Woman police officer

Criminal Justice: Five Steps to Depolarize American Society

The recent bill and rare accomplishment passed by Congress, called the First Step Act, reduces sentencing and allows a fairer and balanced approach to the immense problems in our criminal justice system.

Discussing 5 Steps To Depolarize American Society With San Diego Deputy Public Defender>Lucas Hirsty

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It indeed can be the first step to begin reforming the core of our underlying and deeper polarized society. There are 5 simpler and more immediate policies that can dramatically impact the underlying roots of a polarized society. Any one of these 5 are not a magic bullet, but combine them into a cumulative model and we will create a sense of optimism and hope for a criminal justice system that represents the core values of our democracy. The good news is that they do not require acts of congress or legislatures, just leadership that is willing to implement better policies.

1. Don’t Stop Using Body Cameras.

The age of videos has dramatically illustrated how much mistreatment there is, especially towards blacks. Already implemented, body cameras allow for accountability of what actually happened at the point of interaction with the police officer and the public. The cases we hear about are usually the worst outcomes, but the cameras can not only clarify what happened but point out when officers handled a situation well. This can restore confidence with the public.

While most departments have implemented the policy the research is not definitive and critics abound. A large scale study reports it doesn’t change officer behavior. View this article on the effect of wearing body cameras.

However, other controlled experimental studies have found some success in reduced force and citizen complaints in Las Vegas and Rialto, CA.

https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/1810/246429/JQC11.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=n

Likewise, an internal report from San Diego reported success in reducing officer misconduct and use of force.

Further complexities exist and need to be ironed out. At what point is the body camera video made available to the public?

Thus, while the critics abound there are hidden but important factors that are psychologically important. This includes more accurate and fair investigations, and therefore an increased trust from the public. The latter, in my opinion, is at the heart of the deeper issue of our polarization. Conclusion: Continue the research but stick with the body cams. The intent shows the public that law enforcement is trying.

2. Hire Female Police Officers.

In the 1970’s, 1-3% of police officers were women and by 2010 women still comprised less than 15% of all officers in U.S. federal, state, & local law enforcement agencies.

Harassment reported by female officers from male officers and the view of the police officer as a male dominated profession are major deterrents. Since women are primary caretakers, flexibility in work shifts and a 24 daycare center can be implemented. Would this be too feminine for the masculine view of law enforcement? Look at the advantages of female police officers.

First, the style of policing used by women as a group can be more effective than the policing styles used by men as a group. This is because female officers have more altruistic and social motives than men. Financial compensation appears stronger for male officers. Overall, we know women have better communication and social skills, and female officers are better at developing cooperation and trust. Women are much more likely to think of how they could make things better by being a police officer.

Most of police work shows that about 80-95% of policing involves non-violent, service-related activities and interactions with the public. Further, research from several studies has demonstrated that female officers are less-likely than male officers to use excessive force, with no evidence they avoid using force when necessary. The average male officer is over 8.5 times more likely than the average female officer to have an allegation of excessive force made against him.

This one is clear. Every effort should be made to hire female officers by making accommodations to the work environment.

3. Make Electronic Monitoring work.

Like body cams GPS type monitoring has been around. The growth is remarkable as the number of monitored individuals more than doubled in the 10 year period of 2005-2015.

The downside poses problems such as failing to respond to alerts, and device failure including false alarms. Even changing the batteries was neglected. The problem was pervasive across the country.

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/techtank/2017/09/21/decades-later-electronic-monitoring-of-offenders-is-still-prone-to-failure/

Like anything new and popular in the American culture, whether a building or an electronic device, the maintenance and upkeep is secondary. Yet it can be done with leadership grit.

Judge Steven Alm, now retired, is the creator of the Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement program, or HOPE Probation. The first of its kind it was tremendously effective, by providing swift justice and imprisonment for violators. Both recidivism and government costs and workload were reduced.

A ten year follow up showed similar results. 

What is required is the detailed technological follow through on the hardware/software side and the conscientious and immediate justice of a swift response. Violate the GPS and go to jail. Why isn’t this possible?

4. Reduce Jail Time by Eliminating Bail

Cash bail is at the core of the injustice in our criminal justice system and generates the constant mantra you can buy your way out of trouble. The money aspect keeps poorer people in jail who don’t need to stay there. The increased detention dramatically increases taxpayer costs and breeds the anger and roots of polarization. Everyone knows we have the highest incarceration rate in the world. Almost two thirds of those in U.S. jails have not been convicted of a crime.

California is leading the way with kudos for the exit of Jerry Brown. California Senate Bill 10 passed and to be implemented in October, 2019 eliminates bail and substitutes a risk assessment system. Why not? Risk assessments based on the science of actuarial data are a core factor used by forensic professionals in evaluations and assessment of potential violence, sexual abuse and psychological functioning. Why not use this science to reduce the prison population when indicated?

5. Get Tough on Bad Cops

Nothing infuriates a community more than police who exaggerate and outright lie about evidence, Consider the perennial “I thought he had a gun”, or even planting a gun at the scene. Apparently, even lying under oath at trials by police and detectives is not uncommon.

Worse yet, here in California, complaints against an officer are often sealed. An officer can continue with wrongdoing and a defendant and their lawyer may never know the cop testifying is a chronic deceiver and perpetuating injustice through the system.

It’s time to get tough on cops and the first time a cop lies under oath they should be canned and those who continue strengthening the blue wall should either help to knock it down or be relieved of society’s trust. Perhaps the tide is turning because starting at the top may be the key. In 2017, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka were convicted of corruption and obstruction of justice, quite a first weakening of the blue wall.

Cops involved in irresponsible shootings are starting to get caught and punished too.

More jack hammering is still needed to build a new wall of public trust.

Conclusion

Social Psychology addresses the perennial dilemma of what is needed for change to occur. What comes first—a change in behavior or a change in attitude? The polarization research seems to indicate it would be behavior that comes from a focus on agreed upon solutions and their consistent implementation. In other words—policy that leads to behavior change. Depolarization is, in fact, changes in behavior that then change an attitude.

These five changes listed above are a start. If we are to depolarize society, we need more focus on behaviors and policy that generate fairness and equality. Polarization will be resolved through discourse and ideas that leads to agreement on effective policy. This would include more focus on behaviors and policy that generate fairness and equality.


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