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A Look At Police Training, Policy & Culture As Calls For Racial Justice In Idaho Continue

Idaho Statesman
Boise Police officers stand between Black Lives Matter activists and a group of agitators — some of whom were displaying Nazi imagery and shouting racial slurs — at the steps of Boise City Hall on June 30, 2020.";s:


(This interview is the first of a two-part show about policing in Idaho. You can find the second half — on defunding the police — here.)

After the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May, people around the country been asking tough questions about policing in America  including in Idaho. 

Our guests today are Katherine Macfarlane, a professor of law with the University of Idaho who formerly worked with the NYPD and Boise State University interim Dean of Public Service and criminal justice professor Andrew Giacomazzi. From the current structures that make policing the police so challenging, problems with recruitment and training of new officers, and the laws and culture surrounding police work in Idaho and other states there's a lot to talk about. Macfarlane and Giacomazzi help us consider what these issues mean for people of color who are disproportionately affectedby police violence. 


Read the full transcript here:

GEMMA GAUDETTE: You're listening to Idaho Matters, I'm Gemma Gaudette. After the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police back in May, people all around the country have challenged the idea of policing in America. Later in this hour, we will explore the calls to defund the police, what that means and what it could look like in Idaho's largest city. But before we get to that, we do want to talk about the current structures that are in place that make policing the police pretty challenging here in the United States. From the recruitment and training of new officers to the laws and the culture that surround police work. Our guests today will help us think through these issues and what they mean for people of color who are disproportionately affected by police violence. Katherine Macfarlane is a professor of law with the University of Idaho and formerly worked with the NYPD. And Andrew Giacomazzi is a professor of criminal justice and the interim dean of public service at Boise State University. I want to thank both of you for joining us today.

ALL: Thanks, Gemma. Thank you,

GAUDETTE: Andrew. I'd like to start with you. Can you take us back in time a little bit to where the modern idea of policing here in the United States came about? When exactly was that and what did policing look like at that time?

ANDREW GIACOMAZZI: Well, Gemma, thank you. It's a really long and complicated history when we go back to policing. And, you know, I'll try to do my best to distill this down the best I can. But if we think about policing, over one hundred years ago, it was really a service orientation for the police. There were very little standards in policing, very little training. In fact, if you got a rule book that was thrown at you and said, go, go about your job, that was quite a bit. And police were appointed not based on standards, but really more so on whether or not you voted for the current mayor that was in the city. And so the recruitment standards were very, very low when it created a lot of problems. Fast forward about 100 years ago, maybe about 90 years ago or so, the Wickersham Commission, which was a national commission, was put together and came up with national recommendations that were adopted throughout police departments in the United States. Those recommendations were very interesting in that the recommendations were for police departments to have a crime control focus in the face of rising crime and social unrest that they were to use motorized patrols, single patrols, because that was going to be more efficient in order to fight crime, that there would be training, that there would be selection and recruitment based on standards, and that overall the ideal of efficiency was going to replace the ideas of responsiveness. And so what emerged after these national recommendations were police departments adopting these. And the unintentional consequence of putting police officers in motor vehicles was an "us versus them" culture that was created in many, many departments across the country, this idea of going from incident to incident, reactive policing, incident driven policing in that the only real reactive problems that really counted in the official numbers were law enforcement problems. But one of the things that we know from a lot of research over the years is that we call the police for a lot of different issues. In many of those are not law enforcement related. So it got us also into a culture not only of an "us versus them", but of a you know, unless this is a major crime problem, that's not really my role as a police officer. And then over the years and we can talk about this later, community policing developed as a response to really acknowledging the service aspects of policing. But a lot of what we're facing today in terms of strained relationships in many areas between police and the community really stems from both the social and physical isolation that police had from the individuals who they were serving through the use of the patrol car.

GAUDETTE: Well, then, Andrew, I mean, you teach young people, some of whom are interested in going into law enforcement. I'm curious, what do you hear from them, you know, about not just their interest, but how their perception is of policing? Do you think their perceptions need to be corrected or are they often correct?

GIACOMAZZI: No, I think, you know, when I teach policing in both of the undergraduate and graduate level, I think a lot of my students and those students of others who teach policing as well really get an eye opening examination of not only the history of policing, but the critical issues of policing and what really policing is across the United States. I mentioned before a lot of a lot of individuals think that what police officers do on a daily basis is, you know, make arrests. Some of them think that, you know, use their service revolver or other uses of force. And that's just really more the exception than the rule. Some of the numbers that are coming out from the Boise Police Department, for example, show that in 2019 out of a 153,000 interactions that they've had with with with citizens, only 111 or so of those interactions had any use of force whatsoever, which really highlights that, that really police officers and their job is much more in the realm of providing quality service for a lot of times non-law enforcement related issues. And that tends to be a really eye opening experience for for my students, who, when we do our readings and examine what police actually do, really felt like, you know, policing is much more law enforcement, if we get that a lot through shows that really are supposedly reality shows like Cops, for example, which tend to really focus on the law enforcement piece of policing rather than the peacekeeping function.

GAUDETTE: So then, Andrew, can we talk a little bit about recruitment and training, especially in regards to issues of bias and racial injustice. In your mind, what do you think needs to to change in order to make sure that the right people are being recruited? And not just that, but then they're trained properly to to go into this profession?

GIACOMAZZI: Yeah, let's maybe start with recruitment, because that in and of itself is an interesting issue that we could talk a little bit about training as well. Recruitment in law enforcement, because of the local and fragmented nature of our thousands of police departments across the United States has been just that. It's been kind of all over the place in terms of who we try to bring into policing. You know, my recommendation is to really be looking at successful police officers, track those individuals who are doing well in the community, who are responsive to citizen needs, who have the fewest number of police complaints and really develop these profiles so that we can kind of determine who are the best people to bring into law enforcement. An interesting thing that's going on these days is thinking about the difference between what are called the 'warriors versus guardians.' There seems to be many police departments over the years that have really wanted to have a bit of aggressiveness, at the very least when it comes to new recruits and bringing those individuals in. The idea is that when you're in that law enforcement role, even though that's not the case all the time for police officers, you want to have individuals who have the ability to use use of force when it is absolutely necessary and appropriate. And so a little bit of aggressiveness in that warrior piece is at least the conventional wisdom has been is necessary. But many of the more progressive departments now are looking more for individuals who are considered to be guardians, those individuals who view themselves not as law enforcement officers in policing, but rather those individuals who are more of the peacekeeping function, thinking of themselves as peace officers or service providers, with the idea being that you can teach guardians to be aggressive when absolutely necessary and when the circumstance warrants that. But it's more difficult to take the aggressiveness out of the Warriors. So I really am a big fan of being much more systematic about how we recruit and select police officers these days based on who are successful police officers. What are their characteristics? Some of the things we already know: they're problem solvers. They're critical thinkers. They're self starters. They're college graduates. And we can begin to develop those kinds of profiles. The thing that is concerning these days, however, is that just at a time when we're seeing a lot of retirements in law enforcement throughout the country and the need for new quality, problem solving police officers, we see recruitment levels very, very low. In other words, years ago and I used to do this myself with my students at Boise State working with recruiting and testing, physical and written testing of police officers. And we would have hundreds of individuals in the Boise, Idaho area come out and test with us. And five years ago or so, that dwindled down to, you know, 20, 30 individuals. And so for whatever reason, the interest in going into the law enforcement profession, the peacekeeping officer profession has dwindled over time.

GAUDETTE: I think that's so interesting just to see, you know, the difference in warrior versus guardian. I mean, it seems simple, but there is distinct differences when we think of it that way. And before I turn to Katherine, Andrew, can I ask you just one more thing about the need to have police officers actually live in the community they police. And what I mean by that is we know, like in the case of George Floyd, we learned that Derek Chauvin, who is the white former Minneapolis police officer who held Floyd to the ground for almost nine minutes with his knee on his neck, doesn't actually live in Minneapolis, let alone in the precinct where he killed Floyd. So. I mean, how important is it that our police officers actually live and experience life where they police?

GIACOMAZZI: I think that can be very helpful, Gemma. There are some unintended consequences of doing that. And, you know, the ideas of community policing and problem solving, and this is stuff that came out back in the early 90s, was if you're going to do community policing right, you need to make sure that your officers live in the communities where your constituents, where your customers actually reside. Not a bad idea as they can maybe better understand the local nature of the problems that they're needing to address. So there's an argument there for that. The unintended consequences of that, though, have come out over the years. Officers then are known in their neighborhood as the 24/7, 365 individual who is always on call, so their neighbors know that, well, you know, if I have a problem, I'm not going to call the police. I'm going to go to my neighbor who's a police officer under community policing principles, and they get burned out really quickly. And so the jury's still out on that. One thing we can say is that it could help, but it certainly isn't a panacea in terms of this will solve the problem in terms of police community relations.

GAUDETTE: Katherine, I want to turn to you now. You are currently a law professor, University of Idaho, but you have previous experience with the New York City Police Department. Can you tell us what you did there?

KATHERINE MACFARLANE: Sure. So police officers, law enforcement officers can be sued for money damages under a federal law called Section 1983, which was actually passed in the Reconstruction era as the 1871 Civil Rights Act. And the idea is that if you have your constitutional rights violated during a interaction with a police officer, you have the ability to sue for money. So when I was in New York, I represented police officers in federal court in these suits in which individuals that had some sort of negative experience with police, be it false arrest or excessive force, were suing both the police officers and the city of New York in order to recover money damages. Since then, I've often write from a more plaintiff perspective and look to the challenges that individuals face when they try and recover any money from law enforcement officers and these same kind of lawsuits. And the barrier that everyone's been talking about recently is a defense called qualified immunity, that allows a police officer essentially to say, well, there wasn't any clearly established law that it would be fair to impute to me to let me know that this was actually a constitutional violation. So I've seen this from both sides, having done quite a bit of work on the plaintiff's side. Right now, it's just so incredibly difficult to have any kind of civil rights accountability following an interaction that involved either false arrest and certainly use of excessive force and often deadly force.

GAUDETTE: Do you think that qualified immunity supports systemic racism within certain police departments?

MACFARLANE: I think it makes it easier to put a label on actions that are certainly the result of systemic racism without actually calling it out as systemic racism. So even in the classroom when you teach Section 1983 or you teach civil rights actions against police officers, you don't have to say race. You could talk very abstractly about about these doctrines. But this is all about race. The 1871 Civil Rights Act is also known as the KKK Act. It was passed in order to ensure personal safety for former slaves who were the victims of violence committed by their own local law enforcement officers, as well as the KKK, who are often acting in concert with local government. So right from the inception of this law, race plays a factor. When you're in federal court and you're trying to impose liability upon law enforcement officers as you just face incredible barriers. There's a tendency to believe law enforcement officers, it's easier, for example, for a federal judge to identify with a law enforcement officer than someone who may have been arrested or have any kind of criminal record. And once you throw race into the mix, unfortunately, I think qualified immunity allows us to hide what actually is a result of so socialization that causes people to irrationally fear people of color during police interactions.

GAUDETTE: And we should note, qualified immunity is a federal law. But there is a bill right now in the Senate that is looking to end it. But Katherine, when it comes to Idaho's laws, what stands in the way of people for people to to sue the police if they feel that they have been treated unjustly?

MACFARLANE: So your best avenue, even in Idaho, is going to be to use Section 1983, the federal law. However, if you want to sue a law enforcement officer for intentional infliction of emotional distress, for example, you still have to post a bond. So you gonna have to put up money as a security before you even initiate a lawsuit. And when it comes to claims, for example, battery or assault, there are laws that forbid under state law any kind of lawsuit of that nature to be brought outright against a law enforcement officer. So the federal law is supposed to give you some sort of avenue to challenge state action in a federal court under the assumption that you'd have a better chance in a federal court where judges are appointed for life and not subject to the whims of the electorate. But still, we have all these barriers that make it so difficult for any kind of accountability. And so if you have a lawsuit that in theory allows for the recovery of money but doesn't actually, in fact, do that, it doesn't work as a deterrent.

GAUDETTE: I want to give our listeners a quick history lesson for those of you who might not know about Boise's policing problems from the 1990s. The capital city experienced a string of deadly police shootings of civilians in that decade, which created a rift between the police and the community. Eight people, including a police officer, were killed in a 16 month period back in the late 90s. Residents really felt like officers were not being held accountable for those killings, and police were on edge after one of their own was killed. Relations were bad, to say the least. Even as the department was moving to a community policing model. In fact, the city appointed the first and only civilian ombudsman to investigate the police. That position existed from 1999 to 2014. Now, of course, Boise is not the only place in Idaho where law enforcement has killed civilians. And the issue did not stop and the ombudsman position was eliminated. According to The Washington Post, 42 people have been shot and killed by police throughout our state since 2015. Just to clarify that.

So, Andrew, I want to talk about this idea of policing the police and the culture of secrecy that can happen in departments.

And, you know, I remember when the ombudsman role was was put into place here in Boise. I covered that as a reporter. And I remember having to look up what an ombudsman was even, because this was something that was kind of cutting edge and new, but outside of an ombudsman role because the city of Boise does not have that anymore, is there a better tool to hold officers accountable and to keep the community safe?

GIACOMAZZI: Well, there are a number of ways to do this, and I want to go back to my earlier comments because I think the best way to ensure that we have low levels of police corruption and brutality is really to hire and train the right people. And I think that that can go a long way. On top of that, though, of course, as you mentioned, we have police auditor systems like the police ombudsman system that was in place in Boise after a string of critical incidents involving police shootings. And that was an independent auditor essentially who was outside of police. Typically, these kinds of systems are in place when confidence in the police has become so low that there is very little trust in an internal affairs unit at a police department with a common saying that how is it possible for the police to police the police, and those internal affairs units typically are other police officers or civilians who are working in the police department investigating those. And so there is a time and place for internal affairs for sure, and in particular when citizen confidence in their local police department is quite high. There are other mechanisms as well. Civilian review boards is another one that cropped up in the 1970s and continues in some jurisdictions today. What's the best? That's really hard to say. Right now, we have a combination of internal affairs at the Boise PD and then also an individual who acts independently from the police department who investigates complaints. There's an analyst and investigators as well, and they report directly to the Boise mayor. So probably some sort of a combination of the two is best for accountability.

GAUDETTE: And then where does community policing come into this? And, A), what is it? Because we hear the term people may not know exactly what it means, but there are some challenges to it.

GIACOMAZZI: There sure are. You know, if you go back to what I was talking about earlier in terms of the history of policing, we get ourselves up to the 1980s and 1990s where in some communities, police, citizen relationships were so strained. And a lot of this came from, again, that that us versus them mentality that developed in some departments. We also had at that time a lot of social science research showing that police by themselves actually do very little in order for their ability to actually control crime. In other words, we're saying at a time where police do simply law enforcement, that's their main priority, we were getting a lot of research showing that crime rates are at an all time high. If you call the police and you ask them to help solve a burglary, you know, they will come out and take a report. But their ability to do an effective retrospective investigation and actually get your property back and make an arrest was very limited. And so the idea was, let's do something different. Community policing back in the early 1990s when it came about, was really to try to do something different in law enforcement, to move it from an incident driven reactive operation to one that really embraces community and police partnerships, collaborative problem solving. And in the process, the organizations in policing, the thousands that we have, would have to change from a mission that was much more law enforcement reactive related to one that is more about problem solving, that engages the community, where proactive crime prevention would prevail, where customer service is key and using data to actually solve problems. And that really is the crux of community policing. And over the years, as we get up to our current times. Community policing was implemented in different ways. So there was really no recipe book for doing it. Some departments used specialized units that were just a few police officers who were the community policing officers. Other departments tried this system wide philosophical change from We The Police are the ones responsible for crime and disorder in the neighborhoods, to one that was more "We're all in this together." But right now, at this moment in time, we really need to think seriously about the principles of community policing, again, that were first introduced and really have local police departments look at themselves, become learning organizations, interact with your communities, ask those questions, those pressing questions right now about community needs and figure out ways to work together to solve problems. That becomes the crux of community policing in 2020.

MACFARLANE: And then I think we have an example of this here in Boise. So just last week, on Tuesday, I believe we had a Black Lives Matter protest met by a greater number of people who were in opposition to Black Lives Matter, I guess that's the best way to summarize it.

GAUDETTE: So that's a very nice way of saying that, because many of them were wearing actual Nazi tattoos and things like that. 

MACFARLANE: Yeah, meant to very expressly invoke white nationalism and Naziism. So there's been criticism of the Boise Police Department's reaction to that event. Right. There were acts of violence committed upon the Black Lives Matter protesters. So what does community policing look like in that situation? Well, we have a Facebook page run by the police department asking for information from the community regarding identifying the individuals that were assaulting some of our BLM activists. Is that effective? I don't know. There's also been a lot of criticism that there was a hands off approach in the throes of violence actually happening. Whether the police department was able to interact, to intervene immediately or not, I suppose you'd have to be there. But this is an example of what actually does it mean to be present in the community? It means something more than being physically present. And I hope that there's some sort of review of exactly what happened on the ground and whether it's appropriate to ask for community involvement via the Facebook page. And to sort of hold off on arrests and even to announce that some of the arrests were going to be for misdemeanors as opposed to a more serious crime. That influences trust, right?

GAUDETTE: Right. And I think Katherine, too, you bring up such a good point because there's video, right? I mean, we saw the assaults happen. And then you sit there as a community member wondering like, well, why has not more been done?

MACFARLANE: And so I think the messaging that you get as a member of a community that feels like they were assaulted is that, well we're going to sit and we're going to wait and we're not going to react as quickly as we might have in other situations.

I will applaud the mayor's reaction to this event. And she did something very savvy when she talked about our Black Lives Matter protesters, she said "we." She talked about "our" right to protest and "our" right to protest safely. And she, by doing that, you know, cloaked all of the people that were there for peaceful reasons under the umbrella of this is who the city is. I thought that was very clever and very compassionate and effective.

GAUDETTE: I am running out of time for both of you, but very quickly. I wish we could go the whole hour. But we are going to get to the defunding part with some other guests. But before I let you two go, we have a brand new police chief. Boise officially got a new chief, Ryan Lee, formerly of the Portland Police Department, just last week. Quick note. We will have Chief Lee on Idaho Matters later this month.

Can each of you just tell me quickly, maybe one opportunity that Lee has to change or improve the culture within BPD? And Katherine, I'll start with you.

MACFARLANE: Yeah, I think we are very well aware of the growing Latino population in Idaho. And there could be a directed effort to hire more Latino officers and ensure that there is a significant number of officers on the force right now that know how to speak Spanish. I think Nicole Foy at the Idaho Statesman has done some excellent reporting about the need to interact more meaningfully with a Spanish speaking and Latino community.


GIACOMAZZI: I would say, I'll just broaden that out a little bit and just say that, you know, any police department, no matter how good it is, can always do better. And what I'm hearing from Chief Lee in his press conference is that he is willing to go out there and listen to not only his internal constituents, but his external constituents and come up with a comprehensive plan to become better. And I'm hoping what that leads to is the Boise Police Department and others to really become these learning organizations where they're constantly looking at quality improvement, whether that comes to training, whether that is about recruitment and selection, their internal policies that are facilitating these of these practices that are really getting at really strengthening police community relations.

GAUDETTE: I want to thank both of you so much for coming in and talking with us and giving us your expertise. Up next, we are learning from police reform to the idea of defunding. This is Idaho Matters.

Have a question or comment for the show? Tweet @KBSX915 using #IdahoMatters

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Frankie Barnhill was the Senior Producer of Idaho Matters, Boise State Public Radio's daily show and podcast.

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