Smart Law

comment 1
Book/film List / Repairing the System

Identifying a problem is usually easier than solving it. Take, for instance, the spate of police shootings of unarmed minority suspects like Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Proposed solutions seem to vary from mild responses like more racial sensitivity training for police officers to more punitive ones like heavy criminal sanctions that are never in fact imposed . UC Berkeley Law professor Franklin Zimring in his book When Police Kill suggests a more indirect, but potentially more effective, approach.

Zimring tells us that empirical research indicates this is a situation where the most effective remedies do not deal specifically with race. He suggests developing internal regulations which clearly limit the officer’s authority to use deadly force against a suspect of any race to situations where the shooting is necessary to protect the physical safety of the officer or a member of the public.  If the investigation of the shooting does not support the claim of necessity, the shooting is unauthorized.

Zimring also suggests instituting programs, not in racial sensitivity, but that train officers in techniques to “de-escalate” the tense interactions between police and suspects that often lead to unnecessary deaths of  suspects and officers of all races. The combination of limits of the officer’s discretion to use deadly force and  training to find a way to “slow down” the interaction between officer and suspect prevents the creation of a situation where an officer has to make a split second decision whether or not to shoot, a decision he or she may well later regret.

Zimring also has some good ideas on how we can nudge local police forces to face up to the fact too many unarmed civilians are being shot by  police officers. But for me the main takeaway is that, although the law sometimes teaches and often punishes, its primary goal is to change how people act.  There are smart and not-so-smart ways to do that.

1 Comment

  1. I love this piece. It reminds me of MLK’s famous speeches, Harvey Milk’s hopeful journey… It inspires the ideal, a more perfect union.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s