Thomas Gallatin / October 17, 2016

Comey: Biased Police Narrative Is Wrong

FBI directors says epidemic of police bias is false and calls for more data.

FBI Director James Comey was in San Diego over the weekend where he spoke at a conference for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. It’s noteworthy that Comey criticized the narrative about “biased police — killing of black men at [an] epidemic rate.” Comey pointed to the impact that a small number of videos have made upon public perception of police misconduct in general. He said, “In the absence of information, we have anecdotes, we have videos, we have good people believing something terrible is happening in this country. In a nation of almost one million sworn law enforcement officers, and tens of millions of police encounters every year, a small group of videos [cannot serve] as proof of an epidemic.” Comey was quick to support the Justice Department’s plan to begin collecting data on all incidents of police using force, arguing that this data is needed to correct the false narrative.

Ironically, at this same conference Terrence M. Cunningham, the chief of police in Wellesley, Massachusetts, issued a formal apology to the nation’s minority population “for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.” Cunningham continued, “While we obviously cannot change the past, it is clear that we must change the future. … For our part, the first step is for law enforcement and the IACP to acknowledge and apologize for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.”

If what Comey said is true — that there is a false narrative because of the lack of actual data — then the mass media is guilty of inferencing, inflating and fueling the false perception of police bias rather than reporting actual contextualized facts. If an apology is needed for actual wrongs committed by a nationwide police culture steeped in practicing bias against minorities, then there also needs to be data to establish this reality. Cunningham doesn’t have that data, but conceded the narrative. That’s not helpful.

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