August 28, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 26—Law enforcement oversight and climate change

The past few months have brought intense scrutiny of police officers, with many citizens and policymakers weighing in and some calling for greater oversight of the nation's law enforcement agencies. Calls for greater accountability could result in what is known as the Ferguson effect, though, where police officers become less willing to engage in traditional law enforcement duties and more hesitant to use force, to the point where their own safety is endangered. A new study from the Indiana University O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs finds the scope of oversight authority makes a key difference. The IU researchers analyzed policing in 217 American cities with populations exceeding 100,000 residents between 1981 and 2015. Their research suggests that oversight agencies with a broad scope of authority decrease the violent crime rate and number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, while oversight agencies with a narrow scope of authority may lead to an increase in the violent crime rate. Furthermore, the researchers findings suggest any violent crime increase across major U.S. cities after the Ferguson shooting death of Michael Brown Jr., might have been somewhat limited had stronger accountability mechanisms been in place. Researchers say their study is the first that examines the impact of citizen oversight organizations on the violent crime rate and deaths of police officers while in the line of duty. The findings will allow other public administration scholars to further research how we can more safely deploy law enforcement tactics -- for both the officers and the citizenry they are sworn to protect.

In other news, when Hoosiers run out of meaningful things to say, they resort to the age-old question: so, how about that weather? The familiar cliche at least gives us something that—unlike politics—we can all agree on. But a recent survey sent to 10,000 Hoosier households by Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute revealed that Indiana residents with differing party affiliations no longer even agree about the weather. Matthew Houser, a fellow at the Environmental Resilience Institute, says environmental change is so associated with political meanings that, when researchers ask Hoosiers about their experiences of environmental change, many will think they are being asked about global warming and will give an answer framed in political context. However, Eric Sandweiss, a professor of history, the survey did yield some positive highlights from asking about the weather. First women and young people align more closely across party lines than population as a whole. Furthermore, researchers found that when questions focused on what people support for themselves and their families, people begin to see how much brings us together. And finally, when talking about how to pay for environmental initiatives, researchers found that party difference becomes less important than practical problem-solving. In the end, the IU researchers say with so much at stake when it comes to the weather, we should focus on what we can do together instead of the bigger-picture questions that divide us.