The Big Idea: Policing the Police

by Fred Strasser Published Winter 2016
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Photograph © Mike Stone / Reuters

If you were designing the New York Police Department from the ground up, where would you start?
First, I’d reconsider the criteria for recruitment. There’s probably a skill set needed for the modern era that not all the members of the current corps have: cognitive skills for discerning risk and suspicion; temperamental skills like the ability to regulate one’s conduct and see certain interactions as behavioral problems to be managed rather than personal affronts — skills that would help officers conduct everyday policing in a way that diminishes tension. We need people who are more acutely aware of the law and how it works. I would pay police more and would be more aggressive with firings and promotions.

FBI Director James Comey claimed that a “viral-video effect” is discouraging officers from fighting crime, for fear that they’ll be accused of using excessive force. Does the viral-video effect really exist?
I haven’t seen any evidence of it. Police shootings have gone up since 2014. If anything, police seem to have become a little more aggressive. In any case, what would it mean to the public if the police did take a step back? New York went through a short-lived experiment in de-policing at the end of 2014 and early 2015 in a protest against Mayor Bill de Blasio’s supposed lack of support. The police virtually stopped writing tickets and making arrests for low-level quality-of-life crimes. Total arrests dropped by more than half. Crime rates didn’t go up. So even if there were a viral-video effect, it might not embolden bad guys to go out and commit crimes.

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