If data is always driving the bus, we’re never going to get anywhere
When the Seattle Police Department’s plan, 20/20, A Vision for the Future, was rolled out at the end of March, I adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
Ha! Do you see what I did there? And I got to say, “wait-and-see” for the first time ever. Let’s wait and see if I can do that again… . Wow, that was fast!
OK, I must calm down. What I wanted to wait and see about was: What did some of the 20 measures really mean, and how much were they going to cost us?
For instance, what did Number Four, “Train all officers on use of force standards consistent with Seattle’s values,” mean? Does it mean only use passive-aggressive techniques? Does it mean not whacking someone until first using the words, “Excuse me, you really shouldn’t be doing that here,” at least five times, and then declaring that it’s bad for the officer’s own health, and then saying, “You know, this isn’t Los Angeles, this is Seattle!”
The same questions come up with measure Number Eight, “Train new officers to understand Seattle.” Where the heck are we getting police officers from, anyway, that it takes a lot of effort and study for them to understand Seattle? It’s a city. It’s not a huge city. It’s on the water. Salt water on one side; fresh water on the other. We have more than one traffic light. We pay too much for coffee.
Number 10, “Develop a binding, written code of ethics,” is just scary. The thought that this was necessary for a police department this size at this late date in its history is disturbing. Codes of ethics have been all the rage since about 1750 B.C.
And Number 11, “Recruit great officers.” First I think, “What, nobody thought of that before?” Then the horrible thought dawns that what they probably mean is they don’t pay them enough to be great. Isn’t that what everyone means by “recruit”? That’s the big league approach to excellence, rather than the “It would be great if you’d just do your job right” approach to excellence.
Here’s a recruitment tool: Fire everyone who isn’t great. Rehire for the vacated positions. Repeat as needed.
The whole “Partnering with the public” section at the end of the document gave me the willies. This is probably just me. I’m the sort of person who doesn’t go in for a lot of handholding and Kumbaya and drivel about really knowing people. I just want the cops to leave me alone, and please not whack me, and now they want to come see me and be my friend?
What does Number 19, “Launch a community outreach initiative,” mean? What is the purpose of this, except to cover for propaganda to tell us why we should be happy?
Their job consists of nothing but outreaching to the community and interacting with the community. What’s lacking isn’t outreach from the police, it’s outreach to the police that has any effect at all on their behavior. Nothing we do or say has mattered. Complaints are ignored or rationalized.
The measure that most mystified me and left me wanting to hold off any criticism, was Number 14, “Implement a data-driven approach to policing.”
I’ve spent the past eight years watching the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness spin its wheels and dig a rut in the road, largely because nothing ever gets done without wasting money on data collection. So immediately upon seeing data-driven anything, I’m picturing the Invasion of the Data Snatchers and “New computers for everyone!” and two new administrators for every arrest.
I understand the need for some data, now and then, to get your bearings. But the navigator is not the pilot. Data driving is overdoing it.
I suppose we have no choice now. It’s too late. When you screw up so bad the federal government tells you you’ve screwed up, you’ve pretty much lost the option of a wisdom-driven policy.
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