A natural experiment in policing

Golden Valley is a wealthy suburb of Minneapolis, 85% white, and mostly liberal. They decided to do something about the racial discrimination that’s been making so much news in the Minneapolis region, and made a commitment to diversifying the police force.

The first hire was Officer Alice White, the force’s first high-ranking Black woman. The second was Virgil Green, the town’s first Black police chief.

“When I started, Black folks I’d speak to in Minneapolis seemed surprised that I’d been hired,” Chief Green said when I spoke with him recently. “They told me they and most people they knew avoided driving through Golden Valley.”

Great! A good start, you might say. Except that one demographic, the police force itself, was not happy.

Members of the overwhelmingly white police force responded to both hires by quitting — in droves.

An outside investigation later revealed that some officers had run an opposition campaign against Chief Green. One of those officers recorded herself making a series of racist comments during a call with city officials, then sent the recording to other police officers. She was fired — prompting yet another wave of resignations.

Oh. So the problem wasn’t the citizens, it was the police force itself!

Those resigning police probably expected the town to learn a hard lesson, about how they need to respect and appreciate the hard working, but rather racist, police officers. Except…

The interesting thing is that according to Chief Green, despite the reduction in staff, crime — already low — has gone down in Golden Valley. The town plans to staff the department back up, just not right away. “I’ve heard that the police union is cautioning officers from coming to work here,” Mr. Harris said. “But that’s OK. We want to take the time to hire officers who share our vision and are excited to work toward our goals.”

Maybe Golden Valley is weird and unique. Or maybe not:

When New York’s officers engaged in an announced slowdown in policing in late 2014 and early 2015, civilian complaints of major crime in the city dropped. And despite significant staffing shortages at law enforcement agencies around the country, if trends continue, 2023 will have the largest percentage drop in homicides in U.S. history. It’s true that such a drop would come after a two-year surge, but the fact that it would also occur after a significant reduction in law enforcement personnel suggests the surge may have been due more to the pandemic and its effects than depolicing.

Has anyone considered that maybe the people who want to work as police are the real undesirable element in our communities?


  1. says

    I’ve been saying this forever.

    Policing agencies are the problem, and it’s not about a bad individual. It’s about institutional memory and institutional inertia even more than it is about policies and/or personnel.

    Those policies are created by SOMEONE. Those personnel are hired by SOMEONE.

    The system has failed. Ditching the system we have to create a better one from scratch is the only way to go. This isn’t quite that, but it’s close. And the more towns have this experience, the more fragile will become the hold of fucked up policing masquerading as a thin-blue-line necessary for civilization.

  2. stwriley says

    It’s not really surprising, once you consider that many of those who want to become police officers and have been running departments and training new officers for a very long time are, basically, authoritarian bullies. As we have gradually slipped into the ethos of the “warrior cop” and the militarization of police departments, this is exactly the kind of person who is attracted. We could learn a lot about how to fix this by looking at other countries that do it much better, but the fact remains that it will take this kind of wholesale flushing out of police departments just to start the process. Then we need new leaders like Chief Green, better screening to weed out the bullies and other undesirable types from recruitment and retention, new methods of training that emphasize de-escalation and community connection, and new approaches that don’t depend on policing to perform other community services that are better done by other professionals (mental health crisis intervention, for instance.)

  3. lakitha tolbert says

    I agree. If cities are going to have the police do certain types of jobs, (like mental health checks for example) have those specific officers not carry any weaponry .Why? Because for what they’ve been assigned to do they won’t need it.

    Not only should the hiring process be optimized to weed out those people who just want any kind of power, but all of the training needs to de-emphasize that aspect as well. (I would prefer it if most of law enforcement never carried weapons at all, and just like in the UK, weapons training is only had by specialist groups within law enforcement.)

    There are plenty of cops out there who have said they have never had to use their weapons, (so why bother to have them) and then there are the types of jobs they do where weapons simply are not required.

  4. wzrd1 says

    Well, those warrior cops forget one thing about real warriors, discipline.
    Shitcan those who are insubordinate and while you’re at it, have their certification as law enforcement officers revoked for cause – gross insubordination.
    That way, they can’t accost other communities.

  5. Oggie: Mathom says

    I do remember a conversation with a federal LEO when I was at a forest fire and he and I talked about bad cops. He agreed that there were more bad cops than there should be but, on the whole, wasn’t it better to have the bad people on the inside pissing out rather than being on the outside pissing on cops? My reply was that when the bad people are on the outside and they do something bad, they actually get punished. His reply? Good point.

  6. stuffin says

    During my Nursing education we discussed the phycology of police. Major control issues. One topis I remember was putting a cop in hospital bed. The handrails on the beds could be seen as (jail) bars. We also discussed ways to comfort the unfortunate cop who ended up in your care.

    BTW, Nurses weren’t far behind.

  7. jo1storm says

    Reminds me of previous boss in one of my previous workplaces. He didn’t like the decision tha one of people above him in the hierarchy made so he declared that he is starting a strike to his boss. He gave it up after two weeks because our productivity actually improved while he was on strike, so much that it became noticeable to normally aloof bosses boss. It should have been obvious, really. He was the example of “The Peter principle” and “Seagull manager” (fly in, make a lot of noise, dump on everyone, then fly out). Unlike normal seagull manager, he was also over-controlling about everything, so fly-ins were daily (or more often) ocurrence. Toxic workplace, I am glad I left. It was actually improved during lockdowns, because we all went remote.

    In the end, he was transferred from IT manager to procurement.

  8. Reginald Selkirk says

    One of those officers recorded herself making a series of racist comments during a call with city officials, then sent the recording to other police officers.

    This new trend of right-wingers recording evidence against themselves is very interesting.

  9. birgerjohansson says

    I can only add that Swedish police (and probably police in many other countries) are very much aware that many want to become police for the wrong reasons. The recruitment and training take this into account.

    The British police are very good at detaining violent people without having to summon thr armed police specialists. On the downside the London Metropolitan Police are notoriously racist and misogynic.

  10. says

    @1 Crip Dyke said: and it’s not about a bad individual. It’s about institutional memory and institutional inertia even more than it is about policies and/or personnel.
    I reply: You are so Right! I’ve been saying that you can’t improve a police problem without >> changing the Underlying Police Culture <<. And, your target of those that hire tons of ‘bad apples’ is the absolute first step.
    Also, as we’ve seen in the news all too often ‘trigger happy’ police are sent to scenes where mental health specialists should have been in charge. does ‘don’t turn the dog loose’ sound familiar?

  11. wzrd1 says

    Reginald Selkirk @ 10, not all that new. Dick Nixon did the same, got into hot water over destroying the incriminating evidence in the most inept manner possible.

  12. Artor says

    @ Oggie #7 “…Wasn’t it better to have the bad people on the inside pissing out rather than being on the outside pissing on cops?” I will take a stand and say that no, it absolutely is not better that way.

  13. flange says

    Stronger discipline and making police more accountable for their misdeeds and misbehavior will not bring reform. It assumes that it’s normal for police to act like thugs, so we need laws to reign them in.
    We assume that plumbers, carpenters, and electricians are accountable for what they do. If they do shoddy work, they won’t be in business for long. Plus, we have recourse in civil courts.
    We must do a better job hiring police. We shouldn’t be hiring officers just because they’re “experienced.” We don’t need people with 200 years of antagonistic baggage and ill will.
    And we need to eliminate the archaic, malignant, military chain-of command system.
    Most of all, we need to hire people who want to help us, and know whom they’re working for.

  14. jenorafeuer says

    Reginald Selkirk@10:

    This new trend of right-wingers recording evidence against themselves is very interesting.

    As others have been talking about, one of the effects of Trump’s presidency was a massive increase in the number of people willing to say the quiet part out loud because they assume that all ‘true Americans’ were on their side.

    Just take a look at the number of people who literally took selfies inside the Capitol Building on January 6th. These people are literally acting like they’re living in an alternate reality where the only law is ‘what my side says, goes’… and (getting back to the original topic) they got that way in large part because too often the enforcers of the law agree with them.

    So, if police officers want to know who’s to blame for police officers being beaten up on the Capitol steps, maybe they should look in a mirror as to how the expressions of their internal culture has shaped the communities around them. I doubt the rank and file have that much self-awareness, though.

    Also, as wzrd1@13 added, it’s definitely not a new thing… it’s just a lot more common at the low level these days. By now you have a huge number of people truly believing that the ‘silent majority’ aligns with them and that their enemies are a small conspiracy rather than the actual majority of decent people. Stuff like the Sad/Rabid Puppies mess even before Trump showed that a lot of these people really do believe that they are in the majority, and seem absolutely surprised when they somehow lose anyway.

  15. jimzy says

    An acquaintance said that of his high school football team that everyone was a cop or in jail. He said he was the only one that wasn’t.

  16. hemidactylus says

    Police work as a career is a magnet for sociopathic thugs and bullies. I have this impression that there is a critical choice point between joining the police academy and/or pursuing the criminal justice degree versus a life of crime. Crime is often enough a societally defined act of desperation out of a condition of destitution. Law enforcement is a legitimate means of making money instead. And one gets to legally crack some skulls with impunity due to qualified immunity and the blue wall of silence.

    In Shameless Carl as a kid was a hood rat who wound up becoming a drug thug before deciding on the military and when that fell through due to his inauspicious origin story he fell into law enforcement. Yet he had compassion for some of the down and out given his own upbringing and came face to face with abusive cops and those on the take. He got demoted, for not playing the game, to meter maid. I would have thought Carl was destined to become a serial killer instead. He surprised me.

    The Shield and Chicago PD which glorify dirty cops were more realistic and disgusting. The main character in Chicago PD went to jail on Chicago Fire for being a corrupt POS. He got out and they gave him a TV show running his own crew.

  17. antigone10 says

    The interesting thing about this is Golden Valley is a first-ring suburb, right next to Minneapolis. And it abuts against North Minneapolis, a historic (and current) majority-minority (in this case, black) neighborhood. Theodore Wirth Park is in-between, and it is bizarre to see the historic, and current fingerprints of how segregation is maintained between the communities.

  18. Pierce R. Butler says

    … crime — already low — has gone down in Golden Valley.

    Or maybe Officer White and Chief Green are really big and scary. /s

  19. says

    Keep in mind, too, that one aspect of cop psychology — and it’s a critical one in big cities with a history of corruption — is distrust of, and expectation of abuse by, the white-collar power structure and bosses. (This is an explanation, not an excuse.) This particularly explains police union inability to accept any criticism whatsoever, to acknowledge any failures whatsoever, to allow any outside perspectives on police failures whether competence or misconduct: Historically, anything sounding anything at all like that in nonunionized large police forces has been what might euphemistically be called “political interference with process.” And it’s even worse when the “top cop” is an elected official, like a county sheriff (just ask any lower/lower-middle-class Latino in LA about the difference between the LA police and the LA county sheriff’s deputies… or ask a prosecutor!).

    tl;dr We shouldn’t be too surprised that cops distrust political supervision: They’ve been taught over the years that political supervision is not trustworthy at best and all too often outright corrupt.

  20. wzrd1 says

    And corruption is entirely their turf and they won’t tolerate competition.
    I’ve lived in an inner city, specifically, within a police disciplinary district, where lawless enforcement officers get sent to enjoy their ending careers as either they’re prosecuted or terminated.
    Anarchy never looked better and I loathe anarchy.

    Irony is, TFG used to “shout” ‘LAW AND ORDER!’. Right until he got prosecuted.
    Oh well, shit rolls downhill and he’s below the bottom of the hill.