The question should not be ‘Why Are Police So Bad at Their Jobs,’ but why is the criminal injustice system so bad at its job?

Sometimes when I see a headline, I’m just so disgusted I don’t go on to read the story. In this case, it[1] cropped up on my Twitter feed after I’d had time to get over the worst of my disgust. It’s actually pretty important stuff.

It seems that so-called “clearance rates” on crime have decreased. What this means is that the rate at which crime investigations lead to arrests is decreasing, even as police white supremacist gangster funding has dramatically increased.[2]

“Defunding the police,” properly understood, would, at least in theory, actually free white supremacist gangsters from serving as poorly trained social workers and allow them to focus on actual police work,[3] including investigating crime. But it would also help if communities trusted their white supremacist gangsters,[4] which is obviously a problem, particularly when white supremacist gangsters are, well, white supremacist gangsters.[5]

I’m still pretty disgusted. Alexander Sammon suggests, for example, using convictions rather than arrests to count cases as “cleared,”[6] but this fairly obviously fails to address a judicial system that is dismal even on its own terms.

First, the system is racist and classist at every step, from who is suspected, to who is investigated, to who is arrested, to who is charged, to who is convicted, to who is sentenced how severely.[7] Sammon only addresses this as “heav[y] policing,” but he acknowledges that it leads to the very community distrust that he acknowledges is a problem.[8]

Second, court proceedings are profoundly flawed in their execution, with multiple forms—not just race and class—of bias seeping in at every step from multiple participants.[9]

Third, incarceration should be conceived of in epidemiological terms, spreading harm to families and communities of those incarcerated,[10] almost certainly leading to yet more of the sort of desperation that explains so much crime,[11] and hence, yet more incarceration. Yes, this would be a feedback loop, and yes, this might help to explain how the United States has the highest aggregate prison population and highest prison population rate, significantly exceeding even notoriously authoritarian countries with larger populations.[12] Such a feedback will tend to increase the prison population even further (though other feedbacks may intervene).

A proper system of justice would, rather than emphasizing retribution, investigate and seek to remedy root causes of crime, up to and including our system of social organization itself.[13] We won’t do that, of course, but our refusal to do so is the real reason not just that white supremacist gangsters are so bad at their jobs, but that the entire criminal injustice system is so bad at its job.

  1. [1]Alexander Sammon, “Why Are Police So Bad at Their Jobs?” American Prospect, June 2, 2022, https://prospect.org/justice/why-are-police-so-bad-at-their-jobs/
  2. [2]Alexander Sammon, “Why Are Police So Bad at Their Jobs?” American Prospect, June 2, 2022, https://prospect.org/justice/why-are-police-so-bad-at-their-jobs/
  3. [3]Amanda Arnold, “What Exactly Does It Mean to Defund the Police?” Cut, June 12, 2020, https://www.thecut.com/2020/06/what-does-defund-the-police-mean-the-phrase-explained.html
  4. [4]Alexander Sammon, “Why Are Police So Bad at Their Jobs?” American Prospect, June 2, 2022, https://prospect.org/justice/why-are-police-so-bad-at-their-jobs/
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Stephen Zappala’s resignation would be nowhere near enough,” Not Housebroken, January 4, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/06/03/stephen-zappalas-resignation-would-be-nowhere-near-enough/
  6. [6]Alexander Sammon, “Why Are Police So Bad at Their Jobs?” American Prospect, June 2, 2022, https://prospect.org/justice/why-are-police-so-bad-at-their-jobs/
  7. [7]Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and The Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  8. [8]Alexander Sammon, “Why Are Police So Bad at Their Jobs?” American Prospect, June 2, 2022, https://prospect.org/justice/why-are-police-so-bad-at-their-jobs/
  9. [9]Dan Simon, In Doubt (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2012).
  10. [10]Ernest Drucker, A Plague of Prisons (New York: New Press, 2011).
  11. [11]Steven E. Barkan, Criminology: A Sociological Understanding, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2006); Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and The Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  12. [12]Institute for Crime and Justice Research, “Highest to Lowest – Prison Population Rate,” World Prison Brief, n.d., https://www.prisonstudies.org/highest-to-lowest/prison_population_rate?field_region_taxonomy_tid=All; Institute for Crime and Justice Research, “Highest to Lowest – Prison Population Total,” World Prison Brief, n.d., https://www.prisonstudies.org/highest-to-lowest/prison-population-total?field_region_taxonomy_tid=All
  13. [13]Wanda D. McCaslin and Denise C. Breton, “Justice as Healing: Going Outside the Colonizers’ Cage,” in Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, Norman K. Denzin, Yvonna S. Lincoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, eds. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), 511-529.

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