The FBI Director & The Religion of Policing

This is a reprint of an older article

James Comey is highlighting one of my critiques of policing, a lack of science. Comey is making a claim of which there is no evidence to support; he is pushing an ideology. I have, in the past, compared policing to a religion and what the highest ranking police leader is telling every member and the public is that:

1.) Less aggressive policing can drive an alarming spike in violence;
2.) Police officers are scared of cameras;
3.) Police officers are too afraid of the people they are being paid to serve that they are afraid of serving;
4.) Scholars have not been studying this issue; and
5.) Crime is trending up

There are numerous examples of less aggressive policing being correlated to a drop in crime, most recently in NYC, and when Comey says lack of aggressive policing leads to crime think about what that means. Comey’s position is that if the armed enforcement wing of the government takes its boot off the neck of the public, just a little, then we will just become killers. It that America we want to live in?

In 2010, I was authoring a guide for police supervision, in it, I state always to behave as if being recorded, do not worry about it. Police are public servants, performing a public function, the camera comes with the job. That was six years ago, when I was an active patrol supervisor in eastern Baltimore, police weren’t scared then, and they aren’t scared now.
The third point, in some hyper-segregated cities such as Baltimore and Chicago, is true to an extent. Some police officers are too afraid of the people they are being paid to serve to serve them properly. The thing is, Mr. Comey, that is on police officers, not the community. As that highest ranking police officer, you are, in no small part, accountable for that failure; instead, you are blaming the people you failed to serve?

Scholars have been studying crime for an extremely long time, and they have reached the relative consensus that police have very little influence on crime. Crime is complex but is mostly rooted in the lack of socio-economic opportunity, poverty, lack of resources, marginalization, and environmental issues, such as lead poisoning. That does not fit the religion of American policing, though and that religion has spawned a groupthink echo-chamber where they do not believe that scholars know the direction to move towards. I switched my academic studies away from criminal justice because the ideology has invaded the criminal justice system. The only scholars that Mr. Comey will hear in that echo-chamber are ones like Peter Moskos, who is teaching and promoting the same disproven ideologies. It is not just the federal agencies or too many instructors of criminal justice; it is in police chiefs like Michael Pristoop who testified in front of MD congress the “truth” of an Onion article about cannabis overdoses in Colorado. A small look outside of the confirmation bias world of policing and scholar like Tracey Mears (Yale), Lawrence Brown (Morgan State), Phillipe Copeland (Boston), Stephanie DeLuca (JHU), and many more can show him where scholars stand.

Another issue is the impression of crime going up. This instills an unfounded since of fear in the community and police. Crime is still dramatically down and trending down. There are signs, wealth inequality, wage stagnation, debtors prison, disenfranchisement, and such, which are looming concerns that we should be combating. Ah, but police can’t hear those things in a religion that states violence and cages are solutions. Any amateur in mathematics would state that year to year measurements of crime, in a society are close to meaningless and that in any scenario, with so many variables involved, spikes and dips to overall trends are expected.

All in all, I did notice that he could heed his advice when he says that he does not know what it is, this is the point where he should remind himself not to speak because his word influence the perceptions of police officers and the public, insulting both and breaking down the public trust that is pivotal to police legitimacy, and police legitimacy is critical to police and public safety.

Michael Wood Jr. is a police management scholar who after spending a career in the USMC and Baltimore Police Department, took to dismantling the blue wall of silence and creating the pathway to reform; a model called Civilian-Led Policing. His fight for justice has included leading the historic Veterans for Standing Rock action in December of 2016, listening to the front lines of Black Lives Matter, opposing money in politics, and elevating the voices of others. You can find Michael in hundreds of media appearances, from HBO’s Fixing the System documentary with President Obama, to The Joe Rogan Experience, to published opinion pieces in The Guardian and Baltimore Sun, and everything in-between, where he furthers the discussion on criminal justice systems and institutions, and the needs of society.

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Edited by Dr. Michael Wood Jr., an internationally recognized public safety expert, and scholar of police management.

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Dr. Michael Wood Jr.

Dr. Michael Wood Jr.

USMC, BPD(ret), author “The Business of Policing”

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