In light of the recent deaths of too many people whose mundane arrests escalated to violence, it seems a good time to reconsider our law enforcement strategy. I think Insight Policing might offer a possible alternative. Insight Policing trains law enforcement officers to determine the difference between criminal behavior and conflict behavior, so they can build trust, defuse tension, and de-escalate interactions with citizens:
Insight Policing helps officers recognize and defuse conflict behavior when they see it – both their own and the public’s. Often, conflict behavior resembles such stress-based behaviors as fight, flight and freeze; these are the actions people take when they feel threatened.
The thing about conflict behavior, and what Insight Policing pays particular attention to, is that when we feel threatened, we are reactive, not reflective, in how we respond. We do not take time to think about what we are doing, we simply do, in hopes that we will successfully stop the threat.
When both the police and the public are dealing with each other in reactive, retaliatory ways, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how that will end. It looks a whole lot like what has been happening in recent months.
Of note, Insight policing assumes that conflict behavior is not always criminal behavior. So, for instance, “resisting arrest” may have more to do with a conflict reaction than a criminal attempt to escape the law. Insight policing training would increase the chances that police officers don’t even attempt an arrest unless a crime is clearly underway. An example of Insight policing shows its effectiveness in reducing tension in police interactions:
Take an example from Memphis. Three Memphis officers trained in Insight Policing responded to a call for shots fired. They arrived on the scene to find a crowd of young men behind a house. They asked them the kinds of questions they always ask at the scene of a crime: “What happened?” “What did you see?” “Who did this?” The young men refused to cooperate: “We didn’t see anything.” “Leave us alone.” “We don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The officers suspected otherwise. And ordinarily, they reported, they would have arrested the young men on gang-related charges and questioned them down at the station – to delay any retaliation that might have been brewing as well as to get the information they were after. Instead, having been trained in Insight Policing, they recognized the young men’s resistance as conflict behavior. They dropped, for the moment, their crime investigator hats, and put on their conflict investigator hats. They used Insight Policing techniques to become curious about what was motivating the young men’s resistance.
What the officers found was not that the young men were protecting somebody or hiding something or breaking the law in some way, but that they had had trouble with police in the past. They did not want to speak because they were afraid of incriminating themselves.
Getting this information allowed the officers to delink the threat they posed by assuring the young men that they were not after them, they were after the shooter. They were able to build enough trust in the moment that the young men gave them the information they needed to catch the shooter later that night.
Had the officers used their power to arrest the young men, just for hanging out together, they would have played into the young men’s fear of incrimination. They would have escalated a situation, and who knows how it would have turned out.
We pretty much know how it would have turned out. Violence, excessive force, and likely fatalities. We’ve seen it over and over again. I don’t know if Insight policing would completely dismantle the extraordinary amount of distrust already built up between police and most communities (especially minority communities), but it would be a decent start. It might save a few lives at least.