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May 22, 2009

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Matt

One thing that would surely help would be if there were more serious discipline for police officers when they break the law or step over the line, and even more work to encourage them to consistently follow the law themselves. A good way to do this would be to have police unions work to encourage real discipline. This will be hard, but surely not impossible. Most police don't support bad behavior by their fellow officers, and I think most would be glad to know that those who go too far will be judged fairly and punished if needs be. Right now, though, the police unions and administrations work very hard to prevent punishment, making this sort of case all the more likely.

Dave

Malcolm Gladwell has a great discussion of this in Blink. The problem, he suggests, with overzealous policing is not with police officers in particular, but human biopsychology in general. Any human would be so amped up after a high-speed chase that their ability to calmly and rationally respond to high-stress situations is seriously impaired. The solution, I think, is not to raise penalties for police officers in these situations through the roof (since the context is one that is uniquely unsuited to rational thought, and in turn to deterrence), but rather to construct police procedures in a way that is designed to minimize the chances of this kind of reaction. Many such procedures are already in place; police are typically required to call for backup at the end of high-speed chases so that they cool down a bit and also get other police on the scene who haven't been flooded with adrenaline by the chase.

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