The CopDoc Podcast: Aiming for Excellence in Leadership

The CopDoc Podcast Ep005 - Interview with Dr. Thaddeus Johnson - Georgia State University

January 25, 2021 Dr. Thaddeus Johnson Season 1 Episode 5
The CopDoc Podcast: Aiming for Excellence in Leadership
The CopDoc Podcast Ep005 - Interview with Dr. Thaddeus Johnson - Georgia State University
Chapters
The CopDoc Podcast: Aiming for Excellence in Leadership
The CopDoc Podcast Ep005 - Interview with Dr. Thaddeus Johnson - Georgia State University
Jan 25, 2021 Season 1 Episode 5
Dr. Thaddeus Johnson

 An interview with Steve Morreale and Dr. Thadddeus Johnson, former Memphis Police Lieutenant and Acting Captain.  Thaddeus is now a Professor of Criminal Justice at Georgia State University.  We discuss the current state of policing and racial tensions in America.  

Show Notes Transcript

 An interview with Steve Morreale and Dr. Thadddeus Johnson, former Memphis Police Lieutenant and Acting Captain.  Thaddeus is now a Professor of Criminal Justice at Georgia State University.  We discuss the current state of policing and racial tensions in America.  


[00:00:02.665] - Intro 

Welcome to The CopDoc Podcast. This podcast explores police leadership issues and innovative ideas. The CopDoc shares thoughts and ideas as he talks with leaders in policing, communities, academia and other government agencies. And now, please join Dr. Steve Morreale and Industry thought leaders as they share their insights and experience on The Cop Doc Podcast.

 


[00:00:44.375] - Steve Morreale

Hello, everybody, this is Steve Morreale coming to you from Boston and you're listening to the podcast today, I have the pleasure of introducing and interviewing, actually just having a conversation with Dr. Thaddeus Johnson, who is with Georgia State University, now, a professor and a long time professional.

 


[00:01:03.065] - Steve Morreale

I call you a pracademic Thaddeus because you are a practitioner turned academic and you rose to the to the rank of acting captain, lieutenant at the Memphis Police Department. Why don't you just tell us a little bit more about yourself and how you came to academia.

 


[00:01:21.275] - Thaddeus Johnson

Yeah, thanks. Thanks to the first. Thank you for having me. You know, we kind of go back a bit. And so I've always enjoyed having conversations with you. So I'm honored to be on the podcast, having a conversation with you and my path to academe wasn't one of what a beautiful story. I was in policing, my wife and I had made it pretty far. And as I told you before, I was kind of stuck where I was that, someone had to retire or or die for me to move on.

 


[00:01:52.655] - Thaddeus Johnson

And I was a young guy and I moved up pretty fast. But once I got married, I guess I realized the weight of the other responsibility in that position. But also, Memphis is a predominantly black city. And so I was going through some struggles, about the change that I wanted to make. It can be a little bit different being a black guy growing up in a place policing the very communities that you grew up in.

 


[00:02:19.025] - Thaddeus Johnson

And you understand that most people that you encounter are either victims or offenders and you don't see those people in their best. And I realized I need to do something else. And I wasn't sure then what it was. But I lived in Jamaica for a little while, I returned to school online. And the truth is, the reason why I actually to have my doctorate right now is I learned that I couldn't teach school online and go back to the beaches of Jamaica with just a master's degree, I needed to get a doctorate to even teach online.

 


[00:02:46.875] - Thaddeus Johnson

And along that path, I kind of found my niche. And there's never been anything in life that I really found. I had a niche in this, you know, make a living. I saw the good that you can make in this research, particularly. Unlike a lot of other spaces because we have pretty good relations with the practitioners and particularly those with professional experience. They're willing to listen, to conversate, negotiate, but it's felt like I can make a more immediate impact locally and nationally as a police scholar.

 


[00:03:20.385] - Steve Morreale

That's great. So you're in in the classroom, you had been in the classroom, you told me you were working with Memphis in their training academy. What were you doing there?

 


[00:03:29.565] - Thaddeus Johnson

Yeah, so I, I trained officers, at the academy and all sorts of smaller regional offices and suburban departments as well. And I trained in defensive tactics. I also was a firearms instructor, a critical incident management instructor as well. And so those were the three areas I really focused on training the officers with.  The one thing about the critical incident management training and I'm proud of that, was training that was usually reserved for command level officers.

 


[00:03:57.915] - Thaddeus Johnson

And officers are the ones who were actually carrying out these orders. I think it would be good for them to understand the greater scheme of things and where they fit in it. And so those are some of the things that I actually did in law enforcement. And even when you know, and that's not jumping in, you know, when we talk about, you know, show the cameras trying, I kind of let officers use that technique because that what was right and used in the right situations.

 


[00:04:23.415] - Thaddeus Johnson

And so these different conversations, I will say that I'm a little torn about all the reform issues put out there, because I know that some of these tools are necessary. Perhaps I would classify them and how we use them. And I'm not a big proponent of taking away tools from officers in the job when they're already under-resourced. And so where do we find the middle ground? Oh, I wear the badge of academic honor because you can understand both sides. 

 


[00:04:51.735] - Steve Morreale

So you've been interviewed a few times lately, it looks like they've been calling on you for broadcast radio and TV news programs. I've seen a few of them. What seems to be the repeated questions and topics they're looking for you to give an opinion?

 


[00:05:07.935] - Thaddeus Johnson

A lot of my research centers on looking at what we've done in the past, what's worked, what hasn't worked, what do we think works? And of course, there's a lot that we don't know. So one big question has been about the new calls for the defunding of police. That has been a big thing about banning the carotid chokeholds or restraints - those types of things. So what do we really think can work, whether we should have the police officers?

 


[00:05:38.505] - Thaddeus Johnson

And I will tell you my response is the same. You can have the best officers, the best equipment, the best training, hire ethical and moral officers. But, we continue to emphasize traditional metrics of performance, arrests, citations, and they weigh so heavily, not only in building your resume, but in the culture. It's hard to remove that. If I'm being I'm being evaluated on my productivity. Additionally, the department is being evaluated on these additional metrics.

 


[00:06:10.215] - Thaddeus Johnson

How are you going to evaluate my behavior?  If I'm a higher educated officer or more ambitious officer who knows that this is how I build my resume. This is how I'd advance. This is how I get off the midnight shift in a high crime neighborhood is by showing my worth through productivity. The citizens will always be of sorts a commodity, and not a partner. And so to me, that's the biggest issue. If we want officers to engage in community policing, we have to provide them pathways to advance, if that's the type of policing that we want them to do.

 


[00:06:42.805] - Thaddeus Johnson

And if we want departments to fund these types of endeavors, how city governments judge them and evaluate their performance has to move beyond crime rates and clearance rates, has to move beyond arrest rates, has to move beyond the impulses of what the public and community wants. Even though that's important, we can't make decisions based on emotion and trying to pacify the people. We need to figure out the root of these issues and feel the reward structure and emphasis of warrior policing, even though we want to be under the umbrella of guardian-type policing, there is a mismatch.

 


[00:07:23.035] - Steve Morreale

Well, that strikes me when you say that because so much of what you have done and other officers have done in the past have actually worked to prevent crime. But how do you measure that? That's the tough thing. And I think what you're asking is or what you're suggesting is that we now count beans, we count output, we don't count outcomes. And I think that may be a major shift in the mentality of police organizations.

 

 


[00:07:50.065] - Steve Morreale

What do we measure? Reward what you want to see more of what you just said. Have you seen anybody doing that? How do you change the culture? How do you change the mindset of people? If you're going to go, in other words, you said community policing. That means you've got to show up at meetings. That means you've got to shake hands. That means you've got to know people in the community. But how does that get measured? How do we take credit for that?

 


[00:08:14.015] - Thaddeus Johnson

Yeah, well, that's a great question and I'm still figuring it out. But I will borrow from baseball and sports. You know, they have cybermetrics, right? In football, you have quarterback ratings. You have efficiency ratings for his position. And so just before I kind of delve into the question, like, I mean, if you're focusing on just productivity in arrests and citations, if you're a day shift officer, you're not going to have the same advantages as that afternoon shift officer.

 


[00:08:40.345] - Thaddeus Johnson

If you're a midnight shift officer, you're going to have less opportunities than those. Even so, we need to think about first what the shifts and opportunities and also the patterns of crime and things that's going on during these different shifts. And so you can't hold the day shift officer with the midnight shift officer, it's just unfair.

 


[00:09:01.495] - Thaddeus Johnson

First of all, it's almost impossible. And so, for instance, one way that we can provide and we're going to armed guardianship. We want to focus on police as the end all be all to the problems that we see in policing in the justice system, we're sadly mistaken or will be waiting forever.

 


[00:09:23.455] - Thaddeus Johnson

Right, because there are much larger structure in equities and barriers that, for instance, you have deployment strategies that tend to put officers in high crime areas. Well, disadvantaged and black residents tend to reside in those areas. So just based on how these structure inequities guide where officers are at, you have disparate impact in certain communities. Is that a fault of the officer? It's much larger than that.  So, first, I would say we have to think beyond that, but we have to account for traditional metrics.

 


[00:09:53.515] - Thaddeus Johnson

But if you have an officer who is innovative, don't squelch that, reward that. Instead of having officers write citations. I've heard some places doing this and I can't recall them off the top of my head, but make a traffic stop, right? You see, with a broken tail light, you can still get recognition for productivity.  It's a public safety, or wellness check. Listen, your back lights out, it's a traffic hazard. We want to keep you safe. We're not going to give you a ticket. Of course, you know, officers, we're always investigating. So you run the tags. You want to make sure you're not letting the person with a warrant for a murder away, you're doing your investigatory job.

 


[00:10:26.605] - Thaddeus Johnson

But, it doesn't necessarily mean there has to be a citation or even a warning. Right? Give an officer credit for being productive and doing wellness checks, instead of giving warnings or citations all the time. Another way that we could think of officers who don't have substantiated complaints against them or a minimum number of complaints against them, they should be rewarded for that. They should be recognized for that. The things that I'm proudest of is that I only removed my weapon from the holster about a handful of times and those mostly on active shooter searches.

 


[00:10:58.825] - Thaddeus Johnson

And also I never have substantiated complaints filed against me. Those are my proudest moments. And I was lucky to have an innovative commander who was obviously a mentor who understood. I mean, this is where I get these thoughts from the back. And these were more from my guidance and mentorship. And I was able to see that even though the leaders seems to really know what the officers really need. They don't have the unilateral authority to do so, and I don't think we realize the pressure that that's received from the top and how they are constrained to make those decisions.

 


[00:11:32.775] - Thaddeus Johnson

There one of the boys there, one of the girls, right. They came up through the ranks. Unlike other professions, they come up through the ranks. And so I think if we want to be a change, we have to empower the chiefs to make changes that fit the local flavor. We have to judge officers based on their shifts and what that shift requires them to do. We have to also judge them based on what the community needs are. So if you see that there's a big issue in a community with juvenile truancy or juveniles hanging out or violating a trespassing order, you don't have to arrest them, but you can build these partnerships.

 


[00:12:09.695] - Thaddeus Johnson

And if officers are able to build these relationships and are rewarded for these relationships that can prevent crime without, infringing on people's rights or over policing areas that are already over policed.  I think that can go a long way in building not only community trust, but perhaps having a happier officer, think about it. The people that recruit police are not the same was we recruited 20 years ago, even when I started. Right. And so we have to also be mindful of making this attractive to new recruits.

 

 

 


[00:12:40.365] - Thaddeus Johnson

I mean, perhaps it's the reason why we have a shortage, right? Because our reward structures is not necessarily attractive to those who are coming out. So I think community policing has been a good for a long time, but officers are not going to engage in it if they don't have the resources or the incentives to do so. Police departments work on carrots and sticks. I think sometimes we focus too much on the sticks instead of focusing on the carrots and incentivizing their behavior. I hope that answers your questions.

 


[00:13:10.755] - Steve Morreale

No, you did. And you know, as we're talking, you conjure a number of questions in my mind, as you are now full-time focused on research. But, your predominant job is in the classroom. How are you adapting and what kinds of discussions are you having in your classroom with people who are interested or dissuaded from getting into the same industry you and I were in?

 


[00:13:38.625] - Thaddeus Johnson

Let me say this. One of my favorite stories is know you have you see what is called the CSI effect and you see if this and is running and gunning. And then I talk so much about the realities of policing. For the most part, police is boring and excuse my language it's boring as hell. And it’s underappreciated.  And I let them know it's not a lot of glitz and glamour that they can have a career and make pretty decent money doing it. But it's not a glamorous job.

 


[00:14:03.315] Thaddeus Johnson

And so I have one student, a couple of students. I'm not trying to move people away from the force, but I would rather prevent them from joining the force who should have been in the first place. So we don't have these issues and find another role that they can support the police in our communities. Just tell me. I thought this was what was it's on TV, but I don't think I want to be a police officer right now. I need to find something else to do.

 


[00:14:22.845] - Thaddeus Johnson

And we found other directions for them to take. One particular conversation that I like to have with my students is about implicit bias and deadly force. And I always tell them we all have implicit biases. And I use, and I'll probably get to in trouble, I don't care. I use rap group Migo's and I use the Golden Girls, which has to be one of my favorite shows. Right. If I saw the girls walking down the street at 1:00 in the morning, I'm probably going to stay on the side of the street.

 


[00:14:48.105] - Thaddeus Johnson

Right. If I see the rap group Migo's, guys who look just like me, you know, I may walk across the street and that's just the type of cultural and we don't think those things seep into our industries. No, we're sadly mistaken. And so I have I have a redmen gun. And this is very soft drills. Why did you shoot them in the leg? Why did they do this? They had a knife because I had to do twenty-foot rule.

 


[00:15:12.435] - Thaddeus Johnson

I want you to jog toward me, I'm going to jog towards you.  I want you to try and unholster this redman gun.  And guess what, they understand. Wow! That police officers are human. And so what I do, I try to humanize officers. We talk about dehumanizing communities, but we tend to dehumanize officers. They are our community members. Right. I tell them, think about it if the officers involved is badly beaten up on the streets. I'm not sure that could be wrong.

 


[00:15:37.905] - Thaddeus Johnson

This from my old time on the force, but I haven't heard of any type of like debriefing services. I've had officers have been involved in violent events. And once the investigation started, what they did was justified. The back of the streets. There weren't any type of counseling and things like that. And so you have the victim-offender overlap in criminology. It still can apply in that context. So we need to provide support to our officers.

 


[00:16:01.305] - Thaddeus Johnson

But better training. We need to remove the veil of machismo where we're getting counseling as a sign of weakness. And so it's just a lot of cultural things that that I try to inform them of that they're going to be up against. And if you think you're going to come in, they want to make that change. That's not how policing works. You're going to have to commit to it. You're going to have to try to be innovative. You're going to try to find the right group of officers.

 


[00:16:24.375] - Thaddeus Johnson

You're going to have to mean it's just a lot of things have to fall in place. And at the end of the day, again, it's an industry that's being paid to do a certain job. And it makes it difficult for you to effect the change when macro-level forces must start with you and the chief that prevent you from the job you might join the force for in the first place.

 


[00:16:42.975] - Thaddeus Johnson

The last thing I tell the story.  I had an old lady. It was raining. I'm sure you heard this before. I change the tire and spent forty-five minutes out on the call and I was proud. I was so proud. As a young officer, I was like, this is what this is about. I go back to the precinct and I got scolded. What the hell were you doing spending an hour on this call. We pay you not to change tires. We pay you to lock people up, write tickets and prevent crime. Right?

 


[00:17:13.495] - Thaddeus Johnson

I saw that as an important part of my role and how I was rewarded wasn't. And so I was forced to adapt to a style of policing that is necessary, but my heart wasn't necessary in it. And that's what you get. Your good officers, they burn out, they become frustrated with the job. They don't stay in long enough for these leaders to really affect the change they want to do. Right. And so I just try to tell them the truth.

 


[00:17:39.955] - Thaddeus Johnson

The ins and outs of it, it's one of the few professions where you have to justify why you join the profession. Because nowadays is one of the few professions where people would treat you differently and be standoffish from you. Right. So it can be a very lonely place. And it's almost how the community and police have set-up that we push police into this subculture. We push them into each other. It's like, you know, you have a spouse who is horrible, horrible to their to their mate.

 


[00:18:09.715] - Thaddeus Johnson

And when they run off and they cheat, who can you blame? Because they were almost pushed into the arms of another person. And I kind of feel like this is a police subculture. And I try to really warm my students about the realities of that. These are not bad people and that inherent racism that comes about out there, but out there largely hunting down black people or people of color. But that's not the case that we all suffer from implicit biases.

 


[00:18:36.415] - Thaddeus Johnson

We all have these have these issues. And as long as we continue to look at officers, other officers and try to look at us as other, we'll never get to where we need to be. And that's that's that's about the worst excesses of more about the spirit of what I'm trying to impart to my students.

 


[00:18:54.275] - Steve Morreale

I think that's terrific, because one of the things you're saying is that that people have a tendency who have not had experience or do not know a police officer other than the car stop. And they gave me a ticket that we tend to generalize and generalization is what I think causes so many problems. We generalize. If there's a bad teacher, all teachers are bad. There was a bad cop. All police are bad and certainly bad has happened in policing.

 


[00:19:16.705] - Steve Morreale

As we saw, there were some pretty egregious events that happened from George Floyd on that are that are offensive to me as they are to you. But but it doesn't mean that all police officers are bad.

 


[00:19:30.085] - Thaddeus Johnson

But you say, yeah, and I and I will even go as far as saying is that. Another deadly force is used. We should be concerned, whether justified or not, because something led up to that point is way beyond the parties in that transaction. Oh. I would also say. That we have to be mindful that most officers don't want to pull the trigger. We have to be mindful that if an officer is killed or injured, it would be nice to see just as much uproar for that, because as a human life, that's lost.

 


[00:20:12.945] - Thaddeus Johnson

Right. And unfortunately, you know, events on both sides, injuries and deaths of citizens and police have become so. At least commonplace in the media, even though we know in real life it's not so common. It just puts a bad picture and makes it hard for us to heal those wounds and embrace those gaps.

 


[00:20:36.085] - Steve Morreale

You know, I wrote down a couple of words as you were speaking, and one of them was law enforcement officer versus peace officer. And some states, the police officer is a peace officer. And to me that makes a distinct difference in terms of what the expectations are, because police officers, you or I, when we were on the beat, a very small amount of time was spent putting our hands on people and arresting them. Is that a fair statement?

 


[00:21:03.965] - Thaddeus Johnson

Very fair. Very fair.

 


[00:21:06.385] - Steve Morreale

So if that's the case, then what what if that only represents five or 10 or 20 percent of the job? The other 80 percent should be focused and is focused on what do you think?

 


[00:21:19.905] - Thaddeus Johnson

That's a great point, because, you know, speaking about, you know, just a small portion of the job, I never knew of the industry, that rewarded officers based on rewarding employees based on 10 percent of the actual job. Right. And the fact that use of force can be so visible and so failure.

 


[00:21:38.235] - Thaddeus Johnson

I think what we need to focus on are the operational aspects, what place these officers in these positions. Let me tell you to be fair. I didn't do everything right on the street. I had some use of force events where had I had a cooler head? Where were I have just disengaged and realized that this was a job and not personal. So officers and I include myself, we we have our share, but we human as well, too, I think we need to focus on what places officers and citizens in these encounters, places like domestic violence calls.

 


[00:22:18.445] - Thaddeus Johnson

Right. You have places where the goal is is mandatory service. Some places I prefer. Right. So if you're officer, you're not. So this is how incentives and how policies shape the the the the decisions and the lives of officers. I'm not going there to help a couple of the assembly to resolve a dispute. I'm not going there to keep the peace. Excuse my language. I'm going to let somebody else up. And that's all I'm thinking about.

 


[00:22:44.635] - Thaddeus Johnson

And that is on your psyche. That changes the whole dynamic of encounters and how you engage people and think about it, particularly if you're in a culture, your policy is your culture is manifested in your policy and is also reciprocal. Right. If that's the policy, that is the implication of your culture. And so I think what we do is we focus so much on the officer and make them the scapegoat that the the real force behind the organization and the city governments, they get away scot free.

 


[00:23:16.715] - Thaddeus Johnson

And so I think that what we should be focused on are the practices, what is what is really the job of the police, how we have an unprecedented time in history where. We can re-evaluate what is the role of law enforcement, wouldn't it be great to have American police force where officers understood the role of society and the impacts of arrest on the lives of people right where the department's under, so it's like we it's hard to articulate because it's like where are these two different worlds right now?

 


[00:23:58.065] 

You have responsibilities at this hierarchy that stop it and these pressures and stuff rolls downhill and for officers to deal with it. Our officers are the ones who face our branches on the news media. Some of them, you know, deservedly so. But it's a generalizations, it's the focus on just the use of force events. We don't focus on what got them there. The behavior doesn't occur in  a vacuum.  This behavior is informed. And this is what people know about officers.

 


[00:24:26.295] - Thaddeus Johnson

Officers tend to be policy compliant. Right. And these sorts of officers are also with a military background that enhances. And so you have also to be policy compliant for the most part. So that means the policy somehow they're compliant. Policy is somehow implicit. And the outcomes that the individual officers have.  So the focus is too much on the officer and I don't like the whole rotten apple, the orchard. I don't I don't I don't oversimplify, but I think we need to look at the culture or the organization which informs the culture of what happens to shape decision and and how officers engage the community.

 


[00:25:08.685] - Steve Morreale

So I think at the beginning you were talking about the very deep pressure that is put on police officers and the police service in the calls for service. And they are one of the only organizations that's twenty four seven. You can very often, I'm sure you felt with this frustration, all of the other helping industries are generally 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. So that if you run into a problem where there's there's a child in need of services, you may have to wait until Monday to get them.

 


[00:25:46.305] - Steve Morreale

If you need mental health help, sometimes there's not enough beds, but all of those things fall on the shoulders of police because they get called and they have to react.  So speak, to what you think society has to do to create a better  situation.

 


[00:26:06.785] - Thaddeus Johnson

I mean, society has to do nothing we can do, we can't I don't like to talk about defunding police, right. There's a lot of governmental waste all over.

 


[00:26:16.505] - Thaddeus Johnson

And if you look at police spending or share of governmental spending over the course of the past 20 years, so much since the 1970s, it's only made about three to four percent of all state and government spending. So it's not like we're spending a whole bunch of money on police anyway. But I think we need to find ways to invest. Like what? What is it that we want police to do? Right. We all have a share.

 


[00:26:42.695] - Thaddeus Johnson

I think for far too long, crime fighting and public safety has been placed on the shoulders of police when we all, as community members have a share in it. If we're willing to cooperate in investigations, if we want to be with us, a crime willing even to call the police report crime. So I think the public has to recognize that that this is a co-production of a solution and that it's not us against them. So we need to focus on that.

 


[00:27:06.515] - Thaddeus Johnson

We need to focus on what services that officer should be providing. I mean, I'll tell you right now, as an officer, I work in the downtown area and you will have what we call the title of six or three. But those dealing with mental issues or crises and if they didn't fit in first of circumstances, that was forced to leave them on the street because I couldn't take them into a facility or take in the jail where they may be victimized and we may exacerbate their issues, hopefully they get some help down there.

 


[00:27:34.625] - Thaddeus Johnson

So we need to provide all the more options. Right. We can talk about technology options, provide them with more options, have referral services where there is 24/7 or how services partner for us. In Dallas, they had a star program, which I think ran out of funding. But on domestic violence calls, they had a trained counselor or a missile crisis call a trained counselor to go with officers, because the one thing we have to do is ensure that that nurse personnel community member is also safe as well as well as the the citizen.

 


[00:28:09.515] - Thaddeus Johnson

And so we need to focus on not taking away resources. But how can we support resource officers for a way that we want to for this new style of policing that we envision? All this talk is good, but we don't provide them with resources. We don't provide them with the money. I always use the example of the military program with the ten thirty three program. Imagine instead of this. You need some military equipment. Police department, please know that, like I said, we don't need you're going to need it because is a I called out and you don't have that.

 


[00:28:40.885] - Thaddeus Johnson

You got to be hoping you needed the right or the wrong. But imagine that those same resources were put into these other social service that officers have been doing and officers are meant to assist in every area. I mean, the police have started off as the social workers. We were the counselors. We were the detox attendants. We were everything to everyone. And we haven't gotten away from it. So I think society's to think about defining the role of law enforcement and then supporting them the resources and equipment and just emotional support to do the job. They want to see what we can do it by themselves.

 


[00:29:17.235] - Steve Morreale

Well, I think what you're talking about, too, is that that police departments have to look at mission creep.  What's our core mission and what are the other things that we got off, for example, animal control or lockouts or arms and all of those kinds of things.

 


[00:29:33.125] - Steve Morreale

But I want to move on, we're running out of time. And I want to ask a couple of other questions.

 


[00:29:38.855] - Steve Morreale

And as quickly as you can evaluate or assess, do you feel the call for systemic racism that that indeed exists? And I think as as an academic yourself and myself, I'll always ask, well, what exactly do you mean by systemic racism? What what what's your reaction when people say there's systemic racism in policing as opposed to the systemic racism in criminal justice?

 


[00:30:07.475] - Thaddeus Johnson

There is systemic racism. In our culture, in our society.  Criminal Justice and police, it is only a microcosm of it. So it seeps in, you see it when you talk about fair housing and housing appraisals. You talk about having food deserts in certain communities. So, I mean, this stuff is systemic. And so we shouldn't be surprised that we see the police and the criminal justice. It is not as sinister as we make it, like, oh, there is this great white man with a beer in the sky who has made a design for black people and poor people, people of color, to be in bondage.

 


[00:30:45.965] - Thaddeus Johnson

Some may believe that historically you can understand why, but it's less sinister. For instance, if you have deployment strategies in these communities and you have police departments that reward productivity to conventional metrics, we arrest people,low level arrests and things like that that could have an impact on the time served because of criminal history, that could have an impact on whether they get parole, get parole or not. And so the disparity is cumulative. It doesn't just even though police are responsible for what happens to the back of that, they are not they are not solely responsible for. But racism is everywhere.

 


[00:31:22.655] - Steve Morreale

Well, OK, so that's that's a great point. You just said cumulative and I think that's important. I want to get personal for a minute, just as we wind down. What books do you read besides textbooks to gain some inspiration, inspiration, inspiration and an insight?

 


[00:31:42.745] - Thaddeus Johnson

That's a great question. I spent a lot of my time and data and reading national level data, codebooks, trying to figure out how we can measure these things, like I don't believe you can't tell me no.

 


[00:31:53.695] - Thaddeus Johnson

Right. You just have to deal with a pox yourself. So I spent a lot of my time and data, but I read a lot of work, not policing work. So I will tell you, Rick Rosenfeld, he's one of my mentors, but he's also one of the people who I try to emulate.   And writing and thinking Richard Wright and Bill Sable are a couple of people, and there's one lady, one more person, a Dr. Evelyn Patterson at Vanderbilt.  She writes about disparity, where the way she writes about it dehumanizes actors and she humanizes those citizens who are trapped in the system. Actually in the picture and I have to talk. It's not so sinister. It's messed up, but it's much deeper than we make it by. Let's just say it is racism. Somebody is trying to hold certain people down. We oversimplify it and we often disrespect the plight of many people doing so. But when we focus so much on systemic racism, we continue to get those allies and so on.

 


[00:32:54.135] - Thaddeus Johnson

And I'll close on this. I sat down at many tables with a bunch of black academics and academics of color, and we're talking about the issues. And the one person that's not there is a white male. And my thing is this. If everybody's voice matters, everyone, please have a seat at the table and we need to move beyond our own prejudices and biases as researchers, as public intellects. And so that being said, we can't demonize people of what they look like.

 


[00:33:24.555] - Thaddeus Johnson

And I'll share this with you. I'm from Memphis, Tennessee, and and it's civil rights, Jim Crowism. My father had dogs sicced on him,  he had to go to the colored only part of the places. So it runs deep. And until I got to academe, I didn't realize that I actually held certain racist or bias insights or feelings that I didn't know. And I had a lot of allies here. Richard Wright, Rick Rosenfield, Bill Sable.

 


[00:33:55.095] - Steve Morreale

But the story about your father is absolutely amazing. It's sickening, it's sickening. And by the same token, look at where we've come, where you've come despite that. And he must be very proud. Is he still around?

 


[00:34:07.035] - Thaddeus Johnson

Yeah, he is. And really getting this done was a big motivation, though, for me for that reason with my family and my wife. She's also finished her doctorate and she's the first family born in this country. And so it just was more than for us. It was personal. It was spiritual. It was more than just, oh, we wanted to know research and be scholars and they'll have prestige. It was we understood what what it means when I walk into Georgia State is 70 percent students of color.

 


[00:34:37.275] - Thaddeus Johnson

When I walk into a classroom, when they're able to see someone like me and students who don't like me, someone like me does the conversations and the relationships. I know that's why we're here in the classroom. It's much bigger than the substance of it.

 


[00:34:49.945] - Steve Morreale

And isn't it great that we have the ability when we're in the classrooms to try to have an impact and help frame and beat down some of these these walls that students don't understand they even have?

 


[00:35:01.995] - Steve Morreale

I think that's the neat part. We're getting the future ready.

 


[00:35:05.265] - Thaddeus Johnson

Yeah, it's just just the different backgrounds. And to see that we can reasonably disagree and that understanding people's perspectives is important. And I mean you have students all over the political spectrum and just at the end semester for everyone to have a better understanding of the other side. Right. You know, just really trying to even my students that we have talked about affirmative action and the and the Trump campaign and all the rhetoric that was going on and they were not understanding.

 


[00:35:33.855] - Thaddeus Johnson

So like, we have to look at these other people's lenses. Right. And we can't be so quick to judge. So we have to try to see the merit in the argument because, you know, you can try to empathize. It's hard to really come to some agreement because all we want at the end of the day, all of us, that our perspectives, we want to feel like we count. We want to feel like we matter. And that's what I try to to build in the classroom, build a safe space where, you can ask any questions.

 


[00:36:00.675] - Thaddeus Johnson

As dumb as you may feel it is, as smart or as off the wall that you think you know. We'll talk through it because that's important. And that's one thing that I actually miss during Covid, is that as much energy as it takes, it's hard to create the same environment and culture virtually.

 


[00:36:18.195] - Steve Morreale

No, I agree with that.  And I and I appreciate what you're saying, because I think it's it's about opening their eyes and letting them think a little bit differently, different perspectives, and then capitalizing on conversations in safe spaces like you say. Here's the last question I have for you.

 


[00:36:35.655] - Steve Morreale

If you were if you were able to sit down and have a conversation with anyone famous or with notoriety, alive or passsed, who would it be and what would you ask them?

 


[00:36:48.555] - Thaddeus Johnson

I would talk to Barack Obama, former President Barack Obama. And what reason is he was the first. And what a lot of people don't realize is that the community expected him to do a lot more. They thought that, they wanted him to really do this. They just, not all of us, but, just the general feeling that they know that you should do everything for the black community.

 


[00:37:10.425] - Thaddeus Johnson

But this is the thing you have to balance using the country, not just the people. So how do you balance that, how you deal with that pressure? You know, I, I, I remember as an officer like, you know, making those arrests of people that look like me. Right. And then making a decision. Well, should I should I just let them all or should I go by the book. And that's hard to it's hard to judge because justice is about both in this, but also mercy and forgiveness.

 


[00:37:35.505] - Thaddeus Johnson

It's not just about punishment. I would just want to know how he navigated that as a as a married couple. And my wife and I were trying to figure out how to navigate this space without the space taken over who we are as a people and as a couple. How do we keep that those last step to find that balance, you know, the life of public service and so just love other stories, pick his brain and how he was able to navigate that, particularly as his status as the first and being a leader of people and not just, you know.

 


[00:38:05.085] - Thaddeus Johnson

So, yeah, I would love to know some of those those those conversations that he and Michelle had, you know, because, you know, you married your spouse is really the most important thing, especially if that was the most important thing to you. And sometimes it's hard when you have passions and duties and obligations. So a higher calling even to to balance that. And so I think it would just be good to sit down with both of you.

 


[00:38:29.145] - Thaddeus Johnson

You know, if my wife and I can sit down with both of them. If you think that would be awesome, that's great.

 


[00:38:35.175] - Steve Morreale

Well, we're going to wrap up and I want to thank you. We've been talking to Dr. Thaddeus Johnson, Thad from Georgia State University, former Memphis police officer. I have to tell you, from the moment I met you many years ago, you were special. I think you must be doing a great job with your students. And certainly I look forward to reading your research in the future.  So, we'll have you back again, but I want to thank you for being here today, Thad,

 


[00:38:58.655] - Thaddeus Johnson

Brother, thank you for having me. And the feelings are mutual as I appreciate that you met me. We hit it off and you just really have been a good friend and a great resource. And I really appreciate it. Thank you for being you, I appreciate it.

 


[00:39:14.015] - Steve Morreale

Thanks. So that's the end of this episode. This is Steve Morreale from Boston. You've been listening to The CopDoc Podcast. Listen in for other episodes every week. Thanks a lot. See you.

 


[00:39:28.505] - Outro

Thanks for listening to The CopDoc Podcast with Dr. Steve Morreale. Steve is a retired law enforcement practitioner and manager turned academic and scholar from Worcester State University. Please tune in to the podcast for regular episodes of interviews with thought leaders in policing.