If you ever feel inclined to quote me (other than back to me to win an argument), the most important sentence I will ever post is a sentence I have posted many times:
You get what you incentivize.
Yeah, I know, Incentivize is not a real word, but you get the idea, and I'm not sure I have a more succinct way to express the concept.
Are the police paid to be racist?
Intentionally, no. I can't imagine there's a municipality out there holding a policy meeting where someone says: "I know, let's pay our police to be racist!"
Serendipitously, yes, and that's a lot of the problem.
I know of three ways in which this happens. I'm not saying it happens everywhere, but it's common.
The first is that one of the metrics used to determine promotions in police departments is number of arrests. If you're a cop and you want to increase your numbers, where do you go? To high crime minority areas; finding someone committing a crime is easier there. To a certain extent, this is a good thing, because it encourages a police presence where they're most needed, but it's also a very bad thing. It's one thing if police are in your neighborhood to protect; it's another if they're looking for someone to arrest. If they're looking to arrest, they're more likely to stop people on flimsy grounds, as in walking by and looking suspicious, which will of course encourage an adversarial relationship between the police and a lot of inhabitants of those neighborhoods. There's a second characteristic to these neighborhoods that exacerbates the problem: oversight with consequences is less of an issue. In other words, police can get away with stopping people for no good reason in high crime minority neighborhoods a whole lot easier than they can in wealthier neighborhoods. The police aren't stupid - they'll do what they can to get promoted in places where they can get away with doing what they can.
The second way is related to the first, but the compensation is more immediate: Overtime pay for filling out arrest reports. Most of what I said about the first way applies to the second.
By the way, if prosecutors are compensated and/or promoted based on number of convictions, the people processing police arrests have incentives to encourage those arrests and they're going to be very hesitant to bite the hand that feeds them. As police officers find that racist behavior pays off without consequences, they'll of course engage in more of it.
The third is what Federal investigators found in Ferguson, MO and a lot of other communities in the surrounding area: Poor minority neighborhoods being used as a revenue source. We know that wealth has been concentrating very heavily in the United States. This concentration has a couple of major consequences for tax revenues at all levels:
1. Because wealthy people have less need to spend their money, more of it is pulled out of circulation, where it doesn't generate taxes, either in the form of income taxes or in the form of sales taxes. When we look at concentration to the extent that we are, these are big enough numbers to matter.
2. The wealthy find ways to be taxed at lower rates than the middle class, so a smaller percentage of the money supply finds its way into government coffers.
So now you find jurisdictions with smaller tax revenues, and the middle class in these jurisdictions are sufficiently squeezed (because government can afford to help them less in ways like college tuition assistance) that they vote to keep tax rates low. That leads local jurisdictions with the need to operate but not enough money to operate properly. They need money. Where do they get it?
By fining poor people, typically minorities, heavily for minor offenses, then fining them more in penalties when they can't afford to pay the initial fines. The advantages of this approach to jurisdictions are that they don't have to go to their key voters and campaign contributors for as much tax money and that they're fining a population with too limited resources to fight back.
In other words, local governments are in essence forced to steal from poor people to keep their doors open.
Whose job is it to make the arrests for these minor offenses? The police, of course. In a link that Myriad placed on my previous post
this phenomenon is referred to as "for-profit policing." And, perhaps even more than in the first two ways police are paid to be racist, they won't get interference from prosecutors; in fact, prosecutors in this case are likely to push the police to collect from the poor.
Police officers don't have to be racist per se, particularly on an individual basis, for the consequences of their actions to have a disproportionate impact on minority populations, or for their actions to really aggravate police-community relations.
You will see police departments all over the country go through racial sensitivity training, awareness training, whatever. It's all a good idea, it will all help some, but it won't fix the problem because it doesn't work to tell police officers why it's bad to be racist while paying them to be racist. Officers often have families to support, and they will out of responsibility to their families do what they need to do to earn good livings.
I'm not saying that there are no bigoted cops out there; there are plenty. However, de facto racist policing isn't just a function of bigoted cops or even of bigoted prosecutors; it's a structural issue. It is designed into the system, and if we want to really address the problem with a prayer of reducing it to an appreciable extent we have to concentrate more on restructuring compensation (and taxing the wealthy enough to make some of this crap unnecessary) and less on simply blaming cops. Blaming cops isn't enough and isn't even always appropriate.