Saturday, March 13, 2021

City Council, March 15th - Police Audit

Council convenes on Monday to consider the Performance Audit on the Police, and it will be very interesting to read what others have to say. Policing isn't at all a central matter here, and others will have much more informed opinion and analysis. Still, the audit seems like something of a missed opportunity to think more critically about policing, even if some solutions require state- or federal-level action.

The audit doesn't seem fully responsive
to the magnitude of problems
(Headlines in the SJ over the last year)

Today's front page in Minneapolis

When I look at the headlines from last summer, and indeed at today's headline from Minneapolis, the very things that prompted Council to ask for this audit, I don't see an audit that fully responds to the magnitude of the problem. Maybe this misunderstands the intent and level of generality in the audit, but there seems to be a mismatch in tone and urgency. If there has seemed to be a crisis in policing, the audit mainly sees opportunities for refinement in current policing modes.

Key finding 11:
The language is a little bland and understated

Salem Reporter writes "Independent audit finds Salem police need to better use data, create a community policing plan." They also focus on the recommendation to increase staffing and number of officers.

In addition to the recommendation for more staff, two areas stood out here on a quick read.

(from 2019)

Most immediately, a text search for "traffic" doesn't turn up any discussion of the role of traffic stops and traffic enforcement. That is an interesting omission. 

Traffic stops are too often a site of escalation to shootings, dangerous to police and fatal to suspects - and sometimes not even a suspect, just some random person! - even the worst of whom deserve a trial rather than summary judgement in a shooting. The stops are also a foundational part of our current traffic safety scheme. 

But given problems with stops, wouldn't we want to talk more about camera enforcement? Our current approach to traffic safety and enforcement is not working very well in multiple dimensions, and this audit might have been an opportunity to start thinking about that. 

Maybe that's what is supposed to happen in a "community policing plan," envisioned as a subsequent step in the terms of the audit, but if so that's also a bit of kicking the can down the road.

A larger, and more troubling, omission is a discussion of white supremacy, either externally in policing protests involving white nationalist groups, or internally as police staff themselves may have affiliations or sympathies. The audit calls for a more diverse force and better community engagement, but there is likely more to say.

Did not investigate problem of white supremacy?

And it does not seem to dig into the longer-term trends for fewer crimes, notwithstanding the blip up in the Pandemic, which also may be related to work stoppages or slow-downs as police have faced criticism. As Salem Reporter notes, the audit argues for more police.

Key finding 2: "increase staffing"

So, again, just reading the summary, which ought to convey a sense for the whole, the audit is a little conservative, focused on refinement and growth, and swerves away from a deeper rethinking of our policing for a more just society in which all people are safer and better able to flourish. In the end it seems like a missed opportunity. Hopefully Council will identify areas for further review.

Addendum, Thursday the 18th

The paper is, I don't know, a little dialectical? The text is a summary of the report, about the need for more staffing, better data and analysis, better recruiting, and a response from the Chief.

Riot gear on front page

Street protest on the interior page

The photos are about militarized policing and mass protest, in some tension with the report. The imagery carries a subtext of critique, but the text only touches on that briefly. It accepts findings on the staffing question at face value, and attempts no analysis, no critical reading, of the audit. It doesn't ask whether the recommendations will in fact yield more "trust."

Maybe that will come later.

Separately, Hinessight writes "Salem Police performance audit has weaknesses" focusing on skepticism about the recommendation for more staff.

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with clips from today's paper.