Episode 6

Do cops in conservative cities shoot more? (6:10) The DC body-worn cameras report on the behavior of cops and citizens. (20:00) A well-handled police-involved shooting – on video. (22:22) Mental health policing done wrong… and done right. (27:20) The racial component to “snitches get stitches.” And (29:05) Cook County State’s Attorney data.

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Nick and Peter discuss Peter’s blog post that showed a correlation between the conservativeness of a city, and the number of people shot and killed by police. Peter’s working hypothesis is that, with other things being constant (and they rarely are), police shoot more people when nobody cares about police-involved shootings. And white people — particularly conservative white people — don’t really care about police-involved shootings. Period. No matter the race of those shot. And when there’s never any pushback or criticism of police, laws and training and culture do not change.


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Nick retorted that, glancing at the cities in question, the answer would more likely be related to population density than “caring” about police shootings. Nick then drops that old academic saw, the cliché of all research, “more research is needed.”

Next up (at 6:10): a large, randomized trial in Washington D.C. to test whether body worn video cameras (BWVC) have an effect on the way people – citizens and cops alike – behave. The study, Evaluating the Effects of Police Body-Worn Cameras: A Randomized Controlled Trial is a fascinating read, and while the authors state that the effects of BWVC are neutral, Nick stated that they’re not, they’re just not neutral in the areas that are actually effected by body worn video – hint: it’s not oversight and transparency.

Instead, Nick pointed to the table that dealt with how cameras are used in prosecutions and found that – even if it’s not statistically significant, it’s reflective of the fact that most agencies use these cameras mainly for prosecution aids. He pointed to a 2016 study, Body Worn Cameras and the Courts: A National Survey of State Prosecutors, in which the authors found that while only 8.3% of lead prosecutors had used BWVC evidence to prosecute a police officer, 92.6% had used the videos in prosecutions of private citizens. And, of course, Nick mentioned the article he wrote with Rachel Levinson-Waldman of the Brennan Center in April of 2016 in USA Today, in which they said that agencies using BWVC must state clearly what they want the cameras to do, or they will never know if the cameras are working.

Peter mentioned some other studies worth reading, like this one, and some behind pay walls but whose abstracts can be useful.

And yeah, “more research is needed.”

(At 20min) Anthony Cano, a police officer in Glendale, AZ, was involved earlier this year in a shooting of a man who fired at Cano, and Peter and Nick discuss how it’s nice to have video of a cop doing what we would hope cops would do: he fires back at the motorist who fired a handgun at the officer, injuring the motorist. In responding to the deadly attack, Cano moved tactically to cover, calmly radioed in that he had fired his gun, performed a reposition and a tactical reload while warning residents to stay inside and demanding the surrender of the would-be cop-killer.

For once, Nick and Peter agreed that actually there’s no need for more research.

Nick (22:22) used that as a segue to a promotion of Texas… and also his field report, a QPP Extra: Divert To Where? Mental Health Policing, which opens with the story of a Texas cop who talked to a handgun-wielding suicidal man  for almost 15 minutes, and the man finally agreed to get help. Afterwards, supervisors who watched the video told the cop that he should have shot the guy. That it was dangerous that he hadn’t shot the guy.

The thing is, the way mental health care in America works now? Both of them were right. The supervisor was right:  Just because someone’s mentally ill doesn’t mean they’re not going to kill you. The man threatening suicide was a criminal, and he had stolen the gun.

And the officer was right. Usually, Graham versus Connor, the Supreme Court ruling applied to cops who use deadly force, is something hear about this when a cop pulled the trigger. The ruling said that, “The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” But here’s a case in which we have this former Marine police officer – saying that, to him – with his battlefield and gunfight experience, he didn’t feel that his life was in danger, so he didn’t need to shoot. His supervisor can’t just look at the video and say the cop should have shot the guy, because that’s exactly the kind of “Monday morning quarterbacking” the ruling barred.

That’s at the opposite end of the spectrum from the focus of the report, the Behavioral Intervention Unit of Hurst, Euless, and Bedford, TX that is made up of a mental health practitioner and a cadre of certified Texas Mental Health Peace officers. They patrol seeking people with mental illness, and get them the help they need outside the jail system wherever possible.

Which is really great, except there is such terrible funding for the mental health care system in America that the job is incredibly challenging. The report will drop this week, and features a rideout and the story of a suicidal man the BIU meets up with – and how they handled the situation.

“More research”? Couldn’t hurt.

Next up (27:20): when a witness in a murder case was murdered right after he testified, the judge declared a mistrial. Peter wondered about the racial components to the old phrase that “snitches get stitches.” Both Peter and Nick feel that the idea is very interesting, and (based on the demography of violent crime in America) both suspected that there would be a higher rate of black snitches who get stitches. And, of course, both admitted the old academic saw that, “more research is needed.”

Finally (29:05), we close up with the release by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office of some really fragmented datasets that might make it seem to the lazy analyst that one need only race, date, and location, and crime charged to draw conclusions about race and arrests.

“More research” is most definitely needed.