The Case For Police Reform Remains Strong

Reflecting on the Michael Brown case, Friedersdorf insists that, “when it comes to the problem of police officers using excessive force, including lethal force, against people they encounter, there are scores of cases that better illustrate the problem”:

[E]ven protesters who want to highlight the specific problem of white police officers shooting black men—even those who want to do so by saying “don’t shoot” while raising their arms in the air—needn’t rely on a murky incident with conflicting eyewitness testimony where there’s a chance that the unknowable truth would exonerate the officer. Instead, they can show skeptics this video from Columbia, South Carolina:

When I want to persuade a skeptic that police can misbehave so badly that it’s hard to believe until one sees it, that is the incident I thrust before them. Given an hour of their time, I could fill it with other incidents on YouTube, almost all of which were totally ignored by most of the commentators who are now flaunting their outrage at anyone evaluating evidence in Ferguson differently than they do. This alienates potential allies and converts on the larger issue of police abuse … for what?

Some of the reforms Conor advocates for:

So what specific reforms are needed? Too many to list them all in this article. But here are some measures, beyond video cameras, that would improve policing:

• Decisions about when to charge police officers should be made by independent prosecutors, not regular district attorneys, who must rely on police to testify in most of the cases they bring. That gives these district attorneys a perverse incentive to refrain from aggressively prosecuting misconduct.

•Police unions should be able to negotiate salary, benefits, and nothing else–firing an abusive police officer should be easy.

•All police departments should have strong civilian oversight.

•The War on Drugs should be ended.

•Most military-grade police equipment should be returned to the federal government or destroyed.

• Civil asset forfeiture should be reformed.

•No-knock raids should stop in almost all cases.

Alfred Blumstein suggests a related reform:

Communities should find ways to establish a police-accountability commission that has the unchallenged authority to remove from the police force any officer who has demonstrated grossly inappropriate use of lethal force. Their investigation could well include a review of the officer’s prior record in interactions with the community, to provide a context within which to judge a current incident. Such a high-level commission representative of the larger community could serve to remove high-risk officers, to serve as a deterrent to irresponsible use of lethal force, and to provide greater comfort to the citizenry that the police will act responsibly in their use of lethal force.

More generally, Linker objects to “granting to cops of an a priori presumption of virtue that no one else in our culture enjoys”:

Of course there’s nothing wrong with admiring and expressing gratitude for the work police officers do. But shouldn’t it also be part of our civic education to inculcate a healthy suspicion of people we empower to enforce order on our streets with live ammunition? Shouldn’t we expect that citizens impaneled on grand juries will usually opt for indictment in cases where a cop is implicated in the death of an unarmed man or woman, if only to establish the facts and enable our society to take public stock of what happened?