Libertarian Bloggers Are Failing Us

From Marginal Revolution:

Our regulatory state is failing us

CA requires 664 hours of training to become a Police Officer, but 1,600 hours of training to become a cosmetologist.

That is from Sheel Mohnot, sources at the link.

The 1,600 hours of training required to become a cosmetologist are the 1,600 that are required to remain one for the duration of one’s career. Are the 664 hours of training required to become a police officer the number that are required to remain one for the duration of a career in law enforcement? For instance, are there mandatory in-service certification/continuing education requirements in cosmetology as there are in policing? If not, how meaningful a comparison is this?

The “sources at the link” regarding cosmetology say:

5. Are continuing education credits needed to maintain a license?
No. The Board does not require continuing education credits to maintain a license.

Whereas here are the California requirements for police officers. Here are the ones for New Jersey. New Jersey is now proposing a licensure requirement for police officers over and above basic training. Some police departments require a BA; some require it for advancement within the department, and many aspiring police officers get a BA so that they can go to other parts of law enforcement past the municipal police department. None of that is true of cosmetology.

Not sure why so many jabs at “the regulatory state” have to consist of misleading talking points that don’t inform, but simply give the appearance of winning The Clever Derby.  Consumer demand?

26 thoughts on “Libertarian Bloggers Are Failing Us

  1. I don’t see how the comparison is unfair. The amount of harm that a police officer has a good chance of inflicting between their first and second certifications is vastly greater than the amount of harm a cosmetologist has a good chance of inflicting over the course of their entire career.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would dispute the generalization you’re making. Cosmetology can be more dangerous than you suggest, and policing less so.

      Here are liability issues that arise in cosmetology (meaning, cosmetologists incurring liability for harm to clients):

      Here are workman comp issues for cosmetologists:

      Some of these injuries can as easily be suffered by clients as by workers. Taken as a whole, some of the injuries described above may be trivial, but many of them are not. My inference: it’s easy to underestimate the hazards of what seems like an entirely safe profession.

      Now, here is a police use-of-force report for my town, which covers 48 square miles:

      Twenty-six uses of force in five years, essentially five a year. No indication is given of the circumstances. So this could be 26 justified uses, or 26 unjustified uses, of something in between. But no matter how you slice it, not that many.

      Suppose we’re talking about a couple from Readington, Ann and Al. Ann is an aspiring cosmetologist, Al an aspiring cop. (Not very stereotype-defying, but work with me.) Both want to be good at what they do, i.e., want to improve on the job. Both just graduated high school.

      On graduating high school, Ann has to enroll in a cosmetology school, complete her 1,600 hours and go into business. After that, she is entirely on her own. Every improvement she makes to her skills is one she makes entirely at her own discretion, for the rest of her career. She can tailor her business to what she does best, and just do that over and over for the next 40 years. She will, of course, have to keep up with consumer demand, new styles, liability issues, etc. But she doesn’t need to jump through any re-certification hoops again.

      Now consider Al, who graduates HS at the same time. He faces a choice. He could go to college or take the civil service exam and go to the police academy. But his career trajectory will be constrained without a college degree. Technically, a degree is optional at entry level, but substantively, it’s clear that upward mobility in the profession requires it. Ex hypothesi (given the motivation for upward mobility in the field) that means Al has to get a 4-year BA degree. Already, then, his monetary expenses and the hours he’s spent on credentialing exceed Ann’s. Before he graduates college, it’s also advisable that he do an internship with a law enforcement agency. Whether you add this to the BA investment, or include it within that investment, it’s valuable training of a kind that has no analogue in Ann’s case.

      Now he studies for the civil service exam, passes it, goes to the police academy, and goes through his 664 hours of training. If we fixate on this phase of his training, it looks as though Ann has had to go through more than twice the training as Al to certify. But that ignores the four years devoted to the BA. If Al graduates in four years, Ann has been in business for three years before Al has gotten any bona fide job training at all.

      Suppose now Al gets through his basic training, gets his badge, his gun, etc. Now he’s put on the police force. He still faces re-certifications. We could look at these re-certifications in one of two ways: either focus on the bare minimum required, or focus on what’s required for an upwardly-directed career. Ex hypothesi, I’ve been focusing on the latter in both cases.

      If Al wants a good career in law enforcement, he can’t be content with the bare minimum in certification, any more than Ann can just sit on her heels and pay no attention to current trends, styles, etc. The difference is that Ann has to respond to consumer demand, but doesn’t have certify for anything. Al faces a career’s worth of certifications. The farther he wants to go in law enforcement, the greater the number of trainings he has to do on top of the minimum required for re-certification.

      Recall that both Al and Ann were operating here in cozy Readington, NJ. Which of the two has a greater chance of injuring someone? Al might shoot someone, or break their arm, or hit them with a baton. Or he might get through his whole career without doing anything of the sort. Ann might burn someone’s eyes out, or gash someone’s scalp, or give someone a communicable disease (or get one)–or may just cut a lot of hair and listen to a lot of dopey break-up stories. There is no clear answer to the question, “Which person is more dangerous than the other?” The question becomes impossible to answer if we bracket hard-to-quantify considerations like, “How conscientious are they?”

      Are Al and Ann literally the modal instances of their kind? I don’t know. What I know is that their situations are extremely common. Cowen’s comparison captures none of the complexity here. It fixates on one fact by treating the entire background context as irrelevant. But it’s not irrelevant. Yes, if you focus only on certification prior to licensure (for cosmetology) or hours required prior to entry into the police force (for cadets), it looks as though police officers get less training than cosmetologists. And that seems absurd, given that cosmetology is such a sedate occupation, and policing is so very dangerous. But all of this is an ideological distortion of reality. Cosmetology is more dangerous than people realize. Policing is not always as dangerous as the stereotype suggests. Policing doesn’t require a BA if you focus on the entry-level officer who has no desire to rise above patrol officer. But it does for anyone who does want to rise above that level. By contrast, possession of a BA has little to no bearing on the practice of cosmetology, whether we’re talking about a mediocre cosmetologist or an excellent one. If we compare the latter person to the cosmetologist who wants a flourishing career, the hour-to-hour certification comparison tells us essentially nothing.

      The more common sense realization is that we’re just talking about totally different things, so that comparisons make little sense. In cosmetology, you need to know the basics, though it takes longer than you might imagine to learn them. But once you learn them, you’re on your own, responding to consumer demand with one eye on standard-of-care or liability issues. By contrast, in policing, if you want to be any good, you need to have a broader education, and bring that to bear on your work. You then need to certify, join the force, then continually re-certify as you angle for promotion.

      Just to be clear: I don’t mean to suggest that a cosmetologist doesn’t need a liberal arts education. I mean, she doesn’t need to bring that education to bear on her job. If she needs it, she mostly needs it for other things, not for the practice of cosmetology. Whereas the police officer needs a liberal arts education to do his job properly, along with what other reasons he may have besides the job-related ones.

      I would say that a comparison of the kind Cowen offers up serves only one purpose: ideological mystification. It serves as a talking point to suggest (without argument) that police officers are ill-trained, and that cosmetologists face too many training requirements. Not only is that not true, but the whole issue strikes me as a red herring.

      The problem with police officers is not that they’re ill-trained. It’s that too many of them are too fucked up to be trained into psychological normality, no matter how much time, effort, or resources were put into the endeavor. You could double or triple their training hours, and it would do no good. However well trained they are, they’re just throroughly immoral people. It’s not obvious that virtue can be taught through training sessions.

      Coming the other way around, it’s not obvious that 1,600 hours is too many for a cosmetologist. Granted, it strikes me as too many from an armchair, but there are limits on what I can say about cosmetology from an armchair. But then, there are limits on what Tyler Cowen can say, too. 1,600 hours could turn out to be just right.

      My own armchair experience is better-than-average; it comes from my years as a loyal patron of Salon Gossip of Bloomfield, NJ:

      I owe what I know about cosmetology to Gail, who has 20 years of experience in the industry. Naturally, the usual disclaimer applies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Another immediate reaction: what would constitute good polemics for a view like Cowen’s? He is going to need some vivid point that indicates, in a simplified way, that the regulatory state has its priorities messed up and is failing in obvious ways (in particular, for the sort of point made here, it is regulating or over-regulating things that should not be and not regulating other things enough — and in the end my guess is that we will want to say this regarding cosmetology vs. policing even if there is lots of devil in the details). I suspect that, even if this particular comparison is not the best, one of the centrally good, effective and not-too-inaccurate polemical points here will be precisely comparisons of this kind. And seminar-room level detail, accuracy, caveats, etc. will not cut it.


  2. As the first reply to the link/tweet indicates, there are reasons to think that any straight hours-to-hours comparison is not quite apples-to-apples. So that and your point. But I don’t think hours of required training for entry is irrelevant to showing that the regulatory state has its priorities messed up. So it does not render the comparison otiose. It is part of a serious conversation, and perhaps something that could motivate the rest of the conversation, not a strong point or conclusive evidence or anything like that. I worry that Standard Libertarian Guy just reads the link/tweet and walks away saying ‘fuck yeah’. This is not what Cowen wants. It would be a cost, not a benefit, for his rhetorical strategy.

    (Cowen is happy to throw out chum for the market fundamentalist or Standard Libertarian Guy and his leftist enemies. And for those who are convinced that Cowen is simply a fancy, multicultural libertarian shill. They will come, do their “mood affiliation” and make fools of themselves, and the more reasonable folks will either be won over to, or at least come to have respect for and recognize good points from, Cowen’s not-at-all-straight-up-libertarian position. Still, I don’t think he wants to use shitty points for his chum.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll address this when I respond to Roderick and Sean in a minute, but precisely because I agree with your opening sentence, I reject this:

      But I don’t think hours of required training for entry is irrelevant to showing that the regulatory state has its priorities messed up.

      I disagree with the substantive point, but for now, let me focus on a slightly different point. Suppose that the comparison proves that the regulatory state’s priorities are messed up. Surely the relevant question is how. It isn’t self-evident. It requires an argument. Once you acknowledge that an hours-to-hours comparison is misleading, you face an obvious choice: Do you want to promote a talking point by relying on its misleading nature? Or do you want to explain how the comparison works despite its prima facie misleading character?

      In this respect, I literally don’t get the point you’re making in the parenthetical paragraph at the end. It sounds like you’re saying:

      1. Yeah, Cowen throws misleading chum out there so that he can feed a libertarian feeding frenzy, and keep the waters roiling.In other words, he wants to promote a misleading talking point, and has no qualms about doing so.
      2. But no, Cowen would never throw misleading chum out there so that he can feed a libertarian feeding frenzy, and keep the waters roiling. He wants to provoke a constructive discussion.

      Well, which is it? I incline toward (1), and (1) is what I’m objecting to. I’ve been reading Marginal Revolution a lot lately. (I mean, BHL is dead, so what else am I supposed to read?) I don’t see any evidence for interpretation (2).

      But I guess here is the real challenge for any “let’s give Tyler the benefit of the doubt” interpretation. Ten days ago, I wrote a fairly short blog post directly challenging his views on the nursing home controversy. In ten days, he’s generated an enormous amount of writing. But where does he stand on my challenge? If he can’t answer my challenge, the inference to draw is that his original criticism of “the regulatory state” in this instance was wrong–literally dead wrong. If he can, you would expect him at least to acknowledge–in ten days’ time, among all the myriad links he’s put on his website–that someone has challenged his view.

      But that’s not what he’s done. He’s answered an objection to his “the regulatory state has failed us” by doubling down on more “the regulatory state has failed us” posts, with no acknowledgment that some of what he’s so far said on this topic just looks like red meat thrown out as chum, but ends up falling apart on relatively cursory analysis. I’m not a geriatrician. I’m not an economist. I don’t work in LTC. I’m just some random unemployed dude in front of a computer. You wouldn’t expect someone like me to have produced some awe-inspiring challenge that was particularly difficult to answer. You would expect me to have made some elementary mistake somewhere that someone would by now have long ago corrected. But what’s the mistake? And why has no one corrected it?

      Here is a Hayekian hypothesis: I may not know much about the practical world, but I know just a little bit more than average about the medical world. Knowing that much (or little) is enough to stump an economist with Cowen’s credentials because he knows even less than I do. What if that turns out to be widely true, not just of Tyler Cowen, but of a lot of people?

      It increasingly looks like the object of Cowen’s criticism of the NY state government (and by implication, NJ) was not to understand the underlying issue, but to have a piece of polemical ammunition to use against “the regulatory state.” I’ve grown tired of this gambit over the years, and my criticisms of Cowen are an expression of that fatigue. A hundred thousand gotchas don’t add up to understanding of a single issue. They just add to the proliferation of confusion about a lot of issues.

      On nursing homes (but regulation generally), Cowen, along with the politicians and pundits who agree with him, are muddying waters that need to be kept as clear as possible. I think that’s as true of his police/cosmetology comparison as of his insistence that state governments should be blamed for the failures of nursing homes (to the extent that “failure” is the right word even in the latter case). Will explain that in response to Roderick and Sean.


      • Some quick, immediate reaction:

        (1) I think Cowen throws out chum (that he knows will trigger either the libertarian right or the left) that he also thinks is fundamentally solid (even if flawed) for making his (more moderate, more nuanced) point. This link/tweet was subpar but not something bad enough, by his lights, for him to retract.

        (2) Do you comment on his blog? There are some high-quality folks who participate along with some more troll-ish folks. Almost always pearls, almost always some of these pearls weigh against Tyler’s (or Alex’s) position.

        (3) Under what circumstances is he obliged to answer you? I think most of the time he is busy and figures that good work will be done by his commentators. He rarely wades in. Again, solid participation in his blog there will likely get some traction.


        • This particular post is probably too trivial to deserve the long discussion we’ve already given it, and I don’t expect him to retract it. I just think it’s silly.

          I haven’t commented on his blog. I haven’t read the comments that much, but wasn’t impressed by what I read.

          What Cowen said about nursing homes was asserted in a prominent interview in The Atlantic, and got his imprimatur as a major libertarian economist. He tossed the claim off as though his position was obvious, and as though it was underwritten by his academic authority. It will undoubtedly be cited that way, and he knows it will. It’s an issue of fairly high political importance: the Republicans will very likely use it against the Democrats in the near future, and have already begun to do so. The implicit accusation is a serious one: it implies that the Democratic state governors were reckless with the lives of the elderly, and needlessly caused their deaths. Plenty of people have begun to accuse the Democratic state governments more straightforwardly of “murder” or “mass murder.” Both claims fit hand-in-glove with the Obama-era charge that Democrats favor “death panels” for the elderly.

          I emailed Cowen with my post. He said he’d read it. Shortly after that, he writes a column in which, having laid the failure at the door of the state governments, he suddenly writes as though he thinks the nursing homes operators deserve vilification. So far, then, we have one undefended assertion of “failure” involving mass death, and one undefended half-invitation to vilification which doesn’t cohere with the first accusation. Neither claim is defended, and neither sits well with the other.

          I emailed Conor Friedersdorf, and got no response. I’ve been discussing the issue with people for a month, mostly online. With a very, very few exceptions, no one has engaged my criticisms. The very people who have refused to engage have been eager to repeat the accusations themselves. I guess I have to believe that a lot of people seem more invested in making this particular accusation than in understanding the basis of their own accusation.

          I don’t think the issue is whether Cowen is obliged to respond to me in particular. The issue is whether it’s legitimate to make such a fraught accusation in such a charged political climate, offer nothing in defense of it, encounter a challenge to what you’ve said, but still proceed as though the issue remained as uncontroversial as it was at the outset. I’d say “no.”


  3. I have used this comparison between police and barbers myself. It’s not the strongest argument about LEO training, but it’s certainly pretty clear.

    A better comparison is to consider this data:
    What are the training/recertification requirements for police in nations that have a 10th of the police killings that we do?
    Should our police have more training in recognizing mental health issues and how to handle them?
    Does our current problem point more to deficiency in our mental health care system than in our LE system?

    sean s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Part of my response to your comment is included in my response to Roderick, so you might want to read that, above. In general, I’m unconvinced that it’s useful to compare police certification to cosmetology requirements. It doesn’t strike me as a comparison of like with like, and as far as I can see, does no useful work in helping anyone understand the problems that either field faces.

      On this:

      A better comparison is to consider this data:
      What are the training/recertification requirements for police in nations that have a 10th of the police killings that we do?

      That’s a better comparison, but still not all that useful. For one thing, it gives no reason to think that the higher incidence of shootings in the US has anything to do with training or certification. Second, the figures in the link are about police shootings, not unjustified police shootings. So the figures are as consistent with the claim that American police officers are distinctively brutal as they are with saying that the US is itself a distinctively brutal (and heavily armed) society, and that police officers are responding to that widespread brutality.

      On this:

      Should our police have more training in recognizing mental health issues and how to handle them?
      Does our current problem point more to deficiency in our mental health care system than in our LE system?

      The answers to both questions are probably “yes,” but I have a real fear that the focus on mental health in policing is creating some serious misimpressions about how both fields work. Some background.

      First of all, efforts are being made to integrate policing and mental health practice:

      Before I lost my job, I was hoping to do this sort of work. (I was in a work-subsidized counseling program.) Worth noting that Crisis Intervention is driven almost entirely by law enforcement, with mental health people embedded with cops, and operating at their behest and command. So any mental health worker who goes into this field has ipso facto become an arm of law enforcement.

      The reason for that “law enforcement in charge” arrangement should be obvious. People in counseling and social work do not generally train to deal with violent people. We train to deal with people who have psycho-social problems, on the assumption that overt, active violence (expressed right there in the consultation room) is not one of them. When it becomes a problem, the average counselor or social worker is trained to call the police, not take the person out herself.

      To say that the police should become better at mental health is a little like saying that mental health practitioners should become better at dealing with violent criminals. Yes, they should, but it’s a little easier said than done. Most cops chafe at the unpaid amateur counseling they already have to do on the job (and I don’t blame them). Many counselors resent at being put in the position of having to function as amateur cops (I don’t blame them for that, either).

      You can only solve a problem of this kind by cross-professional or cross-disciplinary collaborations like CIT NJ. But those collaborations have their own pitfalls. Had I gone into CIT, I personally would have had a hard time taking orders from cops. I also would not have wanted to go into situations where cops were arresting people engaged in victimless crimes, like sex work or drug trafficking. That said, it’s not as though I could have done the job without armed backup, either. One lesson here is that it’s harder to do the work than come up with hashtags about it.

      The other thing I’d say is: there is a real danger that programs like CIT NJ will become collateral damage of the movement to “defund the police.” CIT NJ is a law enforcement initiative. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing. It is not productive to act as though such initiatives don’t exist, and as though we have to dismantle the police department, and re-create law enforcement from scratch. It seems more productive to build on the valuable things that already exist, and acknowledge the enormous work that went into building and sustaining them.

      That’s why I particularly resent facile comparisons on this topic. I know people in both mental health and law enforcement, and people who work at the intersection between the two fields. It’s galling for such people to have to listen to protesters and activists chant radical-sounding slogans that are so reflexively derisive of reformist efforts. I see Cowen’s “failures of the regulatory state” rhetoric as an instance of that. Whatever he thinks he’s doing, the net result is the subversion of democratic politics. But like it or not, democratic politics is the only route out of our problems. There is no other viable route to the reform of police departments, health departments, Medicare, Medicaid, or nursing homes. Loose rhetoric just induces people to believe in the political equivalent of magic. But that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in. Too many Americans believe in the political equivalent of magic. Increasingly, libertarian ideology strikes me as a discourse of magical thinking. But libertarians aren’t the only ones guilty of that.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think mlyoung57 captured the essential point that motivates me: “I suspect that, even if this particular comparison is not the best, one of the centrally good, effective and not-too-inaccurate polemical points here will be precisely comparisons of this kind. And seminar-room level detail, accuracy, caveats, etc. will not cut it.

    You are right, of course that, “,democratic politics is the only route out of our problems.” But this omits the need to motivate people to act. I am sorry if the experts find this process galling, but as we all know, democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.

    People have been calling for police reforms literally since the 50s. See how well that’s going? Sometimes some not-too-inaccurate polemical is necessary to motivate people to do something.

    Otherwise, I fear the problem will be analyzed with detail, subtly, and precision and result in nothing.

    With genuine respect;

    sean s.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think both you and Michael are cutting this comparison too much slack by exaggerating how much good you expect it to do, and minimizing the reformist work that’s recently been done in policing.

      The issue is not whether the comparison is suitable for an academic seminar room, but whether it will fly in a conversation with cops. No reform can have a hope of success unless it gets the buy-in of the cops who have to implement it. I don’t mean, of course, that we have to convert every cop on every police force to our way of thinking, but we do have to convince a critical mass of people in law enforcement of different ways of thinking than the habitual ones.

      That can’t be done, or even started, with comparisons of this kind. I’m not even a cop, and I can see through it. A cop would cut through it like a hot knife through butter. It just is not a legitimate comparison. And it opens the conversation with them by saying, in effect, “We have no idea what your job requirements are, but we’ll rely on cheap rhetorical tricks to make you look corrupt and stupid.” Cheap rhetorical tricks won’t even work on issues where cops are corrupt and stupid, much less on issues like this, where they’re not.

      One of the weirdest features of this comparison is its popularity with academics. Question: how much comparable training do academics get? How much did Tyler Cowen get? I got a Ph.D. in philosophy. I had to jump through a lot of hoops to get it, but not a single one of those hoops had anything to do with what I spent my career actually doing–teaching. So how many training hours on teaching did I receive before I started teaching? 0. Does that prove that I’m a bad teacher? Does it prove that academics should be compared with cosmetologists or cops? It doesn’t really prove much of anything except that you can devise an out-of-context talking point to “prove” almost anything. And once we do it to them, they’ll do it back to us. That won’t get us reform. It’ll only get us a discourse devised to reproduce rancor and confusion.

      People have been calling for police reforms literally since the 50s. See how well that’s going?

      That’s a good question, but it’s an empirical question. The George Floyd killing and the behavior of the police during the protests doesn’t prove that no progress has been, any more than pockets of deep poverty prove that the “War on Poverty” has failed, or instances of racism prove that the civil rights movement has failed.

      I have a worry that the left is too quickly borrowing talking points and argumentative strategies from the right. The right has long specialized in a gotcha discourse. Now the left wants to do the same with cops. The right has long pioneered the strategy of using one egregious failure in a program of reform to indict the whole program. Now the left wants to do the same with the police. The right is into “starve the beast” politics; now the left wants to “defund the police.” I probably don’t qualify as anyone’s idea of a leftist, but I think the left is better than that. Or rather, I’d like to be part of a left that’s better than that. Such methods give a false sense of efficacy, but in the long run, they fail. They debase democratic politics, and leave an opening to the Jason Brennans of the world, only too happy to gut democracy altogether.

      It occurs to me that I have a picture of police reform that’s just different from what I’ve been hearing from almost everyone, including BLM. I’ll see if I can make the time to write it up. Meanwhile, here’s a story about an approach that I think points in the right direction.


      • Irfan and Sean, did you see this? I think this guy is wrong and ideological about a lot of things here, but what he has to say (however exaggerated or not) about “cop culture” and “police academy culture” strikes me as on-target.

        View at

        Liked by 1 person

        • I just read it. I think there’s a lot of truth to it, and it tends to reinforce my view that transparency in both college CJ departments and police academies will go some of the way toward undoing this culture. Again, this can’t be done by having tactically inexperienced people like you, me, and Sean dictating what is to be taught in the Police Academy. What we need to do is to demand a legislative authority to actively supervise the academies, then make alliances with genuinely reform minded cops who will supervise them in the right way.

          But you can’t do that in a spirit of disrespect for policing. You can’t, in one breath, say some equivalent of “fuck the police, they’re incorrigible and don’t get it,” and in the next breath ask Officer So-and-So to help you supervise the police academies. Already, I’m finding personal acquaintances of mine who are cops going into “shutdown” mode, reluctant to make any contribution to the discussion out of resentment at how it’s going. Some of this may be over-sensitivity, but some of it, frankly, is warranted. And I’m seeing cops with decades of tactical experience being second-guessed by people who have never taken down a dangerous person in their lives, and never will. This is just to set ourselves up for failure. We can’t simply adopt an adversarial posture toward law enforcement and succeed at much of anything.

          For instance, the recent push to have an absolute “ban” chokeholds strikes me as misconceived. In that respect, Donald Trump has shown more common sense than the people climbing on the bandwagon to ban this tactic. Chokeholds should not be a default, but they can’t be ruled out anywhere and everywhere in a society full of armed, dangerous fuck-ups who will kill you over nothing. If we’re not going to rule out shooting people, we can’t rule out putting them in chokeholds. There is too little recognition out there of how dangerous many criminal suspects are, how clever, how devious, how irrational, how unpredictable, how utterly fucked up. You can’t talk tactics without taking those facts on board. And you can’t put social workers in harms’ way without doing so, either. But loose talk about tactics is now becoming a norm–another invitation to failure.

          This guy is right: to change policing, we have to change its culture. To change its culture, we have to start early: K-12 schools, colleges, police academies. You can’t do it by passing laws and imposing training on people habituated early on to vice, much less by having mass protests in the middle of a pandemic.

          I agree with many of his diagnoses, and many of his prescriptions. That you should take the Fifth in your dealings with law enforcement is something that should be taught to children in fourth grade. That’s why I insisted that if the police are allowed into the schools, the ACLU must be allowed as well.

          The one thing I strongly object to in his account is the self-serving bullshit about how “we all were” bastards. He presents no evidence for that at all, and it’s not the kind of thing that can be proven by anecdotal evidence of the kind he presents. Here’s a book that takes exactly the reverse perspective:

          My point is not that you should believe Plantinga over the Medium writer. It’s that you shouldn’t take either as a guide to the whole profession. That’s what we need real quantitative evidence for, not memoirs or anecdotes.

          I also regard this as complete bullshit:

          To put this another way: I made double the salary most social workers made to do a fraction of what they could do to mitigate the causes of crimes and desperation. I can count very few times my monopoly on state violence actually made our citizens safer, and even then, it’s hard to say better-funded social safety nets and dozens of other community care specialists wouldn’t have prevented a problem before it started.

          He counts very few times his having a gun “made our citizens safer.” That’s obtuse. Forget “our citizens.” He didn’t carry a gun to keep them safe; he carried one to keep himself safe. He’s never been an unarmed social worker. So what the fuck does he know about being one?

          Here’s a tip: have him take off his gun and badge some day, and do that “mediocre social work” he talks about without them, and let’s see how safe he feels. All of a sudden, he’ll come to realize that he is one of “our citizens” and that the gun was there to keep that citizen safe.

          It’s cheap for people to put social workers and counselors in harms’ way out of consideration for the “clients” that would otherwise be brutalized by the police. What such people fail to see is that they’re now putting mental health care workers at risk of being brutalized by traumatized “clients.” People are not grasping that field work in dangerous settings is not the normal default setting of social work or counseling. Nor as a temperamental matter, do most people go into social work or counseling in order to deal with danger. My community counseling textbook doesn’t contain a single sentence about how to handle dangerous clients.

          In six years in a counseling program, the issue of subduing dangerous clients didn’t come up even once in our training. But you can’t go out into the field and act as though every client you encounter–every substance abuser, every schizophrenic off his meds, every child abuser, every spouse beater, every personality disordered person triggered by this or that–is going to sit down and have a nice chat with you over Earl Grey tea. One minute they could be doing that; the next minute, they could be trying to kill you.

          The default assumption of almost all mental health training is that danger is not our business, but the business of the police or perhaps Security. It is reckless and cavalier to pretend that you can just send social workers “out there” to replace cops. You might as well send cops into clinics and consultation rooms to do the work of social workers. Neither approach is a recipe for success.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. This strikes me as a much better way of making the cosmetology/police comparison:

    The issue isn’t certification, but de-certification–not how you acquire the legal right to practice but how you lose it.

    Of course, one has to choose which way to go. Should it become easier to fire police officers, or harder to de-certify cosmetologists? (Or both?)

    Both left-liberals and libertarians would want to draw attention to the double standard, but it seems to me that left-liberals would be inclined to create a licensure system for police officers and then make it easier to fire them for violations of the conditions of licensure, whereas libertarians generally argue against licensure as such, and would have to make a special exception for the police. I suppose libertarians would also want to ease the requirements on cosmetologists.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Irfan;

    From where I stand, whatever “reformist work” done recently in policing overshadowed by the institutional decay that’s been going on for years. It’s like remodeling bathrooms while the roof rots and leaks.

    You say that claims that police reforms have gone badly are “empirical questions”; so are your claims that there have been successes. The burden of proving progress has been made rests on those who say it has occurred. For me, I simply see little sign of it. Rather than “pockets of police failure” what I suspect is “pockets of police reform” overshadowed by chronic systemic failure. I am sure that there are a lot of people who have good approaches to police reform; there’s just so little evidence of anything beyond isolated successes.

    Cops will certainly object to the comparison with cosmetologists; they will do that regardless of the validity of the comparison. But this does shift the debate towards what they were trained to do. When were they trained to restrain people on the ground and then kneel on their necks while they are in distress? Where was that in their syllabus?

    Cops may say they are far better trained than a cosmetologist; GOOD! I hope they are. When were they trained to do the brutal stuff we SEE them doing? Every day, it seems there’s some fresh outrage. Where is that crap in their training manual?

    On issues where cops are corrupt and stupid, these arguments are not for them but for the community they live in. The corrupt or stupid can hardly be reasoned with.

    I can get behind the de-certification comparison you prefer; I don’t think I have to choose between those approaches. Both are useful for shifting the focus toward police training.

    You say that “one has to choose which way to go”: raise the standards for cosmetologists or lower them for the police. This is true, but it’s only a dilemma for academics and ideologues. For the rest of us the decision is “like-doh!!”

    Since I’m not an academic, I don’t care about training comparisons between the Police and academics. In my humble opinion; “academia” sounds like a disease, and for a reason.

    Regarding, “left wants to ‘defund the police’”: “the left” is a vague, disorganized category; “the left” does not want to “defund” the police; that is just one position. There are many “on the left” who object to the “defund” idea; as do I.

    You wrote that you’d “like to be part of a left that’s better than that”. There is a “better left” but you have do look beyond the headlines.

    An aspect of this that we have overlooked so far is the trend of turning all social ills into police matters. Homelessness, panhandling, mental illness, truancy, etc. should not involve the police beyond being a ready presence if things get out of hand.

    This is related to the matter of police training in that we are overloading police with duties they are not properly trained for and should not be expected to be experts in.

    sean s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think there’s been ample evidence of real success. I’m going to give evidence from New Jersey, partly because it’s what I know best, and partly because New Jersey has been a leader.

      One route to rolling back police excess is decriminalization of victimless crimes. Once upon a time, pot was illegal everywhere. Here is the situation now:

      That’s not systemic reform? If the map in that link pictured, say, a move from desegregation to re-segregation, anyone would admit that structural change was taking place. But the same is true when the change is for the good.

      Here’s a list of the US Dept of Justice consent decrees on police departments. There are literally hundreds of pages there detailing reforms that have been made:

      Those reforms have, of course, been slowed down or rolled back under Trump. But they were being made under Obama and Holder. That was a real start that should be recognized and continued.

      Here is the consent decree for the city of Newark, New Jersey, with progress reports:

      Slow but steady progress. One reflection of that is that during the recent protests, there was remarkably little violence in Newark, a city previously thought “prone” to racial violence. Between the consent decree, and the alliance between the police department, the mayor, and local activist groups, real progress has been made.

      The consent decree entered against the NJ State Police is widely regarded (by those who agreed there should be one) as a success, which is why it was dissolved in 2009.

      Finally, a list of the NJ Attorney General’s law enforcement directives, almost all in a positive direction, and headed that way well before the Floyd protests.

      It’s a commonplace that the most vehement demands for reform take place when things have started to improve. For whatever reason, what angers people most is not retrogression but the slow pace of progress. But the progress is real.

      Anecdotally, I make a point of reporting literally every law enforcement transgression I see to the Internal Affairs Division of the relevant agency. These are usually for motor vehicle violations by law enforcement, a research interest of mine. I made a list of these, and the evidence is mixed, but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the way some IADs handled my complaints. This mirrors my anecdotal impression (gathered from cops) that IA investigations are not a merely pro forma matter, as they apparently used to be. If anything, the least transparent agency I dealt with was not a police department, but the NJ Department of Transportation, whose IA division was much worse than any police department I ever dealt with.

      There’s more to be said, but I don’t think that there are merely pockets of reform. I think policing as a profession is split between its reformers and its reactionaries. Strategically, what external reformers should be doing is making an alliance with the former against the latter. But that means creating the conditions for an alliance with such people. It can’t be done by taking cheap shots at the profession as such. That will generate ill will, but no actual reform.

      My own view is that the most important reforms have to take place at or near the point of entry into the profession. One set is HR-level decisions: hiring/termination/promotion. The standards for hiring have to be changed, termination has to be made easier, and the criteria for promotion have to incentivize a genuine desire for reform.

      Another set is curricular (which you mention). The issue isn’t so much that police training has to be extended in terms of hours (which is what the cosmetology comparison implies), but that transparency has to be brought to the content of instruction in police academies, as well as to who is doing the teaching. The sheer opacity of what goes on in police academies is unacceptable. We should be able to see academy syllabi online, and the academies should be required to identify their instructors by name and credentials. Legislators should be visiting police academies and exercising active oversight over what’s taught there. The quantitative comparison of cosmetology to policing draws attention away from the real issue, which is qualitative.

      Here is the registration form for the Police Academy in Bergen County, where I used to work:

      It tells you the names of the classes, but gives an uniformative course description, no access to syllabi, no identification of the instructor, no list of credentials. Compare that to requirements for any college-level class. We (academics) are micro-managed; they are left to do as they please. But surely, if anything, it should be the other way around? No one is going to kill anyone based on what I teach them in critical thinking. But people could get killed based on what’s taught in the police academy.

      Yet another set is curricular at a different level. Though police departments do not technically require a college BA, it’s recognized that a BA is required for advancement in law enforcement. The issue is not, to my mind, whether we should require a BA for entry, but the content of what is taught in that BA. College departments of criminal justice are typically little more than vocational schools for police/correctional officers–an island of unapologetic vocational training within what are supposed to be liberal arts institutions. The students who enroll have this picture that a BA in CJ is their ticket into the police academy, and many CJ departments oblige them. I’ve taught students like this for about 15 years. They need an attitude change right there. You can, right there at the outset, figure out which ones of them will become problems the minute you give them a badge and a gun. The Deans paid to supervise these departments should be asked hard questions about what they’re doing. How does CJ fit into the broader mission of the liberal arts? Why is it that criminal justice majors habitually equate “criminal justice” with “law enforcement”? They’re not really the same thing. What are Deans and Provosts doing about that?

      Finally, we need to either get the police out of K-12 classrooms, or else demand that if they are going to show up to teach classes on “respect for law,” (or the badness of drugs, or whatever) the same institutions absolutely must give civil libertarians equal time–no excuses. It is unconscionable that the Community Affairs divisions of local police departments have been allowed to waltz into K-12 schools to propagandize and recruit students with no push-back, no alternative points of view, nothing but acquiescence. The students who emerge from this brainwashing do so with really crazy, one-sided ideas about law enforcement.

      That’s not meant to be exhaustive, or meant to suggest that my list of intended reforms is better than anyone else’s, or has higher priority. My point is, you can’t put this list into place without getting buy-in from cops themselves. Cops control HR within police departments. Cops teach in the Police Academy. Often enough, cops teach as adjuncts in college CJ programs. And cops staff Community Affairs and Internal Affairs. There is no viable route to police reform that doesn’t go through cops themselves. There is no list of decrees that can be imposed on them from the outside that will somehow work its magic unless they themselves (or some critical mass of them) accept its legitimacy. So one basic pre-condition of reform is a generalized atmosphere of trust conducive to a firm but business-like negotiation with them. A discourse of cleverish cheap shots is not conducive to that, and will not be productive of reform.

      Here’s a local civil rights veteran taking basically the same line–or rather, I’m the one taking his line:

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for that comment, Irfan. Lots of good stuff there. From my own experience, I agree with you about progress. The police (and really the entire city government) in Providence has gone from corrupt/thuggish to pretty good in the course of the last 30 years or so. Our police are considered a model force. With some exceptions, my dealings with them have been good. They are very professional (even when not as competent as I would like). Maybe ten years ago a pretty “green” police officer was killed by a sucker-punch, square on the face, head to the pavement. An old-school “bastard” cop probably would not have had this happen because he would be poised to treat every lawbreaker as a potentially deadly enemy, would be doing all the semi-asshole things to control the situation and instill respect/fear, etc. (not to say that there is not a better “middle ground” — there probably is; and for all I know the cop who got killed like this was doing some good version of maintaining control/authority, exhibiting adequate caution, etc. — and just ran up against the wrong guy or got unlucky).

        This seems plausible: though there has been good, piecemeal reform of police training and conduct, (a) there are important, similar reforms that need to be made (including it being easier to decertify cops, including some national database or network of reciprocal agreements between states so that bad cops don’t get to keep being cops) and (b) cop culture needs to change, more or less from the “warrior” model to the “guardian” model. This latter will be hard because cop buy-in is absolutely essential and because we live in a society with plenty of messed up folks who are readily violent and defiant, many of whom have guns. One thing we will probably need is actually more money for cops so that we can have more (well-trained, know-how-to-deescalate) cops. That is a good carrot for getting buy-in on whatever is necessary to change cop culture.

        I think the somewhat facile talking-points of the right and left, including the one that started this thread, are more conversation-starters than anything. As long as they are not literally false (or severely misleading in a way that would reliably cause reasonable people to have false beliefs), I think this is okay. We just need to be willing to have the conversation after these talking-point (and clap-back) sound bites are put out there. And, yes, the rough-and-tumble, hurt-feelings, non-academic version of conversation.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I agree with all of that, except for your discreet attempt to defend Tyler Cowen’s talking point, which I still think is misleading in all the wrong ways.

          And also except for your suggestion that academic conversations are worse than non-academic ones.


  7. Irfan;

    I have to say you are the only person I’m aware of saying that we’ve been making significant progress; but you are also the only one I know from New Jersey. I watch the news (probably too much) and what I see is a general systemic failure in Law Enforcement. Apparently, you live in a more enlightened place. Congratulations! Sincerely.

    I’m listening to our faculty-of-color right now describing their experiences; some recent; all inexcusable. Out here is the bush, it’s much less enlightened than NJ. Clearly from what we’re seeing in the news, my view matches national events better than yours.

    You are right; we need the police to buy-in. Peaceful, respectful engagement has produced very little (outside of NJ anyway). So, the time for that has passed. Repeating the same things over and over again, expecting the results to change, is insane. People are angry. But they are not insane. They are just Pissed Off.

    There’s little patience left for respect; the Police need to Get It, and making nice does not work. I wish it did; but it does not. It. Does. Not.

    NJ’s training may be good. Out here, it’s not. The NJ experience means there is hope. But not progress, not outside of isolated pockets of enlightenment. It’s hard to develop trust and a “business-like negotiation” with someone who has their knee on your neck.

    Best regards;

    sean s.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It may be true that my comments are a function of my experiences in New Jersey, which probably is not typical of the country as a whole. New Jersey is a blue state led by a Democratic governor and progressive Attorney General. I did a bit of campaigning for the current governor during his candidacy, and the AG is a personal friend of mine. I also went out of my way to cultivate friendly relationships over the years with people in law enforcement, in an active attempt to understand their perspective and make a contribution to reform. So it may be that I have the biases of a left-of-center northeastern liberal who happens to be more cop-friendly than most.

      That said, I also have a pretty long history of altercations with the police, going back to the age of seven, when I was first falsely accused, detained, and interrogated for an assault that put the ex-mayor’s son in the hospital (had nothing to do with me). So I don’t really feel the need to defer to anyone else’s experiences on this topic. I am, after all, a person of color, and until recently, I was a faculty member. I’ve been falsely accused over and over of serious crimes (murder, assault, terrorism), detained, frisked, interrogated, strip searched, been arrested once, had guns pointed in my face, and been shot at.

      But I’ve also had to call the police to get me out of comparable situations: a knife assault on a third party, a menacing person with a gun prowling a park, a car theft in progress (mine), a few life-threatening accidents, and then a few “quality of life” issues that people are so ready to deride (noise complaints). Several of my students and a few acquaintances have been murdered. And I have 52/60 graduate credits toward a degree in counseling. So I have experience on various different sides of the issue.

      Just a small sample of posts I’ve written here on policing and related issues:

      Trust me on this, but I haven’t written up even half of what I’ve actually experienced.

      It seems to me that activist efforts would be better focused if some of the following were borne in mind:

      1. It is true that there are systemic problems in policing, but crime is a systemic problem of its own. A single-minded focus on one issue at the expense of the other is bound to lead to an incomplete picture of reality, and bound to fail. I don’t think BLM takes the problem of crime seriously enough.

      2. There’s a tension in any system like ours between adopting an adversarial posture toward the police, and trusting them. One needs to be able to do both. If we only do the former, we are setting ourselves up for permanent warfare of a kind we will never, ever win. But many BLM activists regard this as their default setting.

      3. Race is one but not the only problem we face in policing. The attempt to reduce the problems of policing to racial problems is a mistake. But BLM is in jeopardy of making that mistake.

      4. Anecdotes are an important part of the evidence needed to understanding issues in policing. But there are also huge limitations to trying to understand policing in purely anecdotal terms, especially in a climate of opinion where anecdotes by police officers are derided a priori as false or irrelevant.

      5. It is generally a fool’s errand for people without tactical training or experience to try to offer evaluations about it from the sidelines. The Rayshard Brooks case is a perfect example. A huge amount of the commentary on this case strikes me as Monday morning quarterbacking of the worst kind.

      6. Finally, the hopes that many people are investing in having social workers or therapists handle cases that would otherwise be handled by the police are to a large extent wishful thinking driven by the emotions of the moment. Precisely because social workers are not cops, there are costs to having them take on cases at the borderline of social work and policing:

      I’ve seen nurses putting up a meme about how they deal with obstreporous patients without killing them, but no one was putting up such memes two years ago:

      The hard truth is that there is no reserve army of social workers or counselors ready, willing, or able to do the kind of work that activists are envisioning. It’s easy for anyone to envision work that they themselves don’t have to do. But while some social workers (reasonably) want autonomy from the police, others will (with equal validity) want police escorts. So there’s a dispute waiting to happen in social work and counseling about what tack to take. Some social workers will want to resist become an arm of policing in the way that substance abuse counseling already is, but some will want more protection than social workers ordinarily get (and not just a cell phone to call the police if need be, but armed officers on the scene, in the way that they are for a re-possession or eviction).

      In order to make this change, we will have to radically change how social workers are trained, and we will have to make sure that there really is a supply of social workers who actually want to do the relevant sort of work (and under what conditions).

      That’s why I’ve taken a stick-in-the-mud attitude toward the current groundswell of protest. I have a stronger stake in the success of the reform movement than most people have. But a strong stake in success means that we have to do things that will actually succeed. That means hitting pause on a lot of memes and slogans, and asking detailed questions about what will work and what won’t. No, you can’t negotiate with a cop when he has his foot on your neck. But it’s a false image to present cops as nothing but people with their feet on our necks. To buy into that picture of policing is a counsel of despair and a recipe for failure. We can do better than that.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Irfan;

    I’m not able to unpack all that you have written recently on this; I have bigger fish to fry. But let me offer a few observations.

    I appreciate the need for quantitative evidence, but when it comes to the question of whether the Police use excessive force or not, I’m not sure what “real quantitative evidence” would look like. The situations are complex, what would be the standard, and how do we define that standard in the absence of memoirs and anecdotes? Good quantitative evidence is the gold standard, but sometimes that’s unavailable in the time-frame in which decisions must be made.

    You have written about your experiences, and I cannot object to them. I’m an old white guy living in a different place. I have no basis on which to question your stories. Other people have different stories from different locations. I’m an old white guy so I have no basis to question their stories either. All these stories are memoir and anecdote.

    What I can say QUANTITATIVELY is that stories describing Police departments out of control are vastly more common than your take. QUANTITATIVELY, I have to say it seems reasonable to accept the consensus: whatever reform has happened has been the exception. NJ must be an outlier.

    You are very clear on the costs and risks of acting too quickly; on the difficulties and limitations we face. But that is the nature of almost any crisis: thing happen quickly; often faster than one can analyze the situation. In some ways your comments echo Jason Brennan’s thoughts on how the State should have responded to the Coronavirus. He commented on the inadequacy of the data, implying we should do nothing until we had better data, deaths be damned. I’m sure that you are not so cavalier as that, but there is a whiff of that in your hesitancy.

    You make a point about Police buy-in; but And again, after years and years of polite, respectful efforts bearing little fruit (outside NJ) it’s not a little—strange–to imply that we can get Police buy-in if we just talk nicely. This time.

    Sorry, Irfan, but that dog don’t hunt.

    The Police work for municipalities; the Police have a history of ignoring complaints and resisting reform. So maybe we need to go up the chain of command to the politicians who run the municipalities.

    You wrote that “What we need to do is to demand a legislative authority to actively supervise the academies, then make alliances with genuinely reform minded cops who will supervise them in the right way.” Agreed, but again, this is something they have failed to do for a long, long time. So now the rhetoric and protests need to be forceful and clear enough to get the politicians to Finally!! step up. To do that one may have to disrespect the Police. I don’t prefer that, but given the history of the Police in this country, that may be an evil necessity. God knows respect has not worked. Maybe we should stop worrying so much about Police buy-in and work for Legislative buy-in.

    Despite your comment, I have never tried to dictate what the Police should do except to respond to the problem; which they have generally failed to do.

    There are some things we can do in the short term:

    1. End Qualified Immunity for Police officers. Any use of deadly force must be justified as either in strict compliance with established procedure or the same way a civilian must justify use of deadly force.

    2. Require every use or threatened use of deadly force to be fully documented, explained, and justified. If a Police Officer so much as draws their service weapon and points it at a suspect, they have to justify it.

    3. Include tear-gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and chokeholds in the category of deadly force.

    4. Apply gang-laws to the Police: if one misbehaves, every officer on the scene is treated as an accomplice unless they intervene to end the misbehavior and arrests other Police Officers for their misbehavior.

    5. Expressly permit civilians to video or sound record Police activity.

    I’m sure none of these are perfect; I’m sure there are other things we could do. None of these are “dictates” but mere suggestions: food for thought. They’re just off the top of my head. As I started with, there’s much to unpack in your comments, but life intrudes so this is all I can do at this moment.

    sean s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A quick response, and I’ll let it go.

      I completely agree with all five of the reforms you suggest. We should enact all five of them. The fifth doesn’t need to be enacted; it’s already legal. But it needs support. Likewise (2). (Every use or threatened use of force already requires documentation.) My objection is to your describing these reforms as something “we” can do that doesn’t involve sitting down with the police and forming alliances with them. The police are part of the “we.” There is no such thing as “our” doing something that doesn’t involve doing it with them. There is no escape from cooperation.

      Think of the process you have in mind. Legislation is passed on all five of the reforms you suggest. Then what? If the “we” you have in mind is disconnected from people who sit across the table from the police, earn the trust of the better officers, and demand respect in return, your reforms are fated to achieve the very thing you are trying to avoid: they will become paper reforms that achieve nothing in practice. If they don’t get buy-in, they will all be sabotaged. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how each one of them can be sabotaged. Legislative buy-in is useless without police buy-in. Legislation is just marks on paper. The police have to enforce what’s on those pieces of paper. If you get the buy-in of 100% of the legislature and 0% of the police force, you have nothing to show for your efforts but eloquence.

      The alternatives we face are not “ignore police buy-in” or “have a friendly chat.” There are plenty of models out there for a firm, civil, cooperative, but adversarial dialogue. Think of unions and management. Strategically, no union leader is well-advised to go into a negotiation by insulting or disrespecting management. In fact, that looks like a sign of immaturity and weakness. Or take lawyers representing clients on opposite sides of a case–say, a divorce. It makes no sense for counsel for one spouse to walk into the negotiations by proclaiming the other spouse a “slut” or a “whore”–even if infidelity was involved. PM’s Question Time in the British Parliament is adversarial, but at its best doesn’t devolve into a mere clever derby.

      But let’s bring it closer to home. Suppose that we want Civilian Citizens’ Review Boards for all police departments, like they have in NYC. Could it really do its work if its members didn’t cultivate alliances among the rank and file of the relevant department?

      Anyone who works with office staff knows that you get more cooperation out of them if you treat them respectfully. If not, you’re setting yourself up for tedious struggles and foot dragging over every request you make of them, even if you have the authority to make it.

      What I’m saying here bears no resemblance whatsoever to Brennan’s views on COVID-19. Brennan’s view is: we lacked sufficiently rigorous data on a novel pandemic pathogen; hence we should have sat idle, done nothing, locked nothing down, and then blamed the government for not having better data, and for not doing more than it did.

      My view of policing says nothing of the sort. I agree that there are serious structural problems in policing that demand reform. I certainly don’t think we should be idle. But my point is, unlike a novel coronavirus, the structural problems in policing are of long-standing, and so are efforts at reform. We should continue doing what we’ve been doing. In fact, two of your proposals are just re-iterations of things that are already being done (2 and 5). What I object to is minimizing the progress that has already been made, and undermining the conditions for the future progress to be made by ignoring the need for police buy-in. That’s a far cry from the Brennan strategy of counseling inaction while criticizing the government for failing to act.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Am slowly grinding through my reading, so will get to that soon.

      Another one, worth reading all the way through.

      In one sense, the story shows that New Jersey is behind the reformist curve (we’re one of five states that don’t have police licensure), but in another sense, it suggests that we’re in the forefront of reformist efforts (we have a very reform-minded AG working with a reform-minded state executive). Licensure is one reform I can fully get behind.

      Impossible to know, of course, but I’m morbidly curious to know what Dubiel’s academic work was like. I would bet that unless he systematically concealed his views, his college instructors at Ocean County College could have predicted that he’d be a problem cop.

      It’s also worth going to Ocean County College (the ocean counties in NJ are notoriously right-wing) and asking: who is teaching what, and how?

      And look at how they describe their program:

      The certificate program in criminal justice includes primarily courses specific to the field with a limited number of general education courses. It represents recognition of the achievement of the criminal justice curriculum for the professional who does not plan to enter a degree program, or it may be considered an important milestone for the in-service student working towards a degree.

      Cynical translation: this is a program intended for cops who want to put some letters after their names, but have no interest in thinking hard about substantive issues of justice.

      It’s hard to tell who teaches in the CJ program, but from the looks of it, it’s all adjuncts, probably former law enforcement officers.

      Now look at the Advisory Committee for the CJ program:

      Essentially all cops. I would love to have a conversation with the non-LEO faculty. How much ideological diversity does one find? How much critical thinking?

      Here is the list of county freeholders:

      It’s their responsibility to oversee the curriculum. If you look at their official biographies online, not one of them mentions that responsibility. So how seriously do you think they take it? And if you read between the lines, all of them are conservatives. Has anyone ever questioned them on their oversight of the Ocean County College CJ program? Or where they stand on police reform? Or how police reform is supposed to find its way into the curriculum? Same with the Board of Trustees.

      I highly doubt it. CJ programs are real source of the problem we face in policing. Instead of demanding that aspiring officers wrestle with real questions of justice, we baby them with a lot of dumbed-down pre-vocational courses designed to give them a piece of paper and some letters, and let them use it to get higher salaries.

      From my perspective, too many police reform activists are directing their reformist efforts too far downstream. Yes, we need to enact reforms on the police themselves. But at a more basic level, you have to start earlier than that if you’re going to get anywhere. Truly structural change has to start in the schools, not the police departments.

      The relationship that the police bear to our educational system is completely inappropriate. The people responsible for the enormous weaknesses of college CJ programs are getting away scot-free with real pedagogical malpractice with serious real-world consequences. Far too many college CJ programs are machines for the reproduction of police propaganda. Citizens have to insist on better oversight of these programs. We can’t just applaud when the county colleges eat up taxpayer funds, then assume that everybody’s getting educated, and avert our eyes from what they’re being taught, how, and by whom.

      When I’ve discussed “negotiation,” part of what I mean is negotiations with the people in charge of such programs. We need to assert our rights as taxpayers and ask: Where are your syllabi? Who are your instructors? Where is the balance? How do you teach criminal procedure? How do you handle racism? Can we reallly expect fairness and excellence if oversight is so lax, and the oversight bodies are so ideologically uniform?

      You can’t conduct that sort of negotiation in a spirit of overt anger and hostility (even if you feel it). You have to approach it in a firmly adversarial, persistent, but civil way. The aim is not to give them the finger, but demand that they deliver the goods.


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