March 15, 2023
Occasionally, big media institutions still do valuable reporting.
As you’ll recall, the prestige press humiliated themselves back in January when the story first broke about how five black Memphis policemen beat a black motorist to death. The media’s initial response was heavy on explaining over and over that white people were still to blame…for reasons.
But now The Washington Post has paid for former sports reporter Robert Klemko, who looks like he is about one-fourth black, to talk to nine old-time cops who served at the Memphis police academy about what has gone wrong with the new generation.
Are they wholly trustworthy? Perhaps not (office politics are endlessly complex), but what they say makes a lot of sense.
As with most patterns in human society, their explanation involves both nature (Memphis has been scraping the bottom of the barrel harder when hiring cops) and nurture (its police academy has been made easier in order to not flunk out its new recruits, who are more fragile: mentally, emotionally, and ethically):
Memphis police academy cut corners while scrambling to hire, officers say
Five ex-officers charged with beating Tyre Nichols were hired at a time of lower standards and scrutiny, current and former officers say
Around the time of Michael Brown’s shooting while attacking a Ferguson, Missouri, policeman in 2014, Memphis ran into economic troubles just as the Black Lives Matter movement caused veteran Memphis cops to retire and fewer job applicants to step forward to replace them.
The MPD responded by lowering educational and fitness standards for new recruits. In turn, these fatter and dumber would-be cops required that training demands be cut back. Klemko writes:
The academy became more lenient in grading, and students were allowed more chances to retake exams—including at the shooting range—after failures that would have led to dismissal under previous rules, the current and former officers said. Incidents of cheating did not always trigger dismissal, as in the past, four officers said….
The disgruntled police academy insiders blame the changes for making Nichols’ death more probable:
It resulted in larger class sizes at the academy while maintaining high graduation rates for recruits, including the five officers charged with murder in connection with Nichols’s death in January. In extensive interviews with ‘The Washington Post,’ the veteran officers involved in training and supervising new hires said the changes created conditions that made incidents like the Nichols beating more likely.
The former supervisor of training observes:
“They baby these recruits and do everything they can to help them pass the tests so they don’t lose the body…. If somebody can’t pass the tests and can’t grasp the material, you don’t want them on the streets policing you.”
Since Ferguson nine years ago, American elites have been obsessing over their paranoid delusions about invisible and largely imaginary “systemic racism,” while ignoring the basic blocking and tackling of how to assemble a police force that makes more good decisions than bad decisions under stress: hire recruits with the raw intelligence and conscientiousness to become well-trained, and then train them hard.
For instance, because courts have never dared apply to the military the 1972 Griggs decision making it harder to use IQ-like hiring exams, the Pentagon has an utterly immense data set documenting how testing and training work together in improving on-the-job performance.
But almost nobody in positions of influence during the BLM era could remember that quality potential police officers are scarce, especially black ones.
After all, it’s racist to notice realities that don’t conform to the Narrative. On Monday, for instance, The New York Times began its listing of Penn law professor Amy Wax’s speechcrimes with:
Amy Wax, a law professor, has said publicly that “on average, Blacks have lower cognitive ability than whites…”
Now, you know and I know that’s likely the most thoroughly documented fact in all of American social science. But nobody else remembers that anymore. And what is unsayable eventually becomes inconceivable.
The conventional wisdom during the Great Awokening has assumed that high-potential but underemployed black workers were available in practically infinite supply due to severe discrimination against competent blacks.
Granted, that’s been an absurd idea since some point in the 1960s.
But you may disagree. You may have evidence. But, ask yourself, is it worth losing your job as tenured professor Amy Wax seems likely to?
“We would voice our concerns, and it would go on deaf ears,” said James Lash, a former academy instructor and Crisis Intervention Team coordinator for the Memphis department who retired in 2022. “There were several officers in that group [that beat] Tyre Nichols that everybody wondered about when they were in the academy. You reap what you sow.”
Federal insiders ought at least to have remembered the hilariously disastrous rush in 1989–90 by the Mayor Marion Barry-era Washington, D.C., police department to add 2,000 new officers, many of whom turned out to be drug dealers. Keith Harriston and Mary Pat Flaherty wrote in the Post in 1994:
…Smith was locked up in Prince George’s County awaiting trial on drug distribution charges when the letter of acceptance to the police academy arrived at his home. “I’ve got good news and bad news,” Smith recalled his father saying. “I can’t get you out. But you got a job with the police department.”…
The tale of how a drug dealer served 18 months as a D.C. police cadet is part of a larger story of breakneck hiring and training by the department in 1989 and 1990 with still unraveling consequences.
On a smaller scale, Memphis tried a similar quantity-over-quality strategy, increasing its police academy class size from 39 in 2016 to 110 in 2017:
Instructors who led the session remember it as the beginning of the academy’s decline. Unimpressed with the recruit pool, they soon abandoned hopes of replicating the previous session’s 79 percent graduation rate, Lash and three instructors said. But 85 of the students graduated, 77 percent of the class, a reflection—according to their instructors—of how the standards had changed.
Klemko recounts the tale of Teflon cadet Jamarcus Jeames, who sexually harassed a female instructor, got arrested for DUI, and shot Martavious Banks after turning off his body camera.
…firearms instructors told the rest of the academy staff that three recruits failed their final shooting exams, two instructors said. Such a result historically meant dismissal from the academy—a red line that many instructors considered sacred, given the risk involved with employing officers who can’t properly use their weapons.
But the higher-ups refused to dismiss the incompetent shooters. A former instructor reflected,
“As a citizen, I don’t know how people feel about that, but I kind of want my officers to be proficient at their weapons.”
Meanwhile, the BLM era was making recruiting trips harder:
“We heard ‘f— the police’ all the time from the kids at the schools,” Davis said. “It’s not a job that you stick your chest out and take pride in anymore.”
Scraping the bottom of the barrel meant:
“…you end up hiring these five knuckleheads who might have told you they wanted to be police so they could beat people up.”
As I’ve often mentioned, newspapers like the Post and The New York Times that are averse to challenging their paying subscribers’ naively progressive worldviews have largely shifted to an upside-down style of structuring articles so that important and interesting counter-Narrative facts get buried deep where casual readers will never find them. Hence, Klemko finally gets around to mentioning some of the racial aspects of the Memphis Police Department’s woes in his 43rd paragraph:
Haley and the other four officers charged with murdering Nichols are Black. Each joined the department after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014, which triggered protests across the country and a renewed focus on diversifying law enforcement and revamping police training curriculums. The hiring of Haley and several of the others coincided with a years-long effort in Memphis to field a police force that better reflected the racial makeup of the city. In 2014, the department was 46.7 percent White, while the city of Memphis is 27 percent White, according to Census Bureau data. The department is now 37 percent White, according to the city’s website.
Klemko doesn’t specifically mention the decades of litigation over the Memphis PD’s affirmative action schemes. But he does allude, if vaguely, to damage done by the current Diversity Inclusion Equity (DIE) mania:
Memphis academy instructors said the racial dynamics involved in hiring in recent years—combined with the department’s staffing push—ruled out disciplinary measures they had once relied upon.
For example, when a white instructor made a public example out of a black cadet for his reckless driving, making the cadet cry, he was accused of racism and was busted down to patrolling on the midnight shift.
The Memphis PD is currently 16 percent under its goal of 2,300 officers. How could this shortfall be narrowed without exorbitant spending or lowering standards for officer quality?
The most obvious solution is for Memphis to hire a greater percentage of white cops than its current 30 percent. According to the dictates of the law of supply and demand, because whites are discriminated against by affirmative action plans they are cheap relative to their quality.
But that kind of out-of-the-box thinking is unthinkable in the 2020s.