Saturday, February 11, 2023

Harmful Trend

Malcolm Nance, the former Navy officer, counter-intelligence expert, and most recently, volunteer with the Ukrainian armed forces, got the Tyre Nichols question (at 6:29 on the video below) on Friday night's Real Time overnight segment. After remarking that Nichols would have been treated differently had he been white, Nance commented

You know, the issue here isn't about the color of the policemen. The issue is that the tactics, techniques, procedures and training of these law enforcement officers on these special team, uh, you know way back when I went through a SWAT officers' course with Capitol Hill police and some other police forces that were there to learn how to be SWAT cops. The techniques that we were shown back then were not always guns forward all the time. Now the average police officer is trained to believe that his, you know, number one job is to come home at night. I agree with that a thousand per cent. But there are jobs, there are things there are just clearly require an intervention that does not require you to draw your weapon.

After host Bill Maher responded, Nance noted "there is a color issue within law enforcement, altogether." Maher asked "even though they're cops?" and Nance answered

Yeah, because they're cops. It's a mindset- the same way we have in the military. We have a mindset, right? I think policing has moved so far away from community service toward self-preservation. Uh, they go to courses like the "on killing program" on how to do self-preservation, how to battle like a special forces soldier. What they need to do is to start thinking more along the beat cop. You know, protecting the community by knowing the community and not seeing. I don't understand...

As Nance obviously would understand, the departments could begin by not attaching to specialized street crime squads intentionally ferocious names such as the Memphis Police Department's "Scorpion." The

aggressive tactics are so notorious – and so similar – that in many cities they're known as "jump-out boys" for the way officers spill out of their cars to accost people during stops. In Chicago, such units have contributed to residents seeing the police as "an occupying force" that make some neighborhoods feel like "an open-air prison," the Department of Justice found in 2017.

"They patrol our streets like they are the dog catchers and we are the dogs," one Chicago resident told investigators.

If it's understood, as Nance does, that reconnecting with the community is critical, the problem is broader than the apparently brutal tactics of some street crime units. However, some authorities seem not to understand this as

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said on Thursday he supports Police Chief CJ Davis’ decision to reassign SCORPION Unit officers after she said Tuesday at Memphis City Council that at least 30 officers have been reassigned to other specialized units.

“They’re moving into other organized crime units, such as auto theft, task force, and those other areas,” Davis said. “These were individuals not involved in this incident.”

The “incident” Davis referred to was the Jan. 7 traffic stop by SCORPION Unit officers that led to the death of Tyre Nichols....

Mayor Strickland said under Chief Davis’ leadership, the city has asked the Department of Justice and the International Association of Chiefs of Police to do an external review of the department’s operations and make recommendations.

The solution for medium and large cities is embedded in Nance's assertion "What they need to do is to start thinking more along the beat cop. You know, protecting the community by knowing the community."

Breaking up much of a large police department into specialized units runs completely counter to the concept of knowing the community.  If officers are assigned to auto theft and other units, they are necessarily not being assigned to a neighborhood. Neither they nor the other officers will become as familiar with a particular neighborhood as they would if they were assigned by area, not function.

These units are specialized and the root of "specialized" is "special." Put police into specialized units, and they will come to think of themselves as special.  Most of them will not consider themselves above the law, nor will more than a small minority impose the beatdown on a citizen akin to that of Tyre Nichols. But many will consider themselves better than their colleagues and the residents they should be expected to serve and protect.

If "community policing" is to be more than a cliche, major police departments can begin by reversing the trend toward specialized units or squads and encourage the immersion of their officers in the community.


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