Coming through one of the most tumultuous periods in US history, marked by wide-scale social unrest, the genesis of the Black Lives Matter movement, and calls for police defunding, we look at the nation’s history of reform efforts, and go under the skin of police culture and the latest approaches to recruiting and training. We talk with co-chair of President Barack Obama's White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Prof. Laurie O. Robinson, and former police officer, law professor and Atlantic Magazine contributor Seth Stoughton, for their unique perspectives on the challenges and contrasting approaches.
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Episode 4 - "The Social Contract" - Transcript
David Chauvin [00:00:05] Welcome to Engage a Genetec podcast.
David Grossman [00:00:27] Are you emotionally, spiritually, psychologically prepared to snuff out a human life in defence of innocent lives? If you can't make that decision, you need to find another job.
David Chauvin [00:00:41] Former U.S. Army Ranger Colonel turned police trainer David Grossman gives hundreds of sessions like this one to police trainees every year across the country. But this philosophy finds sharp contrast among the proponents of a very different kind of police culture, one that encourages trust over fear, guardians over lawyers and diplomats over action heroes.
Kelly Lawetz [00:01:06] Coming through one of the most tumultuous periods in the United States marked by the murder of George Floyd, widescale scale social unrest and calls for police defunding. We look at the warrior guardian paradox and the nation's history of reform efforts over the last two administrations and into the new one with two leaders of that movement who have been on the front lines of policing and police reform.
David Chauvin [00:01:30] I'm David Chauvin.
Kelly Lawetz [00:01:31] And I'm Kelly Lawetz.
[00:01:42] Last year, the events in Ferguson and New York exposed a deep-rooted frustration in many communities of colour around the need for fair and just law enforcement.
Kelly Lawetz [00:01:57] Four and a half years ago, Barack Obama announced the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing, sitting beside the president at that press conference with task force co-chair Laurie Robinson, the longest-serving head of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs in the agency's 45 years, and my guest on the second half of the show.
David Chauvin [00:02:18] But to start things off, I speak with former police officer turned law professor and expert on police behaviour, Seth Stoughton. His most recent article in the Atlantic magazine entitled "How to Actually Fix America's Police," is a stark critique of failed reform efforts, a reinforcement of the Guardian approach put forward in the Obama task force and then evolved model for recruiting, which is finding advocates across the US nearly 18000 law enforcement agencies. I began by asking Professor Stoughton how he squares the apparent paradox between the Guardian and the warrior mentality and one of the world's most dangerous jobs.
Seth Stoughton [00:02:58] I do think that officers have to be aware of the possibility of risk and threat. It is still a dangerous profession in the sense that there is violence directed against police officers in the course of their jobs. It's not one of the most dangerous professions in terms of total officers killed, but it certainly is one of the most dangerous in terms of workplace violence. And that can be uncertain that one of the things that makes that so scary is the uncertainty, which raises our level of fear, raises the perception of fear. But we know from both long experience and also some academic studies that the best way to maximize positive outcomes of any interaction is for officers to go into that interaction, looking at it as an opportunity to increase public trust, to build a relationship that the relevant academic work, particularly by a guy named Brian Landy and Jonathan Wender, both of whom are police officers as well as PhDs, is based on this DARPA funded research on strategic social interactions. And they looked at policing, and they looked at the military context overseas to identify those factors that really led to the best possible outcomes in individual interactions and the big one, the consistent one was the officer or the soldier going into it and looking at it as this is my opportunity to build trust. Now, that doesn't mean that the officer or the soldier ignores the operational realities. It doesn't mean that they take stupid risks. It doesn't mean that they put themselves completely at the mercy of anyone they interact with. But the principal goal is still, what can I do during this interaction so that the person and the community member I'm interacting with leaves with a better impression, not just of me, but of my agency and of policing as a whole, that, again, that doesn't mean that we just ignore risk. That doesn't mean that you know, when an officer is going to take an armed robbery suspect into custody, they greet them with a hug and a handshake. Right. It means you do a little more sophisticated risk analysis, and you calibrate your approach based on that risk analysis without assuming that everyone is always out to get you.
David Chauvin [00:05:44] You mentioned in your article that that so-called warrior culture, and I quote, did not become a visible mainstay of day to day policing until the massacre at Columbine High School in nineteen ninety-nine. Why? Why is that? Why was that one of the triggers to that new mentality?
Seth Stoughton [00:06:01] Yeah, it wasn't the first one, but it was certainly a very pivotal one, a very important one. In Columbine, the officers who initially responded to that situation treated it the way they had been trained to treat it. Which is you set up a perimeter, you hold a position, and then you wait for a SWAT team to arrive. So there was no difference prior to Columbine. There was no difference between the response to what we would today call an active shooter situation and what we would call a barricaded armed subject. Either way, the first responding officers set up a perimeter outside and wait for the specialists to come in. And what we learned in Columbine was that when the first arriving officers set up that perimeter and then wait that wait time, that delay gives an active shooter more time to hurt or kill people in the location of that case in the in Columbine High School. So that shifted police tactics, and it shifted it pretty significantly. So now active shooter response looks very different. With active shooter response, either the first officer or the first couple of officers, depending on exactly how they're trained in that particular agency. As soon as they arrive, they don't try and set up a perimeter. What they do is they go on the law enforcement equivalent of a search and destroy mission. Their immediate mission is to locate, identify and terminate an active threat as efficiently as possible. That also necessitated a change in equipment. So not only was that a change in tactics, where now patrol officers needed more tactical training on things like rapid entry and room clearing, which is not something that they had previously been trained. Previously, Entry and room clearing was a fairly slow and methodical process. Now we need a rapid entry in-room clearing that had previously been reserved for tactical teams, like SWAT operators. We not only do tactics, we now needed new equipment. That wasn't just Columbine. There were a couple of incidents, including the L.A. bank robbery and a Miami bank robbery where our officers' standard firearms were not sufficient to penetrate someone's a suspect's body armour, for example. Instead of just adopting the tactics that had previously been reserved for SWAT teams, patrol officers were also given more access to the equipment that had previously been reserved for SWAT teams. Most prominently, patrol rifles, usually AR 15s. So that drove a change in both the tactics and equipment. And with that, change in tactics and equipment comes or at least has become something of a change in mentality.
David Chauvin [00:08:56] So the change of tactics, change of equipment and the change of that mentality. Right. Dave Grossman has a quote where you should stand on an overpass and look at the city you protect and let your cape flow in the wind like you're Batman when you have that kind of mentality and the kind of training and the kind of equipment that is more military-like, do you think that not only the training itself has an issue, but that it also has a significant issue on the recruiting that agencies can do in the types of people they attract to law enforcement agencies?
Seth Stoughton [00:09:30] Yeah, it certainly can. And I have, as you might expect, I have some major qualms with the kludgy approach that you're describing. Yeah, I am very comfortable both as a scholar and as a former police officer. I'm very comfortable with the idea that violence will be, perhaps well regrettably, but by necessity, violence is embedded in an inherent aspect of policing. But I am uncomfortable when we as an institution or as a culture start to do things that glorify violence or hold it up as an ideal of the profession. As opposed to a regrettable necessity within the industry or within the practice of policing. I do think recruitment is a relevant concern here. I think that absolutely factors into how we present policing to the individuals who are potentially interested in becoming officers or deputies. When you see recruitment videos or materials that focus on the more kinetic, more violent and adversarial, confrontational aspects of policing, and particularly those that glorify those aspects of policing, I think that at least at the margins, you are attracting candidates who want to do what they see in those recruitment efforts. If you're presenting policing as if it's an action movie, then you're attracting candidates who would be interested in playing the lead role in an action movie. Right. And I'm not saying that that's going to be true of most folks or, you know, even a majority of folks. But it is going to be true, I think, at least at the margins. So there are a couple of videos that have been online. I don't know how many of them are still online. Newport Beach, California, had a very militarized recruitment video, and this was pitched explicitly as a recruitment video. With officers getting yelled at by training sergeants in the academy and takedowns with firearms and hip throws and rifles and handguns and foot pursuits. It's a very, very kinetic view, a very action-oriented view of policing. And not only is that not realistic, but it's also counterproductive, because if those are the types of officers, if the type of people that you're recruiting are the type who are like, yeah, I really want to chase people and, you know, throw them to the ground and use a rear-naked choke to choke somebody unconscious. Then you're maybe not getting the folks who are most interested in doing the most common aspects of policing. Like comm communication, fact gathering and investigations, that stuff that officers actually do day in and day out, above and beyond the use of force, which is a relatively rare event in policing.
David Chauvin [00:13:02] So you do believe because I mean, there's you know, no one's doubting that law enforcement and become a police officer is both incredibly dangerous and incredibly stressful. You know, first hand. You know, it's a career choice. I would personally never, never choose for myself because of those risks. And I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people who do choose that career. So you do believe that there is a way to achieve a level of training that will both combine the best aspects of that guardian methodology while still maintaining a level of alertness and a level of risk assessment that will help protect themselves and their fellow officers when they're out in the field, right?
Seth Stoughton [00:13:44] I do. Yeah, I do. And, you know, one of the important points, so we draw this distinction. I draw this distinction between a warrior officer approach and a guardian officer approach. But that's not a dichotomy. It's really not an either-or. Right. That's a spectrum, and where an officer falls on that spectrum, the appropriate way to respond depends on the situation. So there are certain situations like, for example, an active shooter situation where I want officers to be very heavily on the warrior end of that spectrum. But that shouldn't be the default. If that's an officer's default or if that's all that an officer is capable of being, then they aren't very good officers. Right, being a warrior, another way to look at this is not just as a spectrum, but the ability, the capability of being a warrior, is one part of what it takes to be a guardian. You have to have those capabilities. You have to have the mindset to use those abilities in the appropriate situations. But if that's all you are, you're just not serving your community very well.
David Chauvin [00:14:59] Five and a half years ago, President Obama had a task force on 21st century policing and a report that came out. Did anything from their report, six major pillars, were any of them, as far as you know, implemented at a wide-scale degree nationwide? And if so, did they have any positive consequences on the state of policing?
Seth Stoughton [00:15:27] Yeah, that's a great question. There were a lot of good ideas that in the task force final report. Although one of the things that's worth pointing out is, I don't know that there was very much that was new or revolutionary in that task force report. A lot of it was reaffirming much of what we know about policing and improvements to policing that we've developed over the last 20, 40, 100 years. There were, and there are still agencies that have adopted the 21st-century approach to policing. I happen to live in a city that is home to one of those agencies. Right. So the Columbia Police Department here in Columbia, South Carolina, adopted the 21st-century task force approach. It was one of a handful of police agencies that was used to study the effectiveness of the 21st-century task force approach. And it has had some benefits, at least from what I understand about the state of evaluation, which I believe is actually I can't say I'm sorry. I don't remember which one of the consulting companies is doing the evaluation. I think it's C.M.A. But I may be wrong about that. And I'd hate to throw out the wrong name. But certainly, in conversations with the police chief and with the other members of the Civilian Advisory Council, which I am honoured to serve on, there are some benefits that seem to be. Perceptible, whether or not they hold up to rigorous study is is a different question. But certainly, there are some perceived benefits to some aspects of the twenty-first-century approach, including, for example, the guardian policing in that approach, that mentality, but also things like Officer Wellness, which was one of the pillars, officer health and Wellness of the 21st-century task force approach. Unfortunately, policing is an industry that has not done a very good job of taking the stress and psychological impacts of the job as seriously as it should of 10 years or so ago, six, seven, 10 years ago, something like that. The International Association of Chiefs of Police pointed out that stress and psychological issues are an officer safety issue. The task force picked up on that. So having more support for and awareness of officers who are undergoing mental health issues or emotional issues or psychological issues is as important as support for an awareness of officers who, for example, tyrannical. Right. Or have some sort of physical issue. That's really important in a couple of ways. One, it's important in an outward-facing way. It improves public service when officers who are interacting with members of the public are not also struggling to deal with PTSD or stress or any of a number of psychological issues that could impair their ability to serve and protect in their communities. Two, it makes officers happier as employees. And when you have happier employees, you have employees who stick around longer who do their jobs better.
David Chauvin [00:19:23] Well, Seth, this was incredibly entertaining for me at least, and it was a very, very good conversation, very informative. So I appreciate your time. I thank you again for taking the time this morning to talk to me.
Seth Stoughton [00:19:39] Thank you. Thank you for having me. I enjoyed this.
David Chauvin [00:19:42] That's Seth Stoughton, former Tallahassee police officer and associate professor of law at the University of South Carolina.
[00:20:02] This no longer a peaceful protest. Will protesters and media please evacuate the area. We are trying to get to the next fire.
[00:20:15] So, back in December, I announced a task force on 21st century policing chaired by two outstanding leaders who are respected both in law enforcement and in civil rights. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson.
Kelly Lawetz [00:20:34] Now in our offices at George Mason University, where she teaches criminology in law. Her seminal work is back in the spotlight, with the memory of the Ferguson riots replayed in Minneapolis and cities across the country this summer. I started by asking Professor Robinson what she thinks about defunding the police and whether that would do anything to fix the problems identified in her task force nearly five years ago.
Laurie Robinson [00:20:59] Well, I think that there are, first of all, many definitions of defunding the police. I have raised this subject of defunding the police, for example, with my students in the class that I teach at George Mason University. And we have examined through a review of different media reports how many different ways that term is interpreted. What I think it is helpful to do is to use it as a trigger to step back and think carefully about how we as a society want to use the criminal law and the power of arrest in this country. For example, we know from federal data and from another Institute of Justice report that there are about 10 million arrests every year in the United States. But fewer than five percent of these are for serious violent crime. The majority of them involve not serious offences, things like disorderly conduct or low-level non-traffic offences. And we also know that those offences disproportionately impact people of colour, which, of course, is something that our 21st-century report highlighted. So beyond the enormous cost of those kinds of arrests to the public, there clearly are substantial costs to the people who are caught up in the system as well. So I think that the defunding question should push us collectively to do some hard thinking about how we want to use the criminal law and criminal law enforcement to deal with the kind of behaviour like addiction or mental illness, homelessness and so on. And by the way, I don't know of any police officers who would not want to hand off this job to someone else very quickly if they had the option. We know that in a lot of jurisdictions, many community-based services have been cut. And the reason that police have this job is that no one else has the capacity to do it, particularly, let's say, at 3:00 a.m. in the morning. But the difficulty right now is how that responsibility could or would be shifted. I know that jurisdictions like Eugene, Oregon, have experimented with doing that. They have a pioneering type program called Kahootz, which is an initiative I think we could look at collectively and learn from. Albuquerque, New Mexico, has just this year since George Floyd's death started experimenting with changing its 911 call system to triage cases in a different way and assigned them to social services if they do not involve things that they think that the police need to be handling. So some careful attention to how different jurisdictions are handling this is something that I think Americans will want to be following. And this is something that the task force in several of our sessions and the way that we talk about collaboration would have very definitely supported.
Kelly Lawetz [00:24:35] What was it like working with President Obama on such an important initiative? Can you take me into the room and tell me about some of those initial discussions?
Laurie Robinson [00:24:50] Well, I'll tell you about some of the discussions toward the end of it. We had to work, Kelly, on a very short timeline and actually move back to the beginning of the process for one moment. And tell you that when Chuck Ramsey, who at that time was the Philadelphia police commissioner, my co-chair, and I first met with President Obama, it was on December 1st, 2014. I had the call on Thanksgiving weekend of that year, which was two days before we met with the president. I had to call out of the blue asking if I would do this. And they said, we're going to get you in one day, and you're going to be meeting with the president on Monday, they called on a Saturday. So it went very quickly. And then before we met with them, we sat with his counsel and Chuck, and I said to him, I think we're going to need about four or five months to do this. And the council agreed to that. But when we met with the president, and then he called in the press, he said, and Chuck and Laurie are going to have the report to me in two months. And Chuck and I looked at each other, and we went, Holy Toledo, this is going to be tough. We did not say that out loud, of course, with the press there. Then, of course, on a very, very short deadline. To get the report to him, by the time the task force was appointed, we started on January 1st and had to report to him by March 1st. And during that time, we held hearings around the country and had to work pretty steadily every day and do the hearings and the deliberations and so on. And at the end of the process, that, again, with the president in a long session and the flavour of it, I have to tell you, it felt like a graduate seminar as he was grilling us about. By the way, Kelly, it was clear that he had read every page of the 100-page document, and he was grilling us about why we had done this and why we had done that. And in the area where he grilled me the most, he knew I had handed the grants agency in the Justice Department, and he wanted to know why we could not require every police department in the United States to send in data on the use of force. And I had to explain to him that half of the agencies of the 18,000 agencies have fewer than 10 sworn officers, and they're tiny. They don't receive direct federal money. They probably don't receive any federal money. So there's the leverage to require them to do anything. They're just out there operating without federal money. And if they get any, it's not direct, so it's not something where you can demand this at the federal level. But I have to tell you that having the leader of the free world bearing down on one of the smartest man that I've ever worked with, it's made me swallow hard. So to have him asking the questions, it was really a wonderful experience to go through.
Kelly Lawetz [00:28:27] Can you give me a profile of the ideal police recruit?
Laurie Robinson [00:28:33] I'm glad you raised that question, Kelly, because one of the things that President Obama, as Chuck Ramsey, my co-chair and me as we were wrapping up. He said Chuck Laurie, is there one area if you had more time than you should have delved into or would have wanted to delve into? And both Chuck and I said the area would have been recruitment and hiring. I still believe, if anything, I believe strongly that the way to address culture. In policing, and to really get the changes that I think are needed to move policing forward, it is to hire for police force and forces that we want for the 21st century. I'll just cite one statistic, and that is that the percentage of women in policing has been extremely low for a period of time. There are only about 13 percent women police officers. And that has been the same statistic for almost 20 years. And there are a couple of reasons for it, among others. And it goes to the kind of lifestyle issues, the structure of jobs and policing probably not surprisingly, is somewhat rigid handling shifts. So for women who have family responsibilities, that's very tough. But women also, research has shown, have a much better track record in de-escalating incidents. They have a much better track record in handling social interaction with citizens, which is an important aspect of police officers' jobs. If you think about it, they're dealing with citizens every day. They may shoot a gun maybe once a year if that. But they're dealing with citizens every day, and that's a very important part of their position. Furthermore, if we think back to the key principle in the task force report of being guardians of the community, that's a key, And to hire for that rather than for the warrior mindset, not that we don't need warriors in some situations, but to have a 100 percent warrior in someone who cannot be a guardian. We need to be hiring for those traits and those approaches.
Kelly Lawetz [00:31:32] And I imagine having a warrior culture one hundred percent of the time is also not good for the mental health of the people who often live in that culture.
Laurie Robinson [00:31:45] Oh, you're so right, Kelly. And one of the things that, as I mentioned earlier on, our sixth pillar was about officer wellness and safety and the numbers of suicides by officers very, very sadly over an all-time high right now nationally. And it's a worrisome, worrisome trend, but it's a reflection of the strain and stress that police officers are under. And anything that we can do to help them. I think it's really important.
Kelly Lawetz [00:32:29] Have police agencies been successful in recruiting guardians instead of warriors? Are they finding it difficult to recruit that type of person?
Laurie Robinson [00:32:43] Well, I think that some have been, I have not done research on that, so I don't know that I can answer per se. But I think that there are some agencies that have looked for officers who are interested in kind of community policing, outreach type of goals that have been successful. I have no samples to give examples of people who have hired specifically for a Guardian approach. But I think it would be similar to those who have hired looking for people interested in the community policing approach.
Kelly Lawetz [00:33:25] Just coming back. So, you know, the last few months, there's been a lot of conflict, a lot of anger and a lot of strife over-policing. Do you think we've actually turned a corner after Minneapolis? Do you think or do you think we need another task force?
Laurie Robinson [00:33:43] I do not think we need another task force. I think there are plenty of recommendations out there. I do think that we need some national leadership in this area. I think that there are many people within the policing field and within the, I would say, kind of progressive field who is calling for change and has specific ideas. But it's obvious that the countries, especially seeing so many young people out and actually people of all ages, is supportive of change. But the conversations obviously have to continue and to look, and I would urge that people look at suggestions for what has been put forward, but that, as I always talk to my class about, we need to be fact-based. We need to look at research, and we need to listen. We need to do a lot of listening. We need to listen to communities. We need to listen to people who are on the front lines as well, meaning some of the police. And I think that relying on facts rather than rhetoric and relying on listening to people who are affected, all of that is important.
Kelly Lawetz [00:35:12] So coming back to the task force. What do you want to remind our listeners? What do you want to put like there are six pillars? What do you want to spotlight?
Laurie Robinson [00:35:27] Again, I would talk about a few key areas, of course, as I said before, The Guardian mindset of procedural justice, elements like a clear and updated use of force, policies with de-escalation and alternatives to arrest. Key point about independent investigations and prosecutions where each officer-involved shootings are involved. The key point about coproduced in public safety, as the approach to community policing, which really means engagement of the community in that. So those are three points. And then the fourth point, I would say, the importance of education and training, not just for recruits, but throughout an officer's career. And one part of that I know we've talked a lot about the mentally ill, but crisis intervention training in concert with people trained in this area, because even if some of this responsibility is handed off to folks who work with the mentally ill, officers are still going to be confronting and handling individuals with mental illness just because they're out on the country and they're going to be encountering and running into a citizens with those illnesses. So training for officers in this area is going to be critical because they're going to need this awareness and an ability to recognize that they're handling individuals with these problems. Too many tragedies have arisen where officers did not have that awareness. So this is an area where that kind of training can help in reducing excessive use of force.
Kelly Lawetz [00:37:32] Right. I mean, just to your point, I think that if we want to build trust and intimacy, not only do we need there to be a change in the culture of police, but I mean, I guess just what I hear again and again and reading the top, watching also the public need to be empathetic about the context in which police, police and to get support in which to change.
Laurie Robinson [00:37:58] Yeah, absolutely.
Kelly Lawetz [00:38:00] And Genetec is a physical security business. And we do speak to law enforcement officials all the time. So I imagine some of them will be listening to this podcast. What practical advice can you give them on how to move forward with reform in these turbulent times?
Laurie Robinson [00:38:19] Well, I know it's really, really hard, I have worked with law enforcement throughout my career, and my heart goes out to people in law enforcement because I think they are upset. It is a really, really tough time. I think doing a lot of listening, trying to communicate, beating and working with the community, as tough as that is right now. And some of it, by the way, I think is about education. I have been startled by the degree to which my students are really ignorant about their lives. They're very bright. They're ignorant about so many basics about law enforcement and what law enforcement has to contend with. I guess I would say so. Education and listening. And I think some outreach in communities. You know, people talking to each other and listening on the local level, I think can do a lot. One thing I always say is to work in criminal justice. You have to be an optimist. We wouldn't be working in this area. We wouldn't last. So reaching out to people and just keeping lines of communication open, I think, is critical. So I wish them well.
Kelly Lawetz [00:39:49] Thank you very much for joining us today. I really enjoyed talking with you.
Laurie Robinson [00:39:57] Well, thank you, Kelly. Thanks so much for the opportunity to speak with you.
Kelly Lawetz [00:40:02] That's Laurie Robinson, co-chair of the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing and now professor of law and criminology at George Mason University.
[00:40:14] Engage, a Genetec podcast, is produced by Brendan Tully Walsh, the associate producer is Angele Paquette. Sound design is provided by Vladislav Pronin with production assistance from Caroline Shaughnessy. The show's executive producer is Tracey Ades. Engage a Genetec podcast is a production of Genetec Inc. The views expressed by the guests are not necessarily those of Genetec, its partners or customers. For more episodes, visit our website at www.Genetec.com on your favourite podcasting app or ask your smart speaker to play engage a Genetec podcast.