How to Reform the Police

Is it supposed to comfort us that "just" 1 in 4 is bad? And where are people of color?

And so it happens again. Change the victim. Change the place. Change the names of the murderers. Another black man killed by those sworn to uphold the law and protect all American citizens.

I have no words to add about the senseless death of George Floyd. His death is akin to those killed by gunmen with automatic weapons. We are horrified. We weep. We are angry. We bury our dead. Then we move on. Just more numbers for the data bank. Do we need more numbers to tell us that American society remains deeply racist? Or that police departments contain more than “just a few” bad actors?

Others have spoken more authoritatively and elegantly than I about race in America. This essay is about law enforcement—a topic I know from several perspectives. First, I worked in probation services for six years. Later I studied the sociology of crime. Then I taught college-level Crime in America for four years. As a citizen, I have witnessed the alarming militarization of police forces. I have informed views on what needs to happen to reduce police violence.

When Bill Clinton became president he pledged to appoint a Cabinet that “looks like America.” I will leave aside the many ways he managed to disappoint and assert that American police forces need to look like America. Nearly 80% of all police officers are non-Hispanic whites. Right away we have a problem; just 54% of the American population is Euro-white. Latinos make up 17% of the population, African Americans 16%, and Asians 7%. (The remaining 6% are a smorgasbord of Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and non-white immigrants.) The following can and should happen starting tomorrow.

·       An immediate end to all-white patrol squads. It should never be acceptable for a white officer to respond to a call without at least one person of color in the car.
·       An immediate freeze on hiring white police until racial and ethnic parity is achieved.
·       Immediate and mandatory racial and cultural diversity training. Officers who do not pass a post-training exam should be placed on leave until such time as they pass said test and remain on probation for 6 months after reinstatement.

Here’s another alarming statistic. Nearly 88% of all police officers are white males, though white men make up just 31% of the population. This underscores the need for:

·      A freeze on hiring white male police until parity is reached.
·      Sustained recruitment and hiring of women.

About one in five police officers has a military background. Speaking of things we have known for a long time but haven’t corrected, it’s well-established that the U.S. military has a distressing track record toward women and people of color. More ominously, one-third of those engaging in mass shootings are ex-servicemen. What to do?

·      End preferential hiring practices of veterans and …
·      Improve psychological screening of all candidates.
·      Tie the military budget to significant improvements in recruitment practices, personality profiling, diversity training, and psychological support for military personnel.  

This will upset “soft” liberals, but towns and cities should follow the European model and increase the use of security cameras on the streets. If you're worried about ICE raid, tapes can be erased daily if no crime or police conduct is image-captured in a 24-hour period. Some have argued cameras don’t decrease crime. That’s a debate for another day, but there are good reasons to turn on the cameras:

·      It should not have to be the job of Smart Phone-bearing citizens to risk their own safety to record the malfeasance of police.
·      It would actually help cops who aren’t jerks. Too many people bear animus toward police, have agendas, or do not see everything that occurs during an arrest. Good cops ought not be tossed into a he said/he said situation in which every perp cries police brutality, or someone with a grudge posts a misleading YouTube video.

Here are a set of no excuses, no forgiveness reforms.

·      The moment police are called to a scene, they should be required to activate vest cameras.
·      It should not be excusable for a police officer to claim the situation was too “hot” to turn on the camera. If cops have time to unholster a gun, they have time to turn on the camera. As noted, it should be done on the way to the scene.
·      Any police officer failing to have his/her camera running should immediately be suspended for a week without pay, unless…
·      A serious incident occurs, in which case officers in question should be immediately suspended. If a death occurs and there is no video, the officers should be fired.

These are not radical ideas. Nearly all could be funded by axing unneeded military-style hardware. Black lives matter. Moreover, if we don’t reform police procedures, we condemn ourselves to a society in which none matter if the white guy with the gun decides they don’t.

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