Reforming police departments

As I began this, I picked up an excellent Mother Jones article, “A Road Map for Getting Rid of Racist Cops,” about this deeply entrenched problem.

It’s in the form of a Q&A — Q’s by Mother Jones journalist Samantha Michaels, A’s by “former DC public defender Vida Johnson, an associate law professor at Georgetown University who has studied white supremacist infiltration of police.”

Ms. Johnson covers much more than I could. She talks about accidental and deliberate exposure of racist cops on social media, and how police departments should be running frequent check-ups on the postings and connections of their cops.

Two things to say. One is a correction of a minor error; the second expands on several of Ms. Johnson’s elucidating comments.

…in the OJ Simpson trial, basically the way the defense won that case was by showing that the main detective had used a racial epithet toward Black people in the past, and he lied about it on the stand, and then they cross-examined him with it. That shows how effective that kind of cross-examination can be.

Mark Fuhrman was not the main detective for LAPD. He wasn’t on that case at all; he put himself on it by his actions. He was rogue.

Although Fuhrman’s appearance on the witness stand was not the main reason the defense won the case, it certainly put his testimony into the jury’s discard pile. I’ve written specifically about this business in an earlier post. (Scroll down past all the Corey Lewandowski references to the bolded sub-heading, “Lies. A Little Story.”)

Then Ms. Johnson discusses how bad police can be weeded out before they become bad police.

“We also need better background checks of police officers—more personality testing of new hires.”

There’s an argument that departments can’t fire officers simply for having white supremacist beliefs—it has to be about behavior, which I think could include social media posts. Do you have any thoughts on that?

“Well, we can never know what’s in someone’s mind, but certainly we can fire them when they act on their white supremacist views, like publicly posting something or texting something to another officer, because that impacts the behavior of others.”

But we can know what’s in someone’s mind before he acts on it.

Twice, my own mind was plumbed to find out what was in it. Once, I was tested at the request of the psychiatrist I would start to see for therapy. The second time, I was tested by a close friend who was getting her clinical psych degree and needed to run the full panoply of tests as part of her degree program. I volunteered to be her guinea pig.

If you’ve been subjected to the full psych test battery you know it is not spurious.

The entire procedure takes a number of hours. I don’t remember all of it but I do remember having no idea what of my psyche I was exposing. Some of the tests involved drawings much like cartoons in which people were doing things, except there were no captions. I was asked specific questions about my interpretation of what was going on.

At some point, I became aware that each picture could be interpreted in a number of ways: neutral encounters, pleasant actions, anxiety-provoking actions, potential violence. It’s possible I offered a couple of interpretations once — correcting myself? — although I don’t recall anything specific and do not recall whether I was allowed to amend my interpretation.

Some of the tests were entertaining, fun; but the Rorschach series made me anxious. I was acutely aware that what I was seeing in those blots was exposing my innards to an educated professional before I myself knew what was in them.

Although this sort of testing has been criticized for subjective interpretations by psychologists (see that link to Rorschach, above), I believe such thorough testing could be used effectively by police departments before they accept people to their police academies for training. They can test for sadism, violence, sociopathy, dishonesty, bullying, abusive parenting, prejudice.

And sure, another phase of the testing must be an investigation of a candidate’s social media presence.

I think a group of, say, three psychologists, not one alone, should review the data and recommend or decline an applicant.

But the key factor: bad characters must be barred from police departments before they become cops. And they can be.

Because we can find out what’s in people’s minds before they’re trained and given weapons and permission to act upon whatever is in their minds.

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