We have an opportunity to make policing better. But the window is closing fast.
After every tragic death at the hands of the police, America rings her collective hands. Speeches are made. Policies are proposed, debated, and defeated. New leadership is appointed. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
The problems are often blamed on a few bad apples. However, there is a saying, culture eats strategy for breakfast. A bad culture will beat a good cop every single time.
But, here’s the big question. What actually works? What are the proven methods and strategies to hold police departments accountable, and to root out unwanted behavior?
This is an urgent question. As federal, state, and local governments struggle to pass meaningful legislation, we need to understand what works.
How do we actually fix America’s Police?
That’s a question explored by Seth W. Stoughton, Jeffrey J. Noble, and Geoffrey P. Alpert in a recent article in The Atlantic.
The Big Problem with Police Accountability
In the United States, there are more than 18,000 police agencies. Most of these agencies, around 15,000 are financed and managed by a city or county. No one city, county, state, or federal government controls the social contract with community being policed. No one agency sets the legal framework, administrative processes, or the budget.
What Reforms Should be in the Federal, State, and Local Bills?
In their article, Stoughton, Noble, and Alpert propose a raft of legal reforms at the Federal, State, and Local level.
At the federal level, they suggest that Congress focus on three objectives.
- Get rid of qualified immunity.
- Pass legislation to further encourage better data collection about what police do and how they do it
- Allocate resources to support police training, local policy initiatives, and administrative reviews.
At the state level, they recommend five objectives:
- Strengthen laws that govern the use of both deadly and nondeadly force.
- Amend law-enforcement officers’ bills of rights and the laws that govern the collective-bargaining rights of police unions.
- Do a better job of certifying and, when necessary, decertifying officers.
- Pass broad sunshine laws regarding police records.
- Reduce overcriminalization by rethinking their approach to criminalization.
And, they provide five suggestions for local interventions:
- Implement, follow, and audit, early-warning or early-intervention systems.
- Incorporate industry best practices and generally accepted principles into agency policies and training.
- Replace the “read and sign” approach to training with more effective training processes.
- Ensure that first-line supervisors, including corporals, sergeants, and lieutenants are providing adequate supervision.
- Require transparency in the aftermath of high-profile incidents.
You can find the details in article “How to Actually Fix America’s Police” in The Atlantic.
About Seth Stoughton:
Seth Stoughton is an Associate Professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, where he is affiliated with the Rule of Law Collaborative. He studies policing and how it is regulated, and his scholarship has appeared in the Minnesota Law Review, the North Carolina Law Review, the Virginia Law Review, and other top journals. He has written multiple book chapters and is the principal co-author of Evaluating Police Uses of Force.
Learn More about Seth W. Stoughton and Police Reform:
- Article: How to Actually Fix America’s Police: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/how-actually-fix-americas-police/612520
- Book: Evaluating Police Uses of Force: https://amzn.to/3hzrMAp
- Seth Stoughton at University of South Carolina School of Law: https://sc.edu/study/colleges_schools/law/faculty_and_staff/directory/stoughton_seth.php
- Seth Stoughton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/PoliceLawProf