Taking it to the street: A modest proposal to apply education reforms to police work

Borrowing a page or two from satirist Jonathan Swift, University of Georgia professor Peter Smagorinsky makes a modest proposal of his own, apply current education trends to law enforcement.

So, here's some spoofing to spice up your Sunday:

By Peter Smagorinsky


Credit: Maureen Downey

The nation has recently been exposed to cases of police misconduct in a variety of cities, from Baltimore to Cleveland to Ferguson and beyond. It’s time to rethink the whole way in which police officers are recruited, trained, and evaluated so that such incidents no longer occur, and all communities are safe and secure.

I would like to propose that U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, fresh from her triumph over the forces of FIFA, institute an alternative policing system, the Charter Police Force Approach. It's clear that the present system of keeping the peace is outdated and needs rejuvenation from people from outside the system.

As someone with no experience as a police officer, and no law degree, I am ideal for taking on this challenge.

Charter Police Forces could make proposals to local communities by means of a “charter” through which they outline their purpose, methods, and means of assessment. They would be funded by the public, but will not be mired in traditional ways that do not work, as evidenced by the fact that some police officers have been derelict in their duties. Some might even be For-Profit Charter Police Forces in which officers work on commission for each crime they solve, parking ticket they issue, jaywalker they arrest and so on.

Other things must change as well. It’s very clear present means of training police officers are not working, in that some police officers have been caught on camera engaging inappropriately with the public. Alternatives are desperately needed to replace historically ineffective means of preparation.

The first reform I suggest is to create a Police For America program, through which recent graduates of elite universities are assigned to the nation's most dangerous, crime-plagued communities. The summer following graduation, they could take a 5-week Boot Camp in which they learn the entire profession of law enforcement. By the end of this period, they will be highly qualified to know how to operate a service revolver, arrest heroin dealers, conduct high-speed chases, arrest suspects without incident, and engage in the remainder of their duties.

Accepting a two-year term as inner city police officers should prepare them well for graduate school after they have completed their service to the public.

Innovative Charter Police Forces might also try other methods within the scope of the No Prisoners Left Behind Act. Rather than putting prisoners in jail cells, they might strap offenders to the front of commuter trains for the duration of their sentences, for example. The sky is the limit when you open your mind to new possibilities, especially when the sharpest and most knowledgeable people on the force are presumed to be 22-year-olds whose Boot Camp experience has prepared them for all law enforcement eventualities.

It’s important to make the people who train police officers accountable for the performance of the officers once they are on duty. Data for these assessments could come from crime statistics, and the only statistic needed to compute police effectiveness is the number of crimes committed on an officer’s assigned beat. A Value-Added Model could then single out specific officers and their trainers as statistically demonstrated failures, with the bottom 10 percent fired annually as a way to incentivize the reduction of crime. Of course, crimes committed on an officer’s beat when a particular officer is off duty would also count against his or her effectiveness score, and the score of his or her trainer(s).

An essential part of this approach would be to eliminate the pathetic excuse that poverty is a factor in crime. Although Police For America graduates would not be penalized for crimes committed on their watch in inner-city neighborhoods — their law degree applications would surely be compromised — all other police officers and their trainers will be evaluated identically, whether they are assigned to Buckhead or Bankhead. Fairness is a hallmark of this new approach.

Given their success with educational assessment, Pearson Education should be in charge of all training, education, and assessment of this program. Moreover, a program of such national significance needs a great leader to ensure its success. Such a person, I believe, should be independent of the status law enforcement quo.

All of us have lived in a nation governed by the rule of law, so each of us is well-qualified to serve in law enforcement at any level, making each of us eligible as CEO of this initiative. Given that it’s important for a national law enforcement official to come from a wealthy background, since high character follows from affluence, I believe that Khloé Kardashian should head up this program.

Perhaps the greatest virtue of the Charter Police Force movement is its populist roots — I have no background with law or police work, and so this recommendation comes straight from The People. Further, it has never been attempted before, even at the pilot level. On paper, it works impeccably well as the solution to crime in our communities. It should therefore be instituted immediately at the national level, with results expected by the end of the month.

I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my country. My only apologies go to  Jonathan Swift, from whom I have plagiarized the penultimate line of this essay.

About the Author


Editors' Picks