Police State/Civil Liberties

Want to reform America’s police? Look to firefighters

Well, as far as I know, there are no songs called “Fuck the Fire Department.”

By Roscoe Scarborough

The Conversation

Freddie Gray. Eric Garner. Michael Brown.

The deaths of black youth and men at the hands of police have sparked a nationwide conversation on discriminatory policing practices.

Media and the public often look to psychological explanations for discriminatory behavior, such as obvious prejudices and implicit biases.

However, in my view as a sociologist, policymakers and organizational leaders should focus less on the psychology of public servants and more on institutional culture.

From 2012 to 2015, I served as a volunteer firefighter in a busy suburban department to understand how fire service organizations recruit and retain volunteers. Through my research project, I wanted to learn why people risk their lives, spend time away from loved ones and forego paid employment to serve their community.

But I learned much more about how a strong institutional culture can suppress individual dispositions, including prejudice. Firefighting culture may provide a model for reforming law enforcement.


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