Last week, the Washington Post ran a story that involved policing in Dallas. I think it was a lousy story. It was unfair and misleading on a couple levels.
The headline read: “A Policing Strategy Abandoned After Breonna Taylor’s Death Spreads to Other Cities.” That sounds bad, right? Because the way cops killed Taylor in Louisville is an outrage. And if Louisville abandoned the messed-up strategy that led to Taylor’s death, then that strategy’s spread needs to be stopped.
Here are the first two paragraphs of the story:
“A crime-reduction strategy abandoned by Louisville police after the March 2020 fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor has since spread to other major U.S. cities, gaining favor with police chiefs for its potential to reduce violent crime despite its ties to the case that sparked widespread calls for police reform.
“In the months preceding the shooting, Louisville officers had studied a model known as ‘place network investigations.’ The then-novel approach pioneered by an academic posited that crime could be curbed if police and other community partners focused on geographic connections in areas plagued by violent crime. It is the latest in a long line of U.S. policing philosophies that have used data to target crime concentrated in small areas known as hot spots.”
I know a little bit about this long line of U.S. policing philosophies. It’s a bad line. Stop and frisk. Broken windows. That stuff all basically means “hassle minorities and poor people.” So you’re telling me that this “place network investigations” thing is part of that history and that it led to Taylor’s death and it’s spreading—to Dallas?
Then the Post story quotes a lawyer for Taylor’s family. He says the policing strategy was an “epic failure.” Now I’m getting pissed. You’re telling me we’ve got an epic failure spreading across the country?
Except wait. Hold on. After the foregoing, the story quotes the UNLV professor who was the “architect” of the policing strategy, and she says basically, Hang on, folks. Taylor’s death shouldn’t be blamed on this strategy. Taylor’s death was all about how cops executed a search warrant, forcing their way into her apartment. Yes, those cops got the search warrant as a result of a “place network investigation,” but the architect of that policing strategy didn’t ever say that plainclothes cops should bust down a door in the middle of the night and shoot at people without being able to see them, which is what happened in Taylor’s death.
This would be like if you blamed a traffic fatality on Big Gulps because a driver was killed on his way to buy a Big Gulp. The death and the Big Gulp look related only if you’re dumb—or if you have an agenda to make Big Gulps look bad.
The Post story goes on to talk about how this policing strategy is actually showing promise in other parts of the country. Here in Dallas, we’ve made headlines recently for reductions in violent crime. And everything the Post reports on Chief Eddie García seems like cause for hope:
“In Dallas, Police Chief Eddie Garcia said that before he took over the department in 2021, he consulted with criminologists, telling them: ‘I want to come up with a scientifically based crime-reduction strategy from the best that criminology has to offer.’ In 2020, Dallas had ended the year with 251 homicides, its highest count since 2004.
“Those discussions led Garcia to turn to place network investigations alongside a traditional hot-spot-policing effort.
“’This is not just about making arrests and police proactivity,’ he said of the place network strategy. ‘It’s about lighting, streets, traffic, parks and [recreation], schools, the city attorney’s office, and holding landlords accountable—I mean, you name it. It’s a holistic approach about truly trying to invest in that neighborhood and take care of a problem.’”
None of that sounds like busting down a door in the middle of the night.
After I read this story, I texted with someone who has reported on a lot of cops stuff. I wrote, “Is it just me or is that story and especially the headline totally effed up?” The reporter wrote back, “I feel the exact same. It’s getting so hard to get cops on the record bk they feel like they won’t get a fair hearing, and I’m actually starting to think they’re right.”
If I were García, I know I’d feel like I got screwed by that Post story.