The Nov/Dec, 2016 Lincoln-Douglas Debate topic is controversial: “Resolved: The United States ought to limit qualified immunity for police officers.”

Lincoln-Douglas debaters should read widely on the police/citizen clashes over the last year, and consider values including, of course, justice and safety.

Police working in high-crime neighborhoods are under pressure and deal with many difficult situations. But life can be difficult and tense too for the people who live day-to-day in high-crime neighborhoods.

But just as most property crime and violence in high-crime neighborhoods is caused by a small minority of young men, most incidents of police misbehavior is caused by a small minority. (Link  to 2015 Brooking Institution post.)

Shikha Dalmia in “How police unions actually hurt police officers,” (The Week, July 18, 2016) argues these “bad apples” are protected by union procedures designed for other purposes. Part of the challenge, Dalmia writes is lack of reported data on police/citizen incidents:

The Crime Control Act of 1994 asked the FBI to annually compile and publish data about the use of police force in all instances so that the country could keep track of trends of police violence, identify problematic precincts, or catch enforcement bias. But union representatives of law enforcement agencies successfully lobbied the feds to make reporting optional. So most departments now simply plead poverty and refuse to comply.

This is a huge problem. In the absence of good data, it is impossible to say definitively if racism is driving police abuse in black communities. And because it is impossible to identify the size and scope of this problem, it is impossible to craft and enact a solution to it — a solution, mind you, that would not only better serve and protect minority communities, but also keep police safer, too.

Dalmia continues:

This is but one example of police unions going to eye-popping lengths to protect rogue cops at the expense of citizens (and the many decent cops who are tainted as well). Consider the binding arbitration that has become a standard feature of virtually all police contracts, which are often negotiated in secrecy. Binding arbitration allows cops to appeal any disciplinary action taken by their superiors to outside arbitrators such as retired judges. In theory, these folks are supposed to be neutral third parties. In reality, they are usually in the pockets of unions and dismiss or roll back a striking two-thirds of all actions, even against cops with a history of abuse and excessive violence. The upshot is that police chiefs are powerless to clean house, even as community complaints pile up. This is exactly what was happening in Baltimore when Freddie Gray died during his ride to the police station last year.

Students are encouraged to read the article for more on Dalmia’s argument on the role police unions play in protecting the minority of police involved in violent or aggressive incidents with the public that appear unjustified after review.

For more, see Conor Friedersdorf, “How Police Unions and Arbitrators Keep Abusive Cops on the Street,” in The Atlantic (December 2, 2014)

Police institutional procedures like binding arbitration clauses and procedures in union contracts should allow fair evaluation of complaints about violent incidents between police officers and the public.

And more directly on the LD topic, Evan Bernick, Assistant Director of the Center for Judicial Engagement at the Institute for Justice, has this May 6, 2015 article in The Freeman, “To Hold Police Accountable, Don’t Give Them Immunity,” drawn from his April, 2015 remarks to the US Commission on Civil Rights.

See also Want to “Fight Police Misconduct? Reform Qualified Immunity” (Above The Law, Nov 3, 2015 at 2:05 PM).

Critics of these reform proposal and the focus on police misconduct point to dramatically increasing violence in many inner-cities, and police pull back. (Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities (New York Times, August 31, 2015.) Murders have increased through 2016 in Chicago and other cities.

Also critical of police misconduct narrative is Heather Macdonald’s book The War on Cops (Amazon link with Look Inside).

Economist Thomas Sowell draws from The War on Cops for his National Review article: “The Race War No One Can Win” (National Review, July 13, 2016)

Reason magazine’s critical review of the book: “There Is No War on CopsA new book from a prominent right-wing commentator fails to make the case.”

And New York Times review article of  “The Problem With Modern Policing, as Seen From the Right and From the Left” (June 27, 2016).

2 Comments

  1. Ari says:

    Who is the author?

    • grehmke says:

      Hi, this post by Gregory Rehmke.

      Gregory Rehmke manages NCPA’s Debate Central site and is Program Director for Economic Thinking, a Seattle-based nonprofit.

      Gregory F. Rehmke, has directed educational programs for high school, homeschool, and college students for over 20 years. Mr. Rehmke has also been a speaker for annual University Interscholastic League conferences on speech and debate topics for over 20 years.

      Greg Rehmke has a degree in Economics from the University of Washington and is coauthor of the “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Global Economics.” Mr. Rehmke has published widely on development economics, energy and environmental issues, and the economics of other public policy topics.

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