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Cops & Data

“Don’t’ find a fault. Find a remedy.” Henry Ford

Everyone was sickened by the George Floyd killing. Horrible and inexcusable. But everything that followed was overdone.

There is no epidemic of cops killing unarmed people.


Empirical evidence (data) and anecdotal evidence (stories) carry unequal weight with equal parties and should be considered by all, together and in context.


Data can be manipulated, but it is generally just the cold hard facts. Stories are emotional and always elicit a response: fear, humor, anger, empathy or sympathy.


In the current climate I am compelled to qualify my statements. I have never been a victim of racism. I can empathize, but I cannot sympathize. Empathy means I can understand how racism must feel to you, but sympathy is knowing it first-hand and I don’t. Racism is dehumanizing, and I have never had to stand for that.


Empathy requires thinking about the uncomfortable and putting yourself in the others’ shoes as much as possible. Sympathy requires self-control.


Data matter. There are about 50 million civilian encounters recorded with police each year. Of that, police use firearms with a fatal result about 1,000 times. That is about one in 50,000 encounters. For your benefit, I am against the cops shooting anyone at all, but we are a gun society. That won’t change.


Of that 1,000 fatal encounters, over 90% were with civilians who were armed or attempted deadly force. The data states that 56 unarmed people were killed by police last year. Depending upon the source (mine is the Washington Post through a Better Angels podcast), fifteen were African American.


One is too many, in the first place. All Black lives are sacred. It is also 56 too many.


That is the same probability as getting hit by lightning. One in over 17 million.


The point is that there is no epidemic of police shooting unarmed black people. Yes, the ratios are not proportionate to the respective demographic population, and it is probably unarguable that cops tend to be more physical when encountering a black person.


Here’s a stat. A cop is shot every day.


The police have a monopoly on legal violence. They are not the problem. Yes, everyone supports enhanced training and background checks. Policy must be addressed and improved upon every day, for that is what managerial leadership is all about. Good policing moves with the community while also observing a rigid adherence to the law.


A police chief said a few weeks ago on TV that culture eats policy for breakfast. That's wisdom, and quite an uphill climb.


Not all cops are perfect, but not all cops are criminals. The overwhelming majority are hard working neighbors. I cannot imagine the stress these servants of the people are under.


Personally, most of my contact with law enforcement has not been positive. I don’t care for arrogance unless it’s mine. I do know two things about cops: first, they are wary of every contact with people, constantly keeping their head on a swivel. This is very easy to observe. Second, they really don’t like being touched. That’s my safety tip for the day.


But if I need one, you bet I’m gonna call one. As an aside, everyone should have the local police non-emergency number on their phone. If you observe something non-threatening but important (stray dog, kids drinking beer in a parking lot, a guy trying locked car doors) call the non-emergency line. The first thing they will ask, several times, is if there is a weapon involved. Trust me.


Empirical evidence, the data, does not support all cops being bad. They are overworked, underpaid, and generally unloved. You know, like teachers.


But the anecdotal evidence must be weighed and respected. Friends tell me of their encounters with police and I cringe at the thought of rogue police having a bad moment while making an innocent person’s life worse, perhaps irretrievably.


We are all imperfect.


I heard on a podcast an analogy comparing training for police as opposed to a pastry chef. The police academy in New York City is six months long, while the pastry school is eight months. An interesting stat, but out of context. The police academy is paid by taxpayer dollars. The pastry student is paying his tuition to the school.


Does anyone think that a 4-year college education makes those students smarter? Wait ‘til that bubble bursts.

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