Influence & Impact

The big news story in NYC during the first part of the week was in relation to a woman who was arrested at a benefits office in Brooklyn for causing some kind of disturbance. Nothing particularly noteworthy about that you say – you’d be right. However, the hullabaloo that followed was all in relation to the way in which the woman’s baby was pulled from her arms whilst she was lying on the floor (see video below). Extremely unsavoury pictures and, quite rightly, a lot of challenging questions being asked about whether this was really necessary. The Brooklyn District Attorney was quick to voice his concern over the matter:

“Like everyone who watched the arrest of Jazmine Headley, I was horrified by the violence depicted in the video and immediately opened an investigation into this case. It is clear to me that this incident should have been handled differently”

The officers involved were from two agencies: warranted officers from the NYPD and two ‘peace officers’ from the Human Resources Administration. I’m still not entirely sure what these are, but Wikipedia tells us that: “The term ‘peace officer’ is used to describe anyone who has statutory law enforcement powers. The term ‘police officer’ is used to describe a ‘peace officer’ who works for a police agency”. So, all cops are peace officers (the umbrella term for working in law enforcement) but not all peace officers are cops. Phew, glad that’s done.

It is notable that the two NYPD officers involved will face no sanctions – within just a few days the case was closed. However the two HRA peace officers have been suspended without pay. A peculiar turn of events.

However, the view from the HRA peace officers was as follows:

“…what wasn’t seen in the video was [the woman] biting…during the scuffle. [she] was verbally abusive and deliberately used her 18-month-old son as a shield to avoid arrest, taking him from his stroller and clutching him to her chest as [we] attempted to take her into custody”. 

A very messy affair, from which no one emerges with any credit.

I mentioned last week about how engaged and interested the students are here, both in my own lectures and those which I have observed. With that in mind, it was very nice to receive a thank you letter this week from one of the students.

I’ve been pondering my original Fulbright application this week and considering what it was I hoped to achieve and indeed the ambitions I articulated during my interview with the Fulbright commission back in January. One of the main things I spoke about was in relation to having genuine influence and impact – particularly in terms of my interactions with the students. I’m conscious that I’m in a very privileged position, being given a platform to talk about my research interests including police reform, police leadership and organisational culture. There is clearly tremendous respect for policing in the UK, so it’s really important that I make sure I talk to the students about the big stuff that really matters, so that they can go on to have the kind of impact and influence that they are seeking in their careers. Hopefully I am making some progress towards this goal. The semester is now drawing to a close, so my lectures are finished for the year. I’ll be touting myself across the department to get involved as much as I can once classes start again in January.

I had family visiting this week, so enjoyed a couple of nice meals out. Sunday was particularly cold, so (perhaps unwisely) we decided to venture out for a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. We finished up in the New York Public Library, which was thankfully warm and equally spectacular.

To follow up some of the stats I mentioned in last week’s blog, I’ve been looking at some more stuff in relation to corrections / prisons this week. There are a couple of pretty grim documentaries on You Tube that look inside New York’s notorious Rikers Island prison. It has an average daily population of 10,000 inmates and 100,000 admissions per year. The violence in this place is horrendous and the use of solitary confinement really disturbing. Under the current leadership of the prison, juveniles are no longer being kept in solitary confinement, but many adult prisoners are. It’s plain to see that locking someone up on their own for 23 hours a day only makes them more dangerous, more unwell and more likely to reoffend. However, the contrary view is: what else do we do with people who go around stabbing people in prison and attacking prison officers? Certainly a fair point. I’m making some enquiries to visit the prison, hopefully I’ll be able to get over there for a few hours (no longer, I hope) in the new year. As noted on the article you can find via the link below: “The American criminal legal system adopted the use of solitary confinement in the mid-1800s as a means to inspire true regret in the hearts of convicts”. The trouble is, this (questionable) logic from the 1800s is perhaps still being applied today.

I had another couple of interviews at NYPD HQ this week, speaking to some of their senior team about how they have gone about introducing policy changes over the past couple of years. As with some of the stuff we have been doing in London, it’s not all been easy and there are now some steps being taken to resolve earlier mistakes.

On Saturday, we had a very interesting experience. I met a gent called Max at one of my lectures last week, he invited us to a gun range in New Jersey, to have a go at shooting some firearms. Not something I’ve done before, or had any particular ambition to do. But, when in Rome….

Max was good enough to pick us up first thing and take us to a great diner for a huge American breakfast. With our bellies full, we then headed to the range to see what this shooting stuff is all about. Max spent 10 years in the US military, so is perfectly placed to take a novice like me through how to use a gun. We spent a couple of hours shooting with a handgun and a bigger gun, which I think was a rifle (should have written down what they were called – doh). It was all very safe and controlled, with some super professional people working at the range. There were a few of the ‘types’ I had expected – all dressed up like they were going to war and rapid firing at the targets in a rather cavalier fashion. However in the main, this was just people enjoying their hobby at the weekend. I’m probably the least ‘gun’ type person I know (I’m scared of most things) so this was certainly all a big adventure! I don’t think my aim was too bad, but it was certainly even louder than I had expected. Frighteningly so.

It’s my ambition to try and write a blog, just one, where police use of force or US gun culture is not part of the conversation. I’m not sure that will be happening any time soon – but I’ll try!

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