Terrible videos of police officers choking and shooting black people in the United States have caused outrage worldwide. The killings also sparked demonstrations in thousands of cities across the United States and around the world, and temporarily pushed the COVID-19 pandemic out of the headlines. Recordings of peaceful demonstrators beaten, gassed to tears, and rammed with police vehicles escalated the outrage. Some protesters and commentators have called for the police to be immediately defused and abolished. For many, the persistence of police violence, particularly against African Americans, justifies radical political steps, and everything else seems to be a capitulation to the status quo.
Any police violence must be condemned, but should the future of the police really be based on a decision about whether the police should be dissolved altogether? Given the growing pressure to radically cut law enforcement funds, the debate needs a serious, evidence-based discussion of what works and what doesn't when it comes to limiting police violence, improving public security, and Taking action The police are significantly more accountable to the people who protect and serve them.
The first task is to curb the excessive use of violence. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has described "use of force" as "an effort by the police to enforce compliance by an unwilling subject". In other words, the force used should be proportional to the degree of resistance – but what does this mean in practice? In Europe, knee-to-neck cuffs, such as those used to kill George Floyd, are prohibited, and officials only use other types of violence when they are "absolutely necessary". In the United States, the police have much more discretion and can resort to lethal violence if they "objectively reasonable" assume that their lives are in danger (except in California, where restrictions on the use of violence are in 2019 have been tightened). Perhaps it is not surprising that some officers shoot first and ask questions later. It also doesn't help that the US police receive an average of 58 hours of firearm training, compared to just eight hours of de-escalation training and eight hours of crisis intervention training.
Proposals to ban chokeholds, strangleholds, and other neck supports like the ones that killed George Floyd are good first steps, but much more needs to be done. In the United States, national and state lawmakers are hastily introducing bills to reduce the use of violence, improve civilian oversight, require the use of body cameras, and monitor officials' misconduct. You should consult the 30 guiding principles of the Police Executive Research Forum, an association of US law enforcement officers. According to Campaign Zero, a non-governmental organization that mobilizes against police brutality, restrictions on the use of violence, particularly with regard to lower-level violations, have resulted in fewer innocent people being killed in large US cities. The introduction of de-escalation training and techniques can also lead to improvements, but experts say more research is needed. In view of the possibilities for political reform, these promising measures should be included in new national police standards and committed to ongoing evaluation.
Another priority is to get more and better data on the use of lethal violence by the police. Despite the large number of police murders in the United States, there is no reliable government database that records the exact number of deaths. Currently, only 40 percent of the country's approximately 18,000 federal, state, and county police officers have contributed to a Federal Bureau of Investigation database that records police misconduct. To fill this gap, newspapers such as the Guardian and the Washington Post have compiled data, and activists are mapping police deaths, although all use unofficial sources. Without better data, the police and citizens fly blind.
Police authorities and their unions should also include stricter accountability mechanisms in employment contracts. Too often the police are legally protected from the consequences of their actions. At the very least, complaints against officers need to be investigated, disciplinary measures against misconduct should be implemented quickly, and all applications for reinstatement of police officers after excessive violence should be examined more carefully. A Washington Post investigation found that between 2006 and 2017, at least 1,881 officers were dismissed for malpractice by major U.S. police forces – and nearly a quarter of them were reinstated after an appeal.
Police authorities should also closely monitor complaints about the use of violence, not least because there is evidence that officers with abuse records can adversely affect others' behavior. As the saying goes: "A rotten apple quickly infects its neighbor." Disclosure of data on fatal and non-fatal police incidents could improve supervision, prevent misconduct, and strengthen deeply tarnished relationships with the community. Guidelines to strengthen internal discipline and prevent reinstatement of officials dismissed for serious abuse are also linked to an improvement in overall performance.
Recruiting more women into the police force can also help reduce excessive violence. A 2017 police violence study found that male officers unloaded their firearm three times more frequently on duty than women. Another study published in 2002 found men two to three times more likely to be complained of by citizens and police officers to pay at least two and a half times more liability payments to victims of excessive violence or their family members. It is important to increase police diversity by attracting minorities, but the evidence for the relationship between diversity and wrongdoing is surprisingly unclear.
Non-law enforcement officers must play a greater role in maintaining public security. The police certainly need more training for situations involving mental health, substance abuse and homelessness. However, it is equally important that other services have to be available when the police are over their heads. In practice, however, this is more difficult than it seems: intervention teams for mental health crises have been around since the 1980s, but their overall effectiveness is questionable. Prevention strategies – based on numerous U.S. and international evidence and expanded – can primarily reduce the need for the police. Cognitive behavior therapy, home visit programs, and parenting programs are effective crime prevention strategies.
There is also a growing chorus of interest groups for stronger federal oversight and investigation of police departments that have an above-average frequency of excessive use of violence, especially when there are significant racial differences in the use of such violence. For example, in the United States, Department of Justice investigations and recommendations have resulted in a marked reduction in gun violence. Measures such as stricter anti-violence policies, better training, and independent reviews contributed to an astonishing drop in police shootings in cities like Philadelphia.
Another strategy is demilitarizing the police. The police are acquiring ever more sophisticated firepower around the world. One of the best known examples of this is the 1033 program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense, which provides local police departments with excess military equipment left over from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is perhaps not surprising that there are indications that equipping officers with armored personnel vehicles and grenade launchers can contribute to over-reliance on violence to solve problems. For example, one study found that U.S. police services provided by the 1033 program were more likely to have fatal violence than departments that did not receive such support.
In times of increasing deficits and lower revenues, difficult decisions have to be made as to how police violence should not be contained. This means investing in what works, but also avoiding what doesn't. Take the case of implicit bias training – instruction in awareness of prejudices and prejudices regarding race, class and gender. Although blacks are killed by police three times as often as white people, it turns out that such training does not necessarily affect the implicit bias of the police or change their behavior. On the contrary, some research suggests that such training could actually increase the expression of bias in what researchers call the "rebound effect" when people try to suppress stereotypical thinking, but their deep-seated prejudices remain.
There is a heated debate about the effectiveness of police-worn body cameras that have shown mixed results in randomized control studies. While there are positive examples of police cameras that reduce police brutality and citizen complaints, it turns out that simply using the camera to police police violence is not enough to curb police violence. In order to ensure that the police turn on their cameras in the event of an incident and cannot subsequently manipulate video evidence, strict guidelines and supervision are required.
Another intervention that has surprisingly limited impact is the control of the police by citizens. Mechanisms are regularly called for to improve transparency and accountability, and to strengthen police-community relationships after officers have been shot, for example, to prevent police authorities from conducting full internal investigations into complaints. About 80 percent of the 50 largest police stations in the United States have put in place some form of civic surveillance mechanism. However, there is little evidence of their effectiveness. Part of the problem is that they are so different. Under no circumstances should they be considered a panacea.
There is no strategy to reduce police violence. As with most persistent and complicated social problems, there are no obvious and simple answers. However, this does not mean that there can be no progress and that there is no data and evidence from the US and the world about what works and what does not. With the introduction of multiple guidelines based on the best data and evidence available and common sense, the police can ultimately make far less likely that innocent people will die.
At this time of protest, the Americans have a wide-open window to reform their police force. A survey by Monmouth University in June found that 76 percent of Americans believe that discrimination based on race and ethnicity is a "big problem", compared to 51 percent in 2015. The survey also found that 57 percent of the Police officers are more likely to be fatally forceful if the suspect is black, another seismic change of opinion. A majority of 57 percent also find the demonstrators' anger "completely justified". At the same time, 71 percent state that they are very or somewhat satisfied with the work of their local police. This suggests that it is now not time to abolish the police as a whole, but to dramatically change and improve them.