Within the US, what steps could be taken to try to prevent racism in the police?

For example, there is no strong 'test' for racism that can't be double-guessed. Even then, there is the potential that some racist high ranking officers would be more lenient to racist cops due to their own racist views.


As you point out, there's no way to "test" for racism, and even if there were, firing people based solely on that would be uncomfortably close to punishing someone for "thought crimes". That's why people who try to tackle this problem don't try to eliminate prejudice, but to restructure and reform the system of policing so that the prejudices of individual officers or society at large don't have racist outcomes. There are lots ideas out there and many of them need to be tested in real world settings, but here's a overview of just a few:

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    The problem with personal accountability is that there should also be incentives for the department and the officer to admit error. If they get slapped with huge damages unless they fort up, they fort up. Police: support them when they are right, train them when they make honest mistakes, come down on them like a ton of bricks when they are deliberately wrong.
    – o.m.
    Jul 22 '20 at 4:11
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    @o.m.: But part of the problem is that we have a TV and movie industry that glorifies bad cops. "Dirty Harry", "Miami Vice", and hundreds if not thousands more.
    – jamesqf
    Jul 22 '20 at 4:16
  • @o.m. That's a good point, and I try to get at something like that with the last sentence of that section. We're in a sort of vicious cycle where cops "fort up" which destroys any trust the public might have in them, which makes them less likely to be accepting of legitimate mistakes, which leads to cops getting more defensive, etc. If people trusted that real bad actors would be held accountable, they would be more understanding of actual mistakes and more likely to believe that they were, in fact, mistakes).
    – divibisan
    Jul 22 '20 at 14:51
  • @divibisan, a random, untested idea: if a police department admits an error on the first, internal/administrative review, some (most?) of the damages are paid by the Federal budget. If they go to court, damages come from their own municipal budget. So there is a strong financial incentive for the department to admit mistakes. And in an unrelated measure, any fines imposed by the cops or local courts go directly into the federal budget. So when they write a ticket, you know that it costs the department money for the administrative overhead, it doesn't bring them money.
    – o.m.
    Jul 22 '20 at 14:58
  • @o.m. Yeah, I like that idea. While we're spitballing, what if the reimbursement rate was also tied to the officer's record, so officers who accumulate more complaints and problems become progressively more expensive, giving them an incentive to replace them or move them to desk jobs etc. where they're less likely to abuse the public.
    – divibisan
    Jul 22 '20 at 15:03

The quesion is based on a misconception: that police generally ARE racist. But a little research shows that black cops are perfectly willing to mistreat or even kill other black people, and that cops of any color are likewise willing to mistreat/kill poor white people. That suggests that the problem is in fact the general attitude of cops towards the civilian population.

The appearance of racism is mostly due to cultural factors, which might be the product of past racism in society. Black people, particularly poorer ones, are likely to live in mostly black urban neighborhoods where they are likely to frequently encounter cops. OTOH, many poorer* white people tend to live in more rural areas, and so can go years between encounters. Thus if the numbers of poor blacks and poor whites are equal, and there is the same probability that a given cop/civilian interaction will turn out badly, the resulting numbers will APPEAR to be caused by cops' racism, even though they're not.

*Like any bully, cops prefer to pick on those they perceive as weak.

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    This non-answer confuses the existing institutional racism of police forces with individual conscious racism. It's similar to the "some of my best friends are..." defense used by oblivious bigots for at least a century. Or using the existence of the Association of German National Jews as evidence that the Germany of the 1930s therefore couldn't really be racist.
    – agc
    Jul 22 '20 at 5:13
  • I think your main point is a very good one, but I don't think you can say from that that police aren't racism. Black people can be racist, even against other Black people, and particularly when you consider unconscious racism. Also, as agc points out, institutional racism plays into the factors you discuss. It's not just chance that minority neighborhoods are policed more aggressively.
    – divibisan
    Jul 22 '20 at 16:23
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    @jamesqf The idea that the premise is wrong isn't really the matter. You're questioning the idea that there is a need for more measures to prevent racism in the force. That's irrelevant to finding an actual method to reduce racism in the force. Of course this is with the assumption that there is a degree of racism (which there is indeniably is)
    – yolo
    Jul 22 '20 at 17:15
  • @yolo: No, what I'm questioning is the idea that racism is the primary source of the current problems, when in fact those problems are normal police behavior in any place and time where they are not under sufficient restraint. You can easily find the same sorts of police behavior in societies that are racially & ethnically homogeneous. Police work tends to attract bullies, bullies pick on those they see as weak, which generally equates to poor.
    – jamesqf
    Jul 23 '20 at 16:27
  • @jamesqf even then. Whether most problems are due to this or racism isn't the concern of the question. The question concerns problems related to racism (of which needs not be the maun cause of problems to make the question answerable)
    – yolo
    Jul 23 '20 at 19:25

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