Police departments, like other organizations that operate closely and under stressful conditions (examples: military, firefighters, floor traders, and others), develop a strong microculture that makes sharp distinctions between “us” and “them” and become quite tribal. The result is that sometimes the worldview of the microculture diverges in destructive ways from the worldview of the general population.
Scott Clement and Wesley Lowery report in the Washington Post:
Two-thirds of the nation’s police officers say the deaths of black Americans during encounters with police are isolated incidents, not a sign of broader problems between law enforcement and black citizens, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday.
The findings underscore a stark disconnect between many rank-and-file officers and the public and reveal that scrutiny since the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown has prompted many officers to be less aggressive in day-to-day policing.
The survey of nearly 8,000 local officers is the first nationally representative measure of police reaction to the debate about officers’ treatment of black Americans that followed Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, Mo., and sparked a national protest movement.
The survey, which drew on departments with at least 100 officers, was administered from May to August 2016 by the National Police Research Platform in partnership with Pew.
It reveals in detail how officers view their jobs and the scrutiny they face: More than 8 in 10 officers say the public does not understand the risks and challenges of their jobs, and a similar number say their departments are understaffed. Half reported concerns about their safety.
“Our goal was to measure how police think about these issues,” said Rich Morin, senior editor at the Pew Research Center. “And to offer an insight into police lives, both the good and the challenges.”
When a separate Pew poll asked Americans overall about black individuals who died in police encounters, 60 percent said the deaths represent broader problems between police and black citizens. But only 31 percent of police officers say the same, Pew found.
Police expressed cynical views of protests across the country following controversial deaths. The poll finds that 92 percent say protests have been motivated at least in part by long-standing anti-police bias; only 35 percent say protesters were motivated by a genuine desire to hold officers accountable.
Officers say the high-profile deaths have changed the way they do their job — and have made it harder.
More than 7 in 10 say officers have become more timid about stopping to question suspicious people, roughly three-quarters say fellow officers report they are more reluctant to use force when necessary, and more than 9 in 10 say fellow officers have grown more worried about their safety.
“How officers see their job and how they perform on their job has changed as a result of these high-profile incidents and the resulting protests,” Morin said.
The degree to which the nation’s officers reject the notion of systemic racial issues and dismiss protests surprised some policing experts, including some chiefs and union officials. Several said that the gulf in perception between police and the public underscores a much deeper divide [The two worldviews are so different that the two—police and civilians—inhabit two different (cultural) realities. And the police subculture has quite a few ways to enforce its memes: hazing, blue code of silence, severity of ostracism (including danger to one’s life, as Serpico discovered), and so on. How much these tools are used to enforce cultural norms and worldviews I don’t know, but given the pscyhological need for a tight cohesive group (among high-stress occupations where people work in close proximity and often as a team) would suggest that enforcement would be quick, frequent, and emphatic. – LG]
“I wish the community had a greater understanding of why the police do what we do, and sometimes we have to do a better job of putting ourselves in their shoes as well,” said Don De Lucca, the chief of police in Doral, Fla., and president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “We’re at a crossroads, and we both need to be willing to listen.” . . .
Continue reading. More at the link, including more charts. It’s a lengthy and interesting article about problems that can arise as cultures evolve in different directions because of external conditions and the effects of other memes.
I believe in the understaffing, and I also think many departments are undertrained, and the cause for those is the same: efforts to cut taxes and thus cut government revenues. Good government costs money to run, and refusing to raise taxes is a head-in-the-sand approach to governance. Taxes are required, and corporations and the wealthy must pay more. We’re all in this together, and taxes should be paid by all at about the same level of financial pain, which means that the wealthy should pay a lot more in taxes than I do: the marginal utility value of money (value to you of each dollar you have declines substantially as the number of dollars you have climbs: a billionaire really doesn’t worry about $1, one way or the other. It makes no material difference.
/rant, but I do get irked that people want good government but don’t want to pay for it. Or participate in it even if just staying informed and voting. (Millions do not even do that.)
One more thing: I am not saying that the majority culture is necessarily right: a subculture can be more together than the culture at large, and I’m sure you can think of examples—the Society of Friends comes to mind.
So how do you judge cultures?, given that something that one culture values another may not: laws, foods, rituals, etc. Probably there are several ways of going about it (e.g., one can ask of customs, “Do they harm individuals?” and the answer (to my minds) undermines the case for, say, honor killings. Honor killing is a strong meme, and it is fact a meme for judging other memes, and it protects itself fiercely. But the fact is that this meme leads to actual physical harm of others, who are generally trying to get by and doing the best they can. That (in my mind) condemns honor killing.
Indeed, such things seem more about defending the meme than the host: ISIS, for example, is ruthless in defending itself as a memeplex, to the great detriment of many of the hosts harboring that meme: it’s the meme that is important here, not the host. The meme is using the hosts, and sometimes the usage is hard on the host.
But there are other tests, and one is to test suppositions and expectations against reality. E.g., police are in less danger than ever before, as Google will show you. But the feeling of danger (a meme) is greater than ever.
I suspect this fear is the unintended consequence of training police officers a military model adopted from the US occupation of Afghanistan or something very like it: The police/military occupying a hostile territory in which people dressed as civilians might at any time try to kill you because a lot of them (in Afghanistan) suffer both an ideology and a loss of family members. And the primary order is that the officer/soldier return home safely (regardless of the loss of other life). In other words, the training they get gets them all to accept the meme of constant danger/military occupation/hostile population. Of course they feel a greater sense of danger.
And I think you can see how this mindset/worldview could lead to police shooting quickly on any sign of a suspicious movement, and lord knows that’s happened quite often—a bit of knowledge heavily dependent on cameraphones. It’s a true Panopticon, on the police are on the receiving end. (They don’t seem to like it, judging by the number of quite illegal seizures and arrests for taking photos of police in action, and the effort by police and their unions in some states to make the taking of a photo or recording video and/or audio illegal: they don’t want people to see what they do.)
UPDATE: In this connection, a recent NY Times column by Kate Murphy is quite interesting:
We live in a culture that celebrates individualism and self-reliance, and yet we humans are an exquisitely social species, thriving in good company and suffering in isolation. More than anything else, our intimate relationships, or lack thereof, shape and define our lives.
While there have been many schools of thought to help us understand what strains and maintains human bonds, from Freudian to Gestalt, one of the most rigorously studied may be the least known to the public.
It’s called attachment theory, and there’s growing consensus about its capacity to explain and improve how we function in relationships.
Conceived more than 50 years ago by the British psychoanalyst John Bowlby and scientifically validated by an American developmental psychologist, Mary S. Ainsworth, attachment theory is now having a breakout moment, applied everywhere from inner-city preschools to executive coaching programs. Experts in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, sociology and education say the theory’s underlying assumption — that the quality of our early attachments profoundly influences how we behave as adults — has special resonance in an era when people seem more attached to their smartphones than to one another.
By the end of our first year, we have stamped on our baby brains a pretty indelible template of how we think relationships work, based on how our parents or other primary caregivers treat us. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense, because we need to figure out early on how to survive in our immediate environment.
“If you’re securely attached, that’s great, because you have the expectation that if you are distressed you will be able to turn to someone for help and feel you can be there for others,” said Miriam Steele, the co-director of the Center for Attachment Research at the New School for Social Research in New York.
It’s not so great if you are one of the 40 percent to 50 percent of babies who, a meta-analysis of research indicates, are insecurely attached because their early experiences were suboptimal (their caregivers were distracted, overbearing, dismissive, unreliable, absent or perhaps threatening). “Then you have to earn your security,” Dr. Steele said, by later forming secure attachments that help you override your flawed internal working model. . .
She goes on to describe successful interventions with at-risk youth to help them break the old attachment, which in some cases has been passed down through generations. The obvious question: What would be the result if an entire police department went through attachment therapy? (And is it ever obvious this is about memes.)
ANOTHER UPDATE: The day after this was posted, the NY Times had a lengthy article on the Department of Justice’s finding that the Chicago Police Department routinely and systematically violated civil rights of citizens, particularly African-American and Latino citizens.