How Do We Fix Our Police Departments?

Bouie confronts the challenge:

Changing the culture of policing to de-emphasize violence and leave room for ordinary human behavior won’t be easy, but it’s possible. And it doesn’t have to lead to more crime. In Philadelphia this year, police have shot and killed just three people, compared with 12 by this point in 2013 and 16 by this point in 2012. What changed? The culture, and specifically, the department’s approach to the use of force. After a local news story found a spike in officer-involved shootings despite a drop in crime, the police commissioner invited federal officials to examine the department’s practices as part of a “collaborative review.”

The full report isn’t public, but the recommendations included new directives involving the use of force—in which officers state that they “hold the highest regard for the sanctity of human life” and the “application of deadly force is a measure to be employed only in the most extreme circumstances”—and intensive training designed to de-escalate confrontations before they turn deadly. “As the new policies have been phased in,” notes, “the total number of shootings to date—fatal and nonfatal—has plummeted from 48 in 2012 to 35 in 2013 and to 18 so far this year, according to the department.”

Rosemarie Ward highlights the successes of Camden, NJ:

As the administration casts about for ways to build trust between police departments and the public, they would do well to look at what is happening in Camden, New Jersey, a poor city that once had the reputation for being America’s most dangerous. Camden disbanded its police department about 18 months ago, installing a new county unit in its place. Crime has since fallen considerably. Murders dropped by 49% to 31 between 2012 and 2014 (January 1st through November 30th). Shootings have been halved, robberies and rape are down by a third, and other violent crimes are down by a fifth. In a population of around 77,000, 35 fewer mothers are now burying their sons each year.

What is Camden’s police force doing right? At the most basic level, the city has returned to old-style policing. Instead of using squad cars, officers now patrol their beats on their feet in pairs (or on bicycles). They knock on doors and introduce themselves, and learn the names of people in a neighbourhood. “Nothing builds trust like human contact,” says Scott Thomson, Camden’s police chief. Locals can be a great source of information about where the problems are, he adds, “but that’s not going to happen without trust.”’