National / International News
As nationwide protests about police killings continue, the idea of diversifying police forces to better reflect their communities has taken hold. But forces in many big cities have been increasingly diverse for decades, with a mixed record of success in affecting changes in tactics and improving community relationships.
David Sklansky of Stanford Law School, who has studied demographics changes in U.S. police departments and wrote a paper on the subject, found that the pace of change has varied greatly among departments, but that demographic transformation, where it has occurred, has gone a long way in breaking down entrenched police subcultures of institutional solidarity and insularity.
"What you see is enormous change, enormous progress but uneven progress and incomplete progress," Sklansky says. "Departments, as they've diversified, have become more dynamic, lively places, where there's much more discussion, and much greater range of opinions voiced."
The police department in New York, for example, now has the most diverse force in its history. As of 2010, a majority of its patrol officers were reportedly from minority populations. Yet recent protests in New York have drawn attention to complaints about police use of force and aggressive tactics such as 'stop-and-frisk,' which the department has largely discontinued under New York's new mayor Bill de Blasio.
"There's a lot of distrust," says Terrell Jones, a community worker who helps low-income people affected by drug abuse. Jones says he can remember negative experiences with the police in New York dating back to his teenage years in the 1970s.
"Me being a man of color ... I can remember when I was young, I was beat up by the police for just sitting on my block," Jones says. "And nothing has changed. It has gotten worse."
Protesters in New York City hold signs referencing the 'Broken Windows' policing strategy, which targets lower-level crimes in urban settings.Nova Safo/Marketplace
Adding more minority patrol officers to the rank and file doesn't necessarily improve the relationship with a community, says Nelson Lim, Senior Social Scientist with the RAND Corporation's Center on Quality Policing.
"The scientific literature on minority officers behavior, whether they're substantively different from white officers ... is mixed," says Lim, adding that having a diverse workforce is still important because it makes it easier for police departments to change their tactics. The key ingredient being leadership both from politicians and police managers, says Lim.
"I cannot overemphasize the leadership," Lim says. "[If] they develop good relationship(s) with minority communities ... you will see the change."
On Capitol Hill, a lame-duck session is underway. There are just a few weeks left until the 113th Congress is over, and the 114th Congress begins and ushers in a Republican majority in both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Before then, lawmakers have to figure out how to fund the government, and they have to deal with both a defense bill and tax breaks that are set to expire.
According to the Pew Research Center, lame-duck sessions “are shouldering more of the legislative workload than they used to.” Sarah Binder, a political science professor at George Washington University, argues they have become more important in this era of stopgap spending bills. “They provide that final deadline,” she says. “An action-forcing deadline.”
Pew says productivity may increase as a congress winds down. But Linda Fowler, a government professor at Dartmouth College, says there are consequences to leaving; for example, budgeting to the last minute. “A government can’t plan when it doesn’t know how much money it has to spend,” she notes.
Mark Peterson, a public policy professor at UCLA, says this lame-duck session is going to seem especially productive.
“The congress during the regular session came close to doing nothing," he says. "So, the proportionality of actually getting work done is going to look more impressive in the post-election period.”
That is thanks in part to how much time lawmakers spent on recess this year, campaigning to stay in Congress.
The tax preparation company H&R Block releases its earnings report on Monday. And this year, the company has broadened its services; it will not only help file your taxes, it’s also offering to help you sign up for health care. This is a direct result of the way that taxes and healthcare have become linked by the Affordable Care Act.
“Presumably low- and middle-income households are where the action is on this issue of health insurance and tax filling,” says Bill Gale, a tax policy expert at the Brookings Institution.
Many of the people signing up for healthcare for the first time are from low- and middle-income households. This is the same segment of the population that makes up the bulk of H&R Block’s customers, whose satisfaction is directly tied to the size of their tax refund. This year, those refunds could be smaller for people who don’t sign up for health insurance.
“You could pay a penalty of $285 for not enrolling,” says Nicole Smith, an economist with the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.
For people who don’t sign up for coverage, that penalty gets larger each year. There are subsidies available for people who earn less than four times the poverty rate. All of this means that filing taxes this year will be more complicated than in previous years.
Companies like H&R Block owe much of their existence to the complicated nature of filing taxes. And now with healthcare thrown into the mix, their services have expanded accordingly.
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