Robo cops to the rescue? City hall discusses police reform

A young protester poses a question about society’s approach in fostering black Americans.

CITY HALL – In the wake of George Floyd’s death and ongoing national protests demanding the end of police brutality, city leaders met this week to determine ways in which police might better protect and serve struggling black communities.

The city council meeting, which lasted four hours and drew an impassioned crowd of citizens, focused on proposals presented by local organizations to reform the police department, followed by public comment. The discussion centered on diverting general city funds typically allocated to police to support initiatives instead that bolster advisory boards and counseling and education programs for inner-city youth.

The hope, according to participants, is to end the school to prison pipeline in which children of color are funneled out of public schools and into the criminal justice system. Many of these children have learning disabilities and histories of poverty, abuse, and neglect. Struggling black communities, and society as a whole, would benefit if more resources were invested to meet their needs than funding police, according to participants.

“We want to educate our children, not incarcerate them,” said one mother.

In their framework, “Freedom to Thrive: Reimagining Safety and Security in Our Communities,” several civil rights organizations outlined the school to prison pipeline and explained the concept of ‘participatory budgeting’ in which disenfranchised members of society are empowered to have greater say over the allocation of public resources that impact their communities.

The four-step process includes brainstorming ideas, developing proposals, casting votes, and funding winning projects.

While the city council unanimously agreed on the need for police reform, council members differed on approach.

Changing priorities
Removing humans as first responders from certain emergency calls was one of the ideas suggested to better manage crime.

“So often, 9-1-1 calls involve complaints involving loud neighbors, public urination, disorderly conduct or some other petty offense that shouldn’t require extensive manpower from law enforcement to resolve,” said Barbara Taylor, a spokesperson for Rocket & Gamble, a corporate conglomerate with subsidiaries in military hardware and entertainment technology. “Today, I’m proud to say we have the ability to minimize such aggravation in black communities.”

Taylor demonstrated for the city council Rocket & Gamble’s new line of ‘automated peacekeepers’ designed to maintain law and order in under-served neighborhoods. She explained that the robot, which resembled a golf cart with a Smart TV screen, could be dispatched to potential crime scenes. There, the face of an attractive individual would display on the screen and complete an initial investigation with the suspect.

Based on a protocol, the automated peacekeeper would determine fault and a course of action, including whether to manage the situation itself or divert the case to human police or social workers.

If a low-level infraction occurs, the automated peacekeeper would be authorized to offer the suspect an opportunity to comply with the law without a fine or arrest.

However, if the suspect refuses to cooperate, the automated peacekeeper would be authorized to fire an ‘adhesive slime’ onto the suspect’s feet to bar the individual from escape as “Neutron Dance” by the Pointer Sisters blasts from the robot until the suspect acknowledges fault for the infraction. Then, the suspect would be released without any need for follow-up.

A protester questions the paradox of modern policing.

During a Rocket & Gamble pilot program conducted last year, Taylor said the company’s automated peacekeepers established a successful record.

“The bombardment of ‘80s dance music swiftly compels most suspects to acknowledge wrongdoing and redirect behavior,” said Taylor. “With our robots dispatched for public service, we’re confident 99% of low-level crime incidents will result in compliance with the law.”

While one council member said the automated peacekeepers sounded ‘cool,’ most inner-city residents expressed doubts that automated peacekeepers could effectively police their neighborhoods.

“If I hear ‘Neutron Dance’ playing every time a drunk refuses to stop pissing in front of 7-11, I’d shoot the robot myself,” said James King, a high school student. “Sounds like more aggravation my community doesn’t need. Unless the crime is assault, murder or robbery, I don’t see why police need to be called to our neighborhood at all. Bring a mental health specialist to talk down a drunk from a ledge, not a trigger-happy cop.”

Kings’ comments received a standing ovation. When finished, he concluded his remarks.

“Give our brothers and sisters an honest chance to succeed in school, work and life,” said he. “Give our men and women an honest chance to heal and live outside of prison. Give our leaders an honest chance to build the community we want, not the one left us. Give all of us in our community an opportunity to live in an America that every American can be proud of.”

The city council is scheduled to reconvene in a month to present a first draft plan to re-address city needs.

Stephanie Lee, June 8, 2020



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