

As with DNA testing, cameras only reveal a small fraction of excessive police violence. Unlike DNA testing, people understand cameras — and the rarity of capturing such events. They understand what it means when these appear as an endless stream on YouTube.

McKinney incident

(4)  The action results from the reaction

So far the reaction of police has been defensive, reactive. Their institutional and public support (the 2nd most respected institution) has minimized consequences for most of the officers involved — except in the most high-profile or outrageous cases. Strong reforms remain MIA — other than increased use of body cameras (a powerful tool for police surveillance of the public).

Police seem to believe that they can continue with business as usual, blaming “the system”, criminals and their supporters, Leftist agitators. The police unions often respond from the PR playbook: the police are the victims (examples here), reforms hurt them (e.g., slightly reducing their access to military gear), and we need more of them (as crime rates fall) — in brief, the solution is better treatment of the police.

It’s a response that could buy time for police to institute their own meaningful reforms. But they’re dreaming if they believe this response will prevent reforms. They’re overplaying their cards, as did the automobile unions (building “Monday morning lemons” in the 1970s) — and most famously, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization in 1981.

Public institutions thrive only to the extent that they have legitimacy with the broad public. Legitimacy is a capital sum, subject to deposits and withdrawals. Police are rapidly drawing down their balance. Failure to make obvious reforms will result in changes forced on them.

Other professionals have more effective internal disciplinary systems and open records on which everything is recorded — complaints, punishments, legal settlements. I doubt that police can avoid both of these, as the elites running our cities learn how much this costs them — as Nick Wing at the Huffington Post documents: “We Pay A Shocking Amount For Police Misconduct, And Cops Want Us Just To Accept It“.  While they obviously believe that Black lives don’t matter, money does. The police are impervious to the opinions of the underclass, but we might see how quickly they respond to the decisions of our ruling elites.

If these videos continue to appear on YouTube, eventually the public will demand action. That will happen only after confidence in police is far lower than today — and even more polarized. In other words, when police become yet another damaged institution in America.

A police reform puzzle

(5)  Opportunity knocks for the Left

Samuel Adams would cheer these events as a gift from Nature’s God, an opportunity to build an organization capable of long-term action. Will these events force development of better leaders on the Left? I doubt it. The Left is among our most broken institutions (e.g., see this on their guaranteed-to-fail leadership methods), probably now incapable of effective action. I believe that much will happen before a new Left can arise.

Police then and now

(6)  For More Information

Some good articles about police reform:

For deeper understanding of these things I recommend Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces (2014) and John T. Whitehead’s A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (2013). Also see The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010) by legal scholar Michelle Alexander.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the police, about justice, about our prisons, and especially these…

  1. Do not talk to the police (important advice in New America).
  2. Police grow more powerful; the Republic slides another step into darkness. Can cellphone cameras save us?
  3. Shootings by police show their evolution into “security services”; bad news for the Republic.
  4. News good & bad about the fantastic growth of America’s security services.
  5. No need for police reform, since only criminals have trouble with police!
  6. Myths and truth about police violence, & why change is coming.



6 thoughts on “Reforms are coming to America’s police, either with them or over them. Which?”

  1. FM wrote:

    Public institutions thrive only to the extent that they have legitimacy with the broad public. Legitimacy is a capital sum, subject to deposits and withdrawals. Police are rapidly drawing down their balance. Failure to make obvious reforms will result in changes forced on them.

    This is stunningly succinct and strikes me as absolutely accurate. Seldom have I read more insightful and more prescient assessment of the current situation.
    The most probable reform involves requiring all police to wear body cameras. In those jurisdictions where this is already done, it turns out wearing bodycams automatically reduces the use of force by 80%. In short, once forced to wear bodycams, police officers wind up policing themselves because failure to do so costs them their jobs.

    1. I think I meantioned this here before, but if not… there could be a technical tweak with the body cams that could ease privacy concerns, for to officers themselves, not just the public. Put the camera on the officer’s sidearm or any other weapon they have, or have the camera system activate automatically when the weapon comes out of its holster.

  2. A couple of ideas occurred to me earlier today as I was posting a comment pertaining to a related issue (yet another fatal shooting of an unarmed citizen by a police officer) on another blog which I frequently visit…

    One of these is the possibility that perhaps there has been a method to the madness of the huge differential between incidents of police brutality and actual convictions for the same. As much as I hate to suggest it because of what it implies, perhaps the reason why so many police officers are being cleared is precisely because a police officer who is for all intents and purposes above the law is significantly more intimidating than one who is held accountable for his or her misconduct — and it’s not hard to see how this could serve the interests of the Powers That Be quite well. An intimidated populace is probably more likely to be a compliant and obedient populace. If you are aware that a police officer is free to do more or less whatever the hell he wants to you without fearing that he’ll be penalized for it you’re far more likely to comply with his orders because you will recognize that you have little or no redress in the eyes of the law. To quote Juvenal (again), quis custodiet ipsos custodes? — or in modern parlance, “who polices the police?” Perhaps this is a maxim which needs to go viral. When the material difference between the police and the criminals begins to diminish because the people have almost as much reason to fear the former as the latter — and that does seem to be the direction in which this country has been moving — then freedom and justice will become little more than palliative illusions at best.

    Another thought which occurred to me is that perhaps we need to begin referring to incidents in which a civilian somehow ends up dead at the hands of a police officer even though he or she did not pose a clearly-defined threat to officers or other members of the public (and especially if he or she was unarmed) is to begin calling these incidents exactly what they are — summary executions. When someone is suspected or accused of a crime — or worse, a potential crime! — and is immediately put to death without benefit of trial by someone who’s made the decision (even if split-second) to appoint himself or herself as judge and jury…that is a summary execution.

  3. Pingback: Reforms are coming to America’s police, either with them or over them. Which? | Occupy The Bronx

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