Ending police brutality in the US: Policy proposals for better policing

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Police departments across the US are implementing reforms in response to weeks of protests against police brutality and systemic racism across the country.

Over 1,000 people are killed by police violence each year in America, and, despite declining incidents over the last five years, those who die are disproportionately black Americans. Between 2015 and 2019, the number of deadly police shootings has declined, but shootings of unarmed black people in 2019 increased from nine to 14, according to Washington Post data.


Critics have long argued that American policing needs reform, and the killing of the African American man George Floyd by a police man kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes has given new impetus to the campaign for police reform.

So far, new reforms have been implemented in New York, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Washington DC and Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed.

Read more and watch: Thousands march on White House to protest violence by US police

Security forces take position during a protest against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., May 30, 2020. (Reuters)
Security forces take position during a protest against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., May 30, 2020. (Reuters)

But as calls intensify to defund or dismantle police departments, questions have risen about what policies could be implemented to help end police brutality.

Read more: President Trump ‘appalled’ by defund the police movement: White House

Some previous reforms have been made following the deaths of other black men at the hands of police, including Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Michael Brown in Ferguson and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, but there has been no substantial, nationwide change to policing.

Across the US, there are no national standards regarding training or use of force, Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told the Washington Post.

Between 2014-2019, at least 107 laws had been passed to address police violence, according to Campaign Zero, an organization that monitors legislation and puts forward policy solutions to end police violence.

In New York, where the African American man Eric Garner died after being placed in a chokehold by a police officer in 2014, new legislation has built on a 1993 ban to criminalize the use of chokeholds and similar restraints, making their use punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Since Garner’s death in 2014, 996 people reported that the New York Police Department used a chokehold on them, Newsweek reported.

Minneapolis, the city where Floyd was killed, also banned chokeholds June 6, and the Minneapolis City Council has pledged to dismantle the city’s police force.

It is uncertain how Minneapolis will shape its new policing efforts, and council members have warned the process would likely take a long time.

But as protests continue, activists want change now.

Eight policies to reform the US police system

One campaign called 8 Can’t Wait, a project by Campaign Zero, puts forward eight policies that can be adopted by police forces in the short-term to reduce police violence. Al Arabiya English reached out to Campaign Zero, but did not hear back before publication.

8 Can't Wait. (Screengrab.)
8 Can't Wait. (Screengrab.)

In the US, the average police recruit spends 58 hours learning how to shoot and only eight hours learning how to deescalate, according to data from Campaign Zero.

Some of the policy recommendations directly aim to compensate for this gap in training.
The eight reforms are: Ban chokeholds and strangleholds, require de-escalation, require warning before shooting, require exhaust all alternatives before shooting, duty to intervene, ban shooting at moving vehicles, require use of force continuum, require comprehensive reporting.

Some of these interventions are straightforward, but others seem less so. Among those less so easily understood is duty to intervene, which means that officers are required to intervene to stop excessive force being used by other officers and report these incidents. A force continuum would restrict the most severe types of force and creates clear policy restrictions on the use of weapons and tactics. The last of these reform measures on comprehensive reporting would require officers to report each time they use force or threaten to use force against civilians.

Overall, the policies put forth by the campaign demonstrate that restrictive use of force policies are associated with fewer police killings.

8 Can't Wait. (Screengrab.)
8 Can't Wait. (Screengrab.)

Past attempts at reform

Many are optimistic that this round of protests will lead to better policing across the country, but the last wave of reforms had mixed effects, one Washington Post study found. In 2015, the American newspaper looked at interventions made by the Justice Department over two decades in 16 police departments that had patterns of excessive or deadly force.

While reforms modernized policies, introduced new equipment – like body cameras – and brought about better training, when measured by incidents of use of force, outcomes were mixed.

“In five of the 10 police departments for which sufficient data was provided, use of force by officers increased during and after the agreements. In five others, it stayed the same or declined,” the Post wrote in 2015.

Cincinnati, Ohio: A model for policing?

The reform of the police department in Cincinnati, Ohio, has been cited as a model for reforms.
Law enforcement in the city adopted a new method of policing, like Minneapolis is now looking to do. Cincinnati’s new method of policing focused on underlying issues in a community rather than arrests.

The most substantial change made in Cincinnati was the adoption of community problem-oriented policing, or CPOP. Rather than focus on arrests, CPOP shifts the focus to what causes people to commit those crimes.

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While statistics show the positive effects of the reforms, change was slow, and it took officers five to 10 years to buy into reforms.

“If Cincinnati is a model of reform, then it is equally a sobering reminder of how difficult it can be to change entrenched systems,” The Atlantic wrote in 2015.

“Between 1999 and 2014, Cincinnati saw a 69 percent reduction in police use-of-force incidents, a 42 percent reduction in citizen complaints and a 56 percent reduction in citizen injuries during encounters with police, according to a report by Robin S. Engel and M. Murat Ozer of the Institute of Crime Science at the University of Cincinnati,” the article read.

Violent crimes and misdemeanor arrests also dropped.

Change, like that witnessed in Cincinnati, is slow to take hold. But with the foot on the gas across many American cities, perhaps momentum will hold to usher in policies that can set systemic change in motion.

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