BPartisan police reform talks ended without a deal on September 22, 2021, with House Democrats and Republicans blaming each other for the lack of progress.
This is not the first time that reform at the federal level has been attempted – nor the first time that it has stalled.
The sticking points this time appear to be centered on proposed changes to use of force procedures and plans to strip officers of qualified immunity, preventing them from being prosecuted.
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As criminal justice academics – including a 10-year former police officer – we were not surprised by the collapse of the bipartisan talks. Policing in the United States is politicized, making it harder to build consensus in an era of polarization, even though most Americans believe major changes are needed.
In determining the extent of this failure, it’s important to keep in mind that policing in the United States is inherently local. The nearly 18,000 police services nationwide face a variety of different challenges, from problems recruiting sufficient numbers of officers – and of a sufficient caliber – to a breakdown in trust with the community.
Even without congressional legislation, there is a national plan for police reform. President Barack Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force has identified six pillars to guide departments toward best practice. These included strategies to build trust with the community, provide oversight, implement better training and procedures, and improve the safety and well-being of officers.
The federal government can play a clear role in funding reform and addressing non-policing issues that contribute to crime, such as underlying poverty and lack of green space.
In the years following the September 11 attacks, the federal government made funds available to local departments to purchase military-grade weapons and vehicles through the Defense Logistics Agency and Homeland Security 1033 program. Grant Program. The federal government may now be better placed to play a similar role as a funder for local law enforcement reforms.
City by city
While reform has stalled in Congress, there has been movement elsewhere. Reform measures are underway in many American cities, including Philadelphia; Oakland, California; and Portland, Oregon.
Many of these efforts are aimed at ending specific practices, including those that sparked negotiations in Congress, such as the granting of qualified immunity and the use of no-coup warrants. Mayors and city councils across the country have also pushed for reforms emphasizing accountability and transparency, with many working to create independent oversight commissions.
From Ferguson, Missouri, to Baltimore, Oakland and Chicago, many of the city’s police departments have undergone transformational efforts in the wake of controversial police murders.
Not all reform movements have kept their promises.
After the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in 2014, Ferguson Police agreed to a reform program that included anti-bias training and an agreement to end stop, search and search practices. discriminatory arrests on the basis of race.
But five years after the process began, a report from the nonprofit Forward Through Ferguson found that the reforms had done little to change police culture or practices. This was supported by a report from the Ferguson Civilian Review Board in July 2020 which found that “the disparity in traffic stops between black and white residents appears to be increasing”.
Likewise, concerns about the quality of Baltimore’s policing service persist despite federal oversight and reforms put in place after Freddie Gray’s death in custody in 2015.
Commentators pointed to resistance to change among officers and an inability to garner community buy-in as the reasons for slowing progress in Baltimore.
Part of the problem, as seen with Baltimore, is that federal intervention does not seem to guarantee lasting change. Research shows that Justice Department regulations aimed at reforming police misconduct only slightly.
There is also no evidence that national efforts targeting the use of force alone are mitigating police killings.
One silver lining is the Cincinnati Police Department. Twenty years ago, the people of Cincinnati experienced events similar to those that many cities have faced in recent years. An unarmed black man, Timothy Thomas, was shot dead by officers in 2001, sparking widespread unrest. This led Cincinnati to embark on another model of reform: a collaborative agreement.
Presented by former United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch as a national model for community-led policing reform, the collaborative agreement saw the police department, city government, police unions and groups Local civil rights advocates act in partnership for a court-backed reform agenda.
The resulting changes in use of force policies, the focus on community-based solutions to crime, and strong oversight have resulted in improved policing. A 2009 Rand assessment of the Collaboration Agreement found that it resulted in reduced crime, positive changes in citizens’ attitudes toward police, and fewer racial stops. There were also fewer incidents of use of force and injuries among officers and those arrested.
But it’s not perfect. Black residents of Cincinnati continue to be disproportionately arrested, likely due to the concentration of crime, calls for service, and police deployments in predominantly black neighborhoods. Figures from 2018 show that black residents of Cincinnati were about three times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts.
The Cincinnati Collaboration Agreement contained a number of elements that experts believe are necessary for successful police reforms: strong leadership; flexible and goal-oriented approaches; effective oversight; and externally regulated transparency.
In addition, it depended on the ability of police officers to cultivate community investment and overcome resistance from police and police unions.
Community trust is essential to police reform and community safety. When citizens view the police as legitimate and trustworthy, they are more likely to report crimes, cooperate during police investigations, comply with directives, and work with police to find solutions to crime.
Efforts like those in Cincinnati that put community engagement at the heart of policing reforms are undoubtedly steps in the right direction. But they can only go up to a certain point. A notable shortcoming in most police reform programs is their focus on what to do when confronting the public, rather than trying to avoid these situations in the first place.
Fatal police shootings often occur during police stops and arrests – situations that carry increased risks of resistance from citizens and backlash from the police.
Reducing low-level enforcement measures, such as arrests for vagrancy and vagrancy – most of which have little public safety benefit – and the police’s partnership with civilian health responders mental health, homelessness and drug-related calls, could mean fewer opportunities for violent police encounters.
Some departments have started to change their enforcement policies in this direction. The Gwinnett County Police Department in Georgia, for example, has stopped making arrests and issuing citations for possession of marijuana.
A 2018 study of traffic stops in Fayetteville, North Carolina, found that shifting law enforcement away from minor infractions – such as broken tail lights and expired labels – and towards more serious infractions speeding and traffic lights resulted in reduced crime and a narrower racial gap. in stops and searches.
Isolated success stories suggest that a localized approach emphasizing community buy-in may be the key to police reform. That’s not to say the federal government can’t play a role – just that it might be better to look for ways to help facilitate change at the departmental or city-wide level.
Thaddeus L. Johnson, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Georgia State University and Natasha N. Johnson, Clinical Instructor of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Georgia State University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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