Patterico's Pontifications

9/10/2009

Beware of “Experts”

Filed under: General — Jack Dunphy @ 6:00 pm



[Guest post by Jack Dunphy]

In Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times, writer Richard Winton wrote a laudatory and laughably credulous article on the work of every liberal’s favorite police “expert,” Merrick Bobb. I place quotation marks around the word because Mr. Bobb, a politically connected lawyer, hasn’t the least bit of practical experience in matters on which he renders opinions. He has, rather, parlayed his political connections in such a way as to have himself appointed to various citizens’ commissions charged with implementing police reform in Los Angeles. His expertise, therefore, is limited to whatever knowledge he has been able to glean from reading reports prepared for him by others, many of whom have no greater knowledge of police work than he does. (Our host has posted previously on Mr. Bobb’s apparent conflict of interest in writing an opinion piece for the L.A. Times.)

Wednesday’s article focused on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Personal Performance Index, which was described as an “early-warning system” used to identify deputies displaying patterns of behavior indicative of potential liability for the county. A study released by the Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday concluded, according to the Times, that “there is a strong link between the number of complaints filed against a deputy – proven or not – and the possibility that the deputy will eventually get into serious trouble and become a liability for the department.”

It’s all well and good for the Sheriff’s Department, as does the Los Angeles Police Department, to attempt to identify officers whose behavior may indicate looming problems. What I object to is the over-reliance on computer databases to make judgments about past behavior and predictions of future behavior.

The LAPD has for several years used a similar officer-tracking system, the current version of which is known as TEAMS II. (The LAPD is crazy for acronyms; the meaning of this one currently escapes me, if indeed I ever knew it.) There are commanding officers within the LAPD, as I assume to be the case in the Sheriff’s Department, who believe they can render an accurate judgment of an officer’s worth merely by looking at a printout of the information contained within the various databases. Though in some cases one may be able to form the outlines of an opinion based on this information, to rely on it exclusively, and to accord weight to unproven and even unfounded allegations, is to do a disservice to those officers who voluntarily expose themselves to the hazards attendant to working high-crime areas.

What Mr. Bobb would realize, if he were indeed the expert he purports to be, is that making groundless complaints against police officers is a tactic long employed by criminals in Los Angeles, most especially by gang members whose activities are best curtailed by proactive policing. In the LAPD, this tactic has been known to be effective in some cases, with officers either being reassigned by cowardly managers or deciding on their own to avoid those neighborhoods where they can scarcely drive down the street without having a complaint made against them.

A colleague of mine was once denied a transfer because a captain (who has since been promoted to commander) formed an opinion of him based on a series of unproven allegations, nearly all of which were made by gang members he had arrested. The officer had an exemplary record and not a single sustained allegation against him of any type, yet he was nonetheless denied the position he sought. The job instead went to an officer who had conducted himself more cautiously – and less effectively – as he went through his career.

I once had a partner who objected as I was driving our black-and-white into a housing project in South Central L.A., one known then as now for its violent crime. “I don’t think we should be here,” he said. “It’s dangerous.”

I’m sure that officer has racked up a personnel record Mr. Bobb would hold as exemplary, but the city isn’t the least bit safer for his efforts.

–Jack Dunphy

15 Responses to “Beware of “Experts””

  1. It’s nice to know at least that they recognize there’s a problem.

    happyfeet (6b707a)

  2. “It’s dangerous.”

    Well thanks to you Jack for modeling that everyday courage police need to show.

    I think it is the Marines who like to say no better friend, no worse enemy… sounds easy, but the hardest part beyond the courageous is getting the friend/enemy protect/serve equation right, thanks for working on that part too.

    You are probably safer on the streets than you are in City Hall.
    So be safe out there….

    SteveG (97b6b9)

  3. “It’s dangerous”?! Sounds like captain material.

    Marty Farty (cb1d38)

  4. Well said. I hope someone at City Hall is listening, Jack Dunphy.

    DRJ (6a2898)

  5. If you get an unsubstantiated allegation filed against you, claim you have Asberger’s syndrome. That seems to work. A “brilliant physics student” commits arson and is not responsible. Maybe it will work for a cop.

    Mike K (addb13)

  6. Promotions for “cautiousness.” Add sycophancy to that attribute and you have the perfect administrator. We get that a lot in the L.A.U.S.D., too.

    Mike (8c4793)

  7. Bobb appears to be yet another unimpressive attorney with no credentials or core competence in law enforcement. I don’t remember what law enforcement agency he served with before being an advisor. I don’t believe he was ever a sworn police officer or deputy.

    In other words this empty suit with a law degree is allowed to carry on because he speaks well enough to appease some members of the community, varied business leaders, politicians, and several police managers. Those agencies get what they deserve if they listen to Bobb and his conglomerate.

    However, the LA Times should be admired for its consistency. That paper has never allowed the truth to get in the way of a good story.

    I.M. Copper (365f1f)

  8. “It’s dangerous.” Ha ha ha hah hhaahhhhashahahahahah.

    Ah, that guy should be a captain…..during Mayor Frank Shaw’s adminstration.

    Californio (2f8afb)

  9. Jack:
    Let me if I have this correct. Unproven charges against a LEO should not be held against him/her. Would you say the same thing about a suspect that has been arrested many times but never convicted? Just a thought.

    ckirksey (e0f4fe)

  10. Anyone else picture ckirksey scratching his/her head in bewilderment?

    JD (648eb0)

  11. It would be interesting to see how well number of complaints predicts officer effectiveness.

    Regarding #10, if I see someone with a lot of arrests, I’m going to want to know why and when. Maybe it’s a problem, maybe not depending on the circumstances. Same thing with complaints about officers.

    W Krebs (e1d89f)

  12. Jack:
    Your attitude is exactly why there should be these investigations. The police can break the law just as well as any other citizen. In fact the police should be held to a higher standard. Any credible accusation and the LEO should be suspended if not fired. Who invests police anyway except other police. No conflict there right.

    ckirksey (e0f4fe)

  13. I have to agree with the spirit of ckirksey’s comment; certainly unproven charges don’t prove anything (by definition!), but I’m sure they are extremely useful in identifying officers who should be monitored. The truth of this statement is why I’m not overly bitter when I have to pay higher insurance premiums due to speeding tickets acquired on deserted highways in the middle of the day even though I’ve never had an accident.

    The people who decide promotions should have proper incentives to promote good officers, not necessarily officers who don’t have complaints. If the incentive is for the latter, then that’s a separate problem with the incentive system, not a problem with the idea of using prior complaints in a screening process to find officers that should be more closely watched.

    Even if it were impossible to adjust the incentive system, to correct the problem you mention one need only change the relevant statistic from “total complaints” to “total complaints / average complaints per officer in the areas in which the officer is stationed”. That would fix the problem unless bad officers were able to self-select the same area to be assigned to. The solution is always more information, not less!

    Ben (7d5ee1)


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