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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Kerner Report's Lack of Impact on Effective Law Enforcement

The Kerner Report's Lack of Impact on Effective Law Enforcement

The three major areas of change in law enforcement since 1970 are; technology driven efficiency, process oriented policing changes (such as community policing, problem oriented policing, “hot spot” targeting, and intelligence led policing), and finally the increased diversity of police forces. Some of this change has been driven by presidential commission recommendations. Although the Kerner Commission has been cited as a factor in the support for political changes, the effect of it's recommendations has not played a significant part in improving law enforcement efficiency.

Technology driven change has been the biggest factor in increased effectiveness for protecting America's security in a law enforcement context. Communications, data collection, data storage, data analysis, data sharing, and surveillance have all made policing more effective in reporting crime, in responding to crime, in solving crime, and in preventing crime. The impetus for improvements in technology came from another commission established by President Johnson, the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, in response to the doubling of crime rates between 1940 and 1965 (The National Committee on Criminal Justice Technology National Institute of Justice Technology, 1998, Part One, para. 6). As part of the Commission's recommendations, 11 specific improvements regarding the use of technology were embraced by the Johnson administration, which began providing “massive” federal technology assistance to local policing agencies (The National Committee on Criminal Justice Technology, 1998, Part One, para. 6-7). Byrne and Marx identify two types of technological change, information-based and material-based, and suggest that both have caused “dramatic changes” in law enforcement (2011, p.17).

Changes in the strategies and methods of policing have also taken place in the law enforcement community since 1970. While the efficiency of these changes may not have been fully evaluated, the direction in considering and testing potentially beneficial adjustments bodes well for the future of law enforcement. He, Zhao, and Lovrich contend that “only time will tell whether the sustained effort to promote COP will result in the widespread adoption of a new paradigm in policing”(2005, p.311). Other researchers put more confidence in such programs. Jackson and Brown assert that the Intelligence Led Policing “paradigm, once it has thoroughly addressed its shortcomings, will prove to be a viable policing model for a post-9/11 world”(2007, p.127). In discussing the potential benefits of using scientifically studied process changes to law enforcement, Willis concludes that “Advancing reform in ways that police administrators, officers, researchers, and ordinary citizens all care about requires that we focus on what can be gained by strengthening this union” (2013, p. 12).

Diversity in policing is another change which may not result in objectively measurable reductions in crime, but may create non measurable benefits for the community at large and it's relationship with the local police. Raymond discusses the increase of diversity of police force compositions; “Although sworn police officers across departments are still predominantly white males, rates of racial and ethnic minorities and females have increased over the past few years... The proportions of both minorities and females among sworn personnel are larger in larger cities than in cities with smaller populations” (2005, p.12). However, Brown and Benedict suggest that community relations are not always improved by adding officers that can relate to local communities; “A commonly proposed tactic for reducing blacks’ negative perceptions of the police is hiring more black officers, but there is no empirical support for such programs”(2002, p.568). This may be due to a culture conflict issue where it is the uniform itself, rather than from a survey of personal interactions.

The Kerner Commission was created by President Johnson in reaction to urban riots from 1965 to 1967. According to Lupo, the commission had to answer three basic questions; “what happened, why, and what can be done to prevent it from happening again and again” (2010, p. 125). The composition of the commission was bipartisan, and despite claims to the contrary was interracial, with 2 out of 11 Commissioners being black men(or 18% of the board as compared to 13% of the general population at the time). Bulmer identifies “ideological bias” as an impediment to the use of social science research in commission findings. (1983, p. 655). Unfortunately, The Commission staff demonstrated such a bias in that “the report was the work of hundreds of staffers, largely social scientists whose mind-sets reflected the leftist orthodoxy of the time”(Miller, 2000, para. 2). The first report generated was so extremist that the Commission itself, “appointed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson largely to reflect commitments to his Great Society programs”, rejected it in toto (Miller, 2000, para. 2). This bias manifested itself in the Commission's findings.

The Kerner Report had two major conclusions to the “why” and the prevention questions, both of which were wrong. The first conclusion was that conditions in the black community were caused by “white racism”. “White racism is essentially responsible for the explosive mixture which has been
accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II” (The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p.9). The second conclusion was that poverty caused by this racism was the cause of the riots. While “white racism” cannot be discounted as a factor in “black poverty”, there are certainly other contributing factors the Kerner Commission neglected to account for in it's conclusions. One factor that the Commission denied was the influence of outside agitators; “The urban disorders of the summer of 1967 were not caused by, nor were they the consequence of, any organized plan or 'conspiracy'"(The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p.8). This is indicative of the ideological bias in which the Commission operated. In 1968, a Congressional Hearing had no problem finding documentation of SDS/SNCC activity which targeted Newark and other “cities where SNCC hopes 'to translate its black power philosophy into an outlet for frustration' “ (Subversive influence in riots, looting, and burning, 1968, p.1856) Other findings of the Hearing included documentation of SDS rhetoric rejecting the “bringing ghetto residents into the mainstream of competitive society” (Subversive influence in riots, looting, and burning, 1968, p.1855). Bean asserts that “Black militants and their white sympathizers considered the 'rebellions' a form of political violence designed to force concessions from governmental authorities” (Bean, 2000, p. 165). The Kerner Report does not consider other factors such as deviation from a middle-class value system, high rates of illegitimacy, or cultural rejection of education and entrepreneurship. Woodson argues that “the advocates of civil rights had to abandon publications that discussed the strength of black communities in order for them to have civil rights laws applied to them. With these demands, we entered a 'grievance period' in which we reported only on our shortcomings and our failings' (1998, Para 22.)

This leads to the Commission's conclusion that poverty itself is a cause for crime, to be remedied by higher levels of government spending (and of course, higher taxes). This fallacy can be considered as the “poverty pitfall”. However, we return to Miller's contention that the staffers on the Commission held the common social science view of the day, which was influenced by the Chicago schools of sociology and criminology. This ideological bias ignores a critical point in addressing poverty, which Siegel makes in regards to the riots, that “welfare replaced work for low-income people who were ready to move up the job ladder”(1998, para 15).

Due to bias in the generation of the Kerner Report, and the conclusions reached due to that bias, there was not consideration given to the causes of urban riots; without a solid understanding of a problem, there can not be an effective approach to a solution. However, the Kerner Report did have an impact on how criminologists defined political solutions. Ren, Zhao, and Lovrich define the liberal position on crime control as a matter of social support and the use of the Kerner Report as a basis in that line of thought. “The key to liberal propositions regarding crime control was the concept of social support in contrast to the conservative's social control focus” (Ren, Zhao, & Lovrich, 2008, p.318) . The major problem in this framing is that it ignores the conservative position that social support must be based on the individuals' socialization to correct behavior, that teaching a man to fish is superior to giving him a fish for a day. It should also be noted that “white racism” and “black crime” are irresponsible uses of language; not all whites are racist, nor all blacks criminal. Racism and criminal activity are resultant from cultural influence, not skin color.


Bean, J. (2000). “Burn, Baby, Burn”: Small business in the urban riots of the 1960s. The Independent Review, 5(2).

Byrne, J., & Marx, G. (2011). Technological innovations in crime prevention and policing. A review of the research on implementation and impact. Journal of Police Studies, 20(3), 17–40.

Bulmer, M. (1983). An Anglo-American comparison: Does social science contribute effectively to the work of governmental commissions?The American Behavioral Scientist, 26(5)

He, N., Zhao, J., & Lovrich, N. P. (2005). Community Policing: A Preliminary Assessment of Environmental Impact With Panel Data on Program Implementation in U.S. Cities. Crime & Delinquency, 51(3), 295–317. http://doi.org/10.1177/0011128704266756

Jackson, A. L., & Brown, M. (2007). Ensuring Efficiency, Interagency Cooperation, and Protection of Civil Liberties: Shifting from a Traditional Model of Policing to an Intelligence-Led Policing (ILP) Paradigm. Criminal Justice Studies, 20(2), 111–129. http://doi.org/10.1080/14786010701396855

Lupo, L. (2010). Flak-catchers: One hundred years of riot commission politics in America. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: Lexington Books.

Miller, A. H. (2000). Myths the Kerner Commission created. The World & I, 15(8), 300–309.

Raymond, B. (2005). Police personnel challenges after September 11: anticipating expanded duties and a changing labor pool. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp.

Ren, L., Zhao, J., & Lovrich, N. P. (2008). Liberal versus conservative public policies on crime: What was the comparative track record during the 1990s? Journal of Criminal Justice, 36(4), 316–325. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2008.06.010

Subversive influence in riots, looting, and burning. 90th Congress. 1851 (1968).

The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. (1968). Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder: Summary of report. Washington, D. C. Retrieved April 13, 2015 from http://www.eisenhowerfoundation.org/docs/kerner.pdf

The National Committee on Criminal Justice Technology. (1998). The evolution and development of police technology. Washington, D. C. Retrieved April 13, 2015 from http://www.police-technology.net/id59.html

Threnstrom, S., Siegel, F., & Woodson, R. (1998, March). The Kerner Commission Report. The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved April 13, 2015 from http://www.heritage.org/research/lecture/the-kerner-commission-report

Willis, J. J. (2013). Improving police: What’s craft got to do with it? Ideas in American Policing, 16.

This is going to be a long "answer" that doesn't really answer the question; it just raises more questions.

The simplest and most common answers are in opposition to each other; the first is that white racism is the primary cause for every bad thing that happens in the black community, and the other is that due to culture conflict reasons, black folks distrust and therefore don't join the police, leading to a cycle of culture conflict.  Both answers neglect a host of other contributing factors that have neither been fully addressed or measured.

1. Racism - Statistically speaking, racism has to have some affect on racial relations.  From my own experience, I know that there are white people with racist views of blacks (and vice versa, and Hispanics with racist views of both whites, and blacks, and vice versa).  In this situation, though, the question is how much affect the racism of white folks affects the opportunities of black folks, with a corollary question is how much black folks perceive racism to have such an affect.

For example, at one point in my life, I marketed pizza coupons door-to-door (meaning that I put them on the door, and moved on).  More than once, I would walk across the street to avoid talking to a black person.  Was this racist?  No, because I always crossed the street to avoid social contact with all people I encountered, as I was dysfuntcionally shy at the time.  But how many of the people that I avoided had the perception that I did so because they were black?

2. Culture conflict - There are several versions of culture conflict that can be in play here, but I will simplify to the major ones.  Middle class culture is the culture which primarily define our mala prohibita laws.  Drug use in some minority cultures is not the same as it is in middle lass/lower upper middle class culture.The legal status of drug use/possession is what drives a large percentage of police/minority contact ( and thus arrest and use of force incidents). On the other hand, a "snitches get stitches" view of police interaction, and the accusation of "acting white" for blacks that attempt to succeed on the terms of middle class values also play into culture conflict.  I am unaware of studies which measure these factors in regards to racial relations.

3.Police socialization - Policemen have certainly committed racist acts in the past.  The acceptance of these acts was part of the police culture.  Things have changed to some point, partly due to diversity within police forces. Mark Baker's Cops, compiled in the mid/late 80's, was a collection of monologues by policemen discussing police work, returns over and over again to some policemens' perceptions of race and the changing view of policemen towards racial relations.  In turn, a history of police abuses will certainly affect the perception of police by minority cultures, whether or not current practice is still racist.  There have been examples of continued discrimination within some departments.  The question here is how many policemen are racist, and how many allow racism to affect professionalism.

4. Profiling - Profiling can be a valuable law enforcement tool.  How profiling is conducted can be a matter of debate.  Profiling can be considered as "racial profiling" when race or ethnicity is either used or perceived to be used as a basis for the stop; Reiman suggests that "terms of the definition
are satisfied if race is used in addition to other factors such as behavior" (Reiman, 2011, p.4).  This can increase the negative perception that minority communities hold of the police.  If the police stop minority suspects based on the wearing of certain clothes, is the stop based upon those clothes being gang colors, or of a style worn by gang members?  If the clothes are of a certain style, is it non-gang members following fashion set by gang members, or vice versa?

5. Anti-police propaganda -  Both the Washington Post and the New York Times recently admitted that "hands up, don't shoot" was a lie.  Of course, this admission was not on the same front pages that months of the lie were repeated over and over, nor was the lie admitted to until after several businesses had been destroyed in the riots.  In Austin, the main newspaper ran a headline "Police shoot unarmed black man in the back twice", notwithstanding the autopsy report that showed the wounds were in the suspect's side, not back, nor that the suspect's gun was dropped close to his body during the pursuit/shooting.  90% of journalists identify as Democrats.  I will return to this point.

6. Sabotage of the black community - Policies undertaken with the public justification of improving conditions in the black community have the opposite effect.  Ebonics and the new policy of not disciplining problem students do nothing to raise the educational level of underprivileged students.  Higher minimum wages result in fewer jobs.  As a side issue, there is little study done about the positive effects that churches in minority communities have on people in those communities.

7. Political Opportunism - There is a term for the Jews that fed other Jews into the Nazi's ovens in the concentration camps in order to live a little longer.  This term is "Sonderkommando".  The Democratic Party needs to recieve from 85% to 90% (depending on location) of the black vote to win elections.  Considering that Democrats control the cities and locales where black poverty rates are the greatest and arrest rates for black folks are the highest, that Democrats control the educational systems and unions that are tasked for education in the communities, and that Democratic influence in the media that dominates public discourse has a single narrative supporting policies that do not work, is it possible that the "Sonderkommando" term has a parallel meaning?

Of course, even the theory that the Democratic Party sabotages the black community for the purpose of maintaining  a stable voting count can not be the only factor in the conditions that drive racial conditions in this country.  Each possible factor must be examined as fully as possible.  Some are impossible to quantify.  For an example, if a policeman holds both racist and professional values, and has the self-control necessary to conduct his job professionally, how would we measure the effect of his racism...at a value of 0 because he is not acting on racist impulse, or at a 10 for being a racist at all?  Racism (and the issues that relate to it) is a hard subject to tackle, not just because many of the factors are hard to objectively measure, but because the issue of race is a very personal and emotional matter.  No white person wants to be a priori as racist, no black person wants to be judged a priori as criminal.  No cops wants to be judged a priori as a thug with a badge. In fact, no person at all wants to be judged by the actions of others.


Baker, M. (1989). Cops: Their lives in their own words. New York, NY. Pocket Books.

Kroll Government Services. (2007). Review of an  Internal Affairs Investigation  into the Officer Involved  Shooting of June 3, 2007.

Reiman, J. (2011). Is Racial Profiling Just? Making Criminal Justice Policy in the Original Position. The Journal of Ethics, 15(1-2), 3–19. http://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/10.1007/s10892-010-9096-5

Another factor in Johnson's decision to ignore the Kerner Report was the vast amount of money that he was spending on the Great Society. 
To be upfront, I have an ideological bias of my own, in that I don't believe that social spending has long term benefits for the communities it is directed towards.  Keeping that in mind, my assumption was that the Great Society was already dumping huge amounts of money on underprivileged communities.  Returning to our organizational planning course, it seems that there was no assessment of the impact that these Great Society programs were having before requesting additional spending.

The changes in scientifically studied processes of policing are the most import of the changes in law enforcement.  Although the technological changes have had the most objectively measurable and positive actual changes to law enforcement efficiency, the potential improvements to public safety can come from anticipating and preemptively striking against criminal behavior.  For example. if police can predict where the next in a series of bank robberies will occur, they can be on site when the robbery occurs.

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