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- Our Policing Problem is Also a Diversity Problem, Ms.
- Gender Parity in Policing is Part of the Fight to End Domestic Violence, Ms.
- The U.S. Needs Sweeping Police Reform. Start by Hiring More Women., Ms.
- Police Leaders Speak Out: “Women in Law Enforcement Must Have a Seat at the Table”, Ms.
Michele Goodwin 00:02
Welcome to “On The Issues with Michele Goodwin” at Ms. Magazine, a show where we report, rebel and tell it like it is. On this show, we center your concerns about rebuilding our nation and advancing the promise of equality. Join me as we tackle the most compelling issues of our times.
Now on today’s inaugural show, we focus on police violence: a tale of race, sex and gender. On this episode, we focus on women in policing, elevating the stories and experiences of women, which are often absent from the conversation, even in recent weeks as the nation has erupted in protests related to the tragic murder of George Floyd. Some might argue that the killing of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician in Louisville, Kentucky, was an afterthought, even though her death was no less inhumane, violent and preventable. Sadly, the history of violence against women is marked by state involvement. Whether dating back to the Antebellum South and legalized torture of Black women by slave patrols, to the horrific practices during Jim Crow, so vividly described by courageous and defiant women like Fannie Lou Hamer. The modern story of lethal policing has become far too pervasive.
And even so, women are often shut out of the conversation about it as victims, officers, leaders and researchers. Today’s show offers a shift in that narrative.
So, I’m very pleased and honored to be joined by special guests. They include Song Richardson. She is the dean and Chancellors Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. Her scholarship has been published by law journals at Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Duke and Northwestern amongst others. Her article, “Police Efficiency and the Fourth Amendment” was selected as a must-read by the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. She is an expert in implicit bias and has a groundbreaking article co-authored with Catherine Fisk on police unions.
Anne Li Kringen also joins us. She is an assistant dean and associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven. Her research focuses on organizational issues and policing, specifically addressing factors that affect diversification and organizational development. In addition to her research, she serves on the International Association of Chiefs of Police Research Advisory Committee.
Now I’m also joined by Laura Goodman today. She served in criminal justice for 35 years as a police officer, sergeant and Deputy Chief of Police in Minnesota. She was the Ombudsman for Criminal Victims for the state of Minnesota. Her work is focused on reducing violence against women, children, and increasing the representation of women in police leadership roles and teaching officers how to effectively engage victims and hold offenders accountable for their behavior.
And finally, Deirdre Fishel joins us. She is an independent filmmaker who has been writing and directing documentaries and dramas for 25 years now. She creates complex, realistic portraits that challenge mainstream stereotypes. Her most recent film, “Women In Blue,” addresses how women officers seek gender equity in Minneapolis, redefining what it means to protect and serve. Thank you all for being on the show.
Now, Dean Richardson, let me begin with you. Your impressive body of work unpacks racism in policing; you’ve engaged in empirical studies to document implicit bias in policing and you’ve worked with police departments across the country. So, I want to ask you whether police violence can be explained by implicit bias.
L. Song Richardson 04:20
Thank you so much. Again, Professor Goodwin, for having me on the show and for that question. So the easy answer to that question is: absolutely not. And I worry, when we talk about implicit or unconscious racial bias, that it becomes easy to blame everything on unconscious bias. But police violence of the type that we’re seeing today has existed in our country for centuries, right? The history of policing itself in the South was based on capturing and maintaining the very problematic practices of slavery. We think both conscious, explicit racism that has run through policing from its very beginning, in addition to the fact that unconscious biases can also impact police racial violence—so even officers who view themselves as egalitarian, as feminist, as non-racist, could also engage in in problematic racialized violence. I think it’s both.
Michele Goodwin 05:29
And you know, it’s interesting on that point, because there’s research, illuminating research, that also suggests that African American officers, for example, can in fact have biases against African Americans. What’s your response to that? Does that hold out? Is that true?
L. Song Richardson 05:48
Yes, that is absolutely true. And when we think about— I think one way to understand that is unconscious biases impact most people regardless of their race. And it’s because our brains work like computer processors, right? And so our brains just learn from the environment, from the society, in which we live. Whether we are African American, whether we are Asian, whether we are White, many of us can have these unconscious biases.
And then the structure of policing becomes its own thing, right? Its own identity. So, no matter what your racial background is, as an officer, you learn what it means to be a police officer. And for Black officers, I often think we could refer to it as a type of double consciousness, right? I wrote a recent piece about this with Devon Carbado at UCLA, about the role that Black police officers have in police departments where they want to both be “blue” (a police officer) and Black. And navigating that tension can be very difficult, which can explain some of the problematic practices that Black officers engage in themselves.
Michele Goodwin 07:05
Thank you so much for that. I’m going to pivot back to you. But I’d like to expand this and include Laura Goodman. So, Laura, you have been at the center of policing for your career; you’ve spent more than 35 years on the ground and dealing with these issues, picking up many of the same kinds of research that Dean Richardson has. What is the story behind women and policing? You know, for so many departments, there is no equity or equitable representation, one might say of women on police forces, women who come in often don’t stay. What’s the story behind that?
Laura Goodman 07:59
Well, I think that— that first of all, women are actually in police departments today; they’re actually going down in numbers. Like, in 2000, when the National Center For Women & Policing was first studying this, women were at about 14.5% [of all officers]. Now we’re about 12% nationally. So, first of all I think the problem is that women aren’t getting the jobs to begin with. We know even in Minnesota here that about 50% of our schools are women; [50%] of schools of law enforcement are women and yet only 12% making it onto our departments. That screams of discrimination. The discrimination is in the hiring process and what they’re looking for and how women are screened out. So, many of the departments have pre-hire physical fitness agendas that most women can’t afford that are highly related to brawn and upper body strength, which many women don’t have. So, they either don’t apply or they don’t get in to begin with.
Michele Goodwin 09:09
And Lauren, just one moment on that, you know, so this— this question about brawn and upper body strength. How necessary is that, actually? I mean, there are studies that show that the majority of the work that officers do is actually a lot of deskwork and things that don’t actually require brawn. I mean, is that right? I mean, the research that’s coming out now that shows that, you know, it’s really not a lot of shoot them up and you know, speed chases, but it’s the sort of milder version of serving and protecting.
Laura Goodman 09:44
That’s true. So, so I think there’s less than 4% of the whole police day—or the whole police life— that is violent crimes at all.
Michele Goodwin 09:57
So wait, let’s pause on that. Did you say less than 4%?
Laura Goodman 10:01
Michele Goodwin 10:03
Okay. That puts a lot in context, doesn’t it?
Laura Goodman 10:07
Yeah. Then here’s the biggest test though: if you have a department that doesn’t require officers every single year to meet that fitness standard, then you’ve basically said it’s not a necessary standard. I mean, how many overweight officers do we see out there on the streets? If it’s not a standard for them, it shouldn’t be a standard for anybody [applying to be a police officer]. The standard should be medical effectiveness. So, you know, you don’t have a heart condition or some medical condition that would that would be a problem on the job. You should have to be fit; you should be fit. But it shouldn’t—there’s lots of ways to be fit without having to do 25 pushups in 30 minutes, or jump over a six-foot wall, which, even though women have sued about that six-foot wall, there are still departments and schools that use that six-foot wall for testing. So, it’s not something that actually happens on the job. This isn’t TV. That’s not how policing really is.
Michele Goodwin 11:09
Mm hmm. Well, you know, it builds forward from the conversation that we’re having with Dean Richardson, which is, you know, one about implicit biases. It strikes me that this is another level or layer of implicit bias— this notion that it’s all brawn, that it’s run and shoot, and that there’s not a need for the intelligent part behind policing.
Laura Goodman 11:36
Well, I think it’s really about the fact that men have created these systems. They have created it, they’ve decided what’s important and what’s not important, and some of these requirements are, frankly, made to keep small-framed men and women out. I mean, if you really rethink what police do every day on an average, it’s mostly helping people and social justice work and things like that—that require more ability to problem solve and think critically and be creative and know the resources in their neighborhood so they can provide that to people— that they can help people help themselves.
Michele Goodwin 12:23
Right, right. So here, Anne, I’d like to bring you into the conversation. Your research focuses on diversification and organizational development in policing, and specifically looking at issues related to women and policing. What does your research help us to understand about this current status of policing in the United States? Building on what Laura has just shared with us, which is that there are barriers to women coming on to police forces. And clearly there are some significant issues with regard to retention.
Anne Li Kringen 13:13
Yeah, well, Laura is right. There is, you know, the [discrimination in the] hiring process in the physical fitness [standard]. And then there are a lot of other things that seem like seemingly small rules that really aren’t that small when you actually think about that. And I think part of the problem is there are not enough women at sort of the leadership roles, the administrative roles, in these police departments to kind of highlight these things.
So for example, I wrote a paper a couple of years ago with my co-author, Maddy (Madeleine) Novich, and it was called “Is It ‘Just Hair’ Or Is It ‘Everything?’,” and it focused solely on a haircut policy that a major metropolitan police department had in place where, if you wanted to attend to the academy as a woman, you could have hair no longer than an inch and a half. Right? And so when I came into this police department— and I’m very fortunate that I was in law enforcement, and so a lot of times I’m able to work with agencies because they know that I have sort of the background understanding of their job. But when I worked with this agency, I would interview, you know, the recruiting officers, the background investigators and the academy staff, and they would say, “Anne, it’s the hair cut policy.” And, and I interviewed, you know, some of the officers, right, the current officers and you found this split, right, some women said, “it’s just hair, it’s not a big deal.” And while it’s not very surprising for those of us who understand the literature and understand kind of cultural differences and significance with hair, this had a disproportionate effect on Black women. Right?
Michele Goodwin 14:08
Anne Li Kringen 14:08
Yeah. I mean, and so one of my favorite quotes, and I’m just gonna read it because it’s one that stays with me all the time. She says, “Do I wish there were more Black women on the force?” And this is one of the Black female—one of the few Black female officers in this major metro— said:
“Absolutely. Will there be more? Not if they keep making us cut our hair like that. It’s an issue and nobody understands it, except the Black girls That’s the first thing you say. And they’re like, No, no, no. Hair is everything. It’s a deal breaker, right?”
And so we kept consistently getting this [complaint about the hair cut policy]. And I remember finally bringing it up to administration. And they just looked at me—and granted, it was all white men—and they said, “We had no idea.” Right? Like we [the administration] didn’t even think about hair having that big of a role in the decision for a job.
And I think that part of the problem is we don’t have people in positions to make policies or to really critically evaluate these hiring practices, these rules, these issues related to attrition that say: No, these are, you know, childcare is an issue, right? Shift work and how you navigate it? Or how do you actually help people figure out the resources so that they can continue to do these types of jobs, um, shouldn’t just be, “Hey, figure it out if you really want to do the job.” And I think that has been a pervasive sort of attitude in policing: Is if you really want to do it, you’ll do anything.
Michele Goodwin 14:59
So, you know, it also sounds like without there being women on the inside, how do these messages then get communicated up to the top, right? So you have men who are serving in senior leadership in departments across the country; you see these kinds of impediments and gaps that relate, you know, to issues such as hair. Things that are innocuous you know, things that don’t relate to a person’s ability to actually serve and protect—one’s hair, but how do you get those issues resolved if women just happened if women are not there, women have been excluded?
Laura Goodman 17:05
Well, and it’s not just that I mean, like, even if there are women at the top, there are still women at the bottom who will be reluctant to support the woman at the top, because they still have to fit in with the men that they’re working with. So I mean, I can think of issues over time. Like at one point, we were trying to make it okay for women to wear earrings—not dangly ones but post earrings because they wanted to be women. I mean, that goes to the hair issue too. We want to be women in this job. We’re not trying to be many men. We’re trying to bring our own perspective. And if you reflect the community you serve, that includes women looking like women. So you know, it took a lot of struggle for us to get a policy for women to be able to wear earrings and then of course right away the men would be like, “Well, I want to wear earrings, too.” And while today that wouldn’t be a big deal, or wouldn’t even be different, back then it was different. So.
Michele Goodwin 18:07
And the men seriously did want to wear earrings. They weren’t just trying to undermine women wanting to wear earrings?
Laura Goodman 18:13
No yeah, some of them really did want to wear earrings. But, you know, that was considered, like, really out there at the time. But now you look at it when I go back to men make the rules. So now with tattoos and pin-shaved heads and, you know, all those things are going on because men want them. Men want to be able to wear tattoos and men want to be able to wear beards and mustaches and shave their head bald. So, they get it.
L. Song Richardson 18:46
Absolutely. And Michele, you did raise the issue of implicit bias too. And I think it plays a role for exactly these reasons with regard to hair and the physical requirements. Because when you think about: What is our stereotypical view of a police officer? It is male. Right? That’s who we think about and that plays into what requirements we think police officers should have, what type of hair they should have, the type of ability to jump over a six-foot fence. I mean, that doesn’t happen that often. Right? So, we see the interplay.
Michele Goodwin 19:18
In fact, when does that happen? I mean, really? You know? What is that on the day-to-day for a police officer? “Oh, yeah, man, I just had to jump over a few six-foot fences today.”
Laura Goodman 19:31
It doesn’t happen. And first of all, officer survival training would say, “Why would you jump over six foot fence if you don’t know what’s on the other side?” You know, and my friend tells a great story about what she did when a six-foot fence did present. She just walked through the gate. So maybe—
Michele Goodwin 19:50
Because that’s what women do, right? That thinking, like, “Why do I need to jump over this fence when I can just go through the door?”
I want to bring Deirdre Fishel into this conversation. This is a particularly pointed conversation for me, because last year, my uncle, Charles Mays, who was a civil rights leader, and who lived in Minneapolis, passed away. And, the very street that I would drive on to go to his home was where George Floyd was tragically murdered. And, so seeing that—not just the over eight minutes, eight minutes 46 seconds video, that was bravely videotaped by a young woman, a 17-year-old in Minneapolis. It resonated with me in particular ways given that my uncle had, in fact, spent his entire career working towards social justice. And elevating the concerns of all people, not just African Americans but also of women. He was indefatigable in that and so what a tragedy. And I lived in Minneapolis prior to joining the faculty at the University of California at Irvine; I was a professor at the University of Minnesota in its law school, medical school and school of public health.
And so the story behind George Floyd’s murder really touched me in important ways, and Deirdre with your recent film, “Women in Blue,” addressing how women officers seek gender equity in Minneapolis. Boy, is that ever timely. And I wanted you on this show because you’ve also been on the ground, engaging in the stories of women officers in Minneapolis. Can you give us some insights about what brought you to that project? Why did you choose Minneapolis? What has it been like for you in the wake of these recent events?
Deirdre Fishel 22:12
So I got into making a film about women police officers. I don’t come from a policing family at all or had really not thought about women in policing, but Eric Garner was killed by an NYPD officer a couple of blocks away from where I was shooting my last film. And, I do know one person in the NYPD and she happened to be a woman and I turned to her and I asked her, point blank, if it could have happened on her watch. It just seems so outrageous, and she said, “absolutely not.” That this young officer [responsible for Garner’s death] had quickly escalated the situation out of control and that she [my friend] would have started by simply saying, “Hi, my name is Sallie Norris, what’s yours?” And I just kept thinking about those words. I know now that they’re a de-escalation technique, but to me, they just seemed human.
And they just…and I started to think about this question of do women police differently, and when I found statistics going back to the 1990’s, after Rodney King—the Rodney King beating—and when the Christopher Commission started investigating the LAPD, that showed that women communicate better, de-escalate better and that they use excessive force in much lower rates than their male counterparts. And then I just felt like, wow, I was so upset about police violence. And I had never really thought about this angle of what could women bring to policing and I knew there were very few [women in policing]. And I knew there had been calls even in the 90’s for there to be many, many more; 43% of what they called for at that time to make a police department that was healthier and more humane.
And I went to Minneapolis really for two reasons. I went because it had a woman chief, and Chief (Janeé) Harteau also really wanted to elevate this role of what women could bring [to policing]. And she gave me tremendous access to the department. I mean, [she] basically said if a woman agrees to be in the film, you can follow her anywhere in any part of her job. But I also was interested in Minneapolis because it had both a history of police violence, and yet Chief Harteau was really on a mission to transform and reform that police department. And I thought that tension of struggling to reform and that women— I wouldn’t be looking at women in the silo. But I would be looking at women in the context of the same struggles that police departments were having nationwide. And that’s how I got, you know, to Minneapolis. The story that I thought I was going to tell though, was not the story because there were a series of police officer-involved shootings in the two years that I was there.
Michele Goodwin 25:19
Yes, yes. In fact, can you tell us a little bit about that. And, you know, what’s interesting as well is that, of course, Chief Harteau is no longer there. And it makes me wonder—and this will be a question that I’ll open up to guests after you tell us a little bit more about your experience in filming— is about whether women pay a steeper cost when they are higher up in the ranks. Because after one of the shootings that took place during the time in which you were filming, she departed. And when you think about departments across the country where there have been police killings of unarmed armed people, unarmed women, unarmed men—usually leadership stays. And very often they officer stay too, although she is gone. So, first, can you tell us a little bit about what happened during the time in which you were shooting [the film]?
Deirdre Fishel 26:16
Yeah. So, we’d been there about three months. And there was a, an officer involved shooting. The racial dynamics of this were atypical, it was a white woman—who was an Australian woman—who was killed by an officer of color. And I think that became an international incident. I think the white community in Minneapolis really stood up with the Black community and I think there was, there was a lot of pressure at that point to have her resign.
I also think, you know, they’re complicated political dynamics. She had a very difficult relationship with the mayor. And as well, there had been an earlier shooting of Jamar Clark, a young man of color also by a white officer. And I think the Black community had really never forgiven her for that, although there were three investigations. So, um, there were a lot of complex dynamics that asked, where she was asked to resign. And I think, you know, in the end, she probably could have fought it. But I think he [who is he? Or did Deidre mean “she” as in Harteau?] felt at that point, that it would be better for the department if she stayed.
I think what happened next was really totally shocking, because, you know, this was a police department that had almost, like, a single person consent decree to change the experience of women in the department to try to recruit more women and to put women into every level of leadership. So it was a really unique police department. With a woman chief. There was a woman assistant chief who was just retiring as Chief Arradondo, who’s now the chief, was becoming assistant chief. They [women] were commanders. They were heads of precincts. And I think that there was a feeling because Chief Arradondo had just been promoted assistant chief, and had been promoted four or five times by Chief Harteau, that he would keep up with this idea that women could play a really important role and to continue that commitment to elevating women in the department.
He did not do that; no women were put into his executive team. And I think that really started a whole period of alienation of women in leadership, where they suddenly felt that their voices were not heard. There was not a lot of communication. They were moved around. And I think this is a really different thing that women want. It’s not just communication when they’re out on the street. It is also communication in an organization about why things are done, what’s important and working together and creating that kind of community. And I think what really hurt women was that there were no discussions anymore. It was like you were given a message. You know, one of the women found out that she had not been promoted to the executive team—when everyone in the department thought she would be— through reading about it in the newspaper.
Michele Goodwin 29:37
Oh my gosh. Wow. Well, you know, to pivot and include now a broader conversation amongst us all, you know, it also makes me think about the ways in which women are penalized and punished for doing their jobs, are not elevated when they are doing their jobs exceptionally well. It reminds me of what’s also been documented within the space of women as firefighters, and these tragic, horrible stories of women waking in the middle of the night being peed upon by their male colleagues, and other kinds of horrors that happen, not just in terms of the administrative ladder and whether you hit a glass ceiling, but actually just the bullying, and the ways in which the culture shuts women out in really horrific kinds of ways. Do any of you want to comment on that?
Laura Goodman 30:35
Well, it happens.
Michele Goodwin 30:38
Well, I mean, yes. I mean to really comment on that, because for so many in our audience, you know, we have—there’s a way in which women have made so many strides. And many of those strides have been without writing memoirs about what they encountered, such that now we’re in a space where, you know, it’s possible that people might think, “Well, you know, all things are equal. Women are not doing so badly.” They actually do not know about what women have experienced over time and experience today in order to lift up these various spaces in which they work.
L. Song Richardson 31:17
Absolutely. And some of this can begin in the [police] academy. Right? There’re some beautiful articles written about that—there was a woman professor who embedded herself within a police academy. And she writes this beautiful piece about the way, from the very beginning, right, with the way the instructors treated the female recruits who were in the academy, the way that the fellow recruits in the academy treated the female recruits without the instructor saying or doing anything about it. Right? The socialization process of what it means to be an officer begins in the academy and continues throughout, right, as we’ve already heard by from some of the other guests.
Michele Goodwin 32:05
Mm hmm. Laura, were you going to pick up on that?
Laura Goodman 32:08
Yeah. What, yeah, what she just said is true. And if—even no matter what you learn in the academy and even if there are women working in the academy, they’re [women officers] toeing the line too. And so, you get that and then you get your first field training officers which these are two places where I think are critical places to change. But you get your field training officers which (Derek) Chauvin (the police officer who killed George Floyd) was one of them. And the first thing they say is, “I don’t care what you learned in the academy. This is how we’d really do it.” So, a lot of times I hear people talk about policies of the police department. Many times the policies are just fine, but it’s the standard of practice—what they actually do that is what gets handed down from officer to officer, what has to be part of how you do your work, if you’re going to belong in this club. And women are never going to belong in the club, they’re just never going to. There are some that think they’re going to and everybody kind of tries to at first; but, you’re not in the club, you’re not ever going to be in the club. And as soon as you get that over with, you can start behaving like you want to behave as a woman officer in this field.
Michele Goodwin 33:24
So, what was that like for you, Laura? I mean, you spent, you know, decades on the ground and also in administration. How did you then carve a way for yourself and for those who came after you?
Laura Goodman 33:40
Well, it wasn’t easy. I can tell you, like, when I started in the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department and I sued them for discrimination
Michele Goodwin 34:39
Well, there you go!
Laura Goodman 33:40
You know, they only hired enough women to work in the women’s section. So they let all the women— all the women knew how to work master control, but they’d had all the women train the men. And then they just kept the women in the women’s section, which meant that you didn’t get to do the jobs that would help you in any promotion. And I had officers I was way senior to that got positions before I got positions. So that’s why I sued them. And then I went to Minneapolis, and Tony Bouza was the chief then and he was very keen on hiring a lot of women and he didn’t care that I sued Ramsey County. All the power to me, welcome aboard Minneapolis. And at first, I loved it there. But my first FTO told me every single day—
Michele Goodwin 34:39
An FTO, Lauren, what’s an FTO?
Laura Goodman 34:42
It’s a field training officer.
Michele Goodwin 34:44
Laura Goodman 34:44
So that there was a short academy [training] and then you were in field training, working with another officer. And every single day he told me—and more than once a day— that I had taken a job away from a white man. And so that’s how it started.
Michele Goodwin 35:01
And that was saying that to you as a white woman.
Laura Goodman 35:04
Michele Goodwin 35:01
Laura Goodman 35:04
Because I took a job away from a man. And he didn’t care about anybody but white men. But it was like, this is like every day, so you’re fighting through this. I had colleagues who would pull up to a burglary and, and they’d sit in the car and the woman would say, well, shouldn’t we go in and take a report and [the accompanying male policer officer would] throw it [the car] into park and say, “go ahead, take a report.” I mean, there were so many things that went on that were so bad, but you had to just get through it. You had to get through the probation and move on and try to do the job the best that you could. And after field training, again, I felt like I had a good career.
I did a lot of important stuff when Tony Bouza was there, because he supported that. But when he left, it’s like just like what you just said about Janeé [Harteau]; when a good chief leaves, the department reverts back like pulling out a rubber band and having it snapped loose. It just goes right back to the place that’s comfortable— for what men have decided it should be. So, it’s really hard to push forward and get ahead of this. Good chiefs are either let go, or they resign because of the pressure put on them to do so, or they’re, you know, they’re set up. So, it’s really tough— there’s a lack of political will by politicians to push through this and really make police reform work.
Michele Goodwin 36:47
And it sounds like the experience that you had— and also other officers— really like a hazing that women go through rather than a training?
Laura Goodman 37:00
It is. I mean this was quite a while ago. So, I don’t know for sure what’s going on today. But I do hear from women, that they get the same sort of stuff, you know, they’re meant to just take it, just take it, just take all the sexist jokes, and take whatever we [other officers] call you and, and just put up with it. That’s what you have to do. Whenever I hear that a woman is suing a police department, I just know how bad it was for her, because there’s so much that women actually tolerate before they get to that place. That they just have to, because they have to count on people for backup and they have to, uh, they have to get along.
Michele Goodwin 37:44
Deirdre Fishel 37:46
I was just gonna jump in and say I mean, you know, it’s so hard [for women police officers]. You’re so in the minority, that it is… It’s sort of like the path of least resistance. So, you know, in the, in our film, you know, you have a Black woman sergeant with a, you know, roll call of all white men. And, you know, they kind of hassle her, they kind of tease her, they kind of do, you know, lewd jokes. And I think what’s incredible is that I don’t think she even has the consciousness that’s something that you can fight against. It’s just sort of the way it is.
And I think that’s what really scary to me is to watch—and I think I watched this with a young woman—it’s like this idea that every woman who’s going to come in is going to be able to fight and you know, do the right thing and not be influenced. And the young rookie that we followed, I watched as her behavior became more aggressive. And a really poignant moment for me was as a cop, you know, you’re not trained to question yourself. And at one point, she got into the patrol car—she had pushed somebody. And you know, very, very small compared when you’re thinking about excessive force, but she had lost control and she had pushed someone. And she said, “I’m sorry that I pushed him. And I didn’t think we were going to actually cite him, give him a citation.” And you know, her partner was like, “Well, no, he wasn’t going to listen anyway.” And if, if you’ve got your, if you’ve got male partners, and you’ve got male sergeants, it’s very hard to really stand up to that when the message that you’re getting is: “Don’t think too much, just kind of enforce the law.”
And I really think it’s, you know, what we desperately need is not just women, but women who have a different view of policing that it isn’t just about law enforcement. It’s about what Laura said, about caring for communities and protecting people and serving people. But I think that it’s a very hard course for a woman like that to buck the system. And I really hope that the tragedy of George Floyd’s death has led us to a level of understanding that police departments need some political will, some societal will, to stand up for the officers in the department that are trying to change things. Police culture is pervasive.
Michele Goodwin 40:43
Yeah, and with Breonna Taylor. I mean across the country, right, to see this because you know, George Floyd’s death is horrific, and you were right there in Minneapolis, but you know, across the country, we have seen this.
I’m going to turn back to you, Song, in just a moment. But I want to think then about origins. Right? So the very origins of policing in the United States were related to race, policing indigenous populations, and quite specifically, the slave patrols. I mean the very badges that are used today resemble almost identically. I mean, they’re born from their predecessors, which were the slave patrol badges, which at the top said police and, on the bottom, said slave patrol. And instantiated into law were terms about how much one could actually brutalize, you know, Black people. I mean, if you read the laws that established these forces, in parts across the country, especially in the South, I mean, some of them explicitly listed, you know, how much beatings you were entitled to, you know, give, you know, to a person who was enslaved. And so, you know, part of the culture that we’re talking about is not a culture that just begins out of nowhere, right?
I mean, it’s a part of a culture that, over time, brings us to today except we tend to be rather ahistorical in the United States. So just as people are discovering Juneteenth, you know, people are beginning to discover the origins of policing. And I’m going to pivot to you, Song, because I think you were just about to mention something.
L. Song Richardson 42:26
Yes, and I want to pick up on that incredibly important point that you raised, right, because we do need to take account of the history of policing because it’s embedded into the very structures, right, the organizational structures and culture of policing. I mean, you mentioned the slave patrols and police enforcing Jim Crow laws. And you fast forward to some of what we heard the other guests talk about, which is, if you challenge an officer, they will respond. Right? Verbally challenge an officer. And you can tie that right back to, if you’re a Black individual, that challenged an officer during Jim Crow, you are going to be put your place violently. And that culture of not challenging officers, especially if you happen to be a person of color, remains in place today.
But the thing I wanted to pick up on— and I don’t remember who was saying this, it might have been Deirdre— about we need more women officers, we need a different type of policing. And if we had more women and people who were more community oriented, things will change. I agree with that.
I want to add one important piece to it. There is and someone else said this this too… There is a lack of political will to really change police departments. Because if we really wanted to change police departments, we would change the structures of policing and by that I mean: what are the metrics management uses, brass uses, the chief uses to measure productivity and the rank and file? Is it how many stops you make? How many tickets you write? How many…arrests you make? Because if that is the metric, then it doesn’t matter how many people, how many people of color, how many women are in police departments, right?
We have to change the way that we measure “good” policing. And that can come from the chief. But then you have to contend with the union. And then you have the union’s power over the politicians. So, we’ve been spending so much time in our country, talking about police unions. And I want people to remember that the contracts with the problematic provisions in them are approved by politicians. Right, so let’s not just look at the union. Let’s look at the politicians. Let’s look at the prosecutors. Let’s look at the laws that exist, because it’s an entire system that creates the problems that we have today.
Michele Goodwin 45:01
All right, so a hot button issue that I want us to pivot to, then, is in fact talking about police unions and the issue of abolition. So, in your work, you have, in fact, early on, right now, it’s a bigger conversation about police unions—especially given that some of the heads of police unions have made it very clear their intentions regarding how policing should go in America.
So, should there be a call for abolition? What do you all think about that? And then I’m going to pivot back to you, Song, about this question about police unions because you’ve written about this. So, Anne, Laura, Deirdre: abolition?
Laura Goodman 45:48
Are you talking abolition of police unions?
Michele Goodwin 45:50
Well, you know, what does that what does it mean to you when people are articulating right now, you know, that there should be an abolition of police forces, that there should be something different? You know, that when someone calls 911, perhaps there are individuals other than police officers who should show up.
Laura Goodman 46:10
Well, I have grave concerns about that. I don’t think that policing should be abolished. I think it should be changed. I think that, you know, maybe this event will give people the political will to do it. I hope so. Because there’s ways we— I mean, I could sit down with five of my women colleagues, and we could change this, if anyone would let us. You know, we think we know what needs to be done.
But as far as unions are concerned, unions— police unions in particular— have always been so politicized. And that is what should stop. I mean, when you have a, in politics, the first thing they [politicians] want is the police union’s endorsement. And what does that say? They’re going to be paying back to the police union. So, somehow—I don’t know how— but if they could de-politicize unions, that would be helpful.
The other thing that would be helpful if, is if unions could understand that they’re still working for the people. I mean, their job is to provide their officers with support and due process, but it’s like you’re still working for your community. You’re still officers in these communities. And there has to be some balance between what is right for the community and what is right for officers— and I think it’s gone way overboard.
So no, no abolishment. Let me just say this one thing about what I’m concerned about. I read about this even yesterday or today about someone was talking about different calls for policing are just social issues like domestic violence and I thought, if you turn domestic violence into just a family problem again, this will have turned the domestic violence movement back 30 years or more. And it will, again have officers thinking about it as a family problem and not something that needs intervention by the community to protect women. I’m very concerned about that in particular.
There are other calls that I think would be fine to have advocates, social workers, especially that the biggest issue is mental health issues when so much funding has gone away from that, and those issues become police issues. So, I agree that—
Michele Goodwin 48:45
Yeah, I mean, on that point, I mean, in Los Angeles, well, the nation’s largest mental health facility happens to be the LA County Jail. And that tells us, you know, quite a lot, you know, on that point, right?
So is your response to that is that: look, women could figure this out, keeping some of the structures in place. But you’d agree that there are police that are called to circumstances in which, you know, having experts would be better suited to arrive and address some of those situations?
Laura Goodman 49:15
Yes, because the thing is, is that as other social programs, funding has gone away— everything has become the police problem. And so in, especially, again, with mental health issues being number one, and police can’t be everything.
Michele Goodwin 49:33
They can’t and certainly shouldn’t be, right. I mean, as these times show us.
Before we wrap up, I do want us to talk a little bit more about police unions. And I want to come back to you, Dean Richardson, about your article in your work in this regard, is very interesting, because there’s so much that gets conflated and thinking about police unions.
Sometimes people think about well, if you get rid of police unions, isn’t that just like getting rid of unions that work on behalf of plumbers, electricians and whatnot? And as I’ve said to that, you know, no plumber gets to put his knee on your neck for nearly nine minutes and get away with it and keep his job, you know, there’s no electrician who gets to meet you in your driveway and shoot you multiple times in your car while you’re unarmed and your child is in the backseat, and yet keep his or her job and, and not arrested and prosecuted for it. So, I think it’s also very important to distinguish what is meant by these unions and what they do. Could you just fill us in a little bit on that?
L. Song Richardson 50:39
Absolutely. And you’re so right with the points that you make, and once again, so if we were to think about eliminating police unions altogether, I just want to make the point this one more time that wouldn’t solve the problems, right? Because some of the statutes exists because politicians pass them, these law enforcement officers’ bill of rights that contain the identical provisions that are in union contracts that are so problematic.
I’ll give you a couple of examples of what is problematic in some of these union contracts that makes it so difficult to discipline officers who engage in serious misconduct and murder. One of the most important pieces of it is officers, in these union contracts or in the statutes I just talked about, can take any discipline meted out by a chief— right because chiefs don’t want bad officers in the department either. And so chief will sanction or discipline an officer. The officer often gets to have a say in who the arbitrator is because there’s often mandatory arbitration. So, the officer is disciplined by the Chief. It goes into an arbitration and arbitrators more often than not, will, will reverse the discipline and re-hire—force the rehiring of officers, right? And so in San Antonio, for instance, 70%— I believe that’s the number of officers who were disciplined and fired— had to be re-hired, right based on the arbitrators’ decision. That is ridiculous! Right?
So often, we point to the union, but we should be pointing our finger at arbitrators too, at politicians who pass these laws and approve these contracts. And so there’re very problematic provisions within union contracts that I believe should be eliminated both from the contracts and from the bills. Another one is— I’ll just mention a couple more and then stop— preventing investigations of anonymous civilian complaints. Right? That’s a scary provision, because so many of us will file complaints anonymously because of our fear of retaliation.
And another thing that unions, the power that they have within departments; I think this is an important point related to our earlier discussion. There are officers, rank and file officers, like the ones that we have on this call today, who disliked what is happening in their department. They want the bad officers can be punished, and yet they too are silenced, because they see what happens to bad officers. They see the support given to officers who engage in violent misconduct. They see these officers returning to the police department, because their discipline was overturned. And that is something that prevents culture from changing because you learn, as a rank and file officer, “I better not say anything, because this officer is likely to come back and then I will face the wrath of my fellow officers”. So, there is much to talk about when it comes to unions.
Laura Goodman 54:01
That’s right. I can’t agree more with what you just said. And I wanted to add something to that this— the whole issue of how the sort of power that police unions begin to have and the sense of the entitlement they create and the privilege.
So, an example of this is that what happened in Buffalo. So, two officers get suspended for pushing down a 75-year-old man and 57 of their coworkers resigned from their unit. Now, that is entitlement to the max. They think they’re so special that the department can’t live without them. And that’s how the union comes across too: you can’t live without us. You need us. And so we’re [the union] going to get as much as we can get, and politicians run scared from that. They run scared that they’re not going to get the union endorsement. And so there really does need to be political will to change. In the Buffalo case, those jobs are coveted, key positions that they gave up.
If I were their chief, I’d say, “See you later.” And then I’d say, “By the way, you’re still working the protest tonight, but just take off those ninja suits.” And, you know, you gotta have some courage to make change for sure.
Deirdre Fishel 55:27
I just want to quickly jump in and just really agree with Song that you know that this issue of the union and arbitration laws are something that I really saw in my two years in Minneapolis. It was a source of unbelievable frustration to Chief Harteau; that she would fire officers, and then they would be back on the job and the message that that sent and the way that it undermined her authority.
But we also followed a commander in internal affairs. As she’s trying to, you know, work to rebuild trust in the community, you know, she’s watching these arbitration laws and the unions and really take— it sort of invalidates your work. Because if you’re in internal affairs and you’re trying to investigate this and get the evidence that this officer needs to go, and then they’re back on the job, it sort of becomes almost a charade in reform and accountability. I just don’t think that—I think that people really have to see that whole system as well. Because I do think that there are people in policing who are working very hard and their work is being undermined by these systemic issues.
Anne Li Kringen 56:45
Well, and I think also, this does discuss this idea of majority rules and unions. And so I’ve done some work looking at maternity policies, and what police departments actually have maternity policies for women. And a lot of times it can’t get past the union, right? Which is, you know, which then continues to keep, you know, this idea of the numbers [of women] down, because: Where are you going to go if you have to use all your sick time to basically take care of your child when there should be some sort of leave associated with this? And so it continues to then have a male-dominated sort of status quo.
But I do think that we, as a society, need to discuss what is our role in our communities to really engage this. Right? And so I’ve worked with, you know, civil service commissions, where I’ve worked with police departments who have had problems with changing their hiring process, because their local civil service says, “No, we don’t want to change these rules.” Even if they see that there’s a disproportionate impact on female applicants or individuals of color. And so, it’s challenging when the community or the society itself doesn’t think about its role and how they perpetuate these problems in policing and law enforcement.
Michele Goodwin 58:09
I want to thank our guests, because you’ve been absolutely exceptional today in providing us history, context and also points of debate helping us to understand the contemporary points of debate regarding policing in the United States today, and as well, centering the issues and the concerns of women in this. We really could have this conversation multiple times for multiple hours because there’s so much to unpack. We haven’t even gotten to questions regarding qualified immunity, and what does it take in order for there to be justice served.
As we close out, I want to thank our listeners for joining us for today’s episode of “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin,” and I want to thank my guests, Dean Song Richardson, Professor Anne Li Kringen, Laura Goodman and also Deirdre Fishel for joining us and being part of this critical and insightful conversation. And to our listeners, I thank you for tuning in.
We hope that you join us again for our next episode, where we will be reporting, rebelling and telling it like it is with special guests, Senator Carol Moseley Braun and Representative Katie Porter, and tackling issues addressing rebuilding America. It will be an episode like this one that you will not want to miss.
Now for more information on what we discussed today, please head to msmagazine.com. And if our listeners want to connect with you, my guests, through social media, where can they find you? We’ll start with you, Song.
L. Song Richardson 59:55
The easiest way to find me is to go to the UCI law website and then all of my accounts and email addresses are there.
Michele Goodwin 60:04
All right, that sounds good and hit her up on Twitter. And also I believe that the law school has an Instagram account, too. You’ll find all of that at her UCI law website. Just look for L. Song Richardson. And what about you, Anne Li Kringen?
Anne Li Kringen 60:22
As well, all of my information is at the University of New Haven website. And I have only recently started, I believe, “tweeting” is the correct terminology?
Michele Goodwin 60:32
Yes. I think that’s what they call it.
Anne Li Kringen 60:38
And it’s @AnneKringen on Twitter.
Michele Goodwin 60:41
Laura, where might our listeners find you on social media?
Laura Goodman 60:46
Most of my information is on the website educationforcriticalthinking.org. Or my email at email@example.com.
Michele Goodwin 61:00
Thank you. And Deirdre, where can we tune in and learn more about what you’re doing?
Deirdre Fishel 61:06
Yeah, well you could go to my website which is mindseyeprods.com, Minds Eye Productions, or I am the head of the BFA in Film and Video at The City College of New York. So, you can find me on The City College website.
Michele Goodwin 61:24
Thank you so much.
Michele Goodwin 61:26
If you believe as we do that women’s voices matter, that equality for all persons cannot be delayed, and that rebuilding America, being unbought and unbossed, and reclaiming our time are important—then be sure to visit us at Apple Podcasts. Look for us at msmagazine.com for new content and special episode updates. Rate and subscribe to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Google podcasts and Stitcher. Let us know what you think about our show.
This has been your host, Michele Goodwin, reporting, rebelling and telling it like it is. “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” is an Ms. Magazine joint production. Kathy Spillar and Michele Goodwin are our executive producers. Our producers are Maddy Pontz and Roxy Szal. Our assistant producer is Rina Wakefield, and LaTiara Rashid and Zoe Larkin are our research assistants. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandi Phipps, and editing by Will Alvarez. Music is by Chris J. Lee. Stephanie Wilner provides executive assistance.
Editor’s note: Thanks to Sarah Montgomery for editorial support.