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Police Reform Part 4: People support police system reform

People support reform

In 2016, Cato conducted a survey that showed that Americans disagree on certain things. For instance, a strong majority of African Americans believe that the police are too quick to resort to the use of force and that they are not held accountable when that happens. On the other hand, a strong majority of whites believe the police use deadly force only when necessary and are held accountable for misconduct. Interestingly, this divide disappeared when it came to reform.

People of different backgrounds agree that there is a problem: the police need reform.  But what kind of reform do they support? Quite to the contrary, the majority of people do not support getting rid of the police despite the growing support for the idea.  According to a Yahoo survey, only 16% of Americans support cutting funding for the police as a way to reduce violence.

Generally, the majority of Americans, support the following reforms, among others:

79% support having outside law enforcement agencies investigate police misconduct as opposed to leaving it to the police department to handle.

68% support de-escalation training for police to aid officers during confrontations with citizens.

53% think local police using military weapons and armored vehicles is not necessary for law enforcement and the police ought not to use such equipment.

89% support the police wearing body cameras for the protection (benefit) of both the police and citizens.

79% support a law requiring officers to notify citizens when a stop is voluntary, and they are free to decline a search.

67% support banning neck restraints as a police tactic.

This data is in coordination with the common-sense practical policy proposals that could go a long in reducing police violence. It should be understood there is no sure way to end police violence and no one formula works. But a widely agreed set of practices like more training, ending militarization, enacting strict use of force policies, abolishing unions, and removing hindrances to holding police officers accountable are all necessary steps to take if reform is going to take place.

Strict use of force policies

This is one of the quickest ways to ensure officers take much-needed precaution when interacting with civilians.  As I have written before, research by Campaign one shows that Police departments that had more restrictions on police on the use of force were found to kill significantly fewer civilians. Lowest rates of killing were associated with police departments that implemented four or more policies.

According to Campaign zero, there are 8 polices that police departments institute that would bring positive changes by restricting the use of force.  These policies are (1) ban chokeholds and strangleholds- Minneapolis just instituted a law making chokeholds illegal (2) Require de-escalation (3) Require warning before shooting (4) require exhaust all alternatives before shooting (5) Duty to intervene (6) ban shooting at moving vehicles (7) Require use of force continuum (8) Require comprehensive reporting.

More rigorous training

No doubt police officers could benefit from more training, and so would citizens.  Why should cosmetologists need more training compared to a police officer, who potentially runs the risk of injury or death and is legally allowed to carry and operate a firearm?

Not only is more training necessary, but police officers need to be trained in de-escalation tactics instead of focusing on “warrior-style training”. As illustrated by other countries, more training is correlated with low levels of police violence, especially if the training focuses on other alternatives to shooting.

Increasing training is a widely popular idea. A lot of businesses also support more training for police officers in Minneapolis. According to Star Tribune,

Some business owners believe that violent outcomes could be avoided if police were better trained. In Floyd’s case, things spiraled out of control when officers responded to a complaint that Floyd passed a counterfeit $20 bill, a minor crime. The Minnesota Business Partnership, which represents some of the largest companies in the Twin Cities, has called for increased training on “interactions with African Americans and people of color.”

To be more effective education should be continuous and incorporate demographic and crime data changes as well as policy changes. Continued policing education especially in regard to the population being policed, crime statistics, or policy could go a long way in helping police officers adjust to ongoing changes on the ground.

Demilitarization

A lot of research exists that has recognized militarizing the police as one of the issues encouraging violent behavior. Because the police are conditioned to think they are at war, they create enemies, who end up being the population they are policing. They normalize using violence on these populations.

Some cities have taken the first step and ended programs that enable them to receive military gear. There are already efforts in congress to push down the program that enables local police to receive military gear. But in the case that those transfers continue to take place the use of such gear should be rare and controlled.

End laws providing immunity to police officers

At the federal level, this includes qualified immunity which gives forth the idea that police officers are above the law by requiring courts to say there is no penalty for officer misconduct. Ending this law will bring the expectation that officers would be held liable for civil rights violations. And this is enough to change officer behavior because;

the expectation that officers will be held liable if they violate people’s rights is what will actually compel departments to use better policies in the first place, and the risk of a personal judgment is what will give these policies teeth. Qualified immunity is the main obstacle to this sort of accountability, and that’s why it has to be abolished.

Ending qualified immunity would enable citizens to sue police officers. And will make it so that the police would incur costs from unnecessary use of force, especially if the financial payouts would come out from their salary pool, police pension funds or insurance fund instead of taxpayers money. To prevent from having poor police officers raise their insurance costs, departments would highly likely hire more qualified officers, invest in more training, and even get rid of officers involved in misconduct.

End binding arbitration

The state of Minnesota should repeal the state law that mandates binding arbitration for law enforcement officers accused of misconduct. What this does is allow officers to escape accountability since most police officers are reinstated back after arbitration.  As I have written,

Being able to appeal is a good thing for anyone fired wrongly. But arbitration usually ends up helping cops who have been fired for egregious behavior. By appealing to labor rights instead of public safety, unions are able to place excessive proof of burden on police departments to prove their employees are unfit for a job.

Abolish Unions

Unions are one of the biggest hindrances to reform: they resist any proposed change that would threaten their member`s job security regardless of the impact on community safety. For instance, when Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey moved to ban warrior style training last summer, the police union opposed and also offered officers free warrior style training in response.

Additionally, through their bargaining power, unions have negotiated contracts that leave police departments powerless to correct misconduct. in the case that a police officer is fired for misconduct, unions can represent the officer in arbitration and get them their job back.

Due to their extensive reach and power, any reform that leaves out unions will not accomplish much. So states should either work on abolishing unions, if not restricting their scope of influence in the policing system  Laws need to be put in place to minimize the influence of unions on the disciplinary process to ensure they do not hinder accountability.

The city of Camden had a big success with transforming their police system by getting rid of the old union ridden system

In crime-ridden Camden, New Jersey, union cops took so much sick time and family leave that, most days, nearly 30 percent of the force just didn’t show up. So, Camden fired all of them.

Camden rehired some, but only those willing to go along with new rules that made it easier to fire and discipline

The result: Murder went down, and Camden saved money.

Per-officer costs dropped from $182,168 to $99,605. That allowed Camden to double the size of its force from “bare bones” to “near the highest police presence of any city.”

Police should relinquish some of their duties

Defunding certainly means a range of things to different people. For some it means entirely abolishing police, for others it means cutting funding for police and investing in social services. And for many others,  it means reducing the funds allocated to the police having some of their services provided by other private entities. A good example of this is having emergency medical responders instead of police for mentally ill individuals.

Having the police relinquish some fo their duties is at least one of the more practical and sensible segments of the “defund the police” movement. This makes especially more sense when we understand how little equipped the police are on handling non-criminal issues. The police escalate tensions when dealing with mentally ill people to the extent that they might end up using deadly force. This rarely happens in cities where medical emergency responders are the first line of response to mentally ill patients.

This is an especially popular view among businesses and individuals in Minneapolis. According to Star Tribune;

Some business owners said they would like to see the department relinquish some duties to others, such as dealing with mentally ill individuals or the homeless. The Minneapolis Downtown Council has recommended that mental health professionals “co-respond” to police calls involving emotionally distraught residents.

Even some people who are confused on defunding the police are on board with removing police officers as first responders to mentally ill individuals

Dee Phillips, who is white and lives in north Minneapolis, is still not clear on how the Minneapolis City Council plans to defund the Police Department, but she says there needs to be a system that works for everyone, including mental health support instead of police as first responders.

There are a lot of things that can be done by both police departments, local and state governments, as well as the federal government to reduce police violence. But it all hinges at one idea: discouraging the use of force and making sure that any unnecessary use of force by a police officer does not go unpunished. So any idea worth accomplishing the above is worth considering.

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