Hard data from Harvard about police violence & race

Summary: At last in the long debate about police violence we have an actual analysis (rather than the amateur tallies). Professor Fryer Jr. (economics, Harvard) looks at a sample of the data and discovers some surprising news. He gives some innovative suggests for practical police reforms (i.e., possible to implement). His conclusions are essential reading for anyone concerned about this vital issue.

Protect and Serve

An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force
By Roland G. Fryer, Jr.
National Bureau of Economic Research, July 2016

“This paper explores racial differences in police use of force. On non-lethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than 50% more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police. Adding controls that account for important context and civilian behavior reduces, but cannot fully explain, these disparities.

“On the most extreme use of force – officer-involved shootings – we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account. We argue that the patterns in the data are consistent with a model in which police officers are utility maximizers, a fraction of which have a preference for discrimination, who incur relatively high expected costs of officer-involved shootings.”

Fryer evaluates seven levels of force short of shooting by police: hands, pushing to wall, handcuffs, drawing a weapon, pushing to ground, pointing a weapon, using a spray/baton. The following graph shows the data by race and hour of day, from a sample of New York Police Department stop and frisks from 2003-2013.

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These are the people responsible for our out of control police…

Summary:  Matthew Harwood’s definitive article shows that America’s police have gone out of control. But nothing will change unless we identify the people responsible, much as the year of outrage following Snowden’s revelations of NSA surveillance produced few reforms. The evidence clearly points to the guilty parties — and a solution.

San Diego policeman Neal Browder shooting from his car at an Rawshan Nehad — an unarmed man 17′ away. Browder said he believed Nehad had a knife and posed an “immanent threat” to him. Nehad died; Browder was not charged. Insurgents struggle to de-legitimize police with large segments of the people; US police are doing it to themselves.

I strongly recommend reading The Logic of the Police State by Matthew Harwood (ACLU) at TomDispatch — “People Are Waking Up to the Darkness in American Policing, and the Police Don’t Like It One Bit.” Here is the conclusion of Tom Engelhardt’s introduction…

In these years, the militarization of the police has taken place amid a striking upsurge of protest over police brutality, abuses, and in particular the endless killing of young black men, as well as a parallel growth in both the powers of and the protections afforded to police officers.

As TomDispatch regular Matthew Harwood, who has been covering the militarization of the police for this site, reports today, all of this could easily add up to the building blocks for a developing police-state frame of mind. If you’ve been watching the national news dominated by panic and hysteria over domestic terrorism, including the shutting down of a major urban school system over an outlandish hoax threat of a terror attack, or the recent Republican debate over “national security,” which turned out to mean only “ISIS” and immigration, can there be any question that the way is being paved for institutionalizing a new kind of policing in this country in the name of American security and fear?

Here are Harwood’s concluding paragraphs…

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Black Mass: a light film about an important story of US corruption

Summary: Here Locke Peterseim gives one of his typically excellent reviews. He looks at Black Mass, explaining not just the film but also how and why it gets brought to the screen. The film tells one of the most important stories of corrupt law enforcement in US history, showing how the system is fundamentally dysfunctional. Unfortunately, unlike the revelations of Frank Serpico, there was no equivalent of the NYC’s 1970 Knapp Commission to drive reforms. We’re not what we were, but can become so again.

Poster for "Black Mass"

The Hollow Weight of Black Mass

By Locke Peterseim.
From the film blog of Open Letters Monthly.
Reposted with his generous permission.

We’re all familiar with the Big Pivot the Cinematic Industrial Complex makes over Labor Day, when suddenly the theaters are no longer stuffed with superheroes and exploding action vehicles (starring Good Actors Paying for New Homes in Southern Europe), but instead begin to fill with Important Meaningful films about things (starring Good Actors Doing Serious Acting).

But whether their subject is Transforming Super-powered Race Cars or Exploring Human Nature and the Quest for Truth, the questions remains the same when approaching the new seasonal slate of films: Why is This Thing Here? Or more importantly, Why Am I Expected to Spend Two-plus Hours Watching It?

The answer to the first question is simple: To win awards. I know that sounds crass and cynical, and I know very well that many really talented and artistically sincere writers, directors, and even actors make truly amazing films because they share a desire to say something with their cinematic work — not, to get awards. (Though most will admit after a drink or two that awards are certainly nice, in terms of gratification and appreciation, but they also come in handy when lining up future passion projects.)

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Learning about the police to understand why they so often act badly

Summary: Modern technology gives us unprecedented tools with which to run America, but only if we have the necessary clear vision. These tools work equally well to feed our delusions about the world. Our response to revelations about police behavior suggests that many Americans have chosen myths over truth.

Police Corruption

See the magnitude of the problem

I have long suspected that we no longer watch TV shows just for entertainment, but also to re-enforce our delusions about the world — a retreat to fantasy as we have disengaged as citizens. A comment to “The Castle season opener shows our divorce from our police” nicely illustrated this, by someone who claims an MS degree in physics.

99.999% of all police work can be perfectly proper, but that 0.001% of bad behavior is what shows up on YouTube.

Applying that fraction to the 34,450 officers of the NYPD means that they have 0.3 bad cops. That’s probably low by a factor of ten thousand. His rebuttal…

OK, make it 99.99%. Or 99.9%. Or 99%.

That gives us 3.4 bad cops in the entire NYPD. Or 34. Or 340. Here we see the clouded vision of Americans at work, as citizens learn about the police by watching “Blue Bloods“. Fortunately we need not rely on TV police procedurals for information. There are studies of police corruption, such as those cited in “Corruption in Law Enforcement: A Paradigm of Occupational Stress and Deviancy” in the Journal of the Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. Footnotes in the original.

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The Castle season opener shows our divorce from our police

Summary: The TV show “Castle” shows how the police have become a strange tribe that TV explores, like National Geographic used to write about central Africa.  The season 8 premier episode shows how far TV has evolved from the 1950’s idealized portrayals of Dragnet and Highway Patrol to today’s dark fantasies.  Spoilers!


Warning: spoilers to the first episode of “Castle” season 8

Today’s police procedurals show how we’ve become accustomed to our New America, and disconnected from the government and its security services. Police procedurals tend to idealize police, but modern ones tend to accept their corruption and see police as Lone Rangers fighting evil despite their organization. While immersed in correct details, overall they make early procedurals — like Dragnet (1951 – 1959) — look like documentaries (there are exceptions to this, of course).

Who knew in 1971 that Dirty Harry would become the model for 21st century policing in US fiction?

The law-breaking cop Danny Reagan (co-star of “Blue Bloods” (especially criminal in the first 2 season) is one example; we should root for Internal Affairs to get him fired. The Gestapo-like agents of “NCIS Los Angeles” are another. Last week we saw an extreme version of this problem in “XY”, the Season 8 opener of “Castle”. Like the film Independence Day, every scene was bizarre in its own way — but unlike that great film, it was not funny.

Toks Olagundoye.

Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) is a licensed Private Investigator (PI), consultant to the NYPD, and the husband of a Captain in the New York Police Department. Hayley Shipton (Toks Olagundoye) is a PI with whom he partners in season 8, although she freely admits she is a criminal — and immediately demonstrates it.

Castle: “Hayley, we can just walk through the front door. There’s no bolt cutters required.”
Hayley: “Oh, you’ve been playing at being a cop too long, Rick. As a P.I., you don’t have a badge, don’t have search warrants. You’ve got to get creative. Lie, cheat.”
Castle: “And the occasional B&E {breaking & entering}, apparently?”
Hayley: “Yeah, if that’s what it takes.”

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A big month for police violence. Will they reform? Lessons either way.

Summary: Seven big incidents during the past 30 days! This post looks not just at what’s happening, but at the likely consequences. Unless they respond effectively, this growing flood of videos will inevitably redefine the image of police in the minds of many America, with ugly results. Unfortunately they, like so many of our institutions, appear dysfunctional in this most vital sense.

“There are two fairly standard approaches to political power used by those who seek it. Some seek power with the assumption that the citizenry are the source of legitimacy and are to be treated with respect. Others concentrate on identifying whatever insecurities there are within the citizenry and on exploiting them.”

— John Ralston Saul’s Reflections of a Siamese twin: Canada at the end of the twentieth century (1997).

Ahmed Mohamed


A busy month for America’s police

Video shows Philadelphia police officer threatening to have car towed unless driver for donates to police fundraiser., AP: incident occurred in August. Also see the NYT story.

Video Suggests Suspect in San Antonio Shooting Had Hands Raised When Shot“, New York Times: on August 28. Also see the second video of the incident.

Retired tennis star James Blake tackled by officer, without warning, while standing outside hotel. He resembled suspect of credit card fraud (a nonviolent crime), ABC News: September 11.

Video shows 4 Stockton police officers tackling a 16-year-old boy to the ground for jaywalking (it’s an infraction in California, not even a misdemeanor), LA Times: on September 15. See the video: “9 cops detain 1 US teen for refusing to use sidewalk (VIDEO)“. This article describes the beating.

Ahmed Mohamed interrogated by 5 police for building a clock and saying it was a clock. Taken away in cuffs, fingerprinted, suspended from school for 3 days: on September 15. His parents were not allowed to be present during police interrogation (and no attorney).

Cop Beats Unarmed Woman with a baton, Pulls Gun On Witnesses, ThinkProgress: on September 18. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officer arresting woman on a bus for theft.

Policeman harasses and cuff man for suspiciously eating a hamburger in the parking lot of an apartment building (plus an illegal search), AlterNet: on September 19.

This is probably an incomplete list of incidents during these few weeks, showing the usual mix of brutal of small but telling incidents plus an execution.

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Are protests about police killings causing crime to rise?

Summary: First came the revelations of brutal police killings of unarmed people for little or no reason. Then the blowbacks of police excuses and rising crime. How we deal with this will have large effects on our cities and show how well we can deal with problems in American society.

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

Indications that the 3 decades of declining crime has reversed

Lots of stories about rising rates of crime. “Quiet Santa Clarita adjusts to recent jump in violence.” “After a 12-year decline, crime in L.A. surges in first half of 2015.” “Several big U.S. cities see homicide rates surge.” “Baltimore killings soar to a level unseen in 43 years.”

Conservatives explain what’s causing crime to increase

“The criminal element is feeling empowered’ by anti-police sentiment.”
—- Police Chief Sam Doston of St Louis.

Conservatives have the explanation. It’s a mixture of evil and lies, as in this Wall Street Journal op-ed by Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute — Excerpt…


The most plausible explanation of the current surge in lawlessness is the intense agitation against American police departments over the past 9 months. … The news media pump out a seemingly constant stream of stories about alleged police mistreatment of blacks, with the reports often buttressed by cellphone videos that rarely capture the behavior that caused an officer to use force. … Acquittals of police officers for the use of deadly force against black suspects are now automatically presented as a miscarriage of justice. Proposals aimed at producing more cop convictions abound, but New York state seems especially enthusiastic about the idea. …

Similar “Ferguson effects” are happening across the country as officers scale back on proactive policing under the onslaught of anti-cop rhetoric. Arrests in Baltimore were down 56% in May compared with 2014. “Any cop who uses his gun now has to worry about being indicted and losing his job and family,” a New York City officer tells me. “Everything has the potential to be recorded. A lot of cops feel that the climate for the next couple of years is going to be nonstop protests.”

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