11/29/2015

CPS paper draft #1

          Policing in America changed in the 1980s, marked a return of the beat cop and the involvement of the community. The idea was to return officers to community contact. Under the paradigm of community policing officers would work routinely in the same communities. Familiarity between officers and the communities they work in builds a partnership between officers and members of the community. Stakeholders such as parents, churches, community organizations and the business community are all invited to get involved. These partnerships are a powerful tool in stopping crime. Members of the community have a big stake in the protection of their community and their cooperation with police is in their best interest and the results can be powerful. All the positive gains made through decades of community policy are now at risk as communities’ scramble to adjust for the future of community policing around factors such as the YouTube effect, social media and persistent concerns of racism.
            A hallmark of community policing is that officers physically move within the community. The change that occurred at the beginning of the 1980’s had a lot to do with officers getting out of their cars. The move out of the car and into the neighborhood was the genesis of a new connection to the citizens of a neighborhood. The car had become a fortress. The relatively small numbers of police officers were bolstered by members of the community. Officers could not see everything that was happening in a community but the people who lived there could see a lot more. By connecting them to officers that worked the community their knowledge of local happenings became an asset to law enforcement. This cooperation is at risk and one of the biggest threats is what has been coined the YouTube effect.
            The YouTube effect is the name given to a phenomenon that centers around the public recording everything to video with their phones. The idea is that officers fear the risk of becoming the next victim of social media exposes. How many times have we seen a video of an officer making an arrest under the headline of police brutality? The problem is, some of these videos have exposed legitimate overstepping of police officers but just as often, if not more often, these videos give very short versions of long stories. Often the brutality being exposed is just the highlights of a legitimately performed arrest. By the time one of these videos goes viral there is little room for an explanation, the public has already been convinced of the officers wrong doing. Officers know these risks are growing every day and the fact is that the public can make an issue out of anything with a video attached. Officers often don’t have the opportunity for their voices to be heard. The defense of an officer’s action is drowned out by social media calls for justice. Faced with these possibilities, officers are less likely to get out of their cars where they have their own sources of video to help protect them. Policing done from the car does not create a connection with the community.
 FBI Director James Comey is quoted in the Washington Post saying that this effect (the YouTube effect) is responsible for the first increases in violent crime America has seen since 1994 (Davis 2015). As the public views more and more of these videos the effect is solidified. No longer are these videos met with incredulity, they have become so commonplace and the stories so predictable that they are accepted at face value all across the country. If we are to believe FBI director Comey, these homemade phone cam videos are the single biggest reason for the increase in violent crime that is sweeping across America. The YouTube effect coupled with social media is interrupting all the gains made by community oriented policing in the last three decades.
            Social media can spread information, wrong or right, at the speed of light. At no time in history have more people been more connected than in today’s world. When we discuss the YouTube effect we also have to discuss the power of its main thoroughfare into the hearts and minds of Americans and the world. Social media can spread a video to millions of viewers within minutes. As these videos spread, their speed grows exponentially. Videos are not the only aspect of social media that affects policing in America. Social media becomes a rallying point for anti-police rhetoric and a bulletin board for social actions such as protests, riots and gang fights. An occurrence that is becoming more and more common is groups of youth being rallied by tweets and exchanges on Facebook. It is nearly impossible for officers to respond quick enough to halt these explosive situations. These calls start with a small circle of people and then messages spread to a broader and broader group. As these groups grow, officers are often the last to show up and when they do arrive it is a faceoff with groups of youth that could number in the dozens. Destruction of property, fighting and assault are often the focus of the group. Officers who respond are also arriving to large groups of phone camera wielding citizens just waiting to capture something that can be perceived as police brutality or institutionalized racism. Officers across America have often misspoken and this has bolstered the citizenry to look for slip ups and demoralized officers to retract from community oriented policy.
            The real coupe de gras that is contributing to the YouTube effect is the racism baring its teeth all across America.  American police officers have always been accused of some racial bias, this was very apparent during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Complaints of institutionalized racism were often brought up with a photograph or a series of documents and followed by an investigation. The FBI warned of infiltration of white supremacists into Americas law enforcement as recently as 2006(White supremacist infiltration of law enforcement.2006).  Now these accusations are brought directly to the public with sound and video at the speed of 110 megabytes per second. There is potentially no greater threat to community policing as the idea of institutional racism firmly implanted in the structure of Americas police department. The proof does seem to be in the pudding as of late, there appears to be little plausible deniability on behalf of the police. Could this all be just the perception of an ill-informed public? That question has been being asked a lot lately but it isn’t answered very effectively by the police. The actions of heavy handed officers seem to be the only voice loud enough to be heard in the din of social media. The right doings of the police need to be 10 times louder than the wrong doings for the public to notice. Every time an officer does something that can be perceived as racially motivated it is pushed through the internet pipeline to eager absorbers of anything anti-police. A YouTube video like that of Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting a 17 year-old black male in the street will be shared, viewed, re-shared and reviewed countless times (DNAinfo Chicago, 11/24/2015). Anyone with Facebook will see a given video many times in a day and seeing a story unfold is compelling and creates a lot of  personal interest. Just like advertising, when you see something ten times it becomes a recognizable brand. If police officers aren’t trying ten times harder to be seen as good, then the actions of a single bad arrest carry the day. This idea does not seem to be making it through the defensive lines police departments have in place. Often the first comments made publically are denials made by the police unions. These denials become the first and loudest thing heard by the public. The tone has been “nothing to see here” and “he had a gun” by default. Ronal Serpas said on N.P.R., as a response to the idea of the Youtube effect, “ …I do not think that police officers miss the opportunity, as a body, to be professional and noble and do the work they know they can do” (Siegel, 2015).  The public knows there have been cases of police wrong doing, so the same old police union rhetoric is less than believable. The shootings, beatings and suspicious deaths of young black men will be the nail in community oriented policing’s coffin  if the perceptions of the public are not changed. These perceptions won’t be changed if the police department doesn’t show a will to turn these sets of circumstances. Former police chief Anthony Bouza of Minneapolis stated there was unquestionable racism in the ranks of Minneapolis police officers and these statements cannot be left unheard (Chin, 2013).
            One thing on the horizon with the potential to do good in this climate of video persecution of officers is the body cam. Laws and rights around these cameras are being battled over right now across the country. If these discussions come up with the right answers these cameras could be the tool that empowers police officers to move back into the community. These tiny cameras could show the public once again that every cop is not to be feared and racism is not part of every arrest. Many people see these cameras as ways to collect evidence, as if they are eyes looking out onto bad guys but the truth is the best way for these cameras to be seen by the public is as a watchful eye to rebuild trust with its peace officers. Body cameras, if handled right could be the ace that police officers have needed for a while. These cameras can be the voice that speaks up on behalf of the bedraggled police. An officer is unlikely to be heard over the tumult of social media unless he brings his own viral video to do his talking for him.
            Community oriented policy was the finest step made by law enforcement in the history of America. The building of strong community connections not only helped the police realize their mission to protect and serve but it also improved the communities beyond just making them safer. As officers move into communities they bring with them assets of education, resources for neighborhoods and feelings of safety. Police need to partner with all aspects of the community; the assistance of parents, churches, community organizations and other stake holders like local businesses make law enforcement possible (Hess, Orthmann, & Wright, 2013). Communities thrive under these conditions and crime shrivels up. Social media, the YouTube effect and institutional racism have chased officers out of communities and back into their cars. From the fortress of the car the officer becomes alienated from the community and the community in turn sees the officer as something less than an ally. A scenario has been playing out over and over in America; an officer is caught in a video, the video is portrayed out of context or not and it goes viral providing evidence of police wrong doing in the minds of a public who needs less and less to convince them every day. This scenario in turns keeps officers at a distance, violent crime goes up and the situation continues to repeat itself. Body cameras could be the wedge that splits this cycle open. As a camera has caused a story to only have one side, a camera can be used to add another voice. If the laws are handled well and cameras are used not just to convict but also to inform, they have the potential to empower officers to move out of their cars and back into the community providing service to the neighborhoods they work in.


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