tv After Words Rosa Brooks Tangled Up in Blue CSPAN March 20, 2021 9:59pm-11:00pm EDT
>> hi everyone. thank you for joining us here in houston texas i am honored and happy to visit with rosa brooks, the author of an interesting book about policing and her experience with policing the american city. rosa, thanks for being on and having me. i look forward to this conversation but i will start off with one pressing question. what in the world made you leave the confines of the classroom and your home to go get treated as a police officer in washington dc? >> if you ask my family that they would say insanity or a
midlife crisis. i was curious. that was the driving force. when i found out dc has a reserve officer program not just directing traffic that can become a sworn armed police officer i said that's crazy. you will give a gun to a law professor? that idea. just playing curiosity and as you know very well, policing has been in the spotlight for some years now and if you want to change something you need to understand and doing this seemed like a rare opportunity to get more insight into the world of policing. >> you remind me of when you say that my lawyer that handles employee matters, she came from shell oil.
why do you come here? >> she said this is my final moment. and she still here but your answer from the inside the front-line police officer to see first-hand i think the reality of policing outside of the 24 hour news cycle which is the 32nd or three minute by or hollywood that we know is not the most accurate. but you say to propose we need a truly transformative response had you defined the change that is needed and what does that look like to you based on several years of experience? >> that is a big question. let me back up by saying when i was working on this book and
telling people i was working on this book they would say what is your argument? what is the one sentence version of your argument? it's complicated people will say that's the worst elevator pitch i ever heard and they were right. but i think i was right. it is complicated and in some ways the goal of the book is to make things more complicated policing from the inside. not to make it more simple you have seen this over and over with whiplash those that are sacrificing under appreciating heroes as brutal racist thugs it can be brutal to more nuance that says they are good players bad players mixed up together and if we want to transform policing, we need to be grappling with all of that. in terms of what would make it
better, part of it, police cannot change the laws by themselves. >> and police get the blame for enforcing laws that they didn't create. and it's a way for the rest of us to say cops are arresting people for trivial offenses will be voted for the lawmakers that allow the cops to do that if you look at long prison sentences and mass incarceration, a lot of that is prosecutor and judges and lawmakers. that is number one. that something cops can't change but we as a society need to change the massive over criminalization over the last couple of decades with
the sentences and the cost of other social services to do things they don't have to do anymore but that said there's a lot of things police departments need to be doing. one of the difficulties with policing we have no national police force but 18000 law enforcement agencies and they don't want to talk to each other. i think they ought to so it is very hard even if someone is innovative and promising it is tough to get everybody to pay attention. the cities ahead of the game or the departments have really focused on changing training who they recruit, the incentive structures and i'm happy to talk more about that and actually more of what's going on in houston i had the pleasure through a program that georgetown cosponsored with the new orleans police dc
metropolitan police with police academy and staff working on curriculum at your academy. that is a lot of fun. >> one of the things you mentioned in your book that policing isn't as perfect and it's not broken like someone think. what's interesting to me that both factions of those mindsets are deeply held beliefs. what do you attribute how can we be diametrically so different in our perception? people fail to see things through the prism of others. you have a unique perspective because you are a law
professor as i constitutional expert and what we are supposed to be doing and the intent of our founders versus the theory and the case law and the reality we experience on the street. from your perspective what could you say if you were talking not to defined the police but abolish the police? what would you say to those who say on the policing side what are they whining about? how? because we find ourselves and executives are holding the department to a standard and a mindset and a level of professionalism expected by the public how do you address
those two of your evidence and informed perspective to walk in our shoes? >> i learned one by getting older nobody's mind was ever change by telling people they are stupid or evil. that is not an effective way to do something different. we live in a political culture that lends itself to soundbites and slogans and stereotypes it doesn't limit itself very well to a more nuanced discussion. but and many of my students is luck filing crime is real.
is not something the far right made up to lockup for people of color. there is racism in the system. absolutely. we need to address that. but be careful what you wish for would you talk to people who live in poor communities of color they are not homogeneous themselves. it's not that we don't want cops in our neighborhood. we would cops we can trust we don't know policing that better policing. were respectful policing and bigger and better laws. and that it does resonate with people and to defend the police. and then cops get super defensive when they hear that. and the seventh district has
the most decrepit police station in the city. if you say we should defend the police and say have you seen her station? have you see my equipment? we don't have enough resources to do what we're doing now. if you take the money away, that why? that is the polite version of their response. >> will let the viewers imagine the other version. but if you say to cops something different what are the things that you do that frustrate you that you wish you didn't have to do or don't thank you should be doing? if you take a mentally ill person to the emergency psychiatric clinic and you are
frustrated because they will be back on the street without medication or home the next day and they say there are millions of things i wish the city provided. into studying we pick up the slack because those programs. then it gets into a much healthier conversation where you say let's work together critics in police to talk about what this communities priorities are and how we get them in the ideal world and how far away are we now or gradually recalibrating investment? and that's what i thank you have common ground between police officers themselves and critics of policing. >> i thank you are spot on. there is a way to talk about issues and people forget words matter like when president trump talked about roughing them up don't be so kind and
gentle. were police officers were clapping and unfortunately that didn't help us but words matter and elected officials talk about these issues. for example abolish i.c.e. that scares the heck out of people because i.c.e. is focused on bad actors. and they have a legitimate function. going after people there a danger to society. so how do you approach the conversation is interesting. one of the things i have been frustrated about that you talk about the guard mentality. i have been telling folks we
need to look at instances of unjustified uses of force especially done the use of force. i would argue 37 years of experience because what we need and there are times i'm sure you have witnessed you have to have the heart of a warrior because i would argue over the years we had people that were cops securing a badge and a gun afraid of their own shadow were talking about we need to make the police academy warmer, gentler, like a college environment adheres i would caution if we cannot test your battle with aptitude whether adversity or psychological adversity, and
would hate not to be able to read somebody out and go straight for the gun like a 17 -year-old african-american young man broad daylight in my office at the time encounters him with a gun in his hand. we cannot assess that mindset and fear in a training environment? if you have that experience of the coppin how do we balance that or should we? >> it is a hard issue. i don't think it is either/or. >> a retired chair from key on - - king county sheriff and now part of the academy the program who wrote a very influential article for our listeners called guardians
versus warriors. one of the things she always says that i thought was important point in their law enforcement academy they really beefed up trading on de-escalation and verbal skills just how you talk to people say you're not shouting at them in giving orders because just as nobody ever change their mind when you told him they were stupid or a jerk people are a lot less likely to do what you say when you sound like you are a jerk instead of being kind or polite or courteous they beefed up the training on de-escalation skills and tactics of slowing down and give yourself time and space and distance cover and conceal sedo create dangers yourself at the same time they really beefed up the defensive tactics and physical skills training.
and her argument which i think is right lethal police shootings it turns out the person who didn't pose a threat or were unarmed or threat are running away, a cop panic's. people pulled out the weapon when they panic. if they don't have confidence they can handle a situation without a gun they are more likely to pull out the gun. her area of emphasis is to say you have to be better at those physical skills see of the confidence to get into a situation and don't reach for the gun if somebody pushes you or punches you but at the same time you need to get better at the soft skills. how do you call people down or treat them in a way to reduce the likelihood that somebody gets aggressive and violent? >> having gone through this
experience and this adventure in this moment so what was your perception of policing from the outside looking in? and after your several years of the experience in a challenging environment, how did that perception change how much ended up not being reality? >> at an of my perception changed but i got much more granular. on the one hand i grew up in a family of left-wing activists and my mother said the police are the enemy forgot the same time growing up in a blue-collar town where a lot of my friends had cops and their families so i did know them is just people as somebody's dad or brother. and all the work i've done all over the world, including
places of horrific civil conflicts and atrocities, terrible things happen even the worst things are done by ordinary people who have come to believe that they have to do it they are doing. there are psychopaths but going in i am immediately suspicious when i hear people say anything that seems to dehumanizing for the remnants of the communities that they work in and i've heard that from some officers it's also dehumanizing when protesters call police pigs. i smell bacon. there all sorts of things we cannot say on this program.
but it is human beings and everywhere i have gone in my whole life you have human beings better and ones and worse 17 that sense much more sense of the way the sense of the real tragedy and what is wrong with policing cannot be change with police with a criminal justice system is a social economic divisions that are the legacy of racism and cops cannot change that. what that means even if you are a good decent police officer going into for the most idealistic reasons you may still find yourself those that are lawful but awful but that when you look at the big
picture to do the cost-benefit analysis you say is this making the community better off? maybe not maybe it makes the things worse. so they can end up making a structural disparities and that is a tragedy but also not something the cops can fix by themselves. the rest of us have to fix that. >> it is a system. >> those on body cameras or cctv but our actions and that disproportionality so if you just look at sentencing over the years in terms of a crack or powder cocaine and how people are treated differently
and which community in which source, do you think a lot of the anger sometimes that people tend to send toward police officers may be a manifestation of other aspects like prosecutors? look at the defense bar. who gets a better defense a more rigorous defense? i see personalities all the way around. maybe anger and mistrust is a place it is the most visible part of the system were maybe it lies somewhere else seeming to be clear police departments have a lot of work to do in the dc police department
, which is a good police department but still not perfect and has a lot of work to do, don't want to let them off the hook, that being said, you are absolutely right and you know my colleague kristi lopez working at the justice department many years investigating the most abusive police departments in the country like in missouri and the point she always makes when we teach together innovative policing you guys , you will be the legislature, the prosecutors and defense attorneys and even if you're none of those things don't vote for the people who make the laws and don't go saying the problem is the cops you have to be a part of that change when you're grown up in
a prosecutor and the judge or on the city council you cannot just point fingers at the police because they will enforce the laws that you make. they will prosecute the people you bring to them. no question about it. it's always easier to have a target and police are obvious. the obvious space of the state's coercive powers. it is simpler and easier to direct the anger at them. people don't see behind the scenes. i want to let cops off the hook. there's quite a bit they could do differently but no question, the rest of us need to take a long hard look in the mirror. >> i would agree with that. we have been arguing in my role as the role in the association testifying about reform in both houses of congress and senate and i had the honor testifying in the house and one of the things i talked about is we need
transparency. with the federal government you talk about everybody else pointing the finger you need to be transparent or more cameras are put out roche on - - racial profiling data then you look at the federal government where are their reports cracks when did they wear body cameras went last and actually charged in officer with a crime with use of deadly force or found use of deadly force? i always say points of reference. you cannot truly assess what is in front of you if you have nothing to compare it to. this is my third police department i was the chief in austin spent a decade there then in houston. i have community points of reference and department point of reference. you cannot truly assess something unless you have something to compare it to. the question i would ask you, where is the transparency
with the rest of the criminal justice system? should we be demanding more transparency with our courts and prosecutors and defense attorneys? seeing that is part of your life work as the law. >> i don't know if i would say the problem is lack of transparency as opposed to lack of political will. in dc going through the criminal code, dc is a weird city because we have federal law enforced by dc police and minute on - - visible code. there are lots of offenses on the books that are so ridiculous and trivial they should not be criminal offenses at all in my point of view but nobody goes through it or says that see if this still make sense. that cost-benefit analysis to
say we could arrest 500 people over disorderly conduct those that have small amounts at present time or have a big find let's go look at families and any complainants or victims if anybody is better off or if everybody is worse off as a result they don't have to have those conversations and that's the conversation we need to have stop and frisk in new york city declare their program unconstitutional because of what they were doing it turns out definitely an error over transparency. when you actually look at the numbers carefully, the police in new york city were stopping a disproportionate number of african-americans relative to the size of the population but
the african-americans they stopped were less likely to have weapons they and the white people they stopped that also frankly means cops overestimate threats on african-americans and underestimate threats from whites. both of those are problems. both of those have to do with implicit bias. i cannot help you mentioned in this regard the events of januah on the us capital, the showcases the best and the worst of policing at the same time. the juxtaposition of the heavy militarized police response in comparison with a seemingly light response to the largely white mob of trump supporters on the bad side we also saw a lot of officers behaving heroically on the positive side but that implicit bias is dangerous.
it means you overestimate some threats you treat almost racial justice protesters like they are about to storm the capital and they are not then you teargas them now you have angry and absurd people on - - upstate on - - and upset people and underestimate the real threat from people wearing thin blue line shirts we underestimate that we are biased in favor of thinking a bunch of white people they cannot be out to do harm but that was the real threat. >> i thought that i was so proud of the police officers that put everything on the line trying to protect and defend the seat of government and the people's house. i believe it was the failure of leadership but as we continue, and we've actually called for a robust inquiry or
inquisition into what occurred. i think we'll find out law enforcement leadership failed that we may find out some political leadership failed a say we should leave the experts to the assessment and then hold them accountable but there were a lot of mistakes made just beyond the executives but it absolutely was a failure. what we saw on the seventh around the capital is a footprint based on the open source data of the threats and intelligence. a very open call for action on the fifth of january. not on the seventh. i look forward to getting those results i hope the police chiefs are a part of it not just the federal government and the politicians decide to use because people want to get to the truth not
just the outcome from the beginning of the conversation. talk about implicit bias, the difference between those that are successful or those that realize i'm acting this way because i have a fear. as you went out there to the call, did you ever find yourself on a call where i let my own implicit bias have an impact on my mindset or fear? it means you are human. we all have them. did you have that moment? it could be toward something
you didn't even expect. >> yes. it is a good question. it's a hard question. i think you're right. sometimes i talked to cops to get defensive when you talk about implicit bias. they say i'm not racist. but saying to them this isn't about you and your decisions the implicit bias we all have. we get them so early in our life. they come from media and people around us. you cannot just wish them away but you can try to be conscious of them and make sure you don't give into them. and it's not your fault but it is your responsibility to try to fix it and counter bias those biases we all have. when i think about it of a specific instance off the top of my head but there were moments i go into a terrible neighborhood in terms of crime rates in end up talking to
somebody who was really thoughtful or smart or educated and i would find myself a little surprised that is implicit bias the intellectually and i was wrong because i know this is a poor neighborhood everybody amy is poorly educated. that is not true. i do think i caught myself in some moments of making assumptions that probably came out of my own bias and being embarrassed when i realized how erroneous those assumptions were. >> we have all been there. i think the fact you are into with yourself and your own internal subconscious and biases and fears is important to being successful. something you talked about, you
said domestic violence situation how mandatory arrest law have gone too far and defined a family to broadly. let me give you an example of something i did hear. when i got here in houston, we have to contact the das office from officers in the field to accept charges before your arrest people. >> it sounds like a good idea. i don't like that because transparencies and then as a police chief and then to
handle the calls spirit do it where the stars? >> i do. that i remember early on in my career with the domestic violence scene and i don't want to intervene so to make a long story short and arrest should be made. and the officer comes back and says the da decline charges. so what i did, again, we can follow up later i just want to see how the system works. i came to the opinion based on the size of the city, had a sneaking suspicion two things were happening. the underreporting facts or
they are lazy or whatever but we have some views to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt beyond one - - on the side of the road instead of probable cause. so then they start to see where the da is not taking charges so the charges went up because in my opinion nobody will get killed not that they need to be prosecuted are going to jail but to get them on the right path. having heard all that i want to get your reaction and your thoughts on domestic violence calls. >> it is another hard problem with the mandatory arrest rule if there is probable cause and
you have to make an arrest and to identify the primary objector excuse me if you can't do that if they are both aggressors and the reasoning behind that is the battle you get a husband and/or boyfriend abusing or beating his wife or girlfriend that they work it out and that was a huge problem and intended to say you can't just do that and work it out it is your private business but the problem over the years expanding what is defined as a domestic relationship so adult siblings who share the same household or even and former housemates from several years ago have a
domestic relationship. you don't have that same power imbalance is the classic spousal abuse situation there is one arrested talk about briefly and neither of them had a criminal record and then as the primary aggressor and then someone to take care of their son and that's just stupid so that is the law that needs to be seriously re-examined but the broader point highlights arresting people doesn't solve every problem and there are situations getting somebody
out even if not prosecuted everybody cools off thinking is not such a hot idea. and those that are violent criminals. i'm fine with them not going to jail and those that are product on - - predators causing tremendous suffering but i do think that a lot of the calls we get in dc or houston that can't be solved with cops they are poor it's a substance they are addicted to family dispute they cannot figure how to resolve, teenagers are not listening to them. whatever it may be they don't feel they have anywhere to turn visible face of the states and that's also why they are called to think who can help me?
the government whose the government? so it's such a tremendously difficult problem. another issue that you raise do we train officers well enough to establish probable cause? there is also an issue there and wish we had more data in dc 30 percent of arrest made by dc metropolitan police means the prosecutor i'm not going anywhere let the person go. were not doing anything. we don't know if that 30 percent consist if they didn't establish probable cause or that's mostly the cases where the prosecutor
thought that is the dumbest most trivial arrest i have seen and i don't waste one penny more public money prosecuting this person for something so trivial. if it's the first one to train police officers better than you'd have those between the community what the priority should be so when they accept the domestic violence cases they do have discretion should make an arrest should i give a warning that the prosecutors are thinking why are you bringing us these cases that are so trivial not worth the public time and money to go forward, the cops should know that that would affect what they do with that situation the next time. >> it's interesting you say
that. and then approval to take charges. don't want anybody to be prosecuted. those probable cause feelings are going through the roof. if there is a reject and it was a no probable cause ruling we are pulling those reports having supervisors have a look at them and making sure it's not the actual case and that's a good point. so how is the way you talk about policing these issues to
your students changed? does it change on not one - - at all what used to say and talk about her as a result of your experience the front-line police officer? >> i answer that because i didn't start until i started this way national security law that's what i taught until i started to do this then i thought doing reserve officer stuff they should learn more about criminal procedure in the best way to learn is what forces you to learn it and while having this experience. >> christie lopez drives home when you think about the situation, ask yourself two questions if it looks like an awful thing happened as a result of policing, is this
something cops could change by themselves or the rest of us have to change? when you think about what decision a judge should have made, ask what you know about the incentives and whether the world would make a difference so to give you an example if police officers don't know or care is somebody subsequently gets convicted it is the exclusionary rule where the court will throw out illegally with the fourth amendment doesn't have any great effect on their behavior. if you're thinking it's not my job to put people away forever is my job to arrest them then you don't care if it doesn't go anywhere. on the other hand, my job performance is evaluated and
then just to push them to recognize devil more granular understanding that it is very localized in order to figure out what the relationship would be between judges interpret the law and how officers on the ground actually behave. >> i agree. you touched on this earlier. we have the most inefficient and ineffective policing model of the free world of the civilized and industrialized world. 18000 police departments with a thousand police officers. with those policies and procedures and training and regimented levels of accountability and a proponent for consolidation of the police agencies i believe the
taxpayer gets more buck for the bank the accountability will be better everybody wants local control. those go from one officer. not making this at to the department like the houston police department with 5300 police officers combined. >> what impact of consolidation or policing services? what impact could it have said impact we are having in this country? know department for the municipality of traffic enforcement as a fund-raising mechanism? is not just that department it seems like every mile there is
a new municipality going for a mile and a half with a new jurisdiction. >> and every mile there is a police car waiting. >> and the speed signs change. we have seen is across the country. what should we do and does that have an impact? >> i haven't thought about it in terms of consolidation but that is an interesting way to approach the problem. and i have often thought the things we read about in the papers and see on tv involve big city police departments there's a reason because journalist live in big cities and they know how to get information to journalist those are under a constant spotlight.
that's not a bad thing because knowing we'll face public scrutiny is appropriate if they give cops weapons and badges to take whether liberty it's appropriate to expect they will face scrutiny but there has been a lot more pressure on city departments to be accountable and clean up their act because they know they are under that scrutiny. i worry much more about the tiny little apartment nobody thinks about we have no idea what's going on because they are too small. they are below the radar screen have a feeling that's we you can find a lot of really bad stuff. i don't want to paint everybody with the same brush i am sure there are multiple small county sheriff and police department all over the country but that lack of scrutiny and transparency is scary. so to get that problem that
congress was so inclined could do. congress cannot control directly state municipal enforcement but can use the power of the purse and those that go where the money is. there are massive grants if you conform to the standards or agree to the process or a training curriculum that looks like this you have a lot of money. a lot of departments will say okay. that would be great i will do that. is not a big deal it's a powerful tool we have not used enough and certainly under president trump that was not his administration's priority at all. >> he tried to use it to enforce immigration.
>> and of course we have to be careful because as administrations come and go like executive orders that they like the president they like them that they hate the president they hate them so congress has to do their job we have to be careful with that. you have a very unique perspective coming from a family of progressives of a legal scholar but i like to say that one of the channels we have we live in the 24 hour news cycle. bad policing happened in four years ago something else and in four years later i get hate mail like it just happened today in my jurisdiction.
and here is a challenge as i see it. here in houston we have 50000 mental health crisis per year or more. we end up killing somebody went sideways on a mental crisis and with my assessment and then to have time and distance on time and training. and then to utilize time and distance and numbers and concealment. they will be held accountable for those tactical considerations. >> obviously the union wasn't happy but that's not why i'm here. but the sad truth is that one
incident made people forget the fact we are learning site for the rest of the country. we had tens of thousands go right. of that experience you write about in the book, what percentage do you think? not malfeasance but what we control we control our own hearts. what percentage do you think is bad policing or cops doing the right thing? >> the bad apple. >> i saw very few bad apples and very few moments when i thought anybody was doing anything worse than being a little more of a jerk then they had to be in some minor ways. i saw some comments that disturbed me that cops made
away from the public that my experience was working with goat good people who are doing their best to solve their problems and that is something i do emphasize to my students as you said in the beginning people get the sense that being a cop going from shooting seen to high-speed chase and our homicide investigation it is much more mundane and positive the reality is you are getting calls because somebody's neighbors party is too noisy or thereby got stolen that kind of stuff over and over or a burglar alarm went off somebody shoplifted. you do get the shootings and
homicides in the violent crime but but the shift for any given officer dealing with people who are upset. i'm so upset when he was having a loud party and makes a difference to say turn the music down the kids next-door can't sleep normally they say sorry about that but also very rarely did i encounter hostility even in the neighborhood you might expect it. they were cooperative and polite. partly because they know you are there because somebody called you and wanted you to come. and that i think people do miss that does not excuse any of the abuses or bad behavior. >> so the fact you have decent
people who really are helping people doesn't for one single second excuse the bad things but it's important for people to understand this is parallel thinking of military and national security and the marine corps has a strategic corporal and the idea is the guy that pete on the koran and the protest all around the islamic world. was he representative of us forces? know. low ranking soldier. his own stupid of noxious act and it led to chaos for us forces globally. the concept of the strategic porthole was to say there's no such thing as a purely tactical even the lowest
ranking person is a do something particularly bad the whole world would know about it ten minutes later because somebody would have another cell phone we need to train people for that not just to the low ranking soldiers do what you are told we need to have them understand here is the mission in the challenges you are facing we need them to be critical thinkers and a nuanced understanding of what it is were trying to do because we have to expect and is totally fair people well put up under a microscope if you give them that much power they have to expect that level of scrutiny. it is hard and does create stress for officers that feeling even if i just make that honest mistake to forget to put on my a body camera, they're not trying to hide something they just forget and cop say if i make a
mistake people think i'm a monster to hide my abusive behavior. i cannot handle the pressure. it is hard but cops have to deal with it because that's the world we live in. >> thank you for writing the book i hope people will read it and thank you for taking the challenge about learning policing from the inside out is that of the inside and thank you for the conversation. >>
of my life with a level of detail i had not anticipated. but i found myself telling the stories i have been telling verbally most of my life. some you tell them because they are so funny let me tell you what happened you will not believe this. it is humor with the greek immigrant father and misunderstandings. that the book became something different than i intended. and i have to be honest and say i almost didn't know what i had. i thought i hope this makes sense i have told the story and the feedback has been fantastic so i'm not as worried as i was but initially i'm not sure what i have here needs to be a great read and a literary memoir with yale university