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Police Training Is Seriously Lacking in Actual Science

By Sarah Zhang

Insight: MICHAEL BROWN WAS, at best, stopped by police for stealing cigarillos. Sandra Bland for failing to signal a lane change. Freddie Gray for carrying a switchblade. Yet these encounters all ended with them dead. Distrust running both ways between police and the communities they’re supposed to protect have sparked cries for reform to prevent rapid escalation of police violence. What’s missing in the conversation, though, is science. That’s because the science often doesn’t exist. Police rarely cooperate with outside researchers, especially those perceived as reformers. “In New York where I’ve done a lot of my work, I can’t get anyone to talk to me,” says Alex Vitale, a sociologist at Brooklyn College who has studied how police respond to protests. And even when social science research points to a need for reform, getting new ideas into police academy training and thousands of local police departments fractured all over the country is, put charitably, a slow endeavor.

FERGUSON, MO – AUGUST 09: Demonstrators, marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown, face off with police during a protest along West Florrisant Street on August 9, 2015 in Ferguson, Missouri. There are reports that two people were shot when gun fire broke out during protests later in the evening. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9, 2014. His death sparked months of sometimes violent protests in Ferguson and drew nationwide focus on police treatment of black suspects. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES

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