Police Officers Get ‘Teachered’: Accountability Vs. Transparency

A while ago, I contrasted our expectations for teachers versus police officers:

It’s weird: one group of heavily unionized public workers is under a constant barrage of claims of being underqualified, while another, with much lower educational standards, gets a free pass on those grounds. I’m referring to teachers and police officers respectively…

You get the policing system you pay for. Maybe we shouldn’t be so cheap, while at the same time, we should raise the bar for entry into a demanding profession that represents the state’s monopoly on violence.

Tom Sullivan comments on various proposals to increase ‘accountability’ among New York City police officers (boldface mine):

How do we keep track of whether a certain subset of officers has a proclivity for stopping people at random, for seeing disorderly conduct where others see merely a noisy argument, whether suspects seem to get injured resisting arrest more by certain officers than by others, or whether certain officers spend a ridiculous amount of time (Rafferty’s word) filing paperwork — “another layer of bureaucracy” (Carlson’s words) — for arrests they’ve made on “manner of walking” or open container charges while dangerous criminals make their getaways?

Accountability is all the rage for other subsets of government employees. If we tracked and evaluated the performance of police departments the way we do the performance of schools, do you think we might find “innovative solutions,” cost savings, and improved performance there, too?

Increased oversight might explain why your typical authoritarian would oppose accountability measures for the police. Teachers? We expect to hold them accountable. Government bureaucrats? We expect to hold them accountable. But police? Heaven forfend!

(Sullivan gets extra points for using forfend)

It’s worth noting that these really aren’t ‘accountability’ proposals at all, but transparency proposals.

Accountability proposals, when applied to lower level employees, have a tendency to backfire due to Campbell’s Law. If there’s an unsolved shooting attempt with no known injuries and police are on the hook to lower gun-related incidents, then this will get filed as ‘property damage.’ That doesn’t help anyone, as any possible follow up on that crime will be minimal. Even if only a small percentage of these misclassified cases are solved, that’s actually a good thing: arresting chuckleheads who shoot at people off the streets helps. But recording these incidents (most of which are unsolvable without some dumb luck) honestly makes the case clearance rate much lower.

Accountability should be in place for upper-level management and policy makers (including politicians and their official or unofficial advisors); their decisions create the environment in which their subordinates work. But transparency is always a good thing–how else can one know what the problems are?

This entry was posted in Statistics, The Rule of Law. Bookmark the permalink.