Sunday, October 25, 2015

Would More Women Police Officers Reduce Police Violence?

My previous post looked at FBI Director Comey's comment that crime was going up and the only single cause he could correlate with this was that police were more timid because of fears of viral video tapes.
I went through a number of issues that affect crime and people's response to police.  After posting, my mind kept rolling on.  I'm a big proponent of the idea that many of our intractable problems stem from people's models of the world, which cause them to draw different conclusions from the same facts.  And this year's media coverage of white police killing unarmed black men illustrates my hypothesis.

Police easily get jaded about human beings. They see people at their worst - when they are pulled over for traffic violations, when they crime victims, when they have committed crimes.  And if an individual officer grew up in a household that had racial stereotypes, that saw things in absolutes, then it's easy to think about the world as made up of good guys and bad guys.  Anyone who doesn't cooperate with the good guys (the police) is automatically a bad guy.

African Americans all have stories of being treated differently - whether it was a lowered expectation by a teacher, being followed by security in a department store, or in any of hundreds of other small slights.  Lynching stories are in every African-American family history.  For many if not most blacks, the kind of treatment they've seen in those viral video tapes is surprising only because the national media are actually covering their story. 

While I think that there are lots of different factors that affect the crime rate in any particular community at any particular time, I think those two different interpretations of police action are the underlying cause of the tension between police and blacks at the moment.  And why the New York Times and others, came down so strongly against Director Comey's statement.

So, to the title question:  Do Police Have To Be Violent And Macho?

I googled 'demographics of US police' hoping to get some data on the economic and education background of  US local police officers.  Yesterday, I quoted the Department of Labor saying that a high school diploma and GED are required everywhere, and that some places wanted some college or even a bachelor's degree.  I was trying to get information on the actual number of officers at different educational levels because I think this is part of the problem.

But what google gave me were stories about women in law enforcement and I think this Washington Post article is a good start for answering the question about violence.  I'll give you a couple of quotes that I don't think need any comment from me.  The first is from David Couper, the former chief of police in Madison, Wis
  • "As David Couper, the former chief of police in Madison, Wis., recently wrote: Women in policing make a difference — a big difference — they make for a better police department. Haven’t you wondered why women police are not the ones involved in recent officer involved shootings? After all, they are usually smaller, somewhat weaker in physical strength, and yet they don’t appear to shoot suspects as often."
  • ". . . In fact, over the last 40 years, studies have shown that female officers are less authoritarian in their approach to policing, less reliant on physical force and are more effective communicators. Most importantly, female officers are better at defusing potentially violent confrontations before those encounters turn deadly."
  •  "One of the earliest studies, sponsored by the Police Foundation in 1974, found that women encountered many of the same kinds of situations (involving angry, drunk or violent individuals) and were as capable as men. The study’s most important finding, though, was that 'women act less aggressively and they believe in less aggression.'”  
  • ". . . In a 1988 article in the Journal of Police Science and Administration researcher Joseph Balkin reviewed the U.S. and international research spanning 14 years on the involvement of women in police work. He found uniformly that women not only perform the job of policing effectively, but are better able to defuse potentially violent situations: 'Policemen see police work as involving control through authority,” he wrote, 'while policewomen see it as a public service.'”
  • ". . . the 1992 Christopher Commission report on police brutality in the Los Angeles Police Department. The commission was created in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating and the subsequent devastating riots: “Virtually every indicator examined by the commission establishes that female LAPD officers are involved in excessive use of force at rates substantially below those of male officers.” The commission explained: “Many officers, both male and female, believe female officers are less personally challenged by defiant suspects and feel less need to deal with defiance with immediate force or confrontational language.”
  • ". . . A 2002 study by the National Center for Women & Policing of excessive force incidents in seven major city police departments found that “the average male officer is over eight and a half times more likely than his female counterpart to have an allegation of excessive force sustained against him … [and] two to three times more likely than the average female officer to have a citizen name him in a complaint of excessive force.”
 The author, Katherine Spillar, then points out:
"local police departments averaged just 12 percent women in their ranks, only slightly higher than the 7.6 percent of women in local departments 20 years earlier."
 She says larger police departments have a higher percentage - 18% - but that's only because of many anti-discrimination law suits from the 1970s which are now beginning to expire.

She blames the lack of women on three things:
"Misguided recruiting practices, ongoing discriminatory hiring processes and hostile work places."
I would also raise again, the issue of education.  Is there a way to get better educated police officers?  Police work, because of high level of conflict inherent in the job, tends to isolate officers from the rest of society  Thus, there is probably more camaraderie among police.  This might be another obstacle to women.

One of my older posts that still gets lots of hits and may offer more insight on women in law enforcement is Early Women In The FBI.

[Sorry for reposting - Feedburner problems.]

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