Quality Policing: What Is It?
A data-driven podcast on American police work, by a couple of guys who know what they're talking aboutBy Crawford Coates | Nov 29, 2017
[Publisher’s Note: Great podcasts abound, but what about one that focuses on police work from a police perspective? Enter Quality Policing with Nick Selby and Peter Moskos. Following is a recent conversation I had with Selby about the project.]
CC: What made you want to do this?
N.S.: Peter and I have been having in-depth conversations about policing for some time, and it occurred to us over this past summer that we were tackling the most controversial and politically charged issues we face, and we never get upset at one another–even when we disagreed intensely. This past August, we decided that we would try to do a podcast that sounded a lot like our phone calls.
We wanted something that would be more like radio than podcasts, and that meant a steep learning curve about remote recording options, microphones, and it also meant that we would both have an opportunity to create more heavily produced, scripted segments, with music, sound effects, guests, media clips, and so on. I think we’re getting there.
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C.C.: Who are you trying to reach and why do you think podcasts are the way to do it?
N.S.: We’re trying to reach reasonable people who want to understand the way policing works in the real world–not on TV shows, and certainly not the policing that’s mainly heard on the news.
Most Americans get their understanding of how police do policing from cop shows, and that’s a heinously wrong place to get it. But we can’t just tell them they don’t understand–we need to give them the why. Why is it different from what’s being said on the news by the talking heads? Podcasts give us the chance to speak directly to people. They can hear our intonation, they can hear our discussions and our disagreements, and hopefully we can build trust that we really are trying to get it right. The two-way–getting them to talk to us–is harder.
We’ve gotten emails and tweets since the first show in September, and recently we added a phone number for people to leave messages and tell us what they’re thinking about what we’re saying. We’re getting great feedback so far, even from people with whom we disagree.
C.C.: For someone new to podcasts, any words of wisdom?
N.S.: This is something of a golden age of podcasting: people now have always-on, high-speed Internet on their mobile devices, and lots of free applications to manage listening. Subscribing to Quality Policing, through iTunes, the Google Play Store, or other places where people find podcasts, like Stitcher, is easy. And it’s free.
If you’re new to podcasting, think of it as your opportunity to build your own FM talk radio station, and program your drive-time listening to exactly the kinds of things you want to hear.
C.C.: What’s the feedback been like so far?
N.S.: It’s been very positive. We’re getting about 2,000 people a month listening to the episodes, and they’ve been good about writing in to compliment, criticize, and ask for new topics to be covered. But it’s early days, and we’re working hard to understand how we can improve our understanding of the audience and how they want to listen.
We’ve been told by our friends at NPR and a very large podcast production firm that people want shorter episodes. We’ve been experimenting with shorter episodes more frequently, and breaking up larger set pieces into several chapters, so you can binge-listen or just listen when you have a chance. The jury is out.
C.C.: Tell me a little about your backgrounds and why you think you work so well together?
N.S.: The style of the conversation and interview broadcasts are conversational. Peter is politically left of center, whereas I’m right of center. But neither of us is married to a dogmatic viewpoint. And both have opinions on matters of police operations–the hands-on work of policing–informed by our experiences as practitioners in the field.
Peter is a former police officer and author of the popular book Cop in the Hood. I’m a current police officer and co-author of In Context: Understanding Police Killings of Unarmed Civilians [C.C.: distributed by Calibre Press]. We’ve probably done more digging into the available data on national police use of deadly force than almost anyone in media or academia.
I’d say that now is the best opportunity in my lifetime to affect positively the way American communities are policed. Peter believes the essential role of police in a democratic society is under attack from both ends of the political spectrum. The former is too quick to see police as the primary problem facing the community, while the latter sees oppressive policing as the only solution. Our willingness to express opinions and take controversial positions on sensitive topics–sometimes a position with which the other disagrees–is of timely, urgent, and compelling interest to the national debate on policing.
We agree unequivocally on this point: Honest analysis of good data should drive law enforcement policies and practices.
Because we both know the data and the profession expertly, I think we’re able to have informed discussions on topics that mainstream media and academics sometimes present as baffling or, worse, polarizing to the point that there’s no way forward. Whether it is direct data on the topic at hand, or the identification of data that can act as a proxy for activities being examined, Peter and I approach policing and police management as the art of managing human expectations and predicting outcomes through the best data available.