Recent incidents centering on the deaths of unarmed Black Americans including George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, William Green, and countless others have continued to apply pressure for wide sweeping police reform. To some, these incidents are the result of a few “bad apples.”1
To others, they are examples of a system imbued with institutional and cultural failures that expose civilians and police officers to harm. Our article aims to combine perspectives from across the political spectrum on sensible police reform. We focus on short-, medium-, and long-term solutions for reducing officer-involved shootings, racial disparities in use of force, mental health issues among officers, and problematic officers who rotten the tree of law enforcement.
Violent crime has significantly decreased since the early 1990s. However, the number of mass shootings have increased and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security report being worried about domestic terrorism, even within law enforcement. Nonetheless, despite recent increases that some scholars associate with COVID-19 spillovers related to high unemployment and underemployment, violent crime is still much lower than it was three decades ago.
Some scholars attribute crime reductions to increased police presence, while others highlight increases in overall levels of education and employment. In the policy space, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 are often noted. We believe there is some validity to all of these perspectives. For example, SWAT deployment has increased roughly 1,400 percent since 1980. Coinciding with the 1986 Drug Bill, SWAT is often deployed for drug raids and no-knock warrants.2 The death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman killed in her home in Louisville, Kentucky, is most recently highlighted as an example that demonstrates some of the problems with these tactics.3
The 1994 Crime Bill ushered the COPS program and an increase in prisons around the country.4 This legislation also coincided with stop-and-frisk policies and a rise in stand-your-ground laws that disproportionately disadvantaged Black Americans and led to overpolicing. It is an indisputable fact that Black people are more likely to have force used on them. In fact, Black people relative to white people are significantly less likely to be armed or be attacking at the time they are killed by police. This is a historical pattern, including during the 1960s when civil rights leaders were being beaten and killed. However, officer-involved killings, overall, have increased significantly over the past two decades.5 And, we also know that if drugs were the only culprit, there would be drastically different outcomes for whites. Research shows that while Blacks and whites have similar rates of using drugs, and often times distributing drugs, there are huge disparities in who is arrested, incarcerated, and convicted for drug crimes. However, it is also an indisputable fact that predominately Black communities have higher levels of violent crime. Though some try to attribute higher crime in predominately Black neighborhoods to biology or culture, most scholars agree that inequitable resources related to housing, education, and employment contribute to these statistics.67 8 Research documents that after controlling for segregation and disadvantage, predominately Black and white neighborhoods differ little in violent crime rates.9
These are complex patterns, and Democrats and Republicans often differ on how America reached these outcomes and what we do about them. As a result, bipartisan police reform has largely stalled. Now, we know that in March 2021 the House of Representatives once again passed The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. States and localities are also presenting and passing a slew of police reforms, such as in Maryland where the state legislature passed the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021. We are not here to debate the merits of these legislations, though we support much of the components, nor are we here to simply highlight low-hanging fruit such as banning no-knock warrants, creating national databases, or requiring body-worn cameras. People across the political aisle largely agree on these reforms. Instead, we aim to provide policy recommendations on larger-scale reforms, which scholars and practitioners across the political aisle agree needs to occur, in order to transform law enforcement in America and take us well into the twenty-first century. Our main themes include accountability, training, and culture.
Accordingly, our recommendations include:
- Reform Qualified Immunity
- Create National Standards for Training and De-escalation
- Restructure Civilian Payouts for Police Misconduct
- Address Officer Wellness
- Restructure Regulations for Fraternal Order of Police Contracts
- Change Police Culture to Protect Civilians and Police
Reform Qualified Immunity
Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that courts invented to make it more difficult to sue police and other government officials who have been plausibly alleged to have violated somebody’s rights.10 11We believe this doctrine needs to be removed.12 13 States also have a role to play here. The Law Enforcement Bill of Rights further doubles down on a lack of accountable for bad apples.
We are not out on a limb here. A recent YouGov and Cato poll found that over 60 percent of Americans support eliminating qualified immunity.14 Over 80 percent of Americans oppose erasing historical records of officer misconduct. In this regard, most citizens have no interest making it more difficult to sue police officers, but police seem to have a very strong interest in maintaining the policy. However, not only do everyday citizens want it gone, but think tanks including The Brookings Institution and The Cato Institute have asserted the same. It is a highly problematic policy.
Though police chiefs might not say it publicly or directly, we have evidence that a significant number of them are quite frustrated by their inability to get rid of the bad apples, run their departments in ways that align with best practices they learn at Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers and National Association of Chiefs of Police, and discipline and terminate officers who deserve to be held accountable and jeopardize not only the public perception of their own department but drag down the social standing of the entire law enforcement profession. As noted above, The Law Enforcement Bill of Rights at the state level needs to be addressed. It further doubles down on qualified immunity and removes accountability for law enforcement.
National Standards for Training and De-escalation
In 2016, Daniel Shaver was fatally shot and killed by officer Philip Brailsford. Brailsford was charged but found not guilty. At the time of the killing, Shaver was unarmed as he lay dead in a hotel hallway. Police experts critiqued Brailsford’s tactics to de-escalate the situation. As he entered the scene, he had both hands on his M4 rifle and eliminated all other tools or de-escalation tactics. Brailsford was fired, tried for murder, and then rehired. He ultimately retired due to PTSD. Highlighting the roles of militarization, mental health, qualified immunity, and other policy-related topics, this incident shows why there is a need for national standards for training and de-escalation. Many officers would have approached this situation differently, suggesting there are a myriad of tactics and strategies being taught.
Nationally, officers receive about 50 hours of firearm training during the police academy. They receive less than 10 hours of de-escalation training. So, when they show up at a scene and pull their weapon, whether it be on teenagers walking down the street after playing a basketball game or someone in a hotel or even a car (like in the killing of Daunte Wright in a Minneapolis suburb), poor decisions and bad outcomes should not be surprising.
Police officers regardless of whether they live in Kentucky or Arizona need to have similar training. Among the roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country, there is wide variation in the amount of training that officers have to complete as well as what type of training they complete. With the amount of travel that Americans engage in domestically, law enforcement has not kept up to speed with ensuring that officers receive the same training. Consequently, police officers may be put in positions to make bad decisions because of a lack of the implementation of federal standards. Funding can be provided to have federally certified trainers who work with localities within states, counties, and cities.
Restructure Civilian Payouts for Police Misconduct
From 2015–2019, the 20 largest U.S. municipalities spent over $2 billion in civilian payouts for police misconduct. Rather than the police department budget, these funds mostly come from general funds.15 So, not only is the officer absolved from civil or financial culpability, but the police department often faces little financial liability. Instead, the financial burden falls onto the municipality; thus, taxpayers. This money could be going toward education, work, and infrastructure.
Not only are the financial settlement often expensive, like the $20 million awarded to William Green’s family in Prince George’s County, Maryland, but the associated legal fees and deteriorated community trust are costly. In a place like Chicago, over the past 20 years, it has spent about $700 million on civilian payouts for police misconduct. New York City spent about $300 million in the span of a few years.
We assert that civilian payouts for police misconduct must be restructured. Indemnification will be eliminated, making the officer responsible, and requiring them to purchase professional liability insurance the exact same way that other occupations such as doctors and lawyers do. This would give insurance companies a strong incentive to identify the problem officers early, to raise their rates just the way that insurance companies raise the rates on a bad driver or a doctor who engages in malpractice. In this regard, the cost of the insurance policy would increase the more misconduct an officer engaged in. Eventually, the worst officers would become uninsurable, and therefore unemployable. This would help to increase accountability. Instead of police chiefs having difficulties removing bad officers through pushback from the Fraternal Order of Police Union, bad officers would simply be unemployable by virtue of the fact that they cannot secure professional liability insurance.
Bottom line, police almost never suffer any financial consequences for their own misconduct.
Shifting civilian payouts away from tax money and to police department insurance policies would instantly change the accountability structure.
Shifting civilian payouts away from tax money and to police department insurance policies would instantly change the accountability structure. Police are almost always indemnified for that misconduct when there is a payout. And, what that means is simply that their department or the city, which is to say us, the taxpayers, end up paying those damages claims. That is absolutely the wrong way to do it.
Most proposals for restructuring civilian payouts for police misconduct have included some form of liability insurance for police departments and/or individual officers. This means shifting the burden from taxpayer dollars to police department insurance policies. If a departmental policy, the municipality should pay for that policy, but the money should come from the police department budget. Police department budget increases should take settlement costs into account and now simply allow for increased budgets to cover premium increases. This is a similar approach to healthcare providers working in a hospital. If individual officers have liability insurance, they fall right in line with other occupations that have professional liability insurance.
Congress could approve a pilot program for municipalities to explore the potential impacts of police department insurance policies versus individual officer liability insurance, and even some areas that use both policies simultaneously. Regardless, it is clear that the structure of civilian payouts for police misconduct needs to change. We believe not only will the change provide more funding for education, work, and infrastructure, but it will increase accountability and give police chiefs and municipalities the ability to rid departments of bad apples that dampen an equitable and transparent cultural environment.
Address Officer Wellness
Mental Health Counseling
In this broader discussion of policing, missing is not only the voices of law enforcement themselves, but also what is happening in their own minds and in their own bodies. Recent research has highlighted that about 80 percent of officers suffer from chronic stress. They suffer from depression, anxiety. They have relationship problems, and they get angered easily. One out of six report being suicidal. Another one out of six report substance abuse problems. Most sobering, 90 percent of them never seek help.16We propose that officers should have mandatory mental health counseling on a quarterly basis. Normalizing mental health counseling will reduce the stigma associated with it.
It is also important for law enforcement to take a serious look into the role of far-right extremism on officer attitudes and behaviors. There is ample evidence from The Department of Homeland Security showing the pervasive ways that far-right extremists target law enforcement.17 Academic research examining social dominance ideation among police officers may be a key way to root out extremism during background checks and psychological evaluations. Social dominance can be assessed through survey items and decision-making simulations, such as the virtual reality simulations conducted at the Lab for Applied Social Science Research at the University of Maryland.
Community police is defined in a multitude of ways. One simple way we think about community policing is whether officers experience the community in everyday life, often when they are not on duty. Do they live in the community, send their children to local schools, exercise at the neighborhood gym, and shop at the main grocery store? Often times, police officers engage in this type of community policing in predominately white and affluent neighborhoods but less in predominately Black or Latino neighborhoods, even when they have higher household income levels. Police officers also live farther away from the areas where they work. While this may be a choice for some, others simply cannot afford to live there, particularly in major cities and more expensive areas of the country. Many police officers are also working massive amounts of over time to make ends meet, provide for their families, and send children to college.
Altogether, community policing requires a set of incentives. We propose increasing the required level of education, which can justify wage increases. This can help to reduce the likelihood of police officers working a lot of hours and making poor decisions because of lack of sleep or stress. We also propose requiring that officers live within or near the municipalities where they work. Living locally can increase police-community relations and improve trust. Officers should receive rent subsidies or down payment assistance to enhance this process.
Restructure Regulations for Fraternal Order of Police Contracts
Unions are important. However, the Fraternity Order of Police Union has become so deeply embedded in law enforcement that it obstructs the ability for equitable and transparent policing, even when interacting with police chiefs. Police union contracts need to be evaluated to ensure they do not obstruct the ability for officers who engage in misconduct to be held accountable. Making changes to the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights at the state helps with this, but the Congress should provide more regulations to help local municipalities with this process.
Change Police Culture to Protect Civilians and Police
Police have to be of the people and for the people. Often times, police officers talk about themselves as if they are detached from the community. Officers often view themselves as warriors at war with the people in the communities they serve. Police officers embody an “us versus them” perspective, rather than viewing themselves to be part of the community.18
It must be a change to police culture regarding how police officers view themselves and view others. Part of changing culture deals with transforming how productivity and awards are allocated. Police officers overwhelmingly need to make forfeitures in the form of arrests, citations, and tickets to demonstrate leadership and productivity. Police officers rarely get credit for the everyday, mundane things they do to make their communities safe and protect and serve. We believe there must be a fundamental reconceptualization of both the mission of police and the culture in which that mission is carried out. Policing can be about respecting individuals and not using force. It is an ethical approach to policing that requires incentives positive outcomes rather than deficits that rewards citations and force.
There must be a fundamental reconceptualization of both the mission of police and the culture in which that mission is carried out.
Recommendations for Future Research
First, research needs to examine how community policing and officer wellness programs can simultaneously improve outcomes for the community and law enforcement. The either/or model simply does not work any longer. Instead, research should determine what is best for local communities and improves the health and well-being of law enforcement. Second, future research on policing needs to examine the role that protests against police brutality, particularly related to Black Lives Matter protests, are having on reform at the local, state, and federal levels. It is important for policymakers to readily understand the demands of their constituents and ways to create peace and civility.
Finally, research needs to fully examine legislation to reallocate and shift funding away from and within police department budgets.19By taking a market-driven, evidence-based approach to police funding, the same methodology can be used that will lead to different results depending on the municipality. Police department budgets should be fiscally responsible and shift funding to focusing on solving violent crime, while simultaneously reducing use of force on low-income and racial/ethnic minority communities. It is a tall order, but federal funding could be allocated to examine all of these important research endeavors. It is a must if the United States is to stay as a world leader in this space. It is clear our country is falling short at this time.
We have aimed to take a deep dive into large policy changes needed for police reform that centers around accountability, finances, culture, and communities. Though there is much discussion about reallocating police funding, we believe there should be an evidence-based, market-driven approach. While some areas may need to reallocate funding, others may need to shift funding within the department, or even take both approaches. Again, with roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies, there is wide variation in funds provided for policing and how those funds are spent. This is why it is imperative that standards be set at the federal level to help municipalities grapple with this important issue and the others we highlight in this report.
Alexander, Michelle. 2010. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press.
Brooks, Rosa. 2021. Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City: Penguin.
Horace, Matthew. 2019. The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement. Hatchette Books.
Ray, Rashawn. “How Should We Enhance Police Accountability in the United States?” The Brookings Institution, August 25, 2020.
The NPCC Policing Vision 2025
...to make communities safer by upholding the law fairly and firmly; preventing crime and anti-social behaviour; keeping the peace; protecting and reassuring communities; investigating crime and bringing offenders to justice.
1. Police Recruitment and Retention. One of the biggest challenges facing law enforcement is retention and recruitment within police departments.How does the Police Reform Act impact offenders? ›
It also allows the offender to make amends for the crime they committed, Courts must follow guidelines provided by the Sentencing Advisory Panel, this means they cannot give out any random sentence they feel like. As well as this the court must take in the facts of the case and the circumstances of the offender.What are the 3 major changes in policing system? ›
Community Era of Policing
There are three main eras of policing in U.S. history: the Political Era, the Reform Era, and the Community Era.
Police reforms aim to transform the values, culture, policies and practices of police organizations. It envisages police to perform their duties with respect for democratic values, human rights and the rule of law.How can we improve law enforcement? ›
Increasing Police Transparency
- Openly sharing your policies. ...
- Maintaining accurate records of police misconduct through internal affairs case management.
Our system of criminal justice faces many challenges, including persistent violent crime in urban areas, cybercrime and the addiction epidemic.What are 2 emerging issues in policing? ›
The landscape of American policing is rapidly changing in highly visible ways. Unaddressed social problems such as substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness, and poverty have vastly expanded the demands on rank-and-file police officers.Why is criminal justice reform important? ›
Meaningful sentencing reform, steps to reduce repeat offenders, and support for law enforcement are crucial to improving public safety, reducing runaway incarceration costs, and making our criminal justice system more fair.What are the benefits of criminal justice reform? ›
The CBA performed in the MADCE study demonstrates that criminal justice reforms can have tangible, posi- tive benefits, including fewer crimes and more savings in victimization costs. It also shows that some reforms can lead to additional costs, such as increased drug and alcohol treatment services.
- Limit political control: Ensure that the state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police.
- Appoint based on merit: ...
- Fix minimum tenure: ...
- Separate police functions: ...
- Set up fair and transparent systems: ...
- Establish a Police Complaints Authority in each state: ...
- Set up a selection commission:
Those in favor of reform say this could prevent the use of unnecessary force and violence, and potentially death, from police first responders who are not necessarily trained to handle social issues including domestic violence, substance abuse, homelessness or a mental health crisis effectively.What are the 4 P's in policing? ›
4 P's: Pursue, Prevent, Protect, Prepare.What are some of the challenges of changing the criminal justice system? ›
- System delays and inefficiencies. Delays within the justice system are harmful to all involved – victims, communities, and the accused. ...
- Low rate of sexual assault reporting. ...
- Overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples. ...
- Other vulnerable populations.
The public expectations from police have multiplied and newer forms of crime have surfaced. The policing system needs to be reformed to be in tune with present day scenario and upgraded to effectively deal with the crime and criminals, uphold human rights and safeguard the legitimate interests of one and all.What does reform mean in policing? ›
Better equipment and better technology to go with better or more education, better and more efforts of understanding the public, more efficient administrative means to ensure accountability and oversight. Better recruitment practices and hiring standards. These are the solutions of police reform.When did police reform start? ›
1960s: the Johnson Administration and the Warren Court
It laid out reorganization plans for police departments and suggested a range of reforms. Several of the Commission's findings related to the poor treatment of juvenile offenders.
- Data on Policing.
- Accountability / Transparency.
- Use of Force.
- "Defund the Police"
- Hiring / Training / Promotions.
- Local Progress Stories.
The citizens can achieved these roles by identifying offenders, giving data about the illegal activities and cohorts of the criminals, the proliferation of organized crimes and syndicates, volunteering as witnesses, and adapting precautionary and remedial measures to diminish crimes.What are the most effective strategies police? ›
The toolkit details three highly effective policing strategies. The first, focused deterrence, helps those at high risk of becoming involved in violence; the second, problem-oriented policing, addresses problems occurring in specific places; and the third, legitimacy policing, focuses on community trust.
- Target Hardening. Making your property harder for an offender to access. ...
- Target Removal. Ensuring that a potential target is out of view. ...
- Reducing the Means. ...
- Reducing the Payoff. ...
- Access Control. ...
- Surveillance. ...
- Environmental Change. ...
- Rule Setting.
Some issues contributing to the high number of incarcerations include drug use and mental health. The money for policing and detentions could be better spent on community prevention and treatment programs.What is the biggest problem in criminal justice system? ›
Criminal justice systems often suffer from a compartmentalization and lack of integration of the different components of the criminal justice chain, as well as a lack of coordination and collaboration with other sectors essential to ensuring integration responses to crime and violence such as the health, education and ...What are the 5 modern ethical issues in law enforcement? ›
Five modern ethical issues in law enforcement involve the officer's off-duty life, upholding the law and your rights, using necessary force, acting impartially and profiling.What trends will influence policing in the upcoming years? ›
- Developing a List of Potential Strategies. ...
- Community Oriented Policing. ...
- Implementing the Latest Technology and Equipment. ...
- Putting Officer Health and Wellness First. ...
- Expanding Opportunities for All LEOs, Including Women and Minorities. ...
- Improve the Ability to Address Cyber Crime.
Topics include: police-race relations; stop-and-search practice; police cultures; corruption allegations; policing of riots and public disorder; policing of gendered and sexual violence; the rise of police privatisation and vigilantism and the development of performance based cultures.What are some examples of criminal justice reform? ›
- Discriminatory sentencing.
- Sentencing regulation.
- Police brutality.
- Broken windows policing.
- Predictive policing.
- Stop and frisk.
Criminal justice reform is an umbrella term that covers all aspects of the criminal justice process, from how law enforcement polices our communities to how prisons house and rehabilitate the convicted. Prison reform focuses only on prison, but there are many aspects to that as well.What is the purpose of reform? ›
The Oxford English Dictionary provides a definition of reform as “ The amendment, or altering for the better, of some faulty state of things, esp. of a corrupt or oppressive political institution or practice; the removal of some abuse or wrong” (Reform).What are the 4 goals of criminal justice? ›
Four major goals are usually attributed to the sentencing process: retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence, and incapacitation.
- Promote Community Safety through Alternatives to Incarceration. ...
- Create Fair and Effective Policing Practices. ...
- Promote Justice in Pre-Trial Services & Practices. ...
- Enhance Prosecutorial Integrity. ...
- Ensure Fair Trials and Quality Indigent Defense. ...
- Encourage Equitable Sentencing.
The Three Components of the Criminal Justice System & Where You Fit In. The United States' criminal justice system is designed to enforce laws, ensure public safety, and deliver justice to those who have committed crimes.How can police ethics be improved? ›
Address and discipline minor offenses so officers learn that major offenses will be disciplined too. Open the disciplinary process to public scrutiny. Rotate officer assignments to discourage the formation of bonds that lead officers to cover up the misconduct of others.What are some ways to reduce police corruption? ›
Developing clear written dept policies and procedures that “draw the line” and make it clear to the officers and the community what behaviors are and are not acceptable. Violations of policies must be followed up with disciplinary action.What are the goals of police enforcement strategies? ›
Policing strategies have varying goals including crime prevention, effective use of police resources, or suspect location. Rigorous research can determine which strategies are the most effective in various circumstances.What are the 5 components of the police mission? ›
The fundamental police mission in democratic societies includes five components: (1) enforcing the law (especially the criminal law), (2) investigating crimes and apprehending offenders, (3) preventing crime, (4) helping to ensure domestic peace and tranquility, and (5) providing the community with needed enforcement- ...What are the 5 principles of ethical policing? ›
Note the following themes which are so crucially important for our success: crime prevention, community trust and engagement, reasonable force is a last resort, impartiality without favour, never above the law, the police are the public and the public are the police, efficiency through crime prevention.What are the 5 core operational strategies of law enforcement? ›
Operational aims and a policing style which has five principles: Performance led ; • Intelligence supported ; • Community focused ; • Problem solving ; • Integration and partnership.What are the 5 eras of policing? ›
- Political Era.
- Reform Era.
- Community Era.
- Homeland Security Era.
Cops get referred to as 12 which mean drug enforcement officers, especially the narcotics officers. The slang 12 is most used by drug smugglers to warn their clients or fellow peddlers of approaching police officers.
Our foremost objective as a police department is to protect all citizens from harm, as well as protecting the safety and health of our own employees. Our role as public safety officers is precisely that – ensuring the safety of ALL persons, wherever possible.What are the most ethical issues in today's era of policing? ›
Five modern ethical issues in law enforcement involve the officer's off-duty life, upholding the law and your rights, using necessary force, acting impartially and profiling.What are some ethical issues police officers face today? ›
- Serve the Community. The duty of police officers is to serve the community where they work. ...
- Lead by Example. ...
- Remain Impartial. ...
- Respect the Badge and the Office. ...
- Take Responsibility. ...
- Excessive Force. ...
- Intimidation or Deception. ...
- Decisions Based on Bias.
Code of Ethics launched.
|policing principles||standards of professional behaviour|
|accountability||honesty and integrity|
|fairness||authority, respect and courtesy|
|honesty||equality and diversity|
|integrity||use of force|
Create accountability for law enforcement agencies in establishing and maintaining positive relationships with the community. Improve training on how to implement community policing with fidelity. Provide resources to smaller jurisdictions to help increase the use of policing strategies that build trust.What are the 6 pillars of policing? ›
- Pillar 1 — Building trust and legitimacy.
- Pillar 2 — Policy and oversight.
- Pillar 3 — Technology and social media.
- Pillar 4 — Community policing and crime reduction.
- Pillar 5 — Officer training and education.
- Pillar 6 — Officer safety and wellness.
The IACP defines 21st Century Policing strategies as best practices designed to help agencies promote effective crime reduction while building public trust and safeguarding officer well-being.What are the 6 stages of the criminal justice system? ›
Chandler, Fletcher, and Volkow (2009) identified the criminal justice stages of entry, prosecution, adjudication, sentencing, corrections, and reentry. These stages trace offenders' movement through the criminal justice components from arrest, through court, to incarceration or community-supervision.