In 2019, American police officers killed as many civilians per day as U.K. police officers killed the entire year. Police officers are more likely to pull over, search, beat and shoot Black people. And when those incidents occur, departments regularly misrepresent details and resist efforts to impose accountability.
The same systems and biases also produce more routine forms of brutality. In some cities, 1 in 5 people booked into jail are homeless, often arrested for low-level crimes like loitering, sleeping in their cars or taking food from strangers.
Since the 1980s, federal cuts to social programs and increasing wage inequality have boosted the number of Americans who lack access to housing and health care. At the same time, programs to address drug abuse and mental illness have shrunk considerably. To fill the gap, cities have begun to rely on police departments to address an ever-increasing number of social issues.
“Police are effectively armed social workers with minimal training in social work,” said Michael Sierra-Arévalo, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has spent more than 1,000 hours in police department ride-alongs. “Officers are trained to believe that the world is incredibly dangerous and they’re socialized to think about crime and violence all the time.”
Officers bring this mindset to all of their calls, whether they’re responding to a shooting or a shoplifter. And once they arrive, they have few tools other than arrests to mediate disputes. “Policing is a system designed to create interactions doomed to become catastrophes,” Sierra-Arévalo said.
So that’s why you should be wary of calling the police.
- In seven states the law requires that a person be shown to pose an “imminent threat,” an immediate risk of death or serious bodily harm to themselves or others before being involuntarily hospitalized.
- At the same time, for police, facing an “imminent threat” can constitute legal justification for using deadly force.
- If a Black man with severe mental illness must present an imminent danger in order to involve the police, what happens when police, who are subject to implicit bias or outright racism, arrive? (Sabah Muhammad, Washington Post)
Bill Loftus, Social Policy Director
LWV North County