Well-Read Cops

Would a little Faulkner lead to less force?

When Native American carver John Williams was shot and killed by a Seattle police officer last week, some advocates claimed his death was caused by "cultural ignorance." An American Indian with a knife and a piece of wood, they said, wasn't a threat, he was a man practicing his trade. A study from earlier this year would seem to reinforce that claim, showing that better-educated cops use less force. There's always been anecdotal evidence that cops with some college education are less likely to draw their batons, Tasers, or guns. But in January, criminal justice professors at Michigan State published a study claiming to have proved the distinction. As summarized recently in Miller-McCune magazine, "The study found no difference with respect to officer education when it came to arrests or searches of suspects. But it found that in encounters with crime suspects, officers with some college education or a four-year degree resorted to using force 56 percent of the time, while officers with no college education used force 68 percent of the time." To become a cop in Seattle you need, at minimum, a high-school diploma or GED.Raising the minimum standards could exclude candidates who would otherwise be good cops but who lack funds for a college education. Still, there's a clear case that a background in the humanities (including Native American culture) is a boon for a cop, as noted in an article a couple of years ago in The Atlantic: "We want the police officer who stops the car with the broken taillight to have a nodding acquaintance with great literature...Will a familiarity with Steinbeck make him more sympathetic to the plight of the poor, so that he might understand the lives of those who simply cannot get their taillights fixed?"

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