Tuesday, May 18, 2021

This Just In: Modern Policing

 Archived from Chapelboro.com https://chapelboro.com/town-square/this-just-in-modern-policing

Watching the verdict of the Derek Chauvin murder trial come in, most of us were gratified to see the former officer placed into handcuffs and marched out of the courtroom by the officers on duty. He’s a convicted murderer. He belongs in handcuffs.

The outpouring of grief and overflowing frustration in this country about policing and its intersection with racism is demanding attention, as well it should. This is an unanswered public health crisis that threatens the stability of our society.

The hot button of “Defund the Police” adds heat to the discussion, but not enough light. The slogan is helpful in one very important regard. When each community passes a budget each year to fund local law enforcement, it provides authorization for those agencies to act on its behalf.

The rate at which unarmed people of color are being killed by police nationally and without consequence makes clear that many law enforcement agencies are abusing their authority, overpolicing vulnerable populations and doing so with the imprimatur of policing and public safety.

That is the part that we need to stop. These are extrajudicial assaults and murders, not policing. George Floyd’s murder was much more than a single out of control officer killing an unarmed man.

It was a lynching.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act will go a long way to interrupting this pattern of abuse. A summary of its features from Congress.gov:

  • This bill addresses a wide range of policies and issues regarding policing practices and law enforcement accountability. It includes measures to increase accountability for law enforcement misconduct, to enhance transparency and data collection, and to eliminate discriminatory policing practices.
  • The bill facilitates federal enforcement of constitutional violations (e.g., excessive use of force) by state and local law enforcement. Among other things, it does the following:
    • lowers the criminal intent standard—from willful to knowing or reckless—to convict a law enforcement officer for misconduct in a federal prosecution,
    • limits qualified immunity as a defense to liability in a private civil action against a law enforcement officer or state correctional officer, and
    • authorizes the Department of Justice to issue subpoenas in investigations of police departments for a pattern or practice of discrimination.
  • The bill also creates a national registry—the National Police Misconduct Registry—to compile data on complaints and records of police misconduct.
  • It establishes a framework to prohibit racial profiling at the federal, state, and local levels.
  • The bill establishes new requirements for law enforcement officers and agencies, including to report data on use-of-force incidents, to obtain training on implicit bias and racial profiling, and to wear body cameras.

We are in the budget cycle right now. We are fortunate to have a group of local law enforcement agencies who have a history of acting responsibly in large part. Every department can improve, however, and we should be looking at ways to avoid unnecessary custodial arrests for minor matters by having policies in place that prohibit such abuse. No one should be in handcuffs for an expired license plate or passing a bad $20 bill. Avoiding that as a premise for harassment and arrest can help avoid tragedies like the Floyd murder.

If I fail to pay income tax, the IRS doesn’t roll up on my house and take me away. They send me a letter, (and then another and another) notifying me of my violation and penalties. They can attach my wages. It’s an administrative task to secure my compliance. When I run a red light somewhere, a camera can capture that and mail me a ticket. We need to use technology in ways that keep people safer and reduce the opportunities for officers to escalate situations recklessly.

We need to make the same kinds of corrections that we made 20 years ago when high speed chases were too often killing and injuring bystanders … when the suspect fleeing was under scrutiny for a minor offense.

We employ law enforcement to promote and secure public safety. They work for us. They are accountable to us. It is only our demand for reform that delivers change.

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