Predatory proactive policing practices

Dear Editor,

The evolution of modern urban policing is crushing the economy in low socio-economic neighborhoods, turning them into criminal producing factories, polarizing the country and rapidly expanding the digital plantation and criminal justice system primarily with poor people, mostly of color.

Talk to any police officer who is a 911 responder, and ask them what they want to be doing during their shift, they will all say “Proactive Policing,” not responding to 911 calls. The Proactive Policing they are talking about is accomplished by pulling as many people over as possible using minor or imaginary traffic infractions as a pretense to see if there is any reason to arrest the occupants. Otherwise known as fishing or hunting.

They all want to do it in low socioeconomic areas “where the crime is.” I’m calling BS on that, it’s where people can’t afford lawyers, have a hard time paying for tickets, licenses, registration, fees and insurance. It is also where black and brown folks have been socio-economically segregated.

By Proactive Policing more in any one area it makes it appears that there is more crime there. If you only fish in black ponds, you will only catch black fish. To me this is predatory not proactive.

Police departments all over the country use something typically called a monthly tally sheet to measure officer productivity. Officers list the quantity of tickets and arrests made and the categories are weighed towards severity, say: one point for a traffic ticket, three for a misdemeanor arrest and six for a felony, etc… The officers with the most points advance faster and get better duty and training opportunities.

The problem is the pressure to “compete advance” is such that it can lead to some very unscrupulous practices such as the use of “inciters” to purposely escalate a situation to illicit an actionable response. The use of inciters is 100 percent legal, but it is an unethical predatory practice.

It plays out like this: you pull over a car that is four deep (filled with people).  By saying things (inciters) to purposefully get the occupants riled up, you may get them to commit a crime, perhaps get them to put their hands on a cop, ding, ding, felony, felony, felony 18 points.

 I don’t believe most police officers are racists, but between where they concentrate their efforts and how they measure productivity it combines to have the unintended consequence of disproportionately hurting minorities which by definition is institutional racism.

A little background to help understand a possible win, win solution: being pulled over is scary (for everyone). Being pulled over and given a written warning is just as effective of a behavioral modifier as a ticket, but not nearly as financially damaging to someone going from payday to payday or worse.

By law, police can give a Notice to Appear (NTA) in lieu of a misdemeanor arrest in most cases. Most of the time, black or white, a first time offender being charged with a misdemeanor will get a stern talking to by a judge and not be convicted unless they come back into the system.

If they were arrested, guilty or innocent, they will always have an arrest record, they can be denied a job and place to live and often lose one to two million dollars of potential income over the span of their lifetime.

On the flip side, if they got an NTA and not convicted then no damage is done. The NTA also keeps our valuable police asset on the street protecting people, not wasted processing an unnecessary arrest. The NTA also kept the person’s family and friends (community) from having to come up with bail, lawyers, fees, more fees and lost work time that all suck much needed capital out of socio-economically challenged neighborhoods that desperately need capital to support local businesses.

A little known fact, by law in Florida police are under no obligation to arrest a child for a misdemeanor, to uphold the law they could simply try to mentor the child toward better behavior.

Back to Predatory Proactive Policing Practices. This is easily fixable. Officially most police department’s policy is to always be respectful to citizens, if police really use inciters to manufacture crimes when none exist, the use of body cams and civilian review will end that and get everyone to behave better.

Changing the weighting system on monthly tally sheets to reflect the needs of the community is another. Perhaps give zero points for a ticket and one point for a written warning, give three points for a NTA for a misdemeanor and zero points for a NTA eligible misdemeanor that ends in an arrest. Zero points for secondary charges that would not have existed had the occupants not been engaged with a police officer.

Lastly, limit “Proactive Policing” to affluent neighborhoods where they can afford the financial damage, besides if you really want to take drugs off the streets, go where there is more money because that is where there are more drugs. This would still allow the police department to be “Proactive,” and see if something really bad was going on, drugged driving, corrupting minors etc… without financially damaging hundreds of poor people and their communities.

Don’t get me wrong, Proactive Policing is effective, by casting this wide net and pulling in hundreds of people each day you will catch the occasional really bad guy who doesn’t belong in society, but for every one of those maybe thousands of harmless people are damaged. It simply is not worth it.

Kurt Donley, SCLC Board Member and Criminal Justice Specialist

One Reply to “Predatory proactive policing practices”

  1. Rose Smith-HHayes says:

    This letter is very informative. I realize some things have changed, but many more changes are needed. Low income communities are financially bleed by some of the policies in their communities. Change is needed country wide.

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