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Policing the Wrong Way – The New York Times


The Memphis police officers charged in the death of Tire Nichols were part of an elite unit known as the Scorpion that was set up to crack down on crime-ridden neighborhoods. The actions of the officers as they stopped and defeated Nichols showed how badly the team’s work can and has been done.

Stories about the botched work of special law enforcement units are common in the United States In Baltimore, members of the gun-hunting task force residents robbed cash, drugs and jewelry. By the time federal officials investigated the New Orleans Police Department in 2010, residents perceived Its special units are corrupt and brutal. In Los Angeles, a “special investigative division” in the 1990s was established participate in many deadly shootings. Have many more examples.

Police departments set up these teams with a good purpose: to solve real crime problems. But they don’t – affected by poor leadership, false standards, or a culture of impunity.

Today’s newsletter will explain how Scorpion, which officials in Memphis disbanded last week, fits into the broader pattern of U.S. law enforcement’s well-intentioned efforts to fight crime rather than lead to abuse.

Memphis Police Department established unit Scorpion by the end of 2021 to do what officials call “hotspot” control.

For regular readers of this newsletter, the term sounds familiar. The idea is to focus police resources on neighborhoods or neighborhoods with high crime rates or even residents (such as repeat offenders). They may also focus on specific crimes, like shootings or drug dealing.

The term is very broad, and over time, nearly every major city police department in the United States has said they are focusing on hotspots in some way. When implemented correctly, this strategy will reduce crime without simply transferring it to other areas, Research has found.

But those three words are the bottom line: when done right. “When people use the term ‘hotspot police’, it can mean many different things,” said Anna Harvey, a public safety researcher at New York University.

Many departments ignore important tenets of this concept, sometimes leading to abuse. For example, the Louisville, Ky. Investigate Breonna Taylor’s ex-boyfriend is also follow the hot spot model. (Police shot and killed Taylor at her home in 2020.)

In some efforts to tackle hot spots, police officers are just trying to make their presence known — to create a kind of puppet effect, since people are less likely to commit crimes first. face of an officer. Elsewhere, officers actively enforce the law with as many stops and arrests as possible. Exemplary hotspot control requires a balancing act between maximizing the ability to prevent officers from being present and minimizing the social costs of disturbing, preventing, and arresting more people. .

“You can do it in an extremely aggressive way, or you can do it in a respectful way,” said Neil Gross, a sociologist at Colby University who studies police. more important.

So what happened in Memphis? Officials appear to be emphasizing the wrong things, experts said.

Police officials have deployed Scorpion to the city’s most volatile neighborhoods — “hot spots” — to crack down on all kinds of crime, such as reckless driving or shooting, with punitive tactics. fines even for minor infractions.

City officials praise Scorpion for its high number of arrests, which effectively encourages aggressive tactics. Sheriff Cerelyn Davis praised the method, support “difficult with difficult people.” (Officials may have emphasized other goals, like reducing crime rates in specific neighborhoods, to help officials focus on outcomes rather than countermeasures, experts say. said.)

“It’s the command staff doing a version of hotspot control that doesn’t match what the research evidence says is best,” says Harvey.

The unit also seems to be captured by a culture of impunity. Consider that at least some of the officers who hit Nichols wore cameras recording their actions. Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St, said the fact that they punched and kicked Nichols showed they thought they were above the law and could get away with crime. Louis.

It’s a common phenomenon in US police departments: Evidence-based policies can fail in execution. Researchers might call for law enforcement strategies that focus on specific places and people and try to minimize the social cost. But if those ideas are filtered through a culture or leadership style that values ​​toughness and acting aggressively, they can lead to abuse.

Salman Rushdie, author and free speech icon, was stabbed on stage last summer after years of living under the threat of a fatwa. Although the attack left him blind in one eye, he went on to release a new novel. “City of Victory,” premieres next weekis the story of a long lost empire, told as a translation of a fictional Sanskrit epic.

Fellow writers are seizing the moment to turn their attention back to Rushdie’s novels. Novelist Colum McCann says: “In the face of danger, even in the face of death, he tries to say that storytelling is a currency we all have.

Review of The Times: “Blindness is foretold from the very first sentence of the novel,” Written by Michael Gorra. “With haunting, eerie predictive powers, ‘Victory City’ shows once again why his work will always matter.”

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