Many on the Left continue to clamor for police departments around the nation to be defunded and, in some instances, abolished. Galvanized by the likes of Antifa and Black Lives Matter, radical activism has taken a toll on those sworn to protect and serve our nation on a daily basis. As a consequence, violent protests and riots have smoldered and raged for months now in many cities across the country. Police brutality and corruption remain issues for all Americans, Black, White, and otherwise. However, there can be no meaningful change if we can’t address the actual issues at hand. Nuance and sober reflection are essential for such a complex dilemma, not the mindless outrage we see too often on too many streets. Here are seven reforms that could further strengthen our police departments and, by extension, our cities and communities.
1. A more holistic approach to training officers
Rather than churning out new recruits with a limited skill set narrowly focused on enforcement, providing a more comprehensive training protocol would better serve police officers and their communities.
In Sweden, for example, 3 years of basic training is required for officers that includes work in sociology, psychology, and community relations rather than just “enforcement competency,” according to a study found in the journal, Policing:
“Besides the abbreviated 14-20 weeks training in the United States compared to the Swedish 3-year basic training, the focus of the training is different. Ninety percent of the United States’ basic police training focuses on enforcement competency. Sweden, on the other hand, emphasizes the actual job tasks of conflict resolution and crisis management, with attention to the study of human behavior and interpersonal communications. The Swedish recruit receives almost 300 hours of social science, human relations, and psychology…”
A broader approach to policing, crisis resolution, and community outreach may contribute to fewer instances of unnecessary use of force among officers and, potentially, less violence overall.
2. A paradigm shift away from a “combative mindset” to “de-escalation”
In part because of widespread vilification of police, some officers have come to view their relationship with the communities they serve as inherently antagonistic. Encounters with civilians become tactical engagements focused on wins and losses, while the purposes of protecting and serving sometimes get forgotten amid the conflict. Instead of “preventing crime,” a pervasive mindset has formed wherein officers feel compelled to “combat crime.” Ava Abramovitz, a mediator and a widow of a fallen police officer, details this paradigm shift in her piece for Lawfare:
“This switch from preventing crime to combating crime readily found support in police departments and police officers. It gave them all a clarity of purpose. Their job was to root out and stop the ‘bad guy,’ which, by definition, made them the ‘good guy.’ It also made performance measures simple. If crime rates decreased, the department got an ‘A’ and the police chief, a much enhanced public profile. An officer with a track record of arrests became promotion material. Moreover, a war against crime conveyed an easily understandable mission, especially to the newly recruited who were coming home from Vietnam and brought with them a combat mentality as they changed into police uniforms and began patrolling America’s streets.”
This “paramilitary” approach to training and policing is proving counterproductive to public safety and the overall perception of law enforcement never mind, potentially, the very tenets of democracy. The solution is more de-escalation-focused training.
“The mindset has roots in the drug war,” according to the National Review, “where politicians of all stripes encouraged the militarization of police equipment, tactics, and attitudes. It starts in the police academies. Most use a ‘stress’ model resembling military boot camps, emphasizing drills, intense physical demands, public discipline, and immediate reaction to infractions; substantively, academy training focuses on investigation skills, weapons training, and tactics. But there is little emphasis on the profession of policing, on how to relate to the public, or on developing emotional-intelligence skills. Meanwhile, the average recruit gets less than ten hours of training in de-escalation techniques; 34 states require no training in de-escalation.”
3. We need more police officers not less
Recent data suggests that most Black Americans do not want police departments defunded at all. In fact, many demand a greater police presence in their neighborhoods.
“A Gallup poll conducted from June 23 to July 6,” Newsweek reported, “surveying more than 36,000 U.S. adults found that 61 percent of Black Americans said they’d like police to spend the same amount of time in their community, while 20 percent answered they’d like to see more police, totaling 81 percent. Just 19 percent of those polled said they wanted police to spend less time in their area.”
Increasing the number of officers in police departments may be one effective step toward reform. A greater police presence allows for better engagement within their respective communities as well as providing a meaningful reduction in crime, according to City Journal:
“Despite some statistically naïve analyses that confuse correlation with causation, social-science literature provides overwhelming evidence that bolstering police forces reduces crime. Hiring more police officers allows departments to engage in community policing and proactive police strategies, such as concentrating more police officers in areas where crime is high—programs that a report from the National Academy of Sciences notes have been shown in high-quality experimental research to reduce crime.”
A cited study in the piece also demonstrated that “[i]ncreasing police by 10 percent” led to a “better than 3 percent reduction in property crimes and assaults.”
4. Mandatory restrictions for “wandering officers”
“Wandering officers” are those that have been fired “sometimes for serious misconduct” or other disciplinary reasons only to be hired by another police department elsewhere, according to extensive research done by Ben Grunwald and John Rappaport for The Yale Law Journal. The phenomenon of “the wandering officer” exposes the shortcomings of the so-called “blue wall of silence” and the lack of more substantive forms of accountability.
Grunwald and Rappaport focused their study on “a novel data set of all 98,000 full-time law-enforcement officers employed by almost 500 different agencies in the State of Florida over a thirty-year period.” If accurate, their findings are alarming and are worthy of further investigation on both a state and federal level:
“In any given year over the last three decades, an average of roughly 1,100 full-time law-enforcement officers in Florida walk the streets having been fired in the past, and almost 800 having been fired for misconduct, not counting the many who were fired and reinstated in arbitration. These officers, we have shown, are subsequently fired and subjected to ‘moral character’ complaints at elevated rates relative to both officers hired as rookies and veterans with clean professional histories. And we likely underestimate the prevalence of the phenomenon nationwide.”
5. Regressive, knee-jerk legislation is not the answer
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, Mayor Bill de Blasio effectively banned any meaningful way for NYPD police officers to restrain a combative individual in a non-violent manner. De Blasio and his city council have not only barred the use of non-lethal chokeholds from law enforcement, they have taken away any kind of pin to control the upper body in an altercation. The chokehold ban also “prohibits an officer from sitting, kneeling or standing on a suspect’s chest or back in the course of effecting an arrest,” Councilman Rory Lancman told CBS New York.
Essentially, such a ban escalates the potential for violence rather than curbs it. Rener Gracie, a storied Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt, who instructs military and law enforcement is convinced that the new law will have an “opposite effect” by disallowing the “safest control method” and only providing “violent alternatives” to officers, as reported by The New York Post.
Gracie provided further details in an Instagram post:
“The NYPD Police Reform bill I discussed in my recent video is actually much worse than I imagined! Not only does it criminalize the safest and most effective non-violent control tactics, the officer is personally liable for a ‘criminal act’ even if contact with the diaphragm was unintentional and caused no injury to the subject. Somehow people don’t understand that by criminalizing non-violent control tactics they are encouraging violent alternatives. No matter who you are or where you live, do whatever it takes to prevent this particular policy from passing in your city.”
Not only are de Blasio and his city council pandering to the Left like so many others, they are also demonstrating profound ignorance in how to limit violence for police officers caught in unavoidable altercations.
6. Police union contracts should not supersede state law
In a recent piece for City Journal on the need to reform police unions, Mailee Smith reported, “states like Illinois…give public-employee union contracts greater power than state law.” Such unbalanced union strength disallows for transparency and severely limits any reforms “meant both to protect citizens from police brutality and to protect the vast majority of police officers who serve honorably from having their reputations tarnished by the conduct of a few.”
In Illinois, the union contract all but ensures that any police misconduct goes unreported. Complaints are not allowed to be anonymous. As a result, citizens are discouraged from voicing concerns for fear of reprisal.
“One contract provision prohibits the investigation of anonymous complaints,” according to Smith,” with few exceptions. Citizens must provide signed affidavits with their claims. Immediately before the interrogation of an officer under investigation, the officer is told—in writing—who filed the complaint and the nature of the complaint. The Department of Justice found that this requirement ‘creates a tremendous disincentive to come forward with legitimate claims and keeps hidden serious misconduct that should be investigated.’ In a significant number of incidents, Chicago police officers intimidated potential complainants to stop them from filing misconduct claims. This rule has a chilling effect on citizens with legitimate grievances and discourages upstanding officers from speaking out, effectively enshrining the police ‘code of silence’ into the contract.”
Such contract provisions automatically “prejudice internal investigations.” Officers are allowed to “review video or audio evidence” when accused of misconduct and “amend any statements they made prior to reviewing it.” In such instances, officers are allowed to “cheat” the system even if a citizen musters enough courage to level a complaint.
7. Limit qualified immunity and encourage personal responsibility
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently expressed “strong doubts” about qualified immunity, Forbes reported:
“As Justice Thomas recounted, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1871 in response to ‘the reign of terror imposed by the Klan upon black citizens and their white sympathizers in the Southern states.’ Codified today as Section 1983, the Act ‘gave individuals a right to sue state officers for damages to remedy certain violations of their constitutional rights.’”
The argument for limiting qualified immunity seems both sound and constitutional. Scott Bullock, the president of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm focused on public interest, put it quite succinctly, “The principle at stake is simple: If citizens must obey the law, then government officials must obey the Constitution.”
Limiting qualified immunity for officers will also prioritize personal responsibility, according to the National Review:
“The core of conservative thinking about misconduct of any kind, in any line of work, is that individuals are responsible for their own actions. Broad-brush generalizations about ‘all cops’ are just as counterproductive and dangerous as generalizations about ‘all black people.’ When individuals misbehave, abuse their power, or prey on other people, they themselves should bear the lion’s share of the blame and accountability. Conservatives do not believe in the perfectability of mankind: There will always be bad cops, for the same reason that there will always be a need for cops. Moreover, cops exercise government power, which is always prone to abuse and always demands accountability.”
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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