Grady argued that this sort of approach shouldn’t be seen as a new development, but as a return to the ethos of American policing. “We’ve gotten distracted over the years,” he said, “and if you talk to most police officers today, and ask them, ‘What do you do for a living?’ they will tell you, ‘I am a law-enforcement officer.’”
That’s a mischaracterization of what they were hired for. In the state of Illinois, the statutes don’t call them law-enforcement officers, they call them peace officers, but they don’t refer to themselves as peace officers. They refer to themselves as law-enforcement officers. They have given themselves a mission of law enforcement, but law enforcement was never the mission. Law enforcement is only one small part of what we should be doing in policing. Policing is community building. That means, I need to take every effort, every tool at my disposal to build a community in a way that allows it to be most responsive to the people that we have sworn to serve and protect. It cannot be law enforcement. If you take that one small part and make that your mission, what happens to the activity of policing overall?
The theory of broken-windows policing is not as acceptable to Meares, who believes there are procedures that police are trained to follow that may be contributing to escalating tensions in some areas. One of those factors is the way police officers are trained to police crime. “The police officer stopped [Philandro Castile] for a broken tail light. That suggests to me that there’s some version of what’s called ‘broken windows policing’ happening in that city,” she said.
One thing to say about that is that there isn’t actually a lot of evidence, or strong evidence, that pulling people over for broken tail lights actually translates to substantial reductions in crime. There is evidence strongly indicating that policing in that way creates distrust between members of the community who are often disproportionately stopped this way and the police, in a way that’s actually inimical to the goals of crime control. Our best evidence suggests that legitimacy, which is based on trust, leads to compliance.
Secondly, there is training to explain to police officers how policing in ways that are inconsistent with trust-building can make their job harder, can escalate situations that don’t need to be escalated, can undermine trust—all of these things which are inconsistent with commitment to compliance, cooperation, and engagement … I think the key is to say that when you stop someone for a broken tail light, someone could consider that in scare quotes, “broken-windows policing.”
Serpas said he thinks the research on broken-windows policing is mixed at best. “In one way, it makes perfect sense to people that if you see disorder, perhaps it’s going to be likely that more disorder will follow,” he said.
But as it relates to policing, this is where I think community policing and justice and legitimacy help us navigate those waters. I was a police chief for 13 years in three different states, and when you go to a community meeting, you are primarily responding to quality-of-life issues that the community is bringing to your attention. When you have a serious crime wave of some sort, you hear about those issues; but, overwhelmingly, people want the quality-of-life-things dealt with: vagrants, drunks, abandoned buildings, abandoned cars, overgrown lots, and those kinds of issues.
Communities may want police to deal with similar issues, but certain racial and ethnic groups often complain about being over-policed and yet under-protected. I asked Serpas if police departments should do more to integrate implicit bias training or other more racially aware training into their work, which the Justice Department recently adopted. “Absolutely. That’s one of the things that is very important. I don’t think anyone can reasonably argue that people do not have inherent biases,” he said.
They do, and recognizing that makes it easier to talk about what that means. What does it mean as a police officer? We need to train officers to be aware of those inherent biases from the perspective of learning about their behavior and their perceptions—how they can bring those perceptions and behavior to reality in a way that’s non-biased. If you can recognize that the biases exist, then it becomes a positive way to deal with them.
As implicit bias training spreads across police departments, body cameras have been widely adopted to provide factual versions of police interactions with civilians from the officer’s vantage point. Serpas, like many other reformers, sees them as a significant advance. “I am incredibly, and have been, in favor of body cameras, since 2012, when I was a chief in New Orleans and called for every officer to have one in the field,” he said.
Body cameras do give us everything before, during, and after from that camera’s point of view; but when you have multiple officers with cameras, you suddenly start seeing this panoramic view. You get to see so many more things, and that’s how you can better diagnose what might be a training deficiency, or a disciplinary deficiency, or [conclude] there was nothing that the officers could have done differently. Body cameras bring us there. There’s some research out of the University of South Florida that demonstrates that when officers were questioned about body cameras on several dynamics, the one that really was very powerful is that the officers themselves saw the use of body camera video as an excellent way for them to train to be better.
Meares is not nearly as enthusiastic about body cameras. “Do I think it’s going to make a difference in the particular incident?” she asked rhetorically. “No.”
In terms of is it going to deter it. I think body cameras can make a big difference in terms of training … We can and should be able to leverage actual footage of what cops do to be really effective training mechanisms. In the same way that doctors go over a surgery and talk about, “Oh, we could have done this,” kind of a sentinel review, you can imagine having a tape every day or every week during roll call, showing cops the tape, and saying, “Okay. What could have been differently? What could have been improved?” Literally analyzing what they do. It’s hard to do that without having footage of what’s happening right then and there. I think that has great potential.