Is Accountability Escalating Police Violence?

In the wake of recent high profile trials of killer cops, badged violence seems to be on the rise, and there may be a connection.

The ‘justice system’ operates from an entirely flawed premise, which is that knowing a punishment exists is a deterrent to crime. The folly of that premise is evident by the fact that the prison population has grown disproportionate to the general population. What we see instead is that punishment, mostly for victimless crimes, tends to escalate and amplify criminal behaviors in individuals and at large. Holding criminals accountable has failed to prevent crime, so why do we think that holding cops accountable will prevent them from killing?

Far from solving the problem, the realization that they are now more likely to be accountable seems to have police acting more reckless and squirrely as time goes by. This is where we must examine psychology.

First let’s look at a concept called ‘labeling theory‘, which shows that when people or groups are given a label (especially as a deviant) they tend to fulfill the expectations that come with that label. If police are internalizing the perception of themselves as heartless killers which is created by the media circuses that surround the trials, they are more likely to act out that role.

A related concept is ‘self-perception theory‘ which states that people might determine their attitudes based on their behavior, instead of their attitudes informing their behavior as we tend to believe. If police see their destructive behaviors aired publicly, they might adopt the attitude which leads to those behaviors.

Police is not just a job, it is an identity. Most individuals who work in law enforcement have internalized that identity, so an attack on it is the psychological equivalent to an attack on them. When police feel that the public is judging them and rejecting them, their defiance is triggered. This provides the impetus to repeat the troubling behaviors, since defiance is a way of avoiding rational introspection and proactive solutions by favoring reactive stances and behaviors.

Next we need to look at the ‘certainty effect‘, which suggests that an expectation of certainty can increase the perception of certainty and lead to over-certainty. Right now, I would imagine, police are being told by their superiors to be sure it is justified before they pull the trigger. The expectation that they be certain may cause them to become over-certain, and thus be more likely to make a deadly error.

There are numerous other psychological and sociological concepts which can help us to understand how accountability may actually exacerbate the problem of police violence, and I implore you to explore the subject. Yet even if I did not have a single valid psychological concept to refer to, it is obvious that these trials are creating an emotional powder keg, both for the public and for police. That kind of emotional intensity generally doesn’t result in rational outcomes.

So what am I saying here, that we shouldn’t hold killer cops accountable?

I am saying that ACCOUNTABILITY IS FUTILE and we need to wipe the slate and start over with solutions that aim to prevent the circumstances which lead to crime to begin with. Because it is not just that accountability doesn’t work, or that it distracts us from the inevitability of traditional policing’s eventual obsolescence, but that it is escalating police violence and making the problem worse under the na├»ve guise of fixing it.

I highly recommend that you explore the psychological concepts mentioned in this article. They are a fascinating place to start exploring the complexity of human behavior, which will undoubtedly teach you to perceive just about everything with more insight and nuance than ever before.

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