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← How we can make racism a solvable problem -- and improve policing

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Showing Revision 11 created 09/10/2019 by Brian Greene.

  1. When people meet me
    for the first time on my job,
  2. they often feel inspired to share
    a revelation they've had about me,
  3. and it kind of goes something like this.
  4. "Hey, I know why police chiefs
  5. like to share their deep,
    dark secrets with you.
  6. Phil, with your PhD in psychology,
  7. and your shiny bald head,
  8. you're basically
    the Black Dr. Phil, right?"
  9. (Laughter)

  10. And for each and every person
    who's ever said that to me

  11. I do want to say thank you
  12. because that was the first time
    I ever heard that joke.
  13. (Laughter)

  14. But for everybody else,
    I really hope you'll believe me

  15. when I tell you no police chief
    likes talking to me
  16. because they think
    I'm a clinical psychologist.
  17. And also I'm not.
  18. I have no idea what your mother
    did to you, and I can't help.
  19. (Laughter)

  20. Police chiefs like talking to me

  21. because I'm an expert on a problem
    that feels impossible for them to solve:
  22. racism in their profession.
  23. Now my expertise
    comes from being a scientist
  24. who studies how our minds learn
    to associate Blackness and crime
  25. and misperceive Black children
    as older than they actually are.
  26. It also comes from studying
    actual police behavior,
  27. which is how I know that every year,
  28. about one in five adults
    in the United States
  29. has contact with law enforcement.
  30. Out of those, about a million
    are targeted for police use of force.
  31. And if you're Black,
  32. you're two to four times more likely
    to be targeted for that force
  33. than if you're white.
  34. But it also comes from knowing
    what those statistics feel like.
  35. I've experienced the fear
    of seeing an officer unclip their gun
  36. and the panic of realizing that someone
    might mistake my 13-year-old godson
  37. as old enough to be a threat.
  38. So when a police chief,
  39. or a pastor,
  40. or an imam, or a mother --
  41. when they call me after an officer
    shoots another unarmed Black child,
  42. I understand a bit
    of the pain in their voice.
  43. It's the pain of a heart breaking
    when it fails to solve a deadly problem.
  44. Breaking from trying to do something
  45. that feels simultaneously
    necessary and impossible.
  46. The way trying to fix
    racism usually feels.
  47. Necessary and impossible.
  48. So, police chiefs like talking to me
    because I'm an expert,

  49. but I doubt they'd be lining up
    to lie down on Dr. Phil's couch
  50. if I told them all their
    problems were hopeless.
  51. All of my research,
  52. and the decade of work
    I've done with my center --
  53. the Center for Policing Equity --
  54. actually leads me to a hopeful conclusion
  55. amidst all the heartbreak
    of race in America,
  56. which is this:
  57. trying to solve racism feels impossible
  58. because our definition of racism
    makes it impossible --
  59. but it doesn't have to be that way.
  60. So here's what I mean.
  61. The most common definition of racism
  62. is that racist behaviors are the product
    of contaminated hearts and minds.
  63. When you listen to the way we talk
    about trying to cure racism,
  64. you'll hear it.
  65. "We need to stamp out hatred.
  66. We need to combat ignorance," right?
  67. It's hearts and minds.
  68. Now the only problem with that definition
    is that it's completely wrong --
  69. both scientifically and otherwise.
  70. One of the foundational insights
    of social psychology
  71. is that attitudes are
    very weak predictors of behaviors,
  72. but more importantly than that,
  73. no Black community
    has ever taken to the streets
  74. to demand that white people
    would love us more.
  75. Communities march to stop the killing,
  76. because racism
    is about behaviors, not feelings.
  77. And even when civil rights leaders
  78. like King and Fannie Lou Hamer
    used the language of love,
  79. the racism they fought,
  80. that was segregation and brutality.
  81. It's actions over feelings.
  82. And every one of
    those leaders would agree,
  83. if a definition of racism
    makes it harder to see
  84. the injuries racism causes,
  85. that's not just wrong.
  86. A definition that cares
    about the intentions of abusers
  87. more than the harms to the abused --
  88. that definition of racism is racist.
  89. But when we change the definition
    of racism from attitudes to behaviors,

  90. we transform that problem
    from impossible to solvable.
  91. Because you can measure behaviors.
  92. And when you can measure a problem,
  93. you can tap into one of the only
    universal rules of organizational success.
  94. You've got a problem or a goal,
    you measure it,
  95. you hold yourself accountable
    to that metric.
  96. So if every other organization
    measures success this way,
  97. why can't we do that in policing?
  98. It turns out we actually already do.

  99. Police departments already practice
    data-driven accountability,
  100. it's just for crime.
  101. The vast majority of police departments
    across the United States
  102. use a system called CompStat.
  103. It's a process that,
    when you use it right,
  104. it identifies crime data,
  105. it tracks it and identifies patterns,
  106. and then it allows departments
    to hold themselves accountable
  107. to public safety goals.
  108. It usually works either by directing
    police attentions and police resources,
  109. or changing police behavior
    once they show up.
  110. So if I see a string of muggings
    in that neighborhood,
  111. I'm going to want to increase
    patrols in that neighborhood.
  112. If I see a spike in homicides,
  113. I'm going to want to talk
    to the community to find out why
  114. and collaborate on changes on police
    behavior to tamp down the violence.
  115. Now when you define racism
    in terms of measurable behaviors,
  116. you can do the same thing.
  117. You can create a CompStat for justice.
  118. That's exactly what the Center
    for Policing Equity has been doing.
  119. So let me tell you how that works.
  120. After a police department invites us in,

  121. we handle the legal stuff,
    we engage with the community,
  122. our next step is to analyze their data.
  123. The goal of these analyses is to determine
  124. how much do crime, poverty,
    neighborhood demographics
  125. predict, let's say, police use of force?
  126. Let's say that those factors predict
  127. police will use force
    on this many Black people.
  128. There?
  129. So our next question is,
  130. how many Black people
    actually are targeted
  131. for police use of force?
  132. Let's say it's this many.
  133. So what's up with the gap?
  134. Well, a big portion of the gap
    is the difference
  135. between what's predicted
    by things police can't control
  136. and what's predicted
    by things police can control --
  137. their policies and their behaviors.
  138. And what we're looking for
    are the types of contact
  139. or the areas in the city
  140. where that gap is biggest,
  141. because then we can tell our partners,
  142. "Look here. Solve this problem first."
  143. It's actually the kind of therapy
    police chiefs can get behind,
  144. because there is nothing so inspiring
    in the face of our history of racism
  145. as a solvable problem.
  146. Look, if the community in Minneapolis
    asked their police department

  147. to remedy the moral failings
    of race in policing,
  148. I'm not sure they know how to do that.
  149. But if instead the community says,
  150. "Hey, you're data say you're beating up
    a lot of homeless folks.
  151. You want to knock that off?"
  152. That's something police
    can learn how to do.
  153. And they did.
  154. So in 2015, the Minneapolis PD let us know
  155. their community was concerned
    they were using force too often.
  156. So we showed them
    how to leverage their own data
  157. to identify situations
    where force could be avoided.
  158. And when you look at those data,
  159. you'll see that a disproportionate number
    of their use-of-force incidents,
  160. they involved somebody who's homeless,
    in mental distress,
  161. has a substance abuse issue
    or some combination of all three --
  162. more than you expect
  163. based on those factors
    I was just telling you about.
  164. So right there's the gap.

  165. Next question is why.
  166. Well, it turns out homeless folks
    often need services.
  167. And when those services are unavailable,
    when they can't get their meds,
  168. they lose their spot in the shelter,
  169. they're more likely to engage in behaviors
    that end up with folks calling the cops.
  170. And when the cops show up,
  171. they're more likely
    to resist intervention,
  172. oftentimes because they haven't
    actually done anything illegal,
  173. they're literally just living outside.
  174. The problem wasn't a need to train
    officers differently in Minneapolis.
  175. The problem was the fact
    that folks were using the cops
  176. to "treat" substance abuse
    and homelessness in the first place.
  177. So the city of Minneapolis found a way
    to deliver social services
  178. and city resources
  179. to the homeless community
    before anybody ever called the cops.
  180. (Applause)

  181. Now the problem isn't
    always homelessness, right?

  182. Sometimes the problem is
    fear of immigration enforcement,
  183. like it was in Salt Lake City,
    or it is in Houston,
  184. where the chiefs had to come forward
  185. and say, "We're not going
    to deport you just for calling 911."
  186. Or the problem is foot pursuits,
  187. like it was in Las Vegas,
  188. where they had to train their officers
    to slow down and take a breath
  189. instead of allowing the adrenaline
    in that situation to escalate it.
  190. It's searches in Oakland;
  191. it's pulling folks
    out of cars in San Jose;
  192. it's the way that they patrol
    the neighborhoods
  193. that make up Zone 3 in Pittsburgh
  194. and the Black neighborhoods
    closest to the waterfront in Baltimore.
  195. But in each city,
  196. if we can give them a solvable problem,
  197. they get busy solving it.
  198. And together our partners have seen
    an average of 25 percent fewer arrests,
  199. fewer use-of-force incidents
  200. and 13 percent fewer
    officer-related injuries.
  201. Essentially, by identifying
    the biggest gaps
  202. and directing police
    attentions to solving it,
  203. we can deliver a data-driven vaccine
    against racial disparities in policing.
  204. Right now, we have the capacity
    to partner with about 40 cities at a time.

  205. That means if we want the United States
    to stop feeling exhausted
  206. from trying to solve
    an impossible problem,
  207. we're going to need
    a lot more infrastructure.
  208. Because our goal is to have
    our tools be able to scale
  209. the brilliance of dedicated organizers
  210. and reform-minded chiefs.
  211. So to get there we're going to need
    the kind of collective will
  212. that desegregated schools
  213. and won the franchise for the sons
    and daughters of former slaves
  214. so that we can build
    a kind of health care system
  215. capable of delivering our vaccine
    across the country.
  216. Because our audacious idea
  217. is to deliver a CompStat for justice
  218. to departments serving 100 million people
    across the United States
  219. in the next five years.
  220. (Applause and cheers)

  221. Doing that would mean arming
    about a third of the United States

  222. with tools to reduce racial disparities
    in police stops, arrests and use of force,
  223. but also tools to reduce
    predatory cash bail
  224. and mass incarceration,
  225. family instability
  226. and chronic mental health
    and substance abuse issues,
  227. and every other ill that our broken
    criminal-legal systems aggravate.
  228. Because every unnecessary
    arrest we can prevent
  229. saves a family from the terrifying journey
    through each one of those systems.
  230. Just like every gun we can leave holstered
  231. saves an entire community
    from a lifetime of grief.
  232. Look, each and every one of us,

  233. we measure the things that matter to us.
  234. Businesses measure profit;
  235. good students keep track of their grades;
  236. families chart the growth
    of their children
  237. with pencil markings in doorframes.
  238. We all measure the things
    that matter most to us,
  239. which is why we feel the neglect
  240. when nobody's bothering
    to measure anything at all.
  241. For the past quarter millennium,

  242. we've defined the problems
    of race and policing
  243. in a way that's functionally
    impossible to measure.
  244. But now the science says
    we can just change that definition.
  245. And the folks at the Center
    for Policing Equity,
  246. I actually think we may have measured
  247. more police behavior
    than any one in human history.
  248. And that means that once we have the will
  249. and the resources to do it,
  250. this could be the generation
  251. that stops feeling like racism
    is an unsolvable problem
  252. and instead sees
  253. that what's been necessary
    for far too long is possible.
  254. Thank you.

  255. (Applause and cheers)