Should the police have more discretion?

Police discretion is a contentious issue, particularly around the topic of racial discrimination. The issue is usually framed in terms of equality before the law vs. police effectiveness (I.e. should police have the discretion to employ questionable tactics if those tactics are effective). While this is an important conversation  In this paper I want to explore a radically different interpretation of the significance of police discretion explored in a very interesting paper called ‘Better living through police discretion’, written by Harold E. Pepinsky and published in1984 (download link).

Pepinsky proposes five features of police discretion that he thinks are generally overlooked. The five features are:
1 – police accountability requires discretion
2 – discretion consists of unexplained variation in police decision making
3 – it does not contribute to the already existing class bias in policing
4 – discretion is increased by the imposition of laws, regulations, and rules that set out to curtail discretion
5 – Creating police discretion is necessary for reducing the injustice of policing

I will explore these points in order.

1 – Police accountability requires discretion
Pepinsky’s point here is quite simple: people can only be responsible if they have choices (which he defines as having the ability to do otherwise). Otherwise they are being held responsible for the decisions of those others who regulate their behaviour. The police therefore cannot be responsible to the public if they do not have options in their conduct.

2 – Discretion consists of unexplained variation in police decision making
Some may find Pepinsky’s claim here controversial. The key argument that he is making is that the police only have discretion if their actions are not readily explainable. He provides an example of officers dispatched to instigate a report. Supposedly it was up to officer discretion as to whether an incident required a report. What the investigation found, however, was that the vast majority of officers would only file a report if the dispatch had identified a specific crime. Pepinsky therefore concluded that these officers did not have discretion.

3 – Discretion does not contribute to the already existing class bias in policing
The key to this claim is that the police as an institution are already heavily class biased. This is true in a number of ways, but the most interesting one is probably Pepinsky’s critique of who gets policed in society. The key factual claim he makes is to contest the generally accepted belief that poverty causes crime, and that lower class crime causes more harm than upper class crime. If these assumptions are false, then there is a great deal of explained variation when it comes to the policing of the wealthy and the poor – the poor are policed because the wealthy are in power. Further, Pepinsky thinks that it is a political impossibility that the police will be regulated so as to police the rich and poor equally. It is therefore benecial to increase police discretion (as he has defined it) because that entails reducing the explanatory power of race and class when it comes to police conduct.

4 – Discretion is increased by the imposition of laws, regulations, and rules
This is probably Pepinsky’s oddest point. The basic claim is that introducing new laws makes it harder to predict police behavior. The reason this is the case is because customs (our habitual modes of conduct) make it easy for others to predict how people will behave (or at least agree upon how people should behave). When rules are introduced to regulate police behaviour, this disrupts previously established customs and standards. For a notable period of time after the introduction of new regulation, police discretion is increased due to uncertainty on the parts of both police and those responsible for enforcing regulation on the police.

4.5 – Increasing policing does not increase safety
Before getting into point 5, I want to quickly outline a crucial sub-point. Pepinsky proposes that increasing law enforcement does not significantly increase the safety of citizens. This point rests on A) the vast well of unaddressed crime that the police can never hope to address, and B) the highly harmful acts of high class criminals that are likely never to be prosecuted however many officers we put on the streets. Note, however, that this does not mean that we can simply decrease law enforcement. For though the increase of law enforcement may not have increased safety, its removal will increase the perceived opportunity for crime and disorder.

5 – Creating police discretion is necessary for reducing the injustice of policing
The above four points ultimately feed into Pepinsky’s argument that the way to reduce the injustice of policing is to increase police discretion. The shape of the argument is essentially this: given that police enforcement is almost inevitably unequally distributed, and increasing it does not generally increase the safety of society, we should increase police discretion to not enforce the law. In practice, Pepinsky proposes this would entail giving police the discretion to negotiate standards of conduct locally. Crucially, this means giving citizens the right to decide when to call upon police power. The ultimate goal would be to increase the degree to which problems can be solved without hard law enforcement, and to gradually ease citizens into managing situations without calling upon law enforcement so that it later becomes possible to decrease levels of enforcement without leaving a void.

Reflection

It is evident, on this review, that Pepinsky’s argument does not purely pertain to discretion – his argument crucially rests on the assumption that policing is inevitably class-biased and he is primarily oriented towards decreasing enforcement for this reason. That being said, he constructs a very interesting account of what police discretion entails, and how expanding it (in certain ways) could lead to the improvement of society. I do wonder whether discrimination would just be shifted from central government to local powers, but I am inclined to agree with his argument that the notion that increasing enforcement will necessarily decrease crime is fallacious, and also agree that policing is heavily class-biased.

Let me know what you think!

CreativePhilo

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The fetishization of numbers in policy

Note: this article is not about how politicians find numbers sexy. The word ‘fetish’ in this context  designates something that is used or done ritualistically rather than pragmatically.

In the world of UK public policy, everyone loves quantitative skills. Making policy ‘evidence-based’ is considered a matter of significant importance, and the National Health Service is held up as the shining example – primarily because of the prominence of randomized control trials and value-for-money. In the past decade this has led to the development of ‘What works’ centres, such as the College of Policing’s ‘What Works Centre for Crime Reduction”, and LSE’s “What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth”. Based on my research on these centres (from articles such as this), they tend to subscribe to the ‘evidence-based’ movements hierarchy of evidence, with Randomized Control trials at the top and anecdotal experience at the bottom (for those unfamiliar with this hierarchy, my main point is that data is on the top).

This increased emphasis on evidence is not inherently a bad thing. Indeed, in many ways it is a positive development. However, I have a number of concerns on the ways that these work centres interact with policy.

Concern #1: Begging the question – What works… for what?
The title ‘what works’ begs the question of what the interventions are
working for.  On the College of Policing’s What Works Crime Reduction page (link), we are presented with a list of interventions, with data on cost, effectiveness, where it works, and the like. But this cannot answer the question of what the Police should do in the first place.

Concern #2: The ‘what works’ frame
‘What works’ neglects the reality that problems can be described in multiple ways. For example, are we concerned with young hoodlums who have not been taught proper values, or are we concerned with oppressed minorities who are lashing out due to opportunity deprivation. There is often not a natural way to interpret data – our personal values play a significant role. The ‘what works’ language seems to cover up these ambiguities by assuming a common frame.

Concern #3: Politics and evidence
‘What works’ does not seem to engage with the reality that policy overlaps with politics. Evidence is regularly used as ammunition to support pre-existing positions, rather than forming a basis for re-evaluating positions. Not that I mean to be entirely down on politics, I just mean that evidence will not transform politics.

Concern #4: Stifling innovation
When practitioners focus on ‘what works’, their attention is necessarily backwards looking, because we necessarily cannot have evidence on new ideas and approaches. ‘What works’ therefore cannot help us prepare for future problems, and may potentially hinder policy that looks to deal with future problems because ‘its not evidence based’.

Concern #5: The gap between theory and practice
Models and quantification represent reality, but there is always a gap. Further, small errors compound quickly. This is why our ability to forecast the weather drops off very quickly. This does not mean that we should not use models (we must!), but we should do so while being mindful that they are not infallible.

I intend to write a more in-depth article on this topic, but here are my immediate thoughts. Let me know what you think.

Sincerely,

CreativePhilo

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First reflection on the 2016 American election

The more I have thought and researched for this post the more sombre and hesitant I have become. I initially intended to explore similarities and differences between the American election, Brexit, and the election of Justin Trudeau. One perspective that has been replicating itself in my my news-feed that I found initially appealing was the idea that liberal arrogance strongly contributed to Trumps triumph, along with a failure to empathize with Trump supporters. These are ideas that I still wish to explore at
some point, but not yet.

The reason I will refrain from such analysis is because, over the course of my research, I was exposed to the levels of fear many are experiencing post-election, fear which is entirely justified. Trump has said some very scary things. Though we can all hope he will be moderate in office than he was on the campaign trail, the next four years are, at the moment, a black box.

There is a great deal more that will be said, a great deal more that must be said. But I want to start by acknowledging those who are afraid. To those who are safe, do not mock the fearful, do not belittle them, and do not trivialize them, for they are rightfully afraid. Stand with them.

That being said, I believe that it is also important to refrain from becoming angry at those who did vote for Trump. I aim to make no judgement as to the character and conduct of his supporters. I instead cannot help but indulge in one piece of analysis: I believe that a crucial factor in this election, a factor that seems to be becoming more and more prominent in western democracies, was tribal isolation. Anger, however righteous, does not facilitate dialogue, and dialogue, as ever, is the non-violent way forward. This also means we must listen, and truly seek to understand: to insincerely seek dialogue is to fail.

Thank you for reading,
Ryan Workman

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The meaning of political posts

This is not the epistemology post I promised, but we’ll get there.

Public discourse is a matter of significant importance to democracy, and I believe that there is a general sentiment that it is going down hill (this observation may be rendered less astute by the fact that we as a species seem to have a general propensity to think things usually are going down hill). In this post I want to talk about the political meaning of Facebook posts.

When I trawl through my news-feed at the moment, I am inundated by posts and shares on the US election. Primarily the posts are either bashing Trump or praising Obama (and occasionally someone says something nice about Hillary). Even outside of elections people regularly post political content. One post that stood out to me was a friend who posted something like ‘I notice people have been unfriending me. I must be too political, hehe’. I think that there is something revealing in this post not just about the meaning of the posts of this particular friend, but about political dialogue on social media in general. The important thing to note is the pride my friend was demonstrating in his political stripes. If the purpose of his posts was to communicate with those he disagreed with, he was evidently failing. Rather, he seemed to be taking satisfaction in his ability to cause others to self-select their agreement with him. In other words, through political posting he was sorting out who agreed with him and who did not. In support of this notion, it was interesting how people responded to this post. Many people posted stating how they liked his political posts or were happy that he was saying things that needed to be said, with a few belittling those who unfriended my friend. What I am driving at is that political posts on Facebook and the like often seem to be directed towards those who agree with the post, not those that disagree. When we post political content on social media, we often do not seek to engage with those with whom we disagree, but to demonstrate to our friends our political allegiances. We aim to display our colours to our enemies and our friends, not to actually communicate information.

Let me know what you think,

Thank you for reading,

CreativePhilo

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Elected Responsibility

Now that Canada has a new government, I’m going to dedicate this post to exploring the moral responsibilities of elected officials. Elected officials are in a bit of an odd spot, morally speaking, because they must factor into account the moral weight of their responsibilities to the citizens that elected them even when the expectations of those citizens run counter to their own moral precepts. That is to say, I believe that being elected carries a notable moral burden to represent those that elected them, and it seems quite easy for a politicians moral responsibility towards those that elected them to come into conflict with their own moral beliefs. What this entails, however, can be difficult to parse, and this post will examine what exactly this responsibility entails, as well as how far the responsibility extends.

What is the nature of a politician’s moral responsibility towards those that elect them? I think that the key word or concept is that a politician is a representative: they are to represent the interests and beliefs of their constituents. There are two immediate problems with this, those being paternalism and minorities. First, should a politician represent their constituents expressed interests, or can she act as she sees best for the people. If we believe in the acceptability of paternalism then a great deal of the complexity is eliminated from this topic: the responsibility of a politician seems analogous to the responsibilities of a caretaker or parent – by taking up political responsibility the politician takes on duties to look after the well-being of their constituency. However, this paternalistic interpretation should be considered cautiously, since it is rather contrary to the spirit of democracy. For paternalism necessitates the assumption that certain people know what is best for others better, but democracy seems to assume that the electorate should have a say in their governance (at least on its face). There is a great deal more to say on paternalism, but I will not examine it any further here. The issue of minorities is more challenging, because it gets at a problem that democracies regularly struggle with: does a government represent the people, or just the majority? It is often the case that an elected offical has but one vote to represent the nuanced variety of opinions that they represent. On the other hand, it seems that they still bear the responsibility of advocacy for and attentiveness towards their constituents. The resolution of majorities and minorities seems like it must ultimately come down to judgement calls of the elected offical: for example, they may decide that it is important to speak for a cultural minority, but disregard, say, flat-earthers.

This leads into another issue – are the electorate electing someone to enforce certain beliefs, or are they electing a person that they trust to make good decisions? The answer will likely not be uniform. It is tempting to say that the answer depends on what a politician promises, if a constituency elects a clearly proclaimed feminist then they cannot reasonably expect that she will ban birth control. However, the electorate is limited in the choices they can make: they can only vote from a small selection of candidates, which inevitably means that no candidate will fully embody the beliefs of any constituents. This certainly makes it strategic to compromise one’s own beliefs to get votes, but it also raises the question of whether such compromising also has moral elements: should candidates seek to offer platforms in order to provide greater choice to constituents?

One particular feature of the Canadian system that I also wanted to mention is the fact that we do not elect our prime ministers to be prime minister – instead our prime minister is determined by the party with the greatest number of seats. This renders the representative responsibilities of the prime minister and MP’s even more difficult to discern because it makes individual votes play double duty – voters are simultaneously selecting who they want to represent their local area and who they want to represent their country. These desires do not necessarily align.

Those are my thoughts for the moment, let me know what you think,

Thank you,

CreativePhilo

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In Defence of Mulcair’s Stance on the Niqab

The primary purpose
of this blog is to allow me to explore philosophical issues in a
relaxed way: I do not struggle overmuch with research or even making
a specific point, instead I take my posts as an opportunity to
explore interesting ideas outside of the rigor of academic
philosophy. This post, however, is going to be a little bit
different. I have been paying a great deal of attention to the
upcoming election, and I have decided to write a researched
examination of Mulcair’s support of the September 15th
Federal Court’s ruling that the Conservative legislation that
citizenship oaths must be taken with face uncovered violated the
Citizenship Act (link
to article
, link
to Citizenship Act
). I will note that I do not think that the
niqab should be an election deciding issue, but, if this
poll is to be believed, 82% of Canadians disagree with Mulcair (and
myself) on whether it should be permitted in citizenship ceremonies,
so the topic is certainly worth exploring.

I will begin by
examining the recent history of the niqab in Canadian politics
leading up to Mulcair declaring support for the court ruling, after
which I will explore the ethics involved in the discussion. In 2011,
conservative immigration minister Jason Kenney implemented a ban on
face coverings during citizenship ceremonies (link),
on the basis that citizenship ceremonies are ‘public declaration that
you are joining the Canadian family and it must be taken freely and
openly.’ This ban was challenged in 2014 by Zunera Ishaq. Ishaq was
willing to remove her niqab in a private ceremony, but did not want
to be forced to remove it in a public ceremony (wiki
link
, bottom of article). Though I have not thoroughly verified
this, the wiki article also says that roughly 100 people are affected
a year by the head covering ban. The Federal Court ruled in Ishaq’s
favour and overturned the conservative law against the niqab on the
basis that it violated the Citizenship act. The conservative
government appealed, but the Court of Appeal upheld the Federal
Court’s initial decision. Reaching the end of this story, the topic
of the Niqab then arose in the french leadership debate on September
24th, in which Mulcair declared his support for the court
(‘the courts have spoken’, and ‘They’re there to defend your rights,
including freedom of religion’, link)
and the court’s ruling (‘let me be clear: No one has the right to
tell a woman what she must — or must not — wear.’ link).
This, apparently, has led to a significant shift of support away from
the NDP, especially in Quebec. As I have already linked above, the
polls suggest that Canadians almost universally side with the
conservatives on this issue (again, 82%).

Though there are
certainly some details left to be filled in, I think this is a fairly
complete account of the recent discussion that has occurred on the
niqab. We therefore come to the second part of this article. Why do
Canadians oppose the niqab in citizenship ceremonies, and why does
Mulcair support it? In my perusal of forum comment sections, I have
found three major themes as to why Canadians oppose the niqab. The
first theme is that of security: some Canadians fear that the
identity of new citizens are being improperly verified. The second
theme pertains to the rights of women: some see the niqab is seen as
a symbol or tool for the subjugation of women. Finally, the third
theme is that of culture: if someone is going to become a Canadian
citizen then they should conform to Canadian standards and values.
Mulcair’s position, as some of the quotes I have already referenced
demonstrate, seems to be essentially that women should have the
liberty to wear the niqab in the ceremony. As far as the first fear
of improper confirmation of citizenship goes, all of my research
suggests that there is nothing to be concerned about – all new
citizens have their identities verified before the citizenship
ceremony (there are many articles like this).
I will therefore only be examining the other two themes more closely.

It is worth noting,
initially, that there is significant room for overlap between the
second and third theme. Those who oppose the wearing of the niqab in
citizenship ceremonies because they view it as a tool of oppression
are also necessarily taking the stance that new citizens should not
support the oppression of women, that is, they should adopt to the
Canadian norm. Therefore the second theme seems more accurately to be
an offshoot or variant of the third theme. The second theme, however,
is explicitly moral. I shall therefore redraw the distinction between
the second and third theme as pertaining to moral and amoral
(non-moral) arguments.

The second theme is
therefore opposition to the niqab on the basis that it immorally
subjugates women. Is this correct? I would argue that, for the matter
at hand, the issue the morality of the niqab is irrelevant to a
liberal society such as our own. Though it may be a tool or symbol of
oppression, wearing the niqab is a matter of choice: if wearing the
niqab does not cause harm to anyone, it is not clear on what basis it
can be banned. One response that might be made is that the Canadian
government somehow endorses the subjugation of women through
permitting the niqab in the citizenship ceremony. To me this seems
false: allowing the niqab in citizenship ceremonies seems to support
the subjugation of women as much as my belief in free speech commits
me to being a pro-lifer (note: CreativePhilo is not a pro-lifer). It
seems the only avenue left if one is to oppose the niqab on moral
grounds is to lessen one’s commitment to liberalism (by which I mean
the belief that people should be able to do what they want, as long
as they are not causing harm to others). Liberalism may have its
limits, but I do not think we find such a limit when it comes to the
niqab.

The third theme,
that of aesthetics, more or less falls with the second. For, I hope,
most Canadians consider liberalism a more crucial aspect of Canadian
identity than dress-code. I will make a final note on my own views on
Canadian identity. In many ways we define ourselves in opposition to
our southerly neighbors: when it comes to multiculturalism the
traditional schism is to say that the US is a melting pot that makes
everyone the same, while Canada is a mosaic. I do believe that this
distinction is drawing our attention to something important.
Multiculturalism has historically been key to Canadian identity, in a
way that seeks to celebrate rather than suppress differences.


Thank you for
reading,

 CreativePhilo (Ryan
Workman)

via Blogger http://ift.tt/1Lu5BJq

In Defene of Mulcair’s Stance on the Niqab

The primary purpose
of this blog is to allow me to explore philosophical issues in a
relaxed way: I do not struggle overmuch with research or even making
a specific point, instead I take my posts as an opportunity to
explore interesting ideas outside of the rigor of academic
philosophy. This post, however, is going to be a little bit
different. I have been paying a great deal of attention to the
upcoming election, and I have decided to write a researched
examination of Mulcair’s support of the September 15th
Federal Court’s ruling that the Conservative legislation that
citizenship oaths must be taken with face uncovered violated the
Citizenship Act (link
to article
, link
to Citizenship Act
). I will note that I do not think that the
niqab should be an election deciding issue, but, if this
poll is to be believed, 82% of Canadians disagree with Mulcair (and
myself) on whether it should be permitted in citizenship ceremonies,
so the topic is certainly worth exploring.
I will begin by
examining the recent history of the niqab in Canadian politics
leading up to Mulcair declaring support for the court ruling, after
which I will explore the ethics involved in the discussion. In 2011,
conservative immigration minister Jason Kenney implemented a ban on
face coverings during citizenship ceremonies (link),
on the basis that citizenship ceremonies are ‘public declaration that
you are joining the Canadian family and it must be taken freely and
openly.’ This ban was challenged in 2014 by Zunera Ishaq. Ishaq was
willing to remove her niqab in a private ceremony, but did not want
to be forced to remove it in a public ceremony (wiki
link
, bottom of article). Though I have not thoroughly verified
this, the wiki article also says that roughly 100 people are affected
a year by the head covering ban. The Federal Court ruled in Ishaq’s
favour and overturned the conservative law against the niqab on the
basis that it violated the Citizenship act. The conservative
government appealed, but the Court of Appeal upheld the Federal
Court’s initial decision. Reaching the end of this story, the topic
of the Niqab then arose in the french leadership debate on September
24th, in which Mulcair declared his support for the court
(‘the courts have spoken’, and ‘They’re there to defend your rights,
including freedom of religion’, link)
and the court’s ruling (‘let me be clear: No one has the right to
tell a woman what she must — or must not — wear.’ link).
This, apparently, has led to a significant shift of support away from
the NDP, especially in Quebec. As I have already linked above, the
polls suggest that Canadians almost universally side with the
conservatives on this issue (again, 82%).
Though there are
certainly some details left to be filled in, I think this is a fairly
complete account of the recent discussion that has occurred on the
niqab. We therefore come to the second part of this article. Why do
Canadians oppose the niqab in citizenship ceremonies, and why does
Mulcair support it? In my perusal of forum comment sections, I have
found three major themes as to why Canadians oppose the niqab. The
first theme is that of security: some Canadians fear that the
identity of new citizens are being improperly verified. The second
theme pertains to the rights of women: some see the niqab is seen as
a symbol or tool for the subjugation of women. Finally, the third
theme is that of culture: if someone is going to become a Canadian
citizen then they should conform to Canadian standards and values.
Mulcair’s position, as some of the quotes I have already referenced
demonstrate, seems to be essentially that women should have the
liberty to wear the niqab in the ceremony. As far as the first fear
of improper confirmation of citizenship goes, all of my research
suggests that there is nothing to be concerned about – all new
citizens have their identities verified before the citizenship
ceremony (there are many articles like this).
I will therefore only be examining the other two themes more closely.
It is worth noting,
initially, that there is significant room for overlap between the
second and third theme. Those who oppose the wearing of the niqab in
citizenship ceremonies because they view it as a tool of oppression
are also necessarily taking the stance that new citizens should not
support the oppression of women, that is, they should adopt to the
Canadian norm. Therefore the second theme seems more accurately to be
an offshoot or variant of the third theme. The second theme, however,
is explicitly moral. I shall therefore redraw the distinction between
the second and third theme as pertaining to moral and amoral
(non-moral) arguments.
The second theme is
therefore opposition to the niqab on the basis that it immorally
subjugates women. Is this correct? I would argue that, for the matter
at hand, the issue the morality of the niqab is irrelevant to a
liberal society such as our own. Though it may be a tool or symbol of
oppression, wearing the niqab is a matter of choice: if wearing the
niqab does not cause harm to anyone, it is not clear on what basis it
can be banned. One response that might be made is that the Canadian
government somehow endorses the subjugation of women through
permitting the niqab in the citizenship ceremony. To me this seems
false: allowing the niqab in citizenship ceremonies seems to support
the subjugation of women as much as my belief in free speech commits
me to being a pro-lifer (note: CreativePhilo is not a pro-lifer). It
seems the only avenue left if one is to oppose the niqab on moral
grounds is to lessen one’s commitment to liberalism (by which I mean
the belief that people should be able to do what they want, as long
as they are not causing harm to others). Liberalism may have its
limits, but I do not think we find such a limit when it comes to the
niqab.
The third theme,
that of aesthetics, more or less falls with the second. For, I hope,
most Canadians consider liberalism a more crucial aspect of Canadian
identity than dress-code. I will make a final note on my own views on
Canadian identity. In many ways we define ourselves in opposition to
our southerly neighbors: when it comes to multiculturalism the
traditional schism is to say that the US is a melting pot that makes
everyone the same, while Canada is a mosaic. I do believe that this
distinction is drawing our attention to something important.
Multiculturalism has historically been key to Canadian identity, in a
way that seeks to celebrate rather than suppress differences.
Thank you for
reading,
CreativePhilo (Ryan
Workman)

via Blogger http://ift.tt/1Pfo4Jl