Is Police Brutality Systemic or Anecdotal?

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I came across an interesting piece on The American Conservative arguing the proposition that police brutality is not just anecdotal, but systemic. If we think of the incentives facing police officers, this shouldn’t be too surprising. If you’re in a job where there is an above-average likelihood where you will be required to engage in the use of force and the certainty of punishment should you use excessive force is rather low, there is a greater chance, all else equal, that you will use excessive force. Add into the mix that police officers are self-selected from people who find the ability to use physical force on the job an attractive proposition. Furthermore, there are institutional incentives for police officers to disregard misconduct by their fellow officers, as they face retaliation in the forms of ostracism among other police officers, a smaller chance of promotion, and even the threat of physical force should they report this misconduct.

Thus, to say police brutality is systemic is not to say that all or even the majority of police officers are bad. It is talking about the system (thus, “systemic). And, again, these are the kinds of things we should expect from monopolies, which police departments are: you cannot fire them and you have no choice but to pay them unless you skip town.

Ultimately, I would encourage everyone to treat the institution of government policing with a bit more scrutiny than it typically receives. It may be the case that you live in a place that has a relatively well-functioning police department, and if that’s the case, be grateful. But realize that not all departments have the same good institutional culture and if it does not, it is incredibly hard to fix, due to its monopoly status.

H/T to disobey.tumblr.com

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