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Police Reformers: On the Ground in Camden and Baltimore

Ret. Chief J. Scott Thomson Executive Director, Global Security for Holtec International
Stephen Eide Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute; Contributing Editor, City Journal
Ganesha Martin Vice President of Public Policy and Community Affairs, Mark43
Daniel DiSalvo Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute
Peter Moskos Professor and Chair, Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Tue, Oct 13, 2020 EVENTCAST

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Police Reformers: On the Ground in Camden and Baltimore

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Forum

Police Reformers: On the Ground in Camden and Baltimore

Ret. Chief J. Scott Thomson Executive Director, Global Security for Holtec International
Stephen Eide Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute; Contributing Editor, City Journal
Ganesha Martin Vice President of Public Policy and Community Affairs, Mark43
Daniel DiSalvo Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute
Peter Moskos Professor and Chair, Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
EVENTCAST 01:00pm—02:00pm
Tuesday October 13
Tuesday October 13 2020
PAST EVENT Tuesday October 13 2020

What does it take to improve a police department? Police critics and reform-minded leaders have employed a variety of tactics, ranging from protest and civil disobedience to highlight excessive force, and dismantling and rebuilding an entire department to reduce crime rates, to seeking judicial intervention and independent monitors to shepherd police departments through generational change, and cracking down on powerful police unions. 

Camden, New Jersey, famously had its police department dissolved in 2013, replacing an embattled agency by hiring and, in some cases rehiring, officers without the encumbrances of union contracts. In the years following, Camden’s violent crime fell 43 percent and is still dropping, while nonviolent crime fell 48 percent. What lessons can we learn from Camden? Is this a problem for state and local leaders or is there a necessary role for the federal government, as in Baltimore, Maryland, where a 2015 DOJ investigation into the Police Department resulted in a federally mandated monitor. We are pleased to present this panel featuring Chief J. Scott Thomson, who oversaw Camden’s bold restart, Ganesha Martin, who advised on Baltimore's consent decree, and other police reform experts.

 *   *   *

PANELISTS:

Retired Chief J. Scott Thomson, who managed the overhaul and heralded transformation of the Camden Police Department. Currently, he serves as Executive Director of Global Security for Holtec International;
Stephen Eide, Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute; Contributing Editor, City Journal;
Ganesha Martin, who led the implementation team for the structural reforms at the Baltimore Police Department as BPD Chief of the Department of Justice Compliance and Accountability/External Affairs. Currently, she serves as Vice President of Public Policy and Community Affairs for Mark43;
Daniel DiSalvo, Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute;  Professor of Political Science in the Colin Powell School, City College of New York–CUNY. 

MODERATOR:

Peter Moskos, former Baltimore City Police Officer; Professor and Chair, Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration, John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Event Transcript

Hannah Meyers:

Good afternoon and welcome to this third event for the Manhattan Institute's New Initiative on Policing and Public Safety. I am this project's director, Hannah Meyers. There is no louder word on everyone's lips today when it comes to policing than reform, but reform comes in so many different shapes and sizes. How do we know which model is best for any given jurisdiction or department? Today, we will be focusing on two distinctly different models for reform, Camden New Jersey where there was a complete overhaul of the police department under state and local authority, and Baltimore Maryland where a federally mandated monitorship came in to oversee change.

Hannah Meyers:

We are so lucky to be joined by practitioners who were on the ground in both locations designing and implementing these reforms, as well as experts to talk about the role and reform of police unions, financial crisis, crime stats and so much more. Without further ado, I am delighted to introduce our moderator today, Peter Moskos.

Peter Moskos:

Hi, thanks Hannah. It's great to be here and I'm looking forward to a good discussion this hour. Allow me to introduce the panelists of discussion...

Hannah Meyers:

Peter, let me introduce you.

Peter Moskos:

Oh, yeah, please do.

Hannah Meyers:

Peter Moskos...

Peter Moskos:

I do need an introduction.

Hannah Meyers:

You deserve one. He is the professor and chair of the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice right here in New York City, as well as the director of John Jay's NYPD Executive Master's Program. He is also himself a former Baltimore City police officer. He holds a PhD and masters from Harvard, as well as a bachelors from Princeton all in sociology and has received wide acclaim for his three books, Cop in the Hood, In Defense of Flogging and Greek Americans. If you really want to grapple with police stats and crime stats, then his blog copinthehood.com is a must read. Peter Moskos please.

Peter Moskos:

Thank you. Thank you. That was very kind of you. The panelists that we have today that you lined up so skillfully, we have retired Chief J. Scott Thomson. He managed the overhaul and heralded transformation of the Camden City Police Department that became the Camden County Police Department for the City of Camden, New Jersey. Stephen Eide is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. Ganesha Martin led the implementation team for these structural reforms at the Baltimore City Police Department as the chief of the Department of Justice Compliance and Accountability/External Affairs, and Daniel DiSalvo is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a professor of political science at the Colin Powell School at the City College of New York, my fellow CUNY college.

Peter Moskos:

Thank you all for being here and attending, and I'd like to start with Ganesha if I could. The general topic of reform, I figure you have some ideas what it means. It's a term that is bandied about quite a lot even more so recently and sometimes, I worry that it's become a meaningless term as just change for changes sake. How do you define reform? How can we measure success? What are the lessons that you have learned from your experience in Baltimore?

Ganesha Martin:

Yeah, Peter that's a great question, and I do think one of the most unfortunate pieces of reform is that people politicize it for their own good, and that tends to leave out the needs of the police that put on a uniform every day and put their lives on the line to protect and serve communities. Then it leaves out generally oppressed black and brown communities, who need the police, just need them to act constitutionally. To me, reform has become bastardized similar to community policing, right?

Ganesha Martin:

For me, what reform really means is to get in there, to talk to the police who are on the front lines every day, to talk to the community and hear them fully, give them a space to talk about how they don't have the equipment, how they don't feel legitimacy in their police department that they'll be felt dealt with fairly in the disciplinary scenario, that they don't have the right training, that they don't have the right equipment, that within the police ranks, there's clicks and they don't feel supported for a variety of different reasons. Then go talk to community who have watched their brothers, their sisters, their fathers be victims of excessive force, unnecessary uses of force.

Ganesha Martin:

Really hear those folks out from the beginning and then align what you've heard with them with policy, with training, with equipment, with technology. Nobody wants to talk about technology. It is key to reform and align those things so that the policies and the training that come about serve the police, give them the wherewithal and the skills that they need to do this difficult job, but to redress sometimes what is unconstitutional and brutal treatment that they receive from some police officers, make sure those things align. I don't think that that's happening in a lot of places, but that's how I see reform Peter.

Peter Moskos:

What surprised you? What do now that you did not expect to know a few years ago?

Ganesha Martin:

[Crosstalk 00:06:08] Well you know, what's funny, I'm sure we'll get to this, but the unions play such a role in this toxic sometimes conversation. It's funny when I left the police department, and I did it because the mayor there fired the police chief who really believed in forcing and pushing reform forward. I left the day after that happen, but I got a call from the union president who said, "Hey Ganesha..." because sometimes he thought it was casualty of the war. He says, "Hey Ganesha, I can get your job back, I can get your job back," and I said, "You know what, it's really funny that you're calling me, right? I mean I was the reformed person.

Ganesha Martin:

I was the consent decree, horrible thing that was coming down on the department." He said, "You know what, we know you did it with the cops in mind." When I had the community called me and said the same thing we need you back, and I listened to them. One of the first things that I did again with technology, I use the consent decree to get MDCs, computers and cars, eighth largest police department in the United States and we were still writing everything. Most of our violence was retaliatory. You get an email two days later, then somebody else might be getting shot and 12 people have already been shot since then. You want police to reduce violence, but that's what you give them.

Ganesha Martin:

You want to know if they're disproportionately stopping African-American males on the midnight shift and all the stop tickets are in a box. The first thing I did was use the consent decree to actually give the men and women the tools that they need to serve the community. The technology, and now granted the union didn't go on Twitter or on TV and say they supported me, but it was something that we talked about. Those two things, how important technology is to reform and how far you can really get when you do legitimately listen to both the police and the community and reform I think was surprising to me.

Ganesha Martin:

The last thing that I would say and it shouldn't have been surprising, but just how much the politics of all of those pots, the politics in police departments, the politics in the Department of Justice, the politics of community. If you don't have somebody in the middle of that really trying to work through all that reform, no matter how many good things you want to accomplish will go to the wayside because people are using both the police and the community as a political football.

Peter Moskos:

Interesting. Let me then move over to Daniel because you mentioned the importance of police unions, and I always like to mention their police unions and their police unions, they often get lumped together, but I mean from what I see, the PBA in New York behaves very differently than the FOP, and those are the two big national organizations for policing. The PBA in New York behaves very differently than the FOP in Baltimore, but the FOP not without faults, but generally has a more constructive attitude. They release position papers and policies. They don't just yell mean things to the mayor on Twitter, for instance. Daniel, you've studied police unions a lot. You've written about police unions.

Peter Moskos:

If you could wave a magic wand, first of all, would you eliminate police unions and if so, how would that actually or would that help policing?

Daniel DiSalvo:

Well, no one's going to be giving me the magic wand, so I think I'll probably start a little closer to the tough realities. Just I think the first thing to understand is that police unions in states where there's collective bargaining are really doing something that is fundamental to structuring police departments, which is to say the union through its collective bargaining activities shapes the organization of the police department, that is it shapes the rights of management, the rights of labor, what are all of the grievance, processes arbitration. Really the whole structure of the bureaucracy starts at this at the collective bargaining table and is shaped in part by that.

Daniel DiSalvo:

It's also shaped by police unions structuring things from the top down, which is to say through their political activity trying to elect favorable candidates, lobbying and electioneering. In that sense, you have to start out with how much the union itself is intertwined with just the basic structure of the organization. That's I think the most important thing to start out, but obviously there's negotiation over pay and benefits, as well as subjects of collective bargaining, but that's not been the subject of recent controversy. The subject of recent controversy is how much the police unions are shaping the disciplinary procedures and making it more difficult to either discipline, retrain, or reassign, or ultimately even fire up bad cops, or cops who end up doing things that harm citizens.

Peter Moskos:

Is there any data or evidence that shows that at will police departments, and I assume they're mostly at south, where they do not have union protection? Do we see any demonstrably better behavior, or less worse behavior among police officers there?

Daniel DiSalvo:

Well, this is a great, great research question. The truth is that police unions in terms of academic study have been very neglected. They're really neglected topics. We don't have a ton of data or good studies, empirical studies that would look at questions like that making those kinds of comparisons that our federal system really allows for. W while it's a terrific question, the truth is we don't know, in part because police unions to the extent they've been studied, have primarily been the studied by law professors who are interested in issues related to labor relations and so on, not to these kind of tough empirical questions.

Daniel DiSalvo:

The truth is very few departments as far as I know are truly at will departments, where there are not a set of protections that go beyond the normal, what would be seen inside a corporate environment where one could be fired at any time for any reason. One would really have to dig into the details of those sorts of situations.

Peter Moskos:

Maybe this is a good time to ask a man who's dealt personally with police unions. Scott Thompson was the key to the restructuring of the Camden department, which I'm to give a brief background. Please correct me where I'm wrong, but in May of 2013, the city police department of Camden, New Jersey was abolished and was restructured as the county police department, which only polices Camden City as far as I know.

Peter Moskos:

Now cynically and I say this as a union member, it was criticized as republican union busting in part the new police department, and you ran both the old and the new which is also an interesting part of a reform movement when the police chief stays the same, but can you tell us what happened and again maybe specifically, but briefly the role of the union, but I'd like to get more into the broad story of Camden a little bit because it's often held up now as a potential model for other police departments.

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well Peter, first of all, it's an honor to be on here with you and our fellow guests here today. I'll start first with the answer and reply to the union question. My experiences with our police union are very Dickenesque. I had the best of times and I had the worst of times. When I first became police chief in the city police department, I had a fraternal order of police. I mentioned it because we continued to be a fraternal order police in the new organization that was very recalcitrant. I think in my first six months as police chief, I had more than 100 grievances filed against me. I had about eight lawsuits filed against me.

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

It was anything that it was challenging or altering the status quo was immediately litigated. Fast forward to several years later when I had the opportunity to create a new police department, and New Jersey is a state in which people can organize and the police officers did. They selected to go with an FOP again, but this time under different leadership, same organization, different leadership. My experiences with the Camden County FOP that again was just for our organization was that they were tremendous facilitators in what we were looking to achieve. They deviated significantly away from being the defense attorneys for bad cops if you will.

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

In fact, there are oftentimes that when I would go to them with discipline, they were looking to hold their officers to just as high, if not even a higher standard. They did not want a lazy, apathetic, corrupt police officers, and they were pretty vociferous with that amongst their membership as well. From a leadership perspective, that was very catalytic to us being able to establish the culture we want.

Peter Moskos:

Do you know roughly what percentage of the cops applied and were not hired back in the new department? I mean I think this will go for any organization, but I think the consequences are greater in policing. If you can get rid of the bottom 5% or 10%, you might accomplish a great deal of good, because I know a lot of cops were hired back, but how many weren't?

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

Yeah, and that's a great question. Right before we laid everybody off including myself, we were down to about 200 police officers, and about 150 of the 200 applied, and about 145 got hired. The only ones that didn't get hired were ones that were precluded because of ongoing criminal investigations, or things of that nature. If you were to ask me at the time if I was to cherry pick and say there's 50 people that you don't want to come over into this organization, who are those 50? Those folks self-selected, and they were really the hardcore union folks who were trying to convince everyone else to not apply for the job, so that the new organization wouldn't be able to be created.

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

Invariably, they ended up just self-selecting themselves out of the process which ironically, they all became each other's competition for other police jobs in the region, but not having probably the hardest core of the recalcitrant individuals coming over into the new organization, that was certainly beneficial from a leadership perspective of being able to hit the reset button to go new, but we did have people that came over that had pending litigation, that were not happy about having to apply for a new job and move over, but the vast majority of them quickly caught on to the new culture because it was you're going to go with the flow of the organization, or you weren't going to stay afloat much longer.

Peter Moskos:

Let me put on a little graphic if I could that I made. Oop, that's... I'm sorry. There it goes. It shows the arrests and the murders in Camden over time from 2008 to this year estimated, and that little vertical line when the new police department set up, the red line are murders and the blue bars or the number of arrests in any given year. With the exception of one year since the new department has taken over, the murder violence has gone down, but there was initial increase in arrest, and then that also has gone down. Can you talk about what's behind these numbers?

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

Well, I appreciate that graph you have there, and one thing I think that's interesting to note in that graph is when you look at 2011 and 2012, those were the periods wherein there was a de facto defunding of the police, right? In January 2011, about 46% of the organization was laid off in one day, and you could see the impact that that had on our ability to keep the community secure. Mentor of mine, Bill Bratton, George Kelling say it best when they say that cops count police matter, particularly in extremely destabilized neighborhoods, but then our staffing levels did not start to get back to where we needed to be effective until 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

Now when you start to look at the arrest, so what you're seeing is an increase in activity. This was the point in time when we were doing very high levels of community engagement. We were becoming more effective because we were getting more intelligence from the community on who were the small percentage of people that were really negatively defined in everyone else's life, but I will tell you that and we learned this from the community that in the first couple of years, the community let us know that our very high levels of enforcement were not endearing to them. They appreciated the fact that there was now engagement in contact that was not just simply predicated upon enforcement or crisis.

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

They appreciated the community policing, but that we were still engaging in very high levels of arresting members of the community. We had to recalibrate. We had to look at what we were doing and how we were doing it, so that we would start to put a laser-like focus on the individuals who are really most important, the people that were influencing the violence within communities. When you have the relationship with the communities and you're getting that type of information, we as an organization became far more effective. We saw our murder solve rates go from 16% to 61%. We did very strong levels of enforcement very early on, but then we walked it backwards.

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

A lot of this was lessons we learned from other jurisdictions that we took a lot of the ideology and strategies and tactics from, but again we regulated our dosages that we were doing on the community. Once we were able to really get those people that were negatively defined in everybody's life, removed from the streets, we didn't need to be as enforcement-minded or as arrest-minded as possible. We were able to continue to have progress and sustainability in keeping violence down, but also lowering our outputs in terms of sums and arrests.

Peter Moskos:

What amazed me when I looked at this just the other day in preparation for this talk is that Camden which is a historically violent city, this year is an estimate, but the murder rate compared to Philadelphia across the river, they're converging this year. Looks like Philadelphia may actually be higher at the end of the year, and I like to compare these two cities. Of course Philadelphia is much larger and you don't want to take those comparisons too far, but I mention this because presumably, the root causes that people talk about behind crime, the poverty, the unemployment, the racism have not changed dramatically and improved in Camden, while getting worse in Philadelphia and yet, policing can actually work.

Peter Moskos:

In fact, you have divergent trends in these two cities means something important there is going on. That is an interest, and you saw these same trends by the way in New York with crime and arrest going down. You saw it in Baltimore until 2015 with violent unarrests going down. That to me is the win-win situation. Let me switch the focus slightly if I could. I want to bring Stephen into the conversation because an essential part of reform, but it goes beyond reform. I'm talking about police dealing with people in mental crisis. I'm talking about de-escalation. If you look at situations of police use of lethal force and non-lethal force, what always jumps out is the issue of mental health.

Peter Moskos:

How can police better deal with this, and is there a better alternative to police?

Stephen Eide:

Yeah. Well, the question of de-escalation training, which is what a lot of these debates center around, it stems from this problem that we have of very high levels of contact between the mentally ill people and the criminal justice system in general on, both patrol officers on this on the street, but also jails and prisons the court system. De-escalation training is something that people have proposed as a way to especially bring down the number of mental illness related police shootings, police fatalities. According to the Washington Post database, which is the best resource to look at for these things, probably 20% to 25% of fatal police shootings somehow involve mental illness.

Stephen Eide:

The question really is how much de-escalation training can reduce that rate, reduce those shootings, say 200 to 250 per year. The number is clearly not zero. At the same time, there are a lot of incidents where we do need to be thinking about social service type, or more upstream type reforms. If you take for example the tragedy that happened last month in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where you had a person with untreated serious mental illness who lunged at you, attacked a cop with a knife and was tragically shot to death, de-escalation is the wrong answer to that question. We need to have a debate about how to prevent those types of tragedies, but is de-escalation really the answer to that?

Stephen Eide:

I think what the value of de-escalation for me lies in frankly owning the idea of police work as social work. Instead of trying to separate these two service systems of mental health care/social services and public safety, trying to thread them together, but in the right way. That's as a result not just to provide this training, which in equality de-escalation, equality crisis intervention team program can reduce those incidents, but also the criminal justice system and police departments have to be part of this discussion about mental health reform.

Stephen Eide:

If what we're talking about is not just problems with police departments, but really problems with mental health departments which is why we have so many of these interactions, then we need to have people who are experienced in dealing with people with serious mentally ill in that discussion, and that's patrol officers who work in midtown Manhattan, people who work in jails and prisons and people who work in the courts. A lot of people who work in mental health service providers don't have as much experience with dealing with people with violent tendencies who have schizophrenia. Really I think de-escalation training done right, this may sound trite, but it's a win-win.

Stephen Eide:

It's good for police departments, but it's really essential if we want to have a debate about mental health care reform, which is ultimately what we need to be doing if we want to prevent these grizzly incidents.

Peter Moskos:

Some of that relates to the current talk about defund, and one of my problems with the defund concept is yes, we need better services, we need better mental health treatment care prevention, but the idea that somehow cutting a police budget is going to improve that, I don't quite see the cause and effect there. Last week in the George Kelling talk that the Manhattan institute put on former commissioner Bratton mentioned that the New York Police Department responds to something, and I could be wrong about this number, but I think it's 300,000 calls for emotionally disturbed people each year. To have mental health people respond to those calls, or at least the ones they could respond to, this is not a small incremental change.

Peter Moskos:

It would be a fundamental change that would require more money if nothing else. Ganesha, do you have any thoughts on this on the defund movement?

Ganesha Martin:

Yeah, absolutely. It goes back to what we're talking about earlier. It's just been politicized. If you actually set down police at the table with the folks who want to truly get to the heart of the defund movement, they would say, "Yeah, we've been saying this forever. When you guys call us constantly and tell us that we need to move along the homeless folks, we show up with guns, we show up with badges, we show up with tasers. We don't show up with anything that can actually serve those individuals, but yet we're the ones that are asked to respond." In Baltimore when, we tried to put together the best practice, a co-responder model, I had to go beg and borrow from foundations to pay for it.

Ganesha Martin:

It lasted a good two years, and then nobody would fund it. The one thing that folks aren't talking about enough, you can get into the line items of police budgets, but most of the time, they're 85% up to 90% paying salaries and pensions. When we talk about taking money from them, what we really should be talking about is do we want them to better function, but the other thing that's being left out of this conversation is the reason why we have so many people that are suffering from mental health issues on the streets, in our criminal justice system is the lack of resources and responsiveness.

Ganesha Martin:

We talk about systemic racism and policing, those same issues exist in social services and all of these places we want to take money from, and then take money from the police, and then give it to people who actually haven't proven that what they're doing is working in the first place. At the end of the day, black and brown people will continue to be the victims of that, and then the police will continue to get blamed because what's going to happen when that situation unravels and somebody becomes violent, then the police are going to still comment. I applaud a lot of departments including even Baltimore City and having the certification of CIT, additional 40 hours of training, making sure that the training is part of in-service and new recruit training, but there are people that have degrees in this stuff.

Ganesha Martin:

We're asking police to do this on top of everything else. I think it's a lot. If we actually stop again, I hate to overuse this, but hurling this back and forth as a political football and actually sit down, and look at the system in totality and how governments spend their money in the first place, there's a reallocation that probably needs to happen, but it's not simply just taken from police and given to other agencies.

Peter Moskos:

The last time I was in Baltimore doing a ride along in my old haunts in the eastern district, the officer I was riding with, I asked him about. I said, "Have you ever received in-service training you actually like that you thought was productive, that you thought was helpful because cops are notoriously hostile of having to sit in a room and get lectured at for eight hours?" He said, "City training was great, crisis intervention training." That surprised me and he said no... and I've heard that's not just a case study of one. It's not a formal study, but I hear this time and time again.

Peter Moskos:

I hear it in New York a lot too that it gives officers a different perspective on how to deal with people that they're already dealing with, and they found it incredibly useful. Well frankly, I found it surprising. Maybe you don't find that surprising, but I did.

Ganesha Martin:

Well Peter, just on that note though, we hired somebody specifically that that was her background, and she stayed at the academy. She stayed around for questions, she was there. It wasn't what happens oftentimes in police departments. We take police officers with a couple years on. You say, "You're smart, you're good at administration, go teach this class." That's not serving police. I think at least in part of why I was good in Baltimore is because we had the right person to teach our police officers. We made that investment.

Stephen Eide:

Yeah, and just to highlight something about the question of defund and resources and quality, CIT training, at some level, it's just a question of personnel. These calls take a long time to resolve. Are you okay with patrol officers taking two or three hours to resolve a situation with the person of crisis if that's how long it takes? Are you okay with patrol officers going off to check in on people who they had helped months before, instead of responding to 911 calls? The training does not necessarily have to be expensive, but you need to have enough personnel, enough cops to commit to doing these calls, and that's where you might get into a dangerous situation if you're cutting police departments willy-nilly, where a department may not be able to do the program in a quality way, even if it wants to do it.

Peter Moskos:

Yeah, the zero-sum world of our approach bothers me, and Ganesha pointed it out that and it's worth re-emphasizing that so much of the budget is labor, and you simply can't cut a police department budget easily. I mean especially if you don't talk to the police department. It's one thing if you said in five years we'd like to cut your funds 20%, let's figure out how to get there, but right now what we've seen are more vindictive cuts, simply to punish police departments. There is a... Go ahead. Oh, there's a question from Amelia who's watching this. How obstructive are cross-national comparisons? We hear about different approaches in different countries. I should mention one of the big differences is our guns.

Peter Moskos:

Western Europe does a lot of things right, but it's a very different approach to policing if you assume someone doesn't have a gun on them, but what can we learn from places in Western Europe or Asia or anywhere or Africa?

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

Well Peter, I'll tell you from 2015 to 2019, I was the president of the police executive research forum, which we have more than 3000 members internationally. We had published in 2015 a document the PERF 30, Re-Engineering Use of Force, and a lot of this was based off of with what Stephen said earlier with regards to when you look at the amount of officer-involved shootings each and every year, it's roughly about a thousand. It's close to like you said about 25% to 30% are shootings of individuals that are not armed with a gun.

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

If we just take out those that have guns and we just look at the 300 or so a year, where there's fatal involved shootings with officers that people that don't have guns, and we look at our European brethren in how they approach situations with people with edged weapons and the like, there were lessons to be learned from that. There were some really good takeaways that we learned from police Scotland when we went and spent time over there. Because a person that's mentally ill and most of your edged weapons, particularly you're dealing with urban environments or mentally ill generally do not have guns. Most of the mentally ill are going to be armed with an edged weapon or a blunt object.

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

A person with a mental illness and a knife standing at the corner of 57th and 10th in New York City is not much different than a person who's mentally ill standing on a corner in Glasgow, Scotland but...

Peter Moskos:

Wonder where I work...

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

I know, but the way the officers approach it in Scotland they don't have guns. How is it that they're doing it and not getting hurt, not getting injured, and not taking the life of the person that they're dealing with as well?

Peter Moskos:

I feel there's a trend to de-emphasize any police use of force, which I'm afraid by not resolving situations leads to more use of lethal force. You try a taser, it fails. A good chunk of the time, a third of almost a half of half the time, it doesn't work as intended, and then cops reach for their gun. Where is this great success story that we can emulate? We've been talking about reform for decades.

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

Well, I think that particularly if we're talking about de-escalation or total mental illness, we're talking about how officers use force in their situations, I think that it's a greater responsibility than just the police. I think when you start to look at first of all, the delegation of mental illness to police is wholly inappropriate, right? We've got young men and women, we give them a gun, we give them a badge, we give them a ticket book and a pair of handcuffs, and we tell them to go address an issue that a person who spent their entire life with a PhD studying it has yet to be able to figure out how to handle it. When we look at that approach, it's not necessarily having mental health people driving with cops.

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

That's not even fiscally possible. I think when you start to look at the system as a whole and even the call takers, how the call is coming in, how is it being given to the officer out in the field, and then when being able to train officers, the key point of what we learned from the UK when we brought that back to the United States, when we spoke to the ESU members and the SWAT members around the country, these were things that they were doing regularly. Our most trained officers were already utilizing these types of strategies and tactics, but as an industry, we were not arming, for life a better word, we were not training the people who were responding to this and giving them the same type of tools and the same type of abilities to handle the situation successfully as we do our specialized units.

Peter Moskos:

Let me rephrase a question from Mike. His question is that we live in an era, where national politics, largely eclipse local politics, and this gets to the question of reforming on a national or state level, when there's something like 17,000 individual police departments in America, though more are incredibly small, but let me add a twist to that as well, and this is something that's made me pessimistic recently because having been involved in this racket for two decades now, I've seen things get better incrementally working from within, which is not a very sexy way to do things right now.

Peter Moskos:

I'm worried that all that is for naught because now we are demanding perfection, because of individual incidents, because of social media, because of what happens somewhere else. I don't know if improvement is good enough anymore, at least politically. How can we reconcile? I mean there's going to be another bad shooting next month, I guarantee it. If perfection is the goal, we're doomed. How can we have a system of reform that does improve both substantively policing, but also satisfies the political winds of the time?

Daniel DiSalvo:

Well, maybe I'd say a quick word to that Peter. I think your question is an excellent one, which is what is reform trying to achieve to go back to basics. I think the consensus view in some ways right now is taking a step down from perfection. Meaning, no shootings of anyone who's unarmed or killings of unarmed civilians, but to go step well to certainly to reduce that number. Although as Scott mentioned earlier, the number of fatalities at the hands of police has held fairly constant. How much can that be brought down? That would be perhaps one goal. A second goal might be to reestablish, especially in large cities.

Daniel DiSalvo:

Again, as you mentioned, again our politics have become so nationalized, but really where are the issues that reform seems most pertinent is in our large to medium-sized urban environments with large minority communities, and it's particularly their relationship to police, how much policing over traffic stops, small stops on the street, how much is that undermining trust and those sorts of arrests.

Daniel DiSalvo:

That might be another dimension where re-establishing the connection with those communities is a end goal, and many people are alighted on the unions as police unions as an obstacle to this insofar, as the ensemble of job protections they've created through contracts and law has in a way shielded or so the argument goes a minority of let's say bad cops, that is the amount of most civilian complaints are about a minority of officers, and most violence stems from those. If you're not able to remove those officers from the force easily, or get them retrained, that's really where the problem is. There's some way to concentrate on that group, which seems to be the problem, and that's I could say that the consensus view today. I don't know if that helps advance our conversation.

Peter Moskos:

Yeah, I think it does. Another question that came up from Natalie is asked for Ganesha's views on where politics went off the rails in Baltimore. Do you have an opinion on that Ganesha?

Ganesha Martin:

I actually do, I really do, and one of these things why sometimes I'm super hopeful and then some days, I'm just like, "What can we really do?" I'm going to comment a little bit on what you just ask about the perfection and leave that into the Baltimore answer. There are about 18,000 police departments I think across the United States and while some people are asking for perfection, I also am still working in jurisdictions, where I've seen the N word used on video and in text. I think to the last point that if we treat policing almost like we say we want to treat violence and figure out how to get those rotten apples out of there, the ones that there's in Baltimore 150 complaints in his file.

Ganesha Martin:

There's no question when the murder of George Floyd happened, you guys know in policing that there were whispers that said, "I knew it." Everybody, "I knew it, he was crazy and he shouldn't have still been on the force." I think that there is a middle ground and unfortunately, that's not what we hear in the talking points. Everybody's talking from these different ends of the spectrum. As far as Baltimore goes, I don't know that this happens often in smaller towns, but when you have homicide rates and that's all anybody talks about, how many bodies have dropped today, and that's obviously very important particularly for the communities and the families who lose people, but the politicians, it begins again to be a talking point for election.

Ganesha Martin:

You had in Baltimore, I won't name names, the people who would get in front of cameras and talk about community policing and talk about reform. Then behind closed doors, they do whatever you got to do to stop the bodies from dropping, and I won't ask any questions which is how we got into a consent decree in the first place. There's that tension there. That police commissioner was fired because he couldn't stop people from shooting other people. It didn't matter what he was doing around reform. It didn't matter if he was improving community relations. He couldn't stop people from dying, and that's what happens across the country in a lot of jurisdictions.

Ganesha Martin:

As we talked about earlier, a lot of people are not going to stop dying until these things that we talked about, these systemic structural issues are addressed in a real way.

Peter Moskos:

Let me push back a little on that. If you could share the screen I put up, I'd appreciate it. This is about bodies dropping in Baltimore and arrests, and I should mention this year, in most American cities have seen huge unprecedented increases in shootings and murders. Certainly, policing in Baltimore has always had problems, but it's gotten worse. After 2015, murders went from 200 to above 300. If the consent decree and the reform movement doesn't address violence, I don't think this is a change for the better. Uou also see a huge drop in the arrests or the blue bars, the murders, the red line. You also see a huge drop in arrest.

Peter Moskos:

Now that can be good and if I went back further, if you go back to 2003, you'll see arrests dropping every year. They peaked at 120,000. There was this improvement, and then a reform commissioner came in. I think did make a lot of change for change's sake. I don't want to get too much into specifics, but abolishing the post system or officers took responsibility for a little geographic area into...

Ganesha Martin:

Just so you know Peter, that was a different chief. I'm talking about Kevin Davis and you're talking about Anthony Batts. [Crosstalk 00:46:14] Just so you know, and that's a conversation we can have offline by the way, but I will also say that we've seen it, you're the smart person, and I do mean that by like statistics and all that. I really want an answer for why violence has increased so dramatically in places that had in custody that Chicago and Freddie Gray and all that in Baltimore, but here's the difference in Baltimore, and I think this is a big factor. You had a prosecutor that charged police with a murder. She charged folks with murder, okay, and people watched those police officers faces get explained again across CNN.

Ganesha Martin:

They were losing their houses. I'm not making a comment one way or the other on whether there were issues there, but murder. I think you had a lot of police in Baltimore saying and their family saying watch yourself, and that decision became a very different. I'm not saying that the consent decree didn't play into people's minds, but I would say that watching police officers prosecuted for murder for over a year by our state's attorney was a significant factor in both people feeling more bold to use their guns and to also for police to be hesitant to be as proactive.

Peter Moskos:

The state's attorney in that case never approved got one no convictions and never actually showed a crime. It was a bizarre trial to say the least, but I think you're right that it was a real turning point because quite frankly, and often it gets linked to police pulling back. Cops said, "Oh, if you don't want us to clear drug corners, we won't." They got the message. The question is whether that was a good message.

Stephen Eide:

Peter, if I may respond to your initial question about optimism versus pessimism. One possible evidence for optimism could be the experience of addressing corruption and then NYPD over a very long period of time. As you may be aware, the New York City Police Department had a reputation as being just incredibly corrupt, way before Serpico going back really over a century. It was always corrupt, and there used to be this really city-wide scandal that shook the news on about every generation. They'd say it happened about 30 years. In the late '80s, as a result of a commission that Mayor Dinkins put in place led by Ray Kelly, that cycle seems to have been broken.

Stephen Eide:

Yes, NYPD, other police departments still have corruption scandals, but people without a sense of the history really have no understanding of how bad it used to be. We have a wide ranging debate over police reform, but generations ago, their debate was only about corruption, and that is a problem that we seem to have gotten our arms around and have and have addressed. In that respect, at least the history can be useful to keep in mind.

Peter Moskos:

It is that things have gotten better. I should also give Baltimore some credit. It is one of the cities this year that has not seen an increase in shootings and murders. Hopefully, that's the start of a good trend there. I also want to remind the audience that you can submit questions via the on screen prompt, but you just raised a very good point about how much progress has been made, not only in corruption in the NYPD over the past decades, but back in the '70s in New York, cops used to shoot literally hundreds of people a year. Last year, I think it was 12. Unfortunately, we always have a problem with data. I do like giving a plug from the Fatal Encounters website because it is better than the Washington Post.

Peter Moskos:

For people interested in police use of lethal force, Fatal Encounters is good for the stat nerds out there, but all the cities that you can get data for, we've seen cops use less force. I'm talking decades here, but there is reason for optimism in this. We brought down violent crime in the '90s and the 2000s. I'm just worried we're moving in the wrong direction now. Can someone else give me some hope for the future?

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

Well Peter, look, you're right that progress has been made in many regards with the reduction of crime and particularly, if you came on the police in the early '90s like I did. Being behind the scenes then and being behind the scenes today, although the national narrative seems to be much worse about police today, it's far better than what it was 20 years ago, 25 years ago. The caliber of the officer that I feel is much better today, which is also a caveat for defunding because if you start to cut resources from organizations, these are the people you're going to lose. These are the people that are the lifeblood to the organization. When we had our layoffs, we lost everybody with 14 years or less.

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

We're having trouble nationally attracting good people, the type of people the community wants. We're having difficulties getting those people to come to be police officers because of the narrative that is out there. I don't think anybody said this here, but I don't want there to be a notion that police have to be utilize, be given free reign to be able to reduce crime. I don't think anybody that that's proven to be effective anywhere. In fact, I think it's just been the opposite, is that the ends don't justify the means and that short-term gains can really put you on the wrong side of the statistics in the long run and polarizing the community. I think that we have technologies today...

Peter Moskos:

On the flip side, isn't there also a tendency never to give police credit when they actually effectively use legitimate, moral constitutional and legal tactics to bring down crime? Then people just say, "Well, it must be because we got rid of lead gas in the '70s."

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

Well look, for better or for worse or right or wrong, I think that's just the expectation. I think people expect us to do our jobs, and I don't know if I necessarily disagree with a lot of that. I think that look, we come into this job knowing that there's inherent risks. It's an extremely challenging career, and what doesn't help getting back to one of the earlier things is when we do have an incident, is that there is a political reaction for a utopian outcome, and defunding the police is not the answer. We need police because we have a society that has really bad people that need to be intercepted by somebody when they pull out a gun and start doing really bad things.

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

Whether that's beating spouses, molesting children, pulling out a gun and shooting up a neighborhood, somebody has got to go at 3:00 in the morning and intersect that individual. So long as we have that and we're going to always have that, we need to invest in those folks. We need to give them the tools, the technology, and the experiences so that they can be successful in resolving those issues.

Peter Moskos:

We don't have much time left. Maybe I'd like to hear from each of you. Maybe I'll start with Daniel. The question is, is there some reform, lower hanging fruit, something that is feasible that could be done that would make things better?

Daniel DiSalvo:

It's a tough question. I mean what we've seen is a vast majority of the states have passed new laws in the wake of George Floyd's killing. You could say it's tackling what they see as the low-hanging fruit, and you can look at what's been already enacted. Meaning, basically clamping down on certain police tactics, like the use of choke holds, the expansion of the use of body cameras in places that hadn't used them previously, or hadn't deployed them very much, but really most of that's really low, as you suggested, low hanging fruit. In my view, there isn't much low-hanging fruit to be picked.

Daniel DiSalvo:

Especially in bigger places as you mentioned like New York, the police are not very violent for the size of the city, for the size of the police force. It's not clear that there's some easy reform that could easily improve the performance of the NYPD, which is a very professional police department...

Peter Moskos:

That to me is a form of low-hanging fruit because why not take some of the departments that do better and apply those lessons, figure out what those lessons are of course, and that's the hard part, but apply them to departments that do something worse. There's such a divergence of measurable behavior in terms of complaints, arrest, use of force among different police departments. The police departments that shoot a lot of people are all out west. They're medium-sized cities like Albuquerque and Tulsa and Bakersfield. I mean, I don't know if you have the answer to this, but why can't we take best practices and apply them to other departments? Maybe Ganesha maybe is that a role of a consent?

Peter Moskos:

Do the consent decrees play into that? I mean police executive research forum tries to spread certain practices, but that gets a lot of pushback. How can we improve the good?

Ganesha Martin:

Yeah. I think part of the issue is, and I just hate to say this is, so much of this comes down to leadership. I mean I've seen departments that people count it down to have a person that comes in and can really push reform. There's pros and cons to consent decrees, right? The pros for the consent decrees, I was begging for money for technology and for training and for all those things for years, and I didn't get it until the consent decree came. Just in Baltimore not too long ago, Judge [Badar 00:56:49], the federal judge over the consent decree said, "I hear what everybody's talking about, but there's no defunding of this police department under this consent decree."

Ganesha Martin:

Those forced investments that people do not politicians, and sometimes community do not want to give to police departments I think the consent decree that's helpful. I don't know if this is easy or not, but one thing that I've been thinking about is it's been in the news to this duty to intervene. I think that there's something there, but on the flip side of it, we've got to look out and protect for those ones who actually do intervene, make sure they don't get bust down to the midnight shift or demoted, or they drop a 13 and no backup comes. Somebody mentioned doing it from the inside, and I think there's a lot to be said for that. The other thing that I would say, and this is super hard, it sounds easy, but it's super hard is communication.

Ganesha Martin:

It's just a cultural thing, and I don't mean this in a bad way, but police just say, "I do what I do and I get it done and don't go and tell everybody about it," but one thing that I have found that just really lowers the temperature so much was that telling the community stuff early and often, when that major incident happens, it's going to probably happen in anybody's jurisdiction. You have a little bit of change in the bank, maybe not dollars, but just some change in the bank to draw down on. I think that that's something that if we could really get chiefs comfortable with that communication early and often, I think that that would be helpful as well.

Peter Moskos:

Scott, Daniel building on that, Daniel mentioned leadership. You work in Camden for a long time. How important is a continuity of leadership in the department? We are running out of time here.

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

Yeah, and the short answer is for me, it was extremely important. I was the sixth leader in five years. Essentially organizationally, there was a very strong current that people existed in, and that current was dictated by labor, by the union. They were more powerful than any police leader. They were more powerful and more influential than any elected leader, and part of the charge that I had when I became chief was to change the flow of that water and to put it in a new direction. It's not easy, and it's not just a culture, I mean a policy exercise because we know that culture eats policy for breakfast. It's not just a unilateral police chief, or police department effort. It needs political support.

Chief J. Scott Thomson:

It needs support of the people, the other agencies, the schools and the light to help be able to facilitate that change.

Peter Moskos:

Thanks. We are out of time. Stephen, do you have any [crosstalk 00:59:57].

Stephen Eide:

Just really quickly quick reform. I'd like to see more of application of concept. Police reform is about accountability. Let's talk about account accountability for other service systems as well. When the number of mentally ill people in jail goes up, when a mentally ill person gets shot, what service provider gets their contract cut? What officials are forced to resign? When does that ever happen? Until we see that type of accountability for other service systems, then shifting these resources to upstream alternatives is not going to get us anywhere, and hopefully that's where we're going with this accountability debate.

Peter Moskos:

Thank you everyone. This has been the best hour I've heard in police discussion in a while. I'm going to turn this back over to Hannah who's going to say some closing remarks, but really thank you everybody.

Hannah Meyers:

Thank you so much to our moderator and our panelists. What an incredible meaty discussion about police reform, and so helpful for all of us thinking about what to advocate for and how to have these discussions to move toward positive change. Before we close and using my micro machine man speed, I would like to invite our public audience to sign up on our website to receive updates from the policing and public safety initiative, including information about upcoming events. This Thursday, October 15th, we have an exciting panel entitled Policing While Black, Focusing on the Perspectives of Black Police Executives.

Hannah Meyers:

For that, we are lucky to have former Baltimore PD acting commissioner, Anthony Barksdale former, NYPD Chief of housing, James Secreto and groundbreaking CUNY graduate center professor and director, Michael J. Fortner and as our moderator at Manhattan Institute, senior fellow Coleman Hughes. It should be very exciting this Thursday. On our website, you can also browse the Manhattan Institute's research and subscribe to our newsletters and if you are able, please do consider supporting the institute at the link you see below. MI is a non-profit organization, and our work depends on support from people like you. Thank you so much panelists and watchers for such a fantastic event.

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