Police policy: what works, what does not

In the midst of horrible an reprehensible behavior by some police officers this week gassing, beating, arresting and shooting peaceful citizens elsewhere, I want to acknowledge that our Millville police walked peacefully with the community over the weekend and yesterday a New Jersey State Police officer from Port Norris stopped at my rural home and Baysave business just to ask if everything was OK. I really appreciated it. Thank you to all those officers! My family member in law enforcement are embarrassed and horrified by the aggressive actions by some police against peaceful protesters. Some police chiefs ‘get it’ and others just do not. The days of tough guy law and order mentality of “dominate the streets” being touted publicly by the president will just not work anymore. I appreciate president Obama’s statement yesterday that police policy happens at the local level, not by national policy. But why is it that some police chiefs ‘get it’ while others do not? Why is it that some understand the underlying the massively powerful force of resentment against government and others think they can maintain a ‘business as usual’ approach to law enforcement?

I didn’t know much about the topic of policing until my son was in law school focusing on criminal law and policing policies. (He won the school’s recognition award for exceptional performance in that area and had several great criminal law internships). In addition to conversations with the young lawyers, At first I was surprised that young lawyers are so opposed to traditional policing and criminal law tactics. Then I read a few books and resources on the topic to get a real education. I learned that we’ve been handling our policing and criminal law wrong for a very long time. It’s just like learning that spanking our kids was wrong and ineffective for all those generations. Unfortunately it is not reasonable to expect that the average person will educate themselves. The belief in outdated and ineffective policing persists in the minds of the majority of undereducated population (and especially politicians who think they know better). We are well familiar with “The Myth of the Rational Voter” concept as explained by author Bryan Caplan that a democratic process cannot be relied on for good public policy.

Those of us who study social policy and effective policing know that looting and rioting is an inevitable result of the decades of the widening gap in economic and social policies that are enforced by our government. Ultimately, we can’t fix police policy until we begin to address these other inequities. But no matter what, the policing policies of the past are wrong and ineffective and will only lead to more bad results.

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