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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Some Thoughts on How to Minimize Police Misconduct

My approach to minimizing police misconduct could be described as holistic - perhaps frustratingly so for those seeking to reduce the problem to one factor or another.

Let me begin by sharing reflections on a casual analysis I undertook of 2010 data on police misconduct across the U.S. (keep in mind, though, that this is not my area of specialty).  I discovered that there were significantly more incidents of police misconduct in states with higher percentages of African-Americans.  However, I also found that black population size correlated positively with poverty, which was in turn positively associated with homicide. Further, once I controlled for homicide, the statistical significance of the relationship between race and police misconduct vanished.  

What did I conclude from these findings?  Tackling poverty, which disproportionately affects our brothers and sisters in the African-American community, may be the key to reducing the crime that makes police misconduct more likely.  Accordingly, special attention should be given to such problems as ongoing discrimination in the job market (click here for a famous field experiment on labor market discrimination in the cities of Boston and Chicago), underfunded public schools, and disinvestment in struggling urban communities.

Of course, I'm not suggesting that the problem is exclusively economic in nature.  A lack of accountability on the part of law enforcement officers certainly merits attention, as well.  Research indicates that widening the usage of body-worn cameras may help to mitigate this problem.  After a 12-month experiment on police officers in Rialto, California, University of Cambridge researchers observed that "use-of-force by officers wearing cameras fell by 59% and reports against officers dropped by 87% against the previous year’s figures."    

Clearly, there is no single panacea for police misconduct in the U.S.