Policy vs Punishment: What is the best way to reduce Officer Involved Shootings

The Crime Report recently reviewed research by criminologist Lawrence Sherman on the best approaches to reduce Officer Involved Shootings (OIS). Conventional approaches, and those most often favored by journalist and activist, essentially applies the crime and punishment model of accountability that is already the dominant model in the criminal justice system. Sherman argues this is not effective,

“there is far greater evidence that fatal police shootings can be reduced by re-engineering policy systems than by trying (with little chance of success) to change the legal immunity of police officers or the behavior of juries.”

Sherman is not alone in this assessment. Another leader in criminology, Franklin Zimring in “When Police Kill” has made a similar argument based on a comprehensive empirical assessment of police shootings and departmental policies, arguing that changes to administrative rules are the single most important factor in reducing OISs.

Sherman argues that the focus on assigning individual blame ignores system level problems, what he calls “system crashes,” that account for improprieties are allowed to persist. Sherman advocates that law enforcement organizations adopt “learning cultures,” similar to those found in medicine or aviation, where agencies engage in rigorous organizational postmortems to identify and correct dysfunctional processes and procedures.

Sherman is not arguing punishment must go away, only that the emphasis should be placed on the strategy that will maximize the likelihood of the kinds of outcomes desired by society.

— Brian Lande

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