How Do You Fix A Police Department?

by Dish Staff

Josh Voorhees has suggestions. The feds could step in:

If Holder concludes that there has been a pattern of misconduct by the police—either in the lead-up to Brown’s death or in its aftermath—the president has the ability to force widespread reforms within the department with the help of a law passed in the wake of the Rodney King beating. The provision in question, part of what was officially known as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, is “one of the most significant” pieces of civil rights legislation passed in the latter part of 20th century, and also one of the most “overlooked,” according to Joe Domanick, the associate director of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Media, Crime, and Justice. The law gives the federal government two options: It can either formally pursue a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Ferguson Police Department by alleging a “pattern and practice” of misconduct or the administration and city officials can enter into what is known as a “consent decree” that would mandate a specific set of reforms that would then be overseen by an independent court-appointed monitor. Faced with the possibility of a costly court battle, most cities have historically taken the path of least resistance and signed on the decree’s dotted lines. Ferguson officials probably wouldn’t buck that trend.

According to Samuel Walker, the emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, such an outcome is “the best hope we have” for turning around the troubled department. The reforms that normally accompany a consent decree “really get at the critical issue here, which is the culture of the department,” Walker says. “Day in and day out, what do officers know they have to do and what do they know that they can get away with?”

He notes that this worked for the LAPD after the Rodney King beating. Cincinnati also successfully changed:

Officers are now trained in low-light situations, like confronting a suspect at night in an alley, as was the case in [Timothy] Thomas’s death. The agreement also created the Citizens Complaint Authority to investigate incidents when officers used serious force. Most importantly, it instructed officers to build relationships with the community by soliciting feedback with residents and using all available information to find solutions to problems before necessarily resorting to a law enforcement response. The ACLU of Ohio, which was one of the signatories of the agreement, hails it as “one of the most innovative plans ever devised to improve police-community relations.”

These new policies have not fixed all of the racial injustices in Cincinnati, but they have improved them.

Jonah Goldberg recommends hiring minority cops:

I am as against racial quotas as anyone, but the idea that police forces shouldn’t take into account the racial or ethnic make-up of their communities when it comes to hiring has always struck me as bizarre. A Chinese-American cop will probably have an easier time in Chinatown than a Norwegian-American cop. A bilingual Hispanic cop will have similar advantages in a mostly Spanish-speaking neighborhood. When my dad was a kid in the Bronx, it was not uncommon for a cop to give a teenager a well-intentioned smack as a warning and leave it at that. But forget the smack. Today, in many neighborhoods, if a white cop even talks harshly to a black kid, it might immediately be seen as a racial thing. If a black cop said the exact same things, it might be received differently.

But historian Heather Ann Thompson notes that integrated police forces don’t always solve the problem of racist policing:

Even if police departments are integrated — certainly this has been proven in Detroit, and in other cities where you have many, many more black police officers — the problem is that police are charged with policing the community and particularly policing the poor black community. The act of policing places the police in opposition to this community. Even if the officers are black, that does not guarantee that there’s going to be smooth police-community relations. Fundamentally, the problem is that there is so much targeted policing in these neighborhoods.