Tuesday, September 8, 2020

In the Name of the Law

I wonder how much of the way that policing operates in the United States stems from the belief, on the part of the general public, that every fearsome crime committed today can be traced back to a failure of the police to capitalize on an opportunity to detain the perpetrator yesterday. If heads are more likely to roll for the false negative of releasing a suspect who goes on to victimize someone than the false positive of killing someone who turns out to be innocent, that incentive alone can be called upon to explain the current situation.

But perhaps the more immediate concern is the perceived inability of police officers on the scene to accurately distinguish between people who constitute an immediate threat to their own lives and safety and people who do not. In a culture that would rather be "judged by twelve than carried by six" there is a clear incentive to ensure that all errors are false positives. And this is exacerbated by a reluctance to examine the role that police actions themselves play in creating scenarios in which the false negative condition becomes a matter of life and death.

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