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A new study reveals that police militarization does not keep anyone safe


What you’ll read today 

  • Spotlight: A new study reveals that police militarization does not keep anyone safe

  • Cannabis activists or ‘dangerous criminals’? Upcoming trials test the limits of legalization in Alaska

  • Doxxed by Berkeley police

  • California lawmakers scale back legislation aimed at holding police accountable for killing civilians

  • Texas prisons vote to slash cost of inmate calls home by more than 75 percent

  • Texas sinks poor drivers deep into debt

  • Woman who falsely accused football players of rape rolls her eyes during victim statements

In the Spotlight

A new study reveals that police militarization does not keep anyone safe

According to a new study of 9,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S., arguably the first systematic analysis on the use and consequences of militarized force, police militarization neither reduces rates of violent crime nor increases officer safety. The report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, found that Maryland police are more likely to deploy militarized units in Black neighborhoods, confirming a long-held suspicion. Many law enforcement leaders consider SWAT teams and other militarized units as a necessity for police and public safety, especially for “high risk” hostage situations or active shooters. The Department of Defense transferred $4.3 billion in military equipment to local law agencies between 1997 and 2014. But the study found that police militarization may work against police in the court of public opinion, and that merely seeing militarized units can erode public confidence in law enforcement and lead people to believe that a police department is overfunded. [Nsikan Akpan / PBS News Hour]

The 2014 police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown sparked a wave of clashes between protesters and law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri, and the public saw images of unarmed people of color standing up against snipers and police atop armored vehicles. The ensuing conversation about race and police militarization inspired Stanford graduate student Jonathan Mummolo, who conducted the study. “I started getting curious about what we actually know about militarized policing, in terms of the claimed benefits and the purported costs that are asserted by critics,” said Mummolo, a political scientist who now works at Princeton University. [Nsikan Akpan / PBS News Hour]

The study focused on data from Maryland, where a state law required that police agencies submit reports on how and how often they used their SWAT teams. The law was in effect from 2010 through 2014, after which the legislature allowed it to expire. After controlling for variables such as crime rates, Mummolo found that for every 10 percent increase in the Black population, there was a 10 percent increase in the likelihood that a SWAT team will conduct a raid in that ZIP code. [Radley Balko / Washington Post]

In two separate surveys, Mummolo showed volunteers a story about a police chief asking for a budget increase. Volunteers got one of four photos with the story: One depicted cops in their traditional blue uniforms, and the other three showed various degrees of militarization, culminating with a photo from Ferguson of heavily armed officers surrounding an armored vehicle, with a sniper perched on the roof. He then asked the respondents questions about crime and policing. The high-militarization photo caused a statistically significant increase in the perceived level of crime and a drop in desire for more police patrols in their own neighborhoods. It also caused support for police funding to fall. “Hey, maybe this is the way to bring law enforcement on board with demilitarization,” suggested Radley Balko in the Washington Post. [Radley Balko / Washington Post]

SWAT teams are not incorrect when they argue that they are needed to confront hostage takers, active shooters, and other immediate threats to public safety, but in practice “they’re mostly used to serve warrants on low-level drug offenders.” The Maryland data showed that 90 percent of SWAT raids in that state were to serve search warrants, half for nonviolent crimes, the overwhelming majority of those being drug crimes. In Utah, data released in 2015 showed that less than 5 percent of SWAT deployments were in response to a violent crime in progress, 0.5 percent turned up illegal firearms, but 83 percent were to serve search warrants for drug crimes. [Radley Balko / Washington Post]

“In a federalist system with more than 15,000 state and local law enforcement agencies and virtually no standardized reporting requirements, reliable and comprehensive data on police behavior, including the presence and usage of militarized units, have eluded scholars for decades,” Mummolo writes. “And even those with the time and resources to gather and assemble the records themselves face systemic barriers.” He sent hundreds of open records requests to local agencies, but many don’t track militarized activity at all, and those that do often track it poorly, refuse to share it, purge it after a set number of years, heavily redact, or demand exorbitant fees. Mummolo focused on Maryland’s  short-lived law requiring every police agency in the state to record SWAT activity in a uniform manner. This was not a quixotic quest to better understand of law enforcement, but rather a “response to intense political pressure following a botched SWAT raid in which a local sheriff’s department forced its way into a suburban Maryland mayor’s house, shot and killed his two dogs, and interrogated him and his wife on unfounded suspicion of drug trafficking.” [Jonathan Mummolo / The Atlantic]

“[I]n a nation led by politicians who claim to value transparency and a commitment to improving the quality of policing, it should not be this difficult to learn what police do,” Mummolo concludes. “If America is serious about improving police behavior tomorrow, policy analysts need to know what police are doing today.” All the good intentions avowed by Republicans and Democrats intent on criminal justice reform “won’t do a thing … unless governments first commit to bringing police behavior into the light.” [Jonathan Mummolo / The Atlantic]

Stories From The Appeal

Charlo Greene defends herself in court. [Illustration by Anagraph. Video illustration via Anchorage Daily News]

Cannabis Activists or ‘Dangerous Criminals’? Upcoming Trials Test the Limits of Legalization in Alaska. The state is moving to punish people who say they were charged before regulations were clear. [Michael Sainato]

Doxxed By Berkeley Police. Critics say the Berkeley Police Department’s unusual practice of posting anti-fascist protesters’ mugshots on Twitter endangers activists and violates free speech rights. [Scott Morris]

Stories From Around the Country

California lawmakers scale back legislation aimed at holding police accountable for killing civilians: In its current form, the bill no longer makes it easier under state law for prosecutors to criminally charge officers if they use deadly force. Instead, the measure would now toughen internal police policies, letting departments discipline officers and face civil lawsuits if new use-of-force standards are violated. The debate has been fierce, with civil rights advocates enlisting the help of celebrities for online advertisements and law enforcement groups getting plenty of radio spots in Southern California. In its new form, the bill would require police departments to update their policies about when officers are allowed to use force, and would require officers to exhaust reasonable alternatives before turning to deadly force. But prior versions of the law would have made it easier to criminally prosecute officers for killing civilians by letting prosecutors consider whether an officer’s actions before a killing were reckless and by directly restricting when officers can use deadly force. [Liam Dillon / Los Angeles Times]

Texas prisons vote to slash cost of inmate calls home by more than 75 percent: “Now, instead of paying an average of 26 cents per minute, prisoners will pay 6 cents per minute—no matter the destination of the call,” reports the Houston Chronicle. “Also, the limit on phone calls was increased from 20 minutes to 30 minutes.” The shift comes amid national conversations about the price of prison phone calls after last year’s federal court ruling that struck down an Obama-era Federal Communications Commission cap on costs. As mandated by Texas law, the contractor gets 60 percent of the phone revenue and the state gets 40 percent, which is divided between a victims fund and the state’s general fund. Because that distribution of proceeds is mandated by law, it could not be addressed through contractual negotiations, which were hammered out after a request for proposal and months of evaluation. The contractor, CenturyLink, will update existing hardware and install new video visitation technology which will not replace in-person visits. [Keri Blakinger / Houston Chronicle]

Texas sinks poor drivers deep into debt: Texans with unpaid traffic tickets can lose their licenses through policies that automatically suspend licenses if fees are not paid within a certain amount of time or if people fail to appear in court. The program was initially a way to fund the state’s emergency trauma care system, but it has resulted in a deepening cycle of debt for those who cannot afford to pay. “Non-public safety related offenses like driving without insurance or a valid license make up the vast majority of unpaid surcharge cases” according to the Texas Tribune, while driving under the influence and speeding comprise less than 12 percent of the unpaid surcharge cases. “There is now nearly universal agreement among state lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, that the program is deeply flawed and unfairly penalizes the most vulnerable members of society.” At a Senate hearing earlier this year, Republican Don Huffines said the program had created a “permanent underclass,” dividing “society by those who can pay the fines and those who can’t.” [Morgan Smith / Texas Tribune]

Woman who falsely accused football players of rape rolls her eyes during victim statements: Nikki Yovino was sentenced last week to one year incarceration for making false rape claims against two football players at a Connecticut college. She had claimed she was raped by two men during a party in 2016, but later admitted to making up the allegations to gain sympathy. In court, while one of the victims spoke about how her false allegations ruined his life, Yovino rolled her eyes. Someone standing close to her also said she was groaning in annoyance. One of the victims said he lost his football scholarship because of the allegations and now suffers from depression and anxiety. “She accused me of what I believe to be a horrendous, horrific crime out of her own selfish concerns,” the unidentified student’s statement read, according to The Hour. “I lost my scholarship, my dream of continuing to play football and now I am in debt $30,000 and I’m simply trying to get ahead as best as I can.” [Blue Telusma / The Grio]

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