Police, the Public, and Race

As a result, good cops put up with bad cops because they don’t trust their superiors to make a distinction if the press is at the door and the panicking major is on the phone.

A recent Pew Research survey of police and public attitudes about police – public race relations suggests the deep divide between defenders of the peace and their public.


chart - Officers aggressive tactics - Pew - 2016.png

White and black officers disagree about the need for more societal change to give blacks the equal rights of whites, as does the general public, but at 30% higher level.

Chart - more changes needed - Pew - 2016.png

Sadly, there is evidence of a bunker mentality in police departments. Officers feel the disciplinary process is unfair. That may, in part, explain officers reluctance to cooperate with internal affairs investigations.  But concomitant to that is officers end up continuing to work with (by their own judgment) underperforming officers (see chart below).

The very institution that often claims to uphold the “highest standards” among public servants — because they are the only group in our society authorized to take a US citizen’s life without a jury verdict – is broken, according to the majority of people who work in that institution.

Chart - Disciplinary Process Fair - Pew - 2016.png

I can image how a “bunker mentality” becomes the police command and line staff’s shared reaction to an environment.

  • Bad apple cops do racist, sadistic, or otherwise illegal, and/or incompetent things, deserving censure and punishment.
  • Or, a generally good cop does his or her best but a tragedy happens. Sometimes there may be implicit bias (something the officer is not aware of and thus cannot feel guilty about) and sometimes there is just plain bad luck.
  • The press is looking for a headline.  Some reporters appreciate nuance and complexity and some are more focused on getting headline under deadline.  There is enough mediocre and plain bad journalism to warrant the claim of “gotcha” journalism. This created a suspicious and antagonistic attitude between police and press.
  • Police officials loath bad press even more than line officers, because of the political nature of their jobs.  They exert a downward pressure on station house line officers to help kill any bad publicity for the institution.  But when an event gets into the press, police officials’ anxious desire to end the publicity results in rushed and unnuanced judgments on the officer in question.
  • Line officers — even the good ones — get the message that the brass will readily sacrifice anyone for the sake of getting the issue off the front pages, resulting in line officers’ distrust of the disciplinary system.
  • As a result, good cops put up with bad cops because they don’t trust their superiors to make a distinction if the press is at the door and the panicking major is on the phone.
  • Thus the 10% (my guestimate) of bad cops persist until they kill a child or an unarmed man that is captured on video.

Map -Police Shootings 2017 -WPost.jpeg

Source: Washington Post, Police Shootings Database, 2017.


The Barbell Nation

There is growing data suggesting the political parties are stratifying along suburban-urban, white-ethnic, working class-more affluent, and low density population-high density population spectra.

At the Congressional district level, this barbell effect is quite clear.  After the 2014 Congressional elections, the Congress bulged on two ends of the spectra.

Diversity & Education Levels and Party

Figure 1 shows the high correlation between education levels, level of minorities, and party alignment.

Figure 1: Polarizing Representation (Source: The Atlantic Magazine.)

Population Density and Party

Figure 2 compares two time periods’ correlations of population density and party affiliation.  In 1952, population density did not correlate with party preference.  By 2012, population density (i.e., urban vs. suburban or exurban) strongly correlated with party preference.

Figure 2: Population Density and Party Preference, 1952 vs. 2012. (Source: New York Times).

Racial and Ethnic Diversity

The greatest racial and ethnic diversity exists on the coasts (see Figure 3) and, for the most part, in urban or high population density areas.

Figure 3.  Diversity rates (Source: Wall Street Journal).

But the rate of change is greatest in heretofore non-diverse areas of the country – upstate New York, and the upper Great Plains (see Figure 4).


Figure 4: Rate of Change in Diversity Levels (Source: Wall Street Journal).

Change is scary.  Populations undergoing multiple changes simultaneously have a lot to be scared about; but they may also misattribute the actual from perceived sources of their fear.  I recommend this New York Times piece on White identity’s role in this election, quoted here in part:

Identity, as academics define it, falls into two broad categories: “achieved” identity derived from personal effort, and “ascribed” identity based on innate characteristics.

Everyone has both, but people tend to be most attached to their “best” identity — the one that offers the most social status or privileges. Successful professionals, for example, often define their identities primarily through their careers.

For generations, working-class whites were doubly blessed: They enjoyed privileged status based on race, as well as the fruits of broad economic growth.

White people’s officially privileged status waned over the latter half of the 20th century with the demise of discriminatory practices in, say, university admissions. But rising wages, an expanding social safety net and new educational opportunities helped offset that. Most white adults were wealthier and more successful than their parents, and confident that their children would do better still.

That feeling of success may have provided a sort of identity in itself.

But as Western manufacturing and industry have declined, taking many working-class towns with them, parents and grandparents have found that the opportunities they once had are unavailable to the next generation.

That creates an identity vacuum to be filled.

“For someone who is lower income or lower class,” Professor Kaufmann explained, “you’re going to get more self-esteem out of a communal identity such as ethnicity or the nation than you would out of any sort of achieved identity.”

Focusing on lost identities rather than lost livelihoods helps answer one of the most puzzling questions about the link between economic stress and the rise of nationalist politics: why it is flowing from the middle and working classes, and not the very poor.

While globalization and free trade have widened economic inequality and deeply wounded many working-class communities, data suggests that this year’s political turmoil is not merely a backlash to that real pain.