Criminal justice experts discuss race in policing

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In the wake of police shootings of several black men in recent weeks, a panel of experts on the effect of race in policing discussed the causes of these problems during a Foley Institute talk on Tuesday.

Lorenzo Boyd, chairman of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences at University of Maryland Eastern Shore, said it is safer to be a police officer now than at any other time in recent history. Meanwhile, he said, police have been killing more unarmed people than ever. Additionally, African Americans make up 14 percent of the population, but over 50 percent of police arrests, he said.

“It is systemic racism that we need to deal with,” Boyd said.

He said police look for undesirables, who are identified by their hair, mannerisms, dress and language. It is an indication of danger, he said, and is made into an “us vs. them” scenario.

Captain CP Taylor of the Tacoma Police Department drew a distinction between quantitative and values policing. While quantitative policing states that if A happens, an officer should respond with B, Taylor explained values policing as a parallel to the Golden Rule, saying officers must value and be kind to other people.

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There is a veil of secrecy with police, said Philip Tyler, president of the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but police need the public’s trust.

“They are citizens and community members before they put the badge on,” Tyler said, “and remain citizens and community members after they put the badge on.”

Whenever there is a victim of police brutality, he said, everyone goes into the past of the victims instead of the police officers who shot them.

“Why is it so hard for our law enforcement brothers and sisters to admit that something is wrong?” he asked.

Dale Willits, assistant professor of the WSU department of criminal justice and criminology, explained WSU research into the absence of quality data and statistics from the U.S. criminal justice system. There are efforts to improve the accuracy of data and how crowdsourced data can be utilized in the future, he said, along with efforts to contextualize the data.

“We’ve heard compelling evidence that there is a racial bias in policing,” Willits said. “We have heard considerable evidence that some of this has to do with police culture, the thin blue line, the lack of transparency.”