Warrior or Guardian?

I've always thought this meant the police were my guardians

There are features of modern life that make our lives safer, more enjoyable and more productive that it’s easy to assume have always existed but in fact have only been around for a relatively short time. The ability to “call the police” when the need arises is one example. The first full-time, professional police force was not established until the nineteenth century, and scholars and law enforcement officials continue to differ about the proper role of police.

Perhaps the most common civilian view is that the police have always been expected to function as a guardian, called on “to protect and to serve.” The original ideal of Robert Peel—British Prime Minister in the 1840s and the father of British policing—acknowledged that, “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behavior and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.”

But rising urban crime rates in the United States in the 1980s, the crack epidemic and the federal government’s war on drugs caused that philosophy to morph, according to Criminal Justice professors Sue Rahr and Stephen K. Rice, “toward a culture and mindset more like warriors at war with the people we are sworn to protect and serve.”

This change is reflected in the emphases in the training of recruits. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, training at the nation’s police academies typically spends the most time on use-of-force training—roughly 168 hours—and the least on de-­escalation and conflict mediation—about nine hours.

Seth Stoughton, a former Tallahassee police officer and expert in police training at the University of South Carolina School of Law, says that by internally cultivating and promoting the mindset of a warrior whose primary goal is self-protection, modern police often undermine their own efforts. “Though adopted with the best of intentions,” Stoughton said, “the warrior concept has created substantial obstacles to improving police/community relations.”

Rahr, a former sheriff, believes that training officers to communicate properly and stay calm can defuse most situations. She implemented training at the Washington state police academy designed to create guardians of the community, not warriors on a battlefield. “The changes I’ve made,” Rahr said, “really get us back to what policing was originally intended to be.”


Leave a comment

Filed under People, Policy

Work for Truth

Galileo's 'somewhat shriveled, spindly finger' preserved in the Galileo Museum in Florence

Alice Dreger, a medical social advocate and bioethicist, titled her book Galileo’s Middle Finger for the actual digit preserved in the Galileo Museum in Florence, Italy. She considers it a symbol of “Galileo’s contentious nature, his belief in the righteousness of science, his ego, his burning knowledge that he and Copernicus were right.”

In GMF, Dreger describes the necessity of insisting on empirical truth for the establishment of justice:

The activists who founded the United States—the Founding Fathers—understood the critical connection between freedom of thought and freedom of person. They understood that justice (freedom of person) depends upon truth (freedom of thought), and that the quest for truth cannot occur in an unjust system. It’s no coincidence that so many of the Founding Fathers were science geeks. These guys were rightly stoked about the idea that humans working together had it in their power to know and to improve the world—scientifically, technologically, economically, politically. These were men of the Enlightenment who had broken through dogma into a fantastic new vision for humankind: crowdsourcing. No longer would knowledge and power flow from top down, following archaic rules of authority and blood inheritance. In science as in political life, the light of many minds would be brought to bear to decide together what is right and is just. In such a system, a man arguing for a new vision of the universe could never be arrested merely for the argument, no matter how much it threatened those in power….

If we have any hope of maintaining freedom of thought and freedom of person in the near and distant future, we have to remember what the Founding Fathers knew: That freedom of thought and freedom of person must be erected together. That truth and justice cannot exist one without the other. That when one is threatened, the other is harmed. That justice and thus morality require the empirical pursuit….

As Dreger insists, “If you want justice, you must work for truth.”

Leave a comment

Filed under History, People, Policy, Science, The Book I Read

The Hunting of a Man

In Emile Gaboriau’s The Widow Lerouge, considered by some to be “the first detective novel,” amateur detective Père Tabaret gushed about the thrill of solving a crime:

“I shrug the shoulder when I see a foolish fellow pay twenty-five francs for the right of hunting a hare. What a prize! Give me the hunting of a man! That calls the faculties into play, and the victory is not inglorious! The game in my sport is worth the hunter. He has against him intelligence, force and cunning. The arms are nearly equal. Ah! if people knew the excitement of these parties of hide and seek which are played between the criminal and the detective, everybody would be wanting employment at the bureau of secret police.”

But for the last 50 years, despite steady advances in forensic technology like DNA profiling, digital fingerprint matching and bullet fragment analysis, the percentage of US homicide cases that are solved has been decreasing, from 90 percent in 1965 to 64 percent in 2012.

Three reasons are typically given for this change:

  1. A shift in the profile of the typical murder
  2. A decline in the resources devoted to crime solving
  3. Worsening relationships between the police and the public

During the 1960s and ’70s, “crimes of passion,” where the victim knows the killer, accounted for about 70 percent of US homicides. Some criminal investigators claim, however, that an increase in drugs and gangs means the crimes now more often involve strangers and are thus harder to solve than those between family members or friends. A fear of retaliation can also make witnesses to these crimes reluctant to cooperate, according to a study by three FBI researchers.

Others point to decreased emphasis on the police work needed to solve cases. “The crime waves of the 1970s and ’80s pushed police departments toward prevention strategiesbroken-window patrols, more officer visibility in high-crime areas, stop-and-frisk—and solving crimes became secondary,” according to Michigan State University criminologist David L. Carter.

Decreasing the initial response time and raising the number of detectives assigned to solving a case can lead to more homicide arrests, according to a 1999 Maryland study. But cuts in municipal budgets have made many cities unable to reduce investigators’ homicide investigation caseloads to manageable levels.

Additionally, mistrust of the police and a corresponding unwillingness to cooperate with investigators can make the new forensic techniques less effective. Houston police Sergeant Mike Peters insisted, “Technology is great, but it’s the ability to get people to talk that’s important. That solves cases.” As the author of the definitive manual on homicide investigation said, “If there is a distrust of the police themselves and the system, all of these scientific advances are not going to help us.”

Data compiled by the Murder Accountability Project points to a clear correlation between the number of crimes that are solved and the number that are committed. It shows that in cities where the percentage of crimes solved is above average, the murder rate is just over half that of cities where the percentage solved is below average.

What would it take to imbue more police departments with Monsieur Tabaret’s excitement for the pursuit of criminals and to convince their communities that, indeed, they are pursuing justice?

Leave a comment

Filed under People, Policy, Science

Mystery & Crime Novels for $800, Alex

Snow and ice are a perfect setting for a noir story

I was prompted to read Peter Høeg’s 1992 novel, Smilla’s Sense of Snow, when Jeopardy! featured a question about it (“When a boy falls to his death, ‘Smilla’s Sense of Snow’ in this Scandinavian country helps prove it was murder”). I had no idea that the book has been the subject of one of the show’s clues—as Ed Rooney saidnine times, each in a different category:

  • 1990s FICTION

The book is considered part of the “noir” crime genre and, since it’s set in Denmark and Greenland, one of the best examples of a subgenre known as Nordic noir (or Scandinavian noir).

Noir literature is typically characterized by:

  • Simple language, i.e., without metaphor
  • Bleak settings
  • Tension between a calm social surface and the violence beneath
  • Dark and morally complex moods
  • Social criticism

The plot of these stories often contrasts with the classic British “whodunit” where the reader and the detective try to identify the criminal as the plot progresses (à la Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes). Instead, they tend to follow an inverted detective story form—sometimes called a “howcatchem”—where the reader knows the villain’s identity in advance (à la Columbo) and watches the detective bring him to justice.

More fundamentally, “noir”—Nordic or not—conveys a different worldview and features a different type of protagonist:

“The classic crime story…takes place in an essentially orderly universe, with a common understanding of good and evil. Crime here is a dangerous anomaly, but order can be restored by a hero-detective who investigates and, eventually, unmasks the criminal.”

The world of noir, on the other hand, is “chaotic, baroque and hypocritical. Crime doesn’t disturb this world, it’s foundational to it. Noir stories give the stage to criminals and their motivations, which range from unspeakable passions to a firm conviction that their particular crime serves a greater good. A detective may pursue such a criminal, but noir reveals the line between them to be a product of chance and circumstance—if, indeed, such a line exists at all.”

“In noir, the problem is not an individual: the problem is the world. Institutions are corrupt, public moralities hypocritical, the watchmen un-watched. One person may pull a trigger, but that act is part of a sprawling web of mendacity and exploitation. No one gets away clean.”

Noir depicts “a universe more like the one we live in than the one we imagine for ourselves…[It is] powerful because it [is] a tiny bit true.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Arts, The Book I Read

Profile in Courage

During the first two and a half years of President John F. Kennedy’s administration, he struggled to develop a bond with Martin Luther King Jr. and to come to grips with the civil rights movement. In his book, Kennedy and King: The President, The Pastor, and the Battle Over Civil Rights, Steven Levingston described the “often clashing but always respectful” relationship between the Irish Catholic politician and the Southern Baptist preacher.

As a candidate for President in 1960, Kennedy had coveted King’s support, knowing the favor it would bring him among black voters. But after meeting with Kennedy in June 1960, King still believed that the candidate had only an intellectual commitment [to civil rights], not an emotional one. King diplomatically insisted that he declined to offer a political endorsement because it would be inappropriate for him to do so.

Shortly before the election, however, Kennedy made a private phone call expressing his concern to King’s pregnant wife Coretta while King was incarcerated. When word of the call got out, it “reverberated within the black community” and helped him narrowly defeat the Republican candidate Richard Nixon.

But as President, Kennedy disappointed King and the other leaders of the civil rights movement by failing to prioritize their struggle as a national issue. The president was pressed relentlessly to “confront racist Southern politicians and end the indignity of segregation” in American society, but his attention was repeatedly drawn to other issues.

King believed that, like some other politicians, Kennedy saw the Cold War expediency of removing segregation and discrimination as stains on the nation. But he accused the president of not insisting on their removal simply because they were “morally wrong.”

By the time some of the most brutal confrontations of the civil rights campaign occurred in Birmingham, Alabama in late 1962, however, the movement’s leaders had come to believe that Kennedy was different from previous presidents. They believed that a “tacit alliance” had developed between the Kennedy administration and their cause, and that if they could arouse public support, “this administration would hear it and respond.”

On June 11, 1963, after watching Governor George Wallace refuse admission to black students at the University of Alabama, Kennedy determined to deliver a nationally televised speech that night. “As Wallace left the doorway,” remembered Kennedy advisor and speechwriter Ted Sorensen, “the president turned around and said to me, ‘I think we’d better give that speech tonight.'” Kennedy’s political advisors opposed a public speech calling for civil rights legislation, but his brother Attorney General Robert Kennedy argued for it and won.

Acting with “unusual impulsiveness,” Kennedy told his Commerce Secretary Luther Hodges, “I may lose the legislation, or I may even lose the election in 1964, but there comes a time when a man has to take a stand and history will record that he has to meet these tough situations and ultimately make a decision.”

In what The New York Times called “Kennedy’s Finest Moment,” the president empathized with the suffering of black citizens as never before, committing his support to them, and calling on all Americans to do the same. For the first time, he called civil rights a moral issue (“as old as the scriptures and…as clear as the American Constitution”) in sharp contrast to the refusal of his predecessor to do so.

Following the speech, which laid the foundation for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, King exclaimed, “That white man not only stepped up to the plate, he hit it over the fence!” US Congressman John Lewis gave King much of the credit for persuading Kennedy to take a stand, saying, “The very being, the very presence, of Martin Luther King Jr. pricked the conscience of John F. Kennedy.”

King said Kennedy in 1963 became a leader who was “willing to stand up in a courageous manner” to address moral issues. And Kennedy ultimately recognized the role King had played in his decision to embrace the struggle of blacks for civil rights when he said to King, “It often helps me to be pushed.”

Leave a comment

Filed under History, People, Policy, The Book I Read

No Small Thing

Many drops make a bucketful

“Well-being is realized by small steps, but is truly no small thing.”
Zeno, the founder of Stoicism

It can be hard to really believe that a small action, even when repeated over an extended period of time, has a significant effect. That’s why it’s hard to stick to small actions we know are helpful, whether they’re positive or negative. I know that these “small steps” are good, but it’s often hard to do them, because it can seem like each one is unimportant:

  • Telling the truth
  • Eating well
  • Exercising
  • Controlling what I read, watch and listen to
  • Holding my tongue
  • Saying “thank you”
  • Spending money wisely
  • Accepting responsibility for my actions and inactions

But repeatedly taking these steps allows me to have and achieve the “big” things that are important to me:

  • Personal integrity
  • Helpfulness to others
  • Financial independence
  • Leisure

Small things add up to genuinely great things. So:

  • Take good actions, no matter how small.
  • Make beneficial choices, no matter how simple.
  • Show gratitude for what you have, no matter how basic.

Leave a comment

Filed under Lifestyle, People

Oh, But They Are

Owen's coin collection

I’m getting old enough to think sometimes about how my kids will remember me when I’m gone.

In the 1987 movie Throw Momma From The Train, Danny DeVito and Billy Crystal play Owen, an annoying aspiring writer, and Larry, his writing instructor. For no particular reason, while the two are at Owen’s house, Owen offers to show Larry his coin collection:

OWEN: You want to see my coin collection?
OWEN: I collect coins. I got a dandy collection.
LARRY: I don’t want to see it, Owen.
OWEN: But it’s my collection.
LARRY: I don’t care. Look, Owen, I’m just not in the mood, okay?
[Owen lays down on the floor and begins taking folded envelopes from a hinge-topped box.]
OWEN: Never showed it to anyone before.
[Larry lays down on the floor next to Owen.]
LARRY: All right, I’ll look at it.
OWEN: No, it’s okay.
[Owen turns away and shields the envelopes from Larry’s view.]
LARRY: Show me the collection.
OWEN: No, you don’t mean it.
LARRY: Show me the damn coins!
OWEN: All right.
[Owen lays the coins on the floor and shows each one to Larry.]
OWEN: This one is a nickel. This one also is a nickel. And here’s a quarter. And another quarter. And a penny. See? Nickel, nickel, quarter, quarter, penny.
LARRY [aggravated]: Are any of these coins worth anything?
OWEN: No. And here is another nickel.
LARRY: Why do you have them?
OWEN: What do you mean?
LARRY [exasperated]: Well, the purpose of a coin collection is that the coins are worth something, Owen.
OWEN: Oh, but they are. This one here I got in change when my dad took me to see Peter, Paul and Mary. And this one I got in change when I bought a hot dog at the circus. My daddy let me keep the change; he always let me keep the change.
[Owen picks up one of the quarters.]
OWEN: Ah, this one is my favorite. This is Martin and Lewis at the Hollywood Palladium.
[Larry smiles sheepishly.]
OWEN: Look at that. See the way it shines on the little eagle. I loved my dad a lot.
LARRY: So this whole collection is…
OWEN: Change my daddy let me keep.
LARRY: What was his name?
OWEN: Ned. He used to call me his little Ned. That’s why momma named me Owen. I really miss him.
LARRY: It’s a real nice collection, Owen.
OWEN: Thank you, Larry.

The coins’ worth was determined by their meaning, not their marketability; they were “worth something” because they reminded Owen of his father’s love for him. Larry’s realization of this made him feel sheepish about his initial reaction to Owen.

While photographing my kids being themselves and having fun has been one of my favorite things in life, my pictures of them are “worth something” only as a reminder of my love for them. I won’t get to choose at the end of my life how I’ll be remembered, but I hope my kids will value my pictures for the same reason Owen valued his coins.

Leave a comment

Filed under Arts, Lifestyle, People