Professor Rosa Brooks is a Georgetown University Law School professor. She is the author of a few books and several articles. During an earlier Sabbatical, she attended the Reserve Officer Police Academy for the Metropolitan, D.C. Police Department. She provided patrol support of regular officers in the District of Columbia.
She established the Center for Innovations in Community Safety. Members of the Metropolitan Police meet to discuss approaches to improving community safety and interactions.
We spoke of her experience in policing and her thoughts on the future of policing and the benefits of engaging police in thoughtful, community-centered conversation, working to create more mutual understanding.
[00:00:02.750] - Intro
Welcome to The CopDoc Podcast. This podcast explores police leadership issues and innovative ideas. The Cop Doc shares thoughts and ideas as he talks with leaders, 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 CopDoc Podcast.
[00:00:32.190] - Steve Morreale
Hello again, everybody. This is Steve Morreale. I'm coming to you from Boston, and this is The CopDoc Podcast we are going to talk with Rosa Brooks, Professor Rosa Brooks, actually, Associate Dean Rosa Brooks right now from Georgetown University Law School. She is an author of a few books. We'll talk about that in a minute. She is a professor of law, and we're speaking to her from Alexandria, Virginia today. So good morning.
[00:00:53.180] - Rosa Brooks
Good morning, Steve.
[00:00:54.470] - Steve Morreale
Thanks very much for being here. I appreciate it. I read your book Tangled Up in Blue: Policing in American City. And there are other things you've done, and it seems to me that the work that you do. You don't like to be bridled in one particular area. You have an area of a couple.
[00:01:08.140] - Rosa Brooks
There's a less polite way to say that.
[00:01:11.010] - Steve Morreale
How would that be?
[00:01:12.290] - Rosa Brooks
With short attention span.
[00:01:14.550] - Steve Morreale
I'm the same way. It's okay. So talk about how you got to Georgetown, what you were doing before you worked for the Department of Defense, and you've done an awful lot of things on war. You've been affiliated with West Point. So tell us your background if you would.
[00:01:29.210] - Rosa Brooks
Well, I went to law school and, like a lot of law students, I went to law school because I didn't know what else to do, and I wasn't good at math.
[00:01:36.630] - Steve Morreale
We have a lot of CJ students like that. I understand.
[00:01:39.230] - Rosa Brooks
Yeah, but I never wanted to be a lawyer. I didn't really have any interest in practicing law. And so when I got out of law school and all of my friends were clerking for judges or working for big law firms, I ended up sort of by accident, doing some consulting work for Human Rights Watch in Uganda and Jamaica and Kenya and various places around the globe, some of which involve looking at abuses within the criminal justice system and involving police. Also South Africa. And that ended up leading me in two different directions, one of which I circled back to more recently.
[00:02:16.750] - Rosa Brooks
But one of the directions that led to was thinking about human rights in the context of armed conflicts, which led me more into law of war stuff and humanitarian policy during wartime, which eventually led me to a job at the Defense Department for a while after a job at the State Department's Human Rights Bureau. But the other direction, which was kind of dormant for a while, was his interest in policing, and one of the very first police-related projects I did when I was still in law school.
[00:02:43.610] - Rosa Brooks
I'd gone to South Africa and was doing some consulting for Human Rights Watch. But was also writing a mini-thesis for a law school program. And I wrote a long paper on cultural change efforts in the South African police. And this is back right when apartheid was ending. And I've always been really fascinated by the question of the role of police in changing societies and how police departments themselves change or don't change. And so after enduring these experiences, I was teaching, you know what they say, those who cannot do teach.
[00:03:15.670] - Rosa Brooks
And since I wasn't actually a real lawyer and didn't know anything about practicing law, I thought, hey, I can teach law. And sure enough, it turned out that no practical experience in a courtroom was no barrier. But now I've always actually taught about the things that I do know more about, taught about national security law, international human rights law. And in the end, I sort of circled back to that interest in policing, teaching criminal law and criminal procedure, and decided that during a Sabbatical year, I decided I would go become a reserve police officer in Washington, DC because I was just curious to see what it would be like.
[00:03:50.270] - Rosa Brooks
And that's what eventually led to this book, as well as to some of the work I now do on police transformation.
[00:03:56.550] - Steve Morreale
So very interesting. And I think going and doing is very helpful. Talk about your decision to get to apply to become a reserve officer, to go to the Academy in that experience. What a sabbatical.
[00:04:08.980] - Rosa Brooks
Yeah. You know, any of your listeners who read the book will know that I'm about to give you an incredibly oversimplified and condensed version. But I've always been fascinated by policing. And when I found out that DC had a reserve officer program, one where you don't just get to direct traffic or help out at parades, but where you actually go through the same police Academy curriculum and you pop out at the other end, a sworn armed or officer with the same arrest powers and so on. And you patrol alongside partners who are full time.
[00:04:42.700] - Rosa Brooks
I just thought, wow, I thought several things I thought, number one, are you kidding me? You'll let people be volunteer cops and you give them badges and guns. Are you nuts? But the other thought was that's so fascinating. They would let me do that. That would be so interesting to just have that opportunity to be on the inside of a culture that I think to many people, to many Americans is really opaque. Everybody thinks they know about policing, right? Especially in the last five years or so.
[00:05:09.380] - Rosa Brooks
Every American thinks that they're an expert on policing. But very few of us really have any granular sense of what do police officers actually do day to day?
[00:05:20.290] - Speaker 2
What are they up against? Right?
[00:05:21.720] - Rosa Brooks
Yeah what are they up against? And we either have this stereotype. If we like cops, we have the stereotype that they spend all their time rescuing schoolchildren from active shooters and so on. Or if we don't like them, we think they spend all their time looking for minorities to beat up. And needless to say, the reality is a lot more complicated than either the positive stereotypes or the negative stereotypes. But when I found out that this program existed, I won't lie. They're probably also true. I was a little bored with doing what I was doing anyway, and I was looking for a change and a challenge.
[00:05:52.730] - Rosa Brooks
And there are a few things that are less like sitting in a faculty workshop than being a cop. But it just seemed like an amazing opportunity to have a glimpse of what policing looks like from the inside.
[00:06:03.670] - Steve Morreale
Yeah, but, Rosa, the question that comes to mind for me is there you are standing in front of a class 2030, 40, 50 people, and now all of a sudden, you're in uniform, and there's no delineation between you as a reserve officer and the real officer. And I don't mean both of you weren't real. But the bottom line is, did you now realize what that uniform meant?
[00:06:25.170] - Rosa Brooks
Oh, yeah. No, that's right. When you're out on patrol people, you are interacting with witnesses, suspects, victims bystanders they don't know the difference between a reserve officer who's a law professor the rest of the time and a full-time cop who's been on the street for 20 years. I was old enough having started this in my 40s, old enough that they, I think, probably assumed I had a lot more experience than I did. And most of my fellow officers didn't know the difference either. Some people knew I was a reserve officer.
[00:06:55.780] - Rosa Brooks
A lot of people was just another cop who'd show up on a scene. It was super fascinating, because when you're a cop and you know this, right, you're simultaneously marked and invisible on the one hand again, because everybody thinks they know all about cops. Everybody thinks they know a lot about you, and they have a lot of assumptions about what you do and what you're probably thinking and so on. But at the same time, you put that uniform on and you're invisible. You're no longer an individual.
[00:07:20.830] - Rosa Brooks
You're no longer Steve or Rosa or this person with this unique set of experiences and interests and perspectives. You're just a cop. And all cops are kind of interchangeable. You will be treated by most people based on whatever their assumptions are about cops in the aggregate, whether those are complementary assumptions or hostile assumptions. So some people will defer to you and act like you've just saved a kid from a burning building, even though you may have just been responding to noisy party calls for the last three years or something, and other people will respond to you like you are a racist thug, which may have you may feel like, well, that has nothing to do with me.
[00:08:00.190] - Rosa Brooks
That's not who I am at all. And yet people's reactions are going to be colored by their own backgrounds and experiences.
[00:08:06.570] - Steve Morreale
It's interesting to talk to Bill Bratton a while back, and he had written the book, The Profession and one of the things he said, and I find it very fascinating that he felt having run a number of major police departments that we need to teach our police officers history and the history of the Department and the history of policing in America. And never mind the history of policing in the world, because if they began to understand that the grandfather of the person you're talking to or the great-grandfather was treated poorly by cops in the past, that that carries on through generations.
[00:08:39.990] - Steve Morreale
And it would help people understand more why people may react and have some racial sensitivity and that kind of stuff. Talk about that?
[00:08:47.290] - Rosa Brooks
No, absolutely. In DC, I think this varies from city to city. But here in Washington, DC, the vast majority of the recruits who come into the Department are not from DC. Departments got a whole bunch of programs aimed at increasing the number of DC residents who go into the Department, but the majority come from somewhere else. Some of them come from the surrounding suburbs. Some of them come from New Jersey or North Carolina or wherever. But what that means is that they don't know the community. Often they don't know the unique history of the community.
[00:09:18.690] - Rosa Brooks
They don't know what the impact on that community was of unrest and protests and riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King in the late 1019 and 60s, and the way in which that has shaped people's parents, experiences and in turn, shaped the stories that people heard growing up and so on. And they don't know that the neighborhoods that they're patrolling are as poor as they are because of a set of social policies that pushed people out of wealthier neighborhoods and pushed them into neighborhoods with poor public transportation networks, poorer schools, fewer job opportunities and all that kind of thing.
[00:09:53.280] - Rosa Brooks
And it can be a real handicap to officers in terms of just understanding why people react to them the way they do and also sometimes in terms of just having empathy for the situations that people are in. And one of the things that we do. We took some of the young officers in a program that we run now. It's a collaboration between Georgetown and the DC Metropolitan Police Department called the Police for Tomorrow program. We took all of our fellows and, in fact, every recruit at the Academy to an exhibit at the Smithsonian and Acosta Community Museum in DC on DC's changing demographics and neighborhoods.
[00:10:29.130] - Rosa Brooks
It was a really powerful exhibit that was really about DC local history and really with a focus on the ways in which African Americans, but also to some extent, immigrant communities had been pushed around the city and often ended up sort of segregated initially by law and more recently by the legacy of those laws and by social policies that, on the surface, had nothing to do with race, but ended up having a greater impact and more damaging impact on people of color. The ways in which those communities had a lot of ways just been really pushed around and the histories of protest in those communities.
[00:11:03.520] - Rosa Brooks
It was a really powerful experience for the recruits and our fellows, a lot of whom sort of said I had no idea. I had absolutely no idea that that was the history of this community. And maybe that's why people are kind of mad when they see something in uniform.
[00:11:16.840] - Rosa Brooks
Because you represent authority in the system that has held them down in many ways, at least in their mindset. So you talked about a center, and there's a center that you have created that originally was programmed on innovative policing. And you've changed the name, and I want to talk about that and the fellows and how they come to pass and what they do. So talk about that, please.
[00:11:35.140] - Rosa Brooks
Well, we started a program called the Innovative Policing Program, frankly, and we started that program because we had decided to start a Fellowship program. We thought it would be this is an idea that I started thinking about when I was still at the Academy. One of the things that really struck me about the Academy was the focus was really entirely tactical and operational. At the Academy, you were learning how to apply handcuffs and you're learning how to fill out property forms and all that kind of stuff.
[00:12:03.370] - Rosa Brooks
And obviously, you need to know that stuff. But then, as now, the whole country was having this conversation about policing and violence and policing and race. And we weren't talking about any of those issues in the Academy, which was weird, right? Because the headlines days at a time would be about police shootings and so on and huge protests. And we go to the Academy, and we'd be like, now we will memorize vehicular offenses.
[00:12:27.630] - Steve Morreale
In other words, I don't mean to interrupt you, but what struck me when you said that it's like you or I walking into a classroom when January 6 happened the day before and just teaching what's going on and not engaging the conversation and how that plays into the curriculum.
[00:12:41.160] - Rosa Brooks
If you were teaching a course on how Congress is structured or electoral law, it would be like continuing to talk about that and not even mention, oh, yeah, by the way, yeah.
[00:12:50.590] - Steve Morreale
Look what happened. What do you think? Well, because I think allowing students in a classroom to talk about that in a nonthreatening way and to try to wrestle with their feelings is really important. And to me, that's the facilitators that we are in a classroom. But I do want to hit on that. So you're in Alexandria very close by. But obviously, Georgetown is in Washington, DC. Property wherever you were that day, January 6 happened. What was your reaction?
[00:13:16.320] - Rosa Brooks
Oh, God. I mean, part of my reaction was that probably of most citizens have just shot a violent mob breaking windows in the US Capitol, the Vice President having to be evacuated because people were saying, hang Mike Pence and the speaker of the House having to be evacuated and people going into her office and still breaking things. I was just shocked that this could happen in this country. But part of it was just that. And I think probably most Americans had that reaction. But part of it was also at first watching and thinking, what the hell is going on?
[00:13:49.560] - Rosa Brooks
Why are the capital police not calling for back up? What's going on? Because I knew that the Capitol police have mutual aid agreements with the Metropolitan Police in DC and with many other local law enforcement agencies. And just the sort of I don't understand, how are they not calling for backup? And then when finally you did begin to have DC Metropolitan Police going knowing that there were people I knew out there knowing that there were officers who I knew and liked who were in immediate physical danger and just watching this and thinking, these are people I care about.
[00:14:19.680] - Rosa Brooks
It was just awful awful to watch. And I do think the impact of that experience was just so profound and unsettling for so many officers here in DC, I'm sure around the country as well. But we ended up in that I'll talk more in a couple of minutes, if you like, about the program we started, but we ended up having just a session. It was on Zoom because of Kova to just let people talk about their experiences, the officers in our program and people were just shattered by it.
[00:14:46.680] - Steve Morreale
Well, I think they probably felt that they were let down when I was watching it. I'm thinking, where are the reinforcements? And that's not fair. They're getting battered by citizens and they're getting squeezed and squished. And you saw some of the video was horrible. And I get to talk to people from all over the world. And this was a worldwide impact event. The shock that you recognized
[00:15:06.690] - Rosa Brooks
One of our young officers, who's a former Marine, actually still a Marine reservist. And he said he's a black officer and very young mid 20s. And he said, I couldn't believe it. There were people in that crowd wearing U. S. Marine Corps T shirts, and they were trying to kill me. And I just felt like everything I ever believed in was just destroyed. They're supposed to be on our side, and they were trying to kill us.
[00:15:29.540] - Steve Morreale
Well, we saw veterans. We saw certain police officers who felt that they wanted to take back their country and the politics of all of this were pretty nasty. But what I want to talk about, I want to talk about the fellows and where that happens and what you're doing there. But there are a few things I want to touch real quick, have you heard about 30 by 30, a program where by 2030, the Department of justice NYU is trying to raise the number of females in police.
[00:15:54.670] - Rosa Brooks
That's incredibly important.
[00:15:55.880] - Steve Morreale
So talk about that and talk about your experience about the value.
[00:15:59.380] - Rosa Brooks
Yeah. So when you look at the statistics on women in law enforcement nationwide, it's really quite shocking. Women make up less than 13% of all law enforcement foreign law enforcement nationwide. And just to put that in perspective, that's substantially lower than the percentage of women in the military and the active duty military, which doesn't make any sense. Right. You would think that if any institution has barriers to women's participation until quite recently, legal barriers to women's participation, it's the military. And yet law enforcement is even worse when it comes to women's representation.
[00:16:35.040] - Rosa Brooks
And why does this matter? Well, there is actually some pretty robust research findings that women do police in a somewhat different way than men. And it's tricks to really hesitate to speculate as to why I'm not a big believer in me. Well, women are just different and nicer by nature, be it's cultural, who knows? But whatever it is, we do know that even when you control for making sure people have the same types of assignments and so on. So you're not comparing people work at headquarters with people who are in a gun recovery unit or something.
[00:17:07.140] - Rosa Brooks
Women seem to use excessive force less. They are less likely to be the subject of citizen complaints about rudeness and excessive force. Having more women in police Department seems to raise community satisfaction with that Department. And you think this would be the kicker for a lot of bureaucrats, right? They cost cities and departments a whole lot less money because they are much less likely per capita than male officers to end up doing something that forces the city to make multimillion dollar settlements or have court ordered damages because a police officer has behaved badly.
[00:17:40.900] - Rosa Brooks
So I think that leaving aside, I mean, there are plenty of reasons, even independent of all that to say, hey, look, we want to have police departments that draw on the talents, all of our citizens. We really ought to have a lot more women, even just aside from that, there are some really compelling reasons to think that having more women in law enforcement makes policing better and more effective. And to be clear, these findings that women use force excessive force less. Again, this is not just because they're in different places or they're in different assignments, that the evidence is that they are just as effective, including with violent suspects.
[00:18:13.850] - Rosa Brooks
But they are just less likely than men to use excessive force. And I want to also be clear that the vast majority of male officers don't use excessive force. But for whatever reason, even fewer women than men do.
[00:18:25.440] - Steve Morreale
Thank you. I want to talk a little bit about your experience as a police officer, and you're writing the book, but with some specificity on this mentality culture, us versus them mentality and why that might happen to help people understand. I understand it, but I'd like your perspective, us versus them mentality and where that works both for us and against us as police.
[00:18:46.240] - Rosa Brooks
I think that you get a little bit of that in any occupation that is difficult and specialized, that lawyers think nobody understands lawyers. Doctors think nobody understands doctors, right. So to some extent, accountants think that nobody understands accountants. But I think, particularly when you add to that for police officers, really punishing schedules. That often means they're quite literally working when everybody else is asleep and they're standing out in the Blizzard when everybody else is inside and they're sweating in the heat when everybody else is in the air conditioning, they're wearing a uniform when everybody else is a physical marker of your difference, and they're doing a job that does not involve seeing human beings at their best, by and large, pretty much by definition, people don't call nine one one to say, hey, we're having a great time.
[00:19:29.350] - Rosa Brooks
Everybody here is happy and relaxed. People call 911 to say something awful is happening. Get here. And now I'm being robbed. I'm being beaten. My neighbor was shot, and you are interacting with people who are grieving who are angry, who are mentally ill. And you're seeing horrible things. You're seeing children who were sexually abused, you're seeing women who were raped, you're seeing people who were stabbed, and it's traumatizing. And there's a lot of work done on the impact on officers, of just seeing these terrible things over and over and over and over again.
[00:20:01.830] - Rosa Brooks
And it's easy to start feeling like number one. Boy. People kind of suck because the only people I ever see are either cops to my friends or there are these people who are shooting and stabbing each other and abusing each other. And they kind of suck. And thank God we're different. And it's also just easy to start feeling like nobody really understands what this is like, except the people who've gone through it with me, who I know will understand. And that's natural. It's completely natural to do that.
[00:20:26.470] - Steve Morreale
So what you said in the beginning is exactly the same. You're going to see the same thing in nursing and medicine and in legal and teachers and faculty.
[00:20:34.500] - Rosa Brooks
No one understands how hard it is to be a law professor.
[00:20:36.720] - Steve Morreale
Well, exactly. Damn, it would be a great job if it weren't for the students. Is the joke, right? Well, okay, that's a whole different story. But you're right. And I think as you begin to explain to people, look, this is not just isolated with leasing and in a lot of areas where there is this us versus them, they don't understand. It's a very difficult job.
[00:20:58.440] - Rosa Brooks
It is. Although I do think that a lot of occupations are sort of more porous, right? That there's more spillover into ordinary life, policing the military, certain other professions. There are good things about it, right? I think that that sense of loyalty that officers often feel to one another is really fostered, in part by that sense of being different and that can have all kinds of benefits. But as we know, it can also be dangerous. It can also lead to worst case, it can lead to both a sense of disdain and contempt for everybody who's not a cop.
[00:21:31.280] - Rosa Brooks
You don't understand. You can't possibly understand you're probably a criminal anyway. And it can also lead officers sometimes to cover up for each other when they shouldn't, to not say something when they see a colleague doing something terrible. And indeed, for some officers, a very small minority. But nonetheless, it can lead them to be the Derek Chauvin of the world, right? Who lost all their sense of the community as being made up of humans to the point where they can be completely indifferent. Their knee is on someone's neck and someone is dying.
[00:22:00.130] - Steve Morreale
So talk a little bit about that from your perspective again, that you saw it in the same way that we saw what happened in January 6 and 911 and now Minneapolis and the outrage that happened, the activist that came out, the broad brush, the toxic broad brush that was thrown at police. I'm curious to know what your thoughts were, obviously, George Floyd, how that caused a ripple effect throughout the world. Never mind the country.
[00:22:27.140] - Rosa Brooks
Yeah. It's been such a painful and complicated moment, I think both for the country and for police officers, it's really important to remind people two things and their attention with one another. And they seem contradictory. But they're not. One of those things is that the vast majority of police officers, and I'm sure you know, all the work on this, the vast majority of police officers will go their entire career without ever pointing the weapon at anyone, much less firing at anybody. They'll pull that weapon and fired on the shooting range and that's it.
[00:22:54.910] - Rosa Brooks
And the vast majority of officers do their best to do a good job and help people, despite all those pressures and so on. And they do help people. They take sick people in the hospital, they get in between people who are about to kill each other and say, no, you don't do that. They do all kinds of good things. So that's one thing and that's real. There's another thing that's also real, which is that policing in America in all kinds of ways does real harm to some communities and people more than others.
[00:23:19.480] - Rosa Brooks
And there are some officers who do that harm, not just because they're part of a system that can be harmful structurally, but because they are either sadistic or indifferent and that you do have the Derek Chauvins of the world. And both of those things are true. And I think it's really important to try to keep them both in mind. At the same time when I say that, I don't mean to just say, oh, it's just a few bad apples. It's not just a few bad apples.
[00:23:40.800] - Rosa Brooks
There are all kinds of structural problems in policing and injustices, and those injustices are often along racial lines. But at the same time, I think that as a nation, I don't think Americans, we don't do subtle, right? We don't do nuance a whole lot. We kind of do like it's black or it's white. And sometimes we swing wildly in between the extremes. But we're not super good at kind of going, you know what? It's complicated. There are good things or bad things. We want to try to hold on to the good things while getting rid of the bad things.
[00:24:09.020] - Rosa Brooks
And I think we've sort of seen that in the last couple of years. We've kind of oscillate wildly between, well, as my teenagers tell me that kids say, ACAB, all cops are bastards. Or more likely, if you're on the political right, all cops are heroes. We need more of them. We need to pay them more back the blue. Although it turned out that that was pretty skin deep on January 6, right.
[00:24:29.680] - Steve Morreale
[00:24:31.230] - Rosa Brooks
It's been a hard time. But I actually think in some ways there are some things about the last couple of years that actually gives me hope. And one of those, I actually think that January 6 was a really interesting moment because it displayed at the very same time both a lot of the problems policing and a lot of what is best about policing. And it made it a little bit harder for people to have that super simplistic approach, because all of a sudden, you had people on the political right saying, oh, those cops were too brutal.
[00:24:58.370] - Rosa Brooks
And then on the political left, you had people saying, we need more cops with better weapons so they can get rid of the right wing mobs. And we need to put all those right wing mobs and people in jail forever and maybe execute them while we're at it. And that was actually kind of hopefully for at least some people that may on both sides of the political spectrum, maybe it made them kind of go, oh, wait. Maybe this is complicated.
[00:25:18.520] - Steve Morreale
Well, I think you're right. I think when you sat and watched that you would say you feel bad for the police and the position they were put in and the police were put in a very difficult predicament. And that was do we protect the building or do we protect people? And clearly they realized we have to protect the people, the staffers and the elected officials and such that was a conundrum. And yet I think people say we do need police because without police anarchy, Unfortunately, yeah.
[00:25:42.350] - Rosa Brooks
Just also the rise in gun violence and homicides in many major cities. This year, I talked about the pendulum swing. We've gone in the space of a year from defund the police to, oh, my God. How do we get more officers on the street? And I think the challenge is to kind of take those pendulum swings and use that as a way to sort of push people to have that more nuanced conversation about. There's bad stuff. There's good stuff. How do we keep the good and how do we get rid of the bad or at least minimize the bad?
[00:26:10.630] - Steve Morreale
I got you because it seems to me that so many police officers and people that, you know, have become demoralized. Nobody cares about us. I don't really want to do the job. It's going to get me. Yes, it is.
[00:26:21.400] - Rosa Brooks
It's dangerous, both because people leave and then we lose the people with experience. And it's dangerous because when people become despairing and cynical, that can be pretty toxic in terms of their behavior.
[00:26:32.140] - Steve Morreale
No question. So begin to wind down because I know you've got another meeting to go to, but we're talking to Professor Rosa Brooks, who is also an Associate Dean at the Georgetown Law School. And I want to talk about your book. And then I want to finish by talking about the fellowship and the things that you're trying to do at the school. But you wrote a book following your experience tangled up in blue. You see the American city. What caused you to write that? What was the message you were trying to convey based on your experience?
[00:26:58.360] - Rosa Brooks
Oh, God. So I had, like, the world's worst elevator pitch for this book. Everybody's always, like, you can have, like, a one or two sentence really punchy things. I'd be saying to people like, well, you know, reserve police office in DC, and I'm writing a book about it, and they go, oh, that's so fascinating. What's your argument? And I'd go, you know, it's really complicated.
[00:27:16.470] - Steve Morreale
That's been one of your favorite phrases. By the way. It's complicated.
[00:27:20.020] - Rosa Brooks
They would look at me like, that is the worst elevator pitch I've ever made in my life. It's complicated. That's your argument. But that is my argument.
[00:27:28.630] - Steve Morreale
But law is complicated, right?
[00:27:30.290] - Rosa Brooks
Life is complicated. And that is my argument is that look, as I said at the very beginning, everybody thinks they know everything about policing. We're a nation of experts on policing, but actually, no, most Americans, quite frankly, don't know shit. And that's not because they're stupid. It's just because they don't know. And my hope with this book was to communicate not we must do this or we must do that. Although I have opinions, there are some things I think we must do and so on, but primarily to communicate some sense of just exactly how complex this is, exactly how difficult policing is, exactly how much the good is really entwined with the bad and hopefully give people a little bit more sense of nuance.
[00:28:13.000] - Steve Morreale
So let me ask you directly when the book came out, what were the critics saying about it. But what was the feedback from those in the field?
[00:28:20.720] - Rosa Brooks
So mostly it was positive. To my enormous relief. I'd say the criticism, there was criticism on the left. There was criticism from the right. The criticism from the left took the form of all police are all cops are bastards, right? And how could you join them? And you're a bad person and they're bad and they should be abolished and you should be abolished, right? You're not radical enough. The criticism from the right mostly took the form of you don't know anything. You're just a reserve officer. You're a fake cop.
[00:28:48.760] - Rosa Brooks
Shut up. Cops are great. Any criticisms you might have made are Invalid because you don't know anything.
[00:28:53.760] - Steve Morreale
Okay, so where do you stand on that? I would say that the experience you went through, the time on the street, the time in the classroom, the time that you have spent with developing a Fellowship program and trying to drive the ideals and the ideas of innovative policing have some value. And I think you bring a lot to the table. So what's your perspective now? What is it you want to do? I know that you're probably moving on to other things, but that book is still in your repertoire and you're dealing with police officers.
[00:29:24.150] - Steve Morreale
Still, to this day, you're identifying. I presume people who are interested in advancing the police Department, specifically the Metropolitan Police. How is that going? What drives you to keep that moving?
[00:29:35.820] - Rosa Brooks
What drives me is. So look, I think that whole conversation should be defund or abolished. The police. I think there's an important conversation in there. If you get away from the slogans and that conversation is about how do we want to ensure public safety in this country? What's the best way? What things need to be done by somebody with a gun and a uniform and what things are better done by somebody else. That's an incredibly important conversation. Cops should be part of that conversation. We all should be having that conversation.
[00:30:01.900] - Rosa Brooks
I also think that even if you believe as some people do, I don't. But some people do that utopia would be nobody's got a gun in a uniform. We're not there. And even if that's where you want to go, we're not going to get there tomorrow or even in a decade. It's going to take us a long time. And in the meantime, we got a whole lot of cops and whatever we want to do 50 years from now. In the meantime, we need to accept that we have cops and we want them to be doing as little harm as possible and as much good as possible.
[00:30:30.940] - Rosa Brooks
And there's a lot that can be done to change things to do exactly that and that we need to be having two conversations at the same time. One of those conversations is, where do we want to be in 30 years, 40 years, 50 years? The other conversation is okay here's where we are right now. How do we save lives, prevent crimes, solve crimes, keep people safer, make people feel confident in the officers who are there. And I think that both of those conversations are incredibly important ones.
[00:30:58.730] - Rosa Brooks
And the work that we're doing through our program, which is now called the Center for Innovations and Community Safety, is trying to push both of those conversations simultaneously. And we do that in part through the scholarship program. I was saying earlier, the conversations of the police Academy were so operational and tactical. One of the things that really struck me was, wow. We have these incredibly talented young people who plan to go into policing as an occupation and potentially stay there for the rest of their careers.
[00:31:27.720] - Rosa Brooks
And they need to be having those hard conversations. They don't just need to be memorizing property forms, although they do need to do that. They also, of all people, they need to be having those conversations. What does public safety look like? What should it look like? What's the role of police in a diverse and Democratic society? What about police and racism? What does it mean if people say police is structurally racist? Is that true? What do we do about it? What does an individual officer do about it?
[00:31:52.580] - Rosa Brooks
What does the Department do about it? What do we actually know about what leads to increases or decreases in crime? What do we know about what works and what doesn't officers need to be having those conversations? It's sort of like the old line about war is too important to leave it to the generals. Policing is too important to leave it to the Chiefs and the mayor's. We need patrol officers to be having those conversations and be part of those conversations. And so the program we started is really focused on creating the spaces for young officers at the early stages of their career to be having those conversations with one another, with academics, with activists, with community members, with command staff in their own Department, with national leaders, because I think that's part of creating the generation of future leaders who will think in really smart and nuanced ways about these issues.
[00:32:38.720] - Rosa Brooks
That's the only program we have. We got a lot of other stuff.
[00:32:40.960] - Rosa Brooks
No, I know that's the original one,
[00:32:43.220] - Steve Morreale
But that focuses on Metropolitan generally.
[00:32:46.200] - Rosa Brooks
That program? Yes, that program focuses that's fine.
[00:32:49.290] - Steve Morreale
But you're bringing in people from the outside to give them different perspectives.
[00:32:52.530] - Rosa Brooks
Now have sister programs and some other cities. But we also have a much bigger program called the Able program stands for Active bystandership in law enforcement, which is nationwide. We have numerous major departments, from the NYPD to higher state level agencies that have partnered with us on that. And the focus of that program is not so much to prevent the Derek Shovin, the guy who kills George Floyd by keeping his knee on his neck or eight minutes or whatever that's really focused. There were three other cops standing there when George Floyd died, who could have stopped Chauvin, right.
[00:33:27.830] - Rosa Brooks
And didn't. And one of them, one of the rookies, tried a little bit a couple of times. He said, Well, maybe we should let him up and show was like, Shut up. Good. And he's like, okay, and he backed off. And the Active Bystandership program is geared towards giving officers the training and the skills and knowledge they need to intervene when they see somebody who is doing something wrong, whether that's something wrong at the most extreme, is going to kill somebody, or even if it's much lesser that they're taking an ethical shortcut, or they're doing something that could endanger themselves to be able to have those skills to say, hey, not just maybe we should let him up, but then to recognize they're going to get rebuffed.
[00:34:07.990] - Rosa Brooks
And the next step is to say, we need to let him up. And the next step is grab Chauvin by the arm and say he's in trouble.
[00:34:15.090] - Steve Morreale
I got this.
[00:34:15.900] - Steve Morreale
Well, it's interesting you say that. And, you know, with the experience that you had in the Academy, one of the things I talk about in trainings, and that is when you become emotional in an arrest, somebody kicked you, somebody pissed you off, whatever. I mean, we react, we're human beings, and we physiologically react to that. Sometimes you have to tap out, in essence, saying, Rosa, I've got this, like, back off. You're pissed off. You want to punch him in the face, whatever. I'll take this. I'll put the handcuffs on them, and that could have been valuable.
[00:34:41.850] - Steve Morreale
I think there was a power differential there, as you well know, because he was a training officer, and these were rookies. And we have to overcome that. I'm very glad to hear that.
[00:34:49.160] - Rosa Brooks
That makes it so hard.
[00:34:50.150] - Steve Morreale
It does. It does. Last couple of things, we talked about reforms, and we talked about policing and defunding. It seems to me that one of the real problems is society's approach to those with mental health. And if you remember going back in time, how many people were deinstitutionalized? We used to have warehouses for people, and we said, we have to turn them back. And social services, not as many social services were available. And I think that's a problem. And, of course, the issue of mental health, both police officer, mental health and the mental health calls that they're coming to now, co response operations are starting now.
[00:35:24.380] - Steve Morreale
So you've got a clinician sometimes showing up, speaks the language, who can talk with the hospital, who can get somebody instead of putting them in jail, can get some mental health or the psychiatric help that they need. What's your take on that?
[00:35:36.870] - Rosa Brooks
My take on that is that fixing this problem is going to take many, many years because warehousing people didn't do any good. But the sort of catch and release approach to mental health also doesn't work. And this, as you know, is something that's incredibly frustrating for many police officers and not at all good for people who need mental health care. There you are. You're a patrol cop. There's a guy who's walking in the middle of the traffic waving a knife and ranting and raving to himself, and somebody calls nine, one, one, and you come and you talk the guy down and you take them to the emergency psychiatric clinic and leave them there.
[00:36:11.900] - Rosa Brooks
And the next day, he's back doing the exact same thing again, and you take them again and then repeat, right. Having social workers go and interview with that guy might be a good thing in some circumstances, in many cases, might be better. But number one, we don't actually have those social workers in most places right now. It's not like we just have this group of people standing ready and waiting to say, hey, don't worry, cops. I got this. We're going to have to create those people in a lot of cases, recruit them, train them, pay them.
[00:36:39.300] - Rosa Brooks
But even if we had those people, unless we have a better mental health system that is focusing on long term care, they're going to just have the same problem. They're going to talk that guy with a knife down. They're going to get him to the clinic. He's going to be back there the next day and building that long term care system, a quality long term care system. And I'm not a mental health expert, but that sure isn't going to happen overnight, either. So I think that just as thinking about the future of policing involves thinking not in terms entirely of what do we do now or what do we do next year?
[00:37:12.850] - Rosa Brooks
But where do we want to be in 50 years? And what's the plan to get there? Where do we need to invest? Where do we need to recruit? How do we need to train? What are the institutions we just don't have right this minute that we need to create that's the same is going to be true when it comes to mental health care.
[00:37:29.180] - Steve Morreale
Well, we have been talking with Rosa Brooks, and she is a professor of law at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. It seems to me that after writing the book, having that experience, that you continue to use your position at Georgetown to make a difference, it's very impressive to see, and that I also will tell you that my sense is that you are trying to allow people, your fellows to learn and lead through questions and pondering and trying to figure out what's next, exactly what you said. Where can we be in the future?
[00:38:02.380] - Steve Morreale
And what can I do to make a difference in something I love? And, you know, deep down inside police do love the work that they do, even if they are not loved by the people that they serve very often. So I'll ask you to give us the last word before we sign off. What would you leave about your thoughts about the future of policing?
[00:38:19.680] - Rosa Brooks
You know, as I said, in some ways, I'm actually hopeful. I spend a lot of time with young officers, and there's some amazing people who go into policing. We could have more amazing people if departments thought differently about recruiting and so on. But we already have a lot of amazing people, and they go in for all the right reasons, and they want to transform policing from within. And that gives me a lot of hope. I think our challenge is to create the support structures that help them succeed that give them the institutional support that they need, the moral support that they need to kind of have those hard conversations internally, because I do believe that most people go into policing for the right reasons.
[00:39:00.820] - Rosa Brooks
They don't go in because they want to hurt people or something. They go in because they care about keeping communities safer. We don't always give them the right tools to do that, and we don't always give them what they need to keep from becoming cynical, just deciding. Oh, I know there are all these bad practices, but why bother? I'm not going to succeed. So I'll just do what everybody else does. I think that's the big challenge is not demonizing police, but instead recognizing that police officers themselves have a really valuable role to play in that project of thinking about how we reinvent policing to make it work for all Americans, not just for some.
[00:39:37.400] - Steve Morreale
Well, I appreciate your input. And the one thing that you said repeatedly in this, we've got to have hope that we hope it will get better. We hope that police feel that there is hope and that their job counts. And along the way, they do help people. They have to continue to fight through the noise and do their job day in and day out. So thank you, Rosa Brooks from Georgetown University Law School. I appreciate your time and your energy. Thank you.
[00:40:01.810] - Rosa Brooks
Thank you, Steve, for having me.
[00:40:03.070] - Steve Morreale
My pleasure. This is it another episode in the books. Steve Morreale CopDoc Podcast. Stay tuned for more episodes. Thanks very much.
[00:40:12.510] - 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 into The CopDoc Podcast for regular episodes of interviews with thought leaders in policing.