2016, Philosophy, Science, Society

Detective School

If I have learned one thing from immersing myself in too many true crime podcasts, TV series and movies, it’s this: most police detectives have never been taught to think. There seems to be an obsession with relying on instinct and (supposed) “known knowns” and nothing else; no rigorous investigation techniques, no awareness of the infamous “unknown knowns,” known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns,” no logic, no deduction, no method whatsoever. Just “I feel this way so it must be true.”

And that’s a problem. That’s a problem because “instinct” isn’t really a thing. What sometimes feels to us as deliberate framing of innocent parties is quite possibly more likely a failure of education. We cannot expect police detectives to know how to think when they’ve never been taught, when all the education they’ve received is from other detectives on the force. (Why is this a problem? Well, if the investigatory techniques being handed down are resulting in wrongful convictions, why would they suddenly stop resulting in wrongful convictions in the future?)

So we need a detective school. For Canada, I propose the following:

The federal government creates a school for police (and aspiring police). The RCMP, provincial police departments and municipal/local police departments can “send” their current detectives and prospective detectives their for free, on the federal government’s dime. (Any aspiring police officers would have to pay their own way.) These students can take courses online or in person, and they can take the courses part-time or full-time – perhaps with the federal government compensating police departments for any officers who choose to go on leave. The courses would consist of, at the very least:

  • the scientific method
  • introduction to physics and chemistry
  • elementary logic
  • causation
  • logical fallacies
  • cognitive biases
  • basic investigatory techniques (taught by experienced detectives, perhaps)
  • introduction to probability and statistics
  • introduction to forensic medicine
  • introduction to forensic accounting.

There could be levels – i.e. one year, two years, three years – and the departments/organizations with the most certified detectives and officers would receive additional funding from the federal government (as an incentive to certify their officers). The funding would be in proportion to both the number of certified officers on staff and the levels of certification achieved.

It’s a win-win. The country gets better cops. The country also gets fewer wrongful convictions with (hopefully) fewer appeals and fewer lawsuits.

What’s wrong with this idea?

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