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The limitations of trainings for ending police abuse

What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: The limitations of trainings for ending police abuse

  • Family of Donna Dalton, who was shot by a Columbus police officer during arrest, demands independent inquiry

  • Memphis’s juvenile court plagued by ‘culture of intimidation’ and ‘blatantly unfair’ practices

  • Attorneys ask federal judge to intervene immediately’ in conditions at Brooklyn jail

  • Oregon’s ‘progressive governor’ urged to use clemency to address mass incarceration

  • ‘No victory’ when Philadelphia dismantled drug-user site last week

  • LAPD gang policing unit searches often unconstitutional

In the Spotlight

The limitations of trainings for ending police abuse

The Chicago Police Department, marked by decades of unlawful and violent policing, has turned to implicit-bias training in an effort to address racist policing practices. But The Intercept reports that these trainings, part of a larger procedural justice program, are conducted, by and large, by officers who have “been accused of violating the rights of Black people.” [Debbie Southorn and Sarah Lazare / The Intercept]

Eleven of the 17 officers who have conducted procedural justice trainings have had civilian complaints filed against them and nine have faced two or more complaints. The 11 officers have had a total of 111 misconduct complaints against them. Few of these complaints have been sustained by the adjudication process but Chicago has an unusually low rate of “sustained” misconduct accusations suggesting a problem with the process. Furthermore, because many of the complaints do not note the race of the complainant, the number may be even higher. [Debbie Southorn and Sarah Lazare / The Intercept]

Some complaints concern police violence. Daniel Goetz was accused of stomping on a Black man as he lay on the ground, after the man tried to flee police approaching him because he was urinating outside a gas station. The officers with Goetz warned bystanders against filming the police, saying they would take more severe action against the man. Even though a medical report noted bruising to the man’s side and that he sought medical care on two occasions, the evidence against Goetz was deemed insufficient to prove or disprove the allegations after witnesses declined to testify. A document turned over in response to a Freedom of Information Act request listed Goetz as one of the officers who has conducted procedural justice trainings since 2017. [Debbie Southorn and Sarah Lazare / The Intercept]

These trainings have been used to justify pumping millions of dollars into the Chicago Police Department. In his 2018 budget, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for “$103.5 million worth of new investments” in police and first responders, citing, among other reasons, the need for “best practice training for officers and supervisors.” [Debbie Southorn and Sarah Lazare / The Intercept]

Across the country, cities are pouring millions into implicit-bias trainings for police. Last year, the NYPD entered into a $4.5 million contract with a Florida company for a training program on implicit bias. The New York Times described it as “one of the pillars of the de Blasio administration’s ongoing police reform efforts.” [Al Baker / New York Times]

The problem with the training program is that “no one can be certain of its effectiveness,” the Times noted. There are “no standards for its curriculum and no track record for assessing whether officers or departments successfully channel the training into their work.” [Al Baker / New York Times]

As one psychology professor told The Atlantic in 2017, “Some of these trainings are based on wishful thinking and intuition.” And Phillip Atiba Goff, of the Center for Policing Equity at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, has emphasized that the trainings must be tied to assessment, to evaluate their effectiveness, and almost none are.   [Tom James / The Atlantic]

The other problem is that “implicit-bias trainings” on their own cannot address the systems and policies that allow, even encourage, police misconduct and brutality.  “Instead of targeting police officers’ feelings and beliefs, law enforcement agencies should limit the types of situations that facilitate biases,” Goff and other policing scholars argue. They note “the extreme difficulty of changing internal beliefs and motivations.” The good news, though, is that “effective reform does not require altering the beliefs or feelings of law enforcement personnel. It requires changing behaviors.” To do this, the Center for Policing Equity focuses on “bias-inducing situations.” [Phillip Atiba Goff, Jillian K. Swencionis, and Susan A. Bandes / Scholars Strategy Network]

For example, given that many recent Black civilian deaths at the hands of police officers happened during traffic stops for minor infractions, the appropriate response would be to limit the circumstances under which police are authorized to make traffic stops. Studies have shown that “simply limiting police authority to stop motorists substantially reduces biased incidents.” [Phillip Atiba Goff, Jillian K. Swencionis, and Susan A. Bandes / Scholars Strategy Network]

Essentially, constraining police discretion can reduce police abuse. A CityLab article last year pointed to “strict policing rules” that “have shown the ability to significantly reduce police violence.” The Campaign Zero-affiliated Police Use of Force Project found that police departments reduced their killings by 15 percent by eliminating just one ground for using force from their policies. [Richard A. Morgan / CItyLab]

Implicit-bias trainings attracted national attention after the arrests of two Black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks last April and the company’s decision to hold trainings for its employees. “Instead of training sessions,” Goff argued soon after, “Starbucks could make more of a difference by helping cities fund non-police options for people worried about suspicious behaviors.” [Phillip Atiba Goff / New York Times]

“When black people were denied public accommodations under Jim Crow, when black children were deprived of equal education, we did not try to educate people about prejudice. We went to court and we made laws,” Goff wrote. “Policies that make it impossible, illegal or unacceptable to call the police for things like ‘loitering’ are how we protect black and brown people from prejudice that results in police officers showing up with their guns drawn.” Police chiefs around the country want this, too, as they confront the impossibility of responding to “drug abuse, mental health crises, family disagreements and the whims of a prejudiced populace.”

The “tragicomedy” of Chicago’s implicit-bias trainings reminds us of the limitations of counting on police to rein in their misconduct. “The urgency around policing is valid and real,” the co-founder of Assata’s Daughters told The Intercept, “but the insistence that what we need is better training is leading to massive amounts of money to an already over-inflated arsenal and budget.” Or, as one group put it on Twitter:

Stories From The Appeal


A supporter holding a sign at a vigil for Donna Dalton in early September. [Katie Forbes]

Family of Donna Dalton, Who Was Shot By a Columbus Police Officer During Arrest, Demands Independent Inquiry. Advocates say the case hasn’t been handled fairly and there’s little hope for justice. [Melissa Gira Grant]

Memphis’s Juvenile Court Plagued By ‘Culture of Intimidation’ and ‘Blatantly Unfair’ Practices. The Department of Justice is leaving Shelby County, but discrimination against Black children in court continues, a federal monitor says. [Raven Rakia]

Stories From Around the Country

Attorneys ask federal judge to ‘intervene immediately’ in conditions at Brooklyn jail: Federal public defenders filed a lawsuit this morning over the “humanitarian crisis” in Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center, where people were incarcerated without heat and power for days. Power was finally restored to the jail Sunday night. Jail staff pepper sprayed family and community members who had tried to enter in the afternoon. The lawsuit says that starting Jan. 27, there has been a “near-total cancellation of legal and family visiting” for people incarcerated at in the jail,” in violation of Sixth Amendment rights, and it pins much of the blame on the warden who has “consistently dissembled and downplayed the seriousness of the issues at stake.” The public defenders are asking the court to immediately restore legal visits, appoint an independent arbiter to investigate the jail, and order a hearing to evaluate conditions. [Annie Correal and Benjamin Weiser / New York Times]

Oregon’s ‘progressive governor’ urged to use clemency to address mass incarceration: A guest column in The Oregonian calls on Governor Kate Brown to exercise her clemency power to commute the lengthy sentences created by Measure 11 in 1994.  “As a progressive governor, she should be committed to reducing the impact of mass incarceration,” lawyers from the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School write. When voters approved Measure 11, there were just over 6,000 people in Oregon’s prisons. Now there are approximately 15,000. Every month more people are sent to state prisons than are released. And as those who remain in prison grow older, the costs of providing medical care in prisons increases—245 percent just between 2001 and 2008. “Aside from the governor’s intervention, there is no pathway for release for the old or sick who were convicted under Measure 11.” [Aliza B. Kaplan and Venetia L. Mayhew / The Oregonian]

‘No victory’ when Philadelphia dismantled drug-user site last week: In an article for Filter, Christopher Moraff looks at the city of Philadelphia’s removal—using dozens of arrests—of “Emerald City,” a drug-user camp in East Kensington, last week. The camp was one of four that had been formed after the city closed “El Campamento” in 2017. El Campamento, Moraff writes, was “a well run, if somewhat unsanitary, pop-up safer consumption space,” not a “heroin hellscape” as described by a local paper. After the city cleared it, displaced people began setting up tents under train trestles in East Kensington, with none of the resources or services that had characterized El Campamento. Of last week’s removal, Moraff writes: “The Philadelphia government will congratulate itself for finally dismantling the last and longest-standing of the city’s bridge encampments … It is no victory. … the dangers and suffering Emerald City’s residents face need not have existed to anything like that extent—if only we were less determined to eradicate addiction by making the lives of people who use drugs as hard as possible.” [Christopher Moraff / Filter]

LAPD gang policing unit searches were often unconstitutional: A new report by the Los Angeles Police Department inspector general analyzes stops and searches by Gang Enforcement Detail officers from July and August 2018. The report came at the request of the Police Commission, the civilian board that oversees the LAPD, as part of a review of stops by officers in units that engage in “proactive policing.” The report looks at 91 vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle stops and reviewed body camera and dashboard camera footage for officers’ actions. The report deemed most stops constitutional, but found that of the 29 searches that resulted, more than half were either unconstitutional or had other problems, including a lack of documentation. Furthermore, while stops of white people led to searches in only 34 percent of the cases, the figures were 80 percent for stops of Black people and 64 percent for stops of Latinx people. [Cindy Chung / Los Angeles Times]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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