Three Questions: Professor Candace McCoy

“Police nationwide are now starting to wear their own bodycams, and we will see more and more video from the police point of view—which is all the better for transparency,” said Professor Candace McCoy (GC/John Jay, Criminal Justice) in a Voice of America segment last week (6:35 mark).
 
Professor McCoy, an expert in the study of criminal justice policies, recently spoke with the GC about statistics behind police use of force, and how to put research into action: “The laws themselves have to change,” she says.
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In Holding Police Accountable (2010), a book you edited, scholars examine research about the use of force. Has there been a documented uptick in police-related violence?
 
No, there has not been a documented uptick in police-related violence. In fact, the number of shootings by police has plummeted in the past 30 years, as is discussed in the book. People on many sides of this issue have been working very hard to reduce police use of deadly force, and it has been working.

But one death is a death too many. And now, it is a death on video. The difference now is that we see the grisly and tragic deaths on our computer screens, and we replay them with morbid fascination and growing despair and anger.
 

In his recent remarks, President Obama said “change has been too slow” among police departments. What can be done to address the distrust and friction between the police and people of color living in low-income neighborhoods?
 
President Obama's remarks, broadcast at the end of the NATO summit last week, were masterful, and I urge everyone to read them. He made three points that begin to address this problem. First, he said we cannot think of ourselves at war. This is not a war between the police and minority communities. We are all Americans and we can work on this problem and together move forward, but unfortunately this takes time.
 
Second, he said we have to refrain from demonizing each other. The sniper who killed five police officers in Dallas is no more representative of black people than the man who killed churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, is representative of white people.
 
Finally, the president made a really important point that tends to get lost in this debate: it’s about the guns. The results are sadly predictable. I think if we all thought hard about these problems as the President has framed them, and then worked together — and researched — these issues, over time we will make good progress.
 

How do we effectively put this research into action, given the current climate?
 
Research about use of force has been ongoing for decades and has already been put into policy and practice. Where the changes have to occur is not about use of deadly force, but about non-deadly force and police enforcement of misdemeanor and traffic laws. The laws themselves have to change. This is not a police problem; it is a legislation problem, which in turn is a problem of political will.
 
Also, the problem is guns, both police guns and guns in the hands of gun owners. This is where research should ramp up, and yet the NRA recently successfully lobbied Congress to forbid the use of any federal money to study gun regulations or the effects of handgun use in the United States.

It’s hard to do research in this climate, but the climate is not a police problem. It’s a cultural problem. Why do we think it is okay for the police to carry firearms 24/7 no matter what their daily tasks are, and why do we keep donating used military equipment to the 18,000 local police forces nationwide? Why is death by gunfire the leading cause of death for black men under the age of 50? Most of the shooters are other black men. This is unbelievably tragic and the answers involve cultural change among all segments of American society, not just police and residents of poor black neighborhoods.
 

Submitted on: JUL 20, 2016

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