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Newell: Police reform ideas often lacking supporting data

Former NOPD Chief Serpas explains why some reforms won't help anyone

Newell Normand
July 09, 2020 - 4:43 pm

A new bill introduced in New York requires cops to carry personal insurance. There are those who believe that will create an environment of greater accountability for police, but not everyone agrees. To help explain what this bill would do and not do, Newell invited former NOPD Chief and Loyola University Criminal Justice Professor of Practice Ronal Serpas onto the program Thursday morning.

“You probably saw this article, there’s a series of them out there about laws requiring police officers to carry personal insurance for liability purposes for their acts as a police officer. What’s your immediate reaction?” Newell began.

“What’s driving that is legal research that suggests the cost of misconduct is so widely spread across the government that the police department itself, followed by the officers and superintendents, are not really feeling the consequences when payouts have to be made. One concept would be that officers have to hold supplemental insurance that, like driver’s insurance, would go up or down based on your behavior. It’s not very well studied, but here’s another issue to consider - in states like New York where this is catching momentum, the police union is going to negotiate that into the contract. So if the purpose is to make individual officers feel a change in their insurance rate like drivers would if they get in a wreck or drive drunk - that’s just going to be negotiated into the larger contract. When you look at all these ideas being floated right now, some of them are very good, but the truth is there is very little or no evidence-based scientific research for almost any of it. It’s mostly anecdotal. Body cameras, de-escalation, implicit bias training, early intervention, civilian oversight - there’s little to no evidence that many of these things actually work, so legislators are kind of shooting in the dark. That’s a problem, and we need to think more carefully as a nation.”

“That’s spot-on. There’s no data behind this,” Newell said. “What they don’t understand about this bill that’s going to be a bigger problem is that now you have competing legal interests. It’s going to cloud these cases up even more and they’re going to be harder to get through the judicial system. The moment that officer has to get his own officer, another lawyer comes with that looking out for their client. These fools think they’re going to accomplish something with this, but they’re not. And when there is legitimate police misconduct, the aggrieved party will suffer even more and we’ll never get to the promised land they’re looking for with this bill.”

“You and I and so many others have dedicated our lives to trying to do the right thing with criminal justice,” Serpas added. “And when all the conversations are heaped into this one box, if you say anything positive about the police, you’re not for change, and that robs the debate of any insightful thought. I understand the earnest angst in wanting change, we all get that, but rushing through these decisions is going to cause greater pain. My insurance carrier is going to look out for me, and their bottom line, and that doesn’t make it any better.”

“Just yesterday, our City Council fostered a conversation about abolishing some surveillance tools necessary,” Newell continued. “And I find it disingenuous that on one hand, they want police to have body cameras, but on the other hand, they don’t want any other kind of surveillance that helps build a case! That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

“Remember the horrible case of the young Bourbon Street dancer who was taken to Mississippi and brutally murdered?” Serpas asked. “We solved that case because the license plate reader at the Mississippi state line caught the guy's car. Why would we not want that? I have worked in two huge American cities lately. In City A, they built out incredibly well-done, well-produced, well-researched crime centers specifically for the issue of gun violence and they were making a massive difference. City B was in the process of building them, but in an electoral campaign, the person who won said they didn't think they should have them. Both cities have massive murder problems. City A’s program has been incredibly successful in catching murders. City B was having success too but the people taking over are getting rid of them. At the end of the day, if a video of you in a place where you have no expectation of privacy shows that you committed a crime, what’s the problem? I don’t get it.”

Hear the entire interview in the audio player below.




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