Police Reforms: An Unnecessary Knee-Jerk Reaction?

Have you noticed the latest police protests? For many, the answer is no. Waves of protests and rioting in the past few years, centered mostly on the use of deadly force by law enforcement, have become so commonplace that people are news-numb to the issue.

To government and law enforcement leaders, however, the friction remains and cannot simply be ignored. Protests have brought to the surface an ever-remaining tension between police and the black community and they, along with others, demand change.

The reaction has been to create reforms for law enforcement nationwide. But, are reforms really needed? Or, are they just a knee-jerk reaction to appease the nay-sayers. The answers to those questions are yes…and yes.

In February of 2015, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said he would make a push for police officers to be prosecuted for civil rights violations by lowering the standard of proof needed for prosecution. If you’re saying whoa to that, you aren’t alone.

President Obama’s response to the unrest was to develop a taskforce aimed at compiling recommendations for best practices for law enforcement. The taskforce developed a 116-page report released in May of 2015 (and Holder’s recommendation didn’t make the cut).

According to the report, the taskforce conducted seven public forums to allow people from both the community and law enforcement to express their positions and solutions for reformation.  The result was to categorize seven pillars of action including, Building Trust and Legitimacy, Policy and Oversight, Technology and Social Media, Community Policing and Crime Reduction, Officer Training and Education, and Officer Safety and Wellness.

Police VestMuch of the report focuses on the need for community participation and acceptance.  Think of it like this…you and I are people; we understand that we need law and order, but we do not want to be bullied by our government simply because they have the power to do so. The report points out that people are more likely to obey the law when they believe that those who are enforcing it have authority that is perceived as legitimate by those subject to the authority. The public confers legitimacy only on those whom they believe are acting in procedurally just ways.

It’s hard to argue with that logic. What is easier to argue with, however, is the following statement: Law enforcement culture should embrace a guardian rather than a warrior mindset. The statement is arguable when considering that, in the interest of demilitarizing the police, President Obama stripped law enforcement of the benefit of receiving military equipment which has been shown, repeatedly, to aid in terroristic attacks and mass shootings, of which law enforcement will be the first responders.  Law enforcement can’t be either guardians or warriors, they must be both.

Ensuring best practices are followed in policies and training is a common theme for reform, as the Philadelphia police department can attest. Philadelphia asked the Justice Department to evaluate and make recommendations for proactive approaches to reduce the number of officer involved shootings in their department. Kudos came from the Justice Department for changes Philadelphia made to policies and training guides on use of force, including a prohibition against shooting at moving cars.

So, it appears that the solutions to the community outcry has been to reaffirm what has been known all along. Police must include the community, be trained, and have policies that are consistent with public standards of decency.

Since the result of the so-called reforms did not uncover any new solutions, it is easy to dismiss them as unnecessary knee-jerk reactions. However, it’s important to keep in mind that many law enforcement agencies simply do not follow best practices. And, others are not aware of the best practices (think tiny agencies here). In this light, it can hardly be seen as a waste of time- especially given the cost of failure.

Law enforcement will always answer to the public. The goal is to gain the trust of the people to allow the police to police. From time to time, law enforcement needs to be reminded of this goal.

There will be times when law enforcement needs to be warriors. There will be times when an officer turns into a criminal or makes a bad decision on using deadly force.  Having public support and trust makes all the difference in the world when rocky roads, such as these, are encountered…and they WILL be encountered.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Laura Samples

Laura Samples

Laura Samples has over 18 years of law enforcement experience and currently serves as a police lieutenant in Texas. She is a graduate of the Leadership Command College from LEMIT at Sam Houston State University, a graduate of the Denver Paralegal Institute, and has earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and a Master’s Degree in Human Resource Management, from Fort Hays State University.She is also a veteran of the U.S. Army where she served as a Military Police Officer in both Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Laura Samples
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