For the past century, moderates and conservatives have dominated the debate over what constitutes effective policing in the Bay Area and throughout the nation. Indeed, the conversation has been so one-sided toward the law-and-order crowd that it's often taken for granted — even among some liberals — that the best way for police to fight crime and combat political unrest is with overwhelming force. This point of view also has been repeatedly used to justify the lethal use of force by police against any perceived threat. As such, it's not surprising that Oakland police officers shot thirty people from 2008 to 2013, and killed twenty of them.
Nor is it surprising that the City of Oakland has been forced to pay millions of dollars over the past few years to political protesters who were seriously injured by Oakland police officers. It's also not surprising that police departments throughout the nation have become increasingly militarized in the past decade as they've bolstered their combat capabilities with sophisticated weaponry.
But one police department in the East Bay is proving that the law-and-order crowd has been wrong all these years, and that overwhelming force — especially lethal force — is not only unjustified, but completely unnecessary. Since 2007, the Richmond Police Department, under the command of Chief Chris Magnus, the most progressive police chief in the Bay Area, has not had a single fatal shooting by one of its officers, a fact that was first reported last weekend by the Contra Costa Times.
When Magnus took over the troubled Richmond PD in 2006, he quickly realized that overwhelming force was not the answer. In 2006 and 2007, Richmond cops shot five people, killing one of them. So he instituted numerous reforms, including training officers to defuse tense situations without firing their weapons. Magnus also emphasized the importance of investigating crime, and eschewed so-called hotspot policing, in which a department saturates an area with cops like an occupying force. "We are surgical," he told the CoCo Times earlier this year. "We concentrate on people that need to be focused on."
Magnus also installed a robust community-policing program, deploying officers into neighborhoods to forge relationships with residents. The effort was designed to reverse a longstanding problem in Richmond in which residents distrusted the city's violent police force and refused to cooperate with it. Magnus also reformed the way police respond to political demonstrations, training officers to take a softer, gentler approach.
Now, according to the controlling view on policing in America, progressive reforms like the ones Magnus instituted are a recipe for disaster. They amount to the coddling of criminals and protesters, and lead to more crime and violent uprisings. According to the law-and-order crowd, cops need to be tough on crime if they want to reduce crime.
Wrong. Since Magnus implemented his reforms, Richmond, once one of the most violent cities in the United States, has experienced an extraordinary reduction in crime. In 2013, the city had just 16 homicides, the city's fewest in 33 years. In fact, when it comes to crime, Richmond is an American success story.
The same is true for political demonstrations. At a time when Oakland has been paying out huge settlements to injured protesters, political activists have been heaping praise on Richmond PD. After protesters demonstrated late last week against the shipment of highly explosive crude oil through a Richmond railyard, one longtime activist said that when Richmond police arrived on the scene they were "as usual, a delight to work with" and, of course, no violence ensued.
Oakland, are you listening?
Magnus is not the only Richmond leader who is proving that moderates and conservatives have been wrong on law and order. For years, the conventional wisdom has been that progressives don't know how to govern, and that they especially don't know how to manage a police department. Liberal politicians are often viewed as being anti-police, and according to the controlling point of view, if you elect them, chaos will surely follow.
Wrong again. Since 2006, Richmond has had the most liberal mayor in the Bay Area — Gayle McLaughlin — a Green Party member who has waged battles against Big Oil and Big Banks. McLaughlin also happens to be an unabashed supporter of Magnus. In fact, the chief was able to institute his reforms without much opposition because of her leadership. In addition, progressives have held a majority of seats on the Richmond City Council since 2010 and remain committed to Magnus' ideas.
Liberal politicians. Progressive police chief. Cops stop killing people. Protests go off peacefully. Crime drops dramatically.
It's time to put the law-and-order point of view where it belongs: on the trash heap.
Still Trust Yelp? Read This
Millions of Americans depend on Yelp, even though small business owners have been saying for years that Yelp is untrustworthy because it removes positive reviews of their businesses and highlights negative ones if they refuse to advertise with the online giant. We first wrote about Yelp's extortion tactics in 2009.
In the years since, however, the main problem for small businesses is that they've never had smoking gun evidence against Yelp. And perhaps that is why so many people still use the online consumer ranking system.
But last week, a federal appeals court stated that even if small business owners had hard evidence of extortion by Yelp it wouldn't really matter. That's because the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Yelp, as a private business, has the power to manipulate the reviews on its site as it sees fit. The court said deleting positive reviews of a business that doesn't advertise with Yelp or highlighting negative ones is not illegal, and only amounts to "hard bargaining."
In other words, the court ruled that there is no legal basis for trusting the reviews on Yelp. And so there's no logical basis for trusting them either.