Reforming our Nation's Police
The police can no longer effectively serve our poor communities suffering most from ongoing rioting and crime. Our societal indifference is all too apparent. The poor bear the brunt of our judicial system’s misbehavior, especially in the courts. Since the poor in many cities are also minorities, the left can spin’s tales of incorrigibly racist police. That tale is false. Are there racist cops? Yes. Are our police forces systemically racist? No. Is police misbehavior a real problem? Yes. We need to reform our policing, without which unrest will only worsen. A change in focus would also improve the quality of our police. Currently burnout is a real issue, with the average time-on-the-job being less than five years. Both citizens and police are dissatisfied with the status quo.
1. Review and abolish many laws. The sheer number of laws on the books is staggering. The title of the book "Three Felonies a Day," which discusses how an average citizen will violate three or more statutes a day, highlights this point. The problem is not the behavior of our citizens; the issue is the staggering proliferation of laws passed by our legislatures. Who is to blame? Look in the mirror; we voted in the politicians who passed these laws under which we now struggle. Our freedoms are curtailed via this liberty- stifling accumulation. "There ought to be a law!" is the battle-cry of would be tyrants.
2. End Judicial, Prosecutorial and Officer Immunity. The criminal justice system is not held accountable for its misdeeds. Officers conducting a bad shoot, judges making blatantly political rulings, and prosecutorial election-year-overreach too often go unpunished. All betray the public trust. Judges and prosecutors should see their immunity stripped and police officers’ immunity limited. Officers are forced to make split second decisions; they need some immunity. Blind support for the police is as problematic as demands we disband the police.
The price of partial immunity for officers is a change in culture within the police departments regarding their own whistleblowers. Beat cops need to recognize that the culture of silence cannot be tolerated any longer. It is not enough for internal affairs to police the police; this must come from the street up. Omerta is for the mafia.
3. End all asset forfeiture. Under the guise of asset forfeiture laws, police take more dollars from citizens than are stolen by thieves in burglaries. Giving the state license to tax people in such a manner is clearly a corrupting influence.
4. Demilitarize the police. Today 80% of cities with populations of 25-50,000 have SWAT. This level of militarization is alarming. Cities of this size do not need SWAT. The police are society's peacekeepers, not an occupying force. This use of overwhelming, combat-style force against our own citizenry is brutal, lazy, and a refuge for adrenaline junkies who wear badges.
The military vehicles given to the police from our military need to be returned. Such vehicles have no place on our streets. Giving this sort of firepower and armor to police also tips their role away from keeping the peace toward being an occupation force.
5. End no-knock warrants. The number of people injured by this practice demonstrates its brutality. Police who serve warrants in this manner are engaged in military tactics using overwhelming force to intimidate those in the targeted dwelling. In doing this, we have drifted from our past practices:
English common law has required law enforcement to knock-and-announce since at least Semayne's case (1604), and in Miller v. United States (1958), the Supreme Court recognized that police must give notice before making a forced entry. In U.S. federal criminal law, the rule generally requiring knock-and-announce is codified at 18 U.S.C § 3109.
The number of no-knock raids has increased from 3,000 in 1981 to more than 50,000 in 2005, according to Peter Kraska, a criminologist at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond.
In Utah, no-knock warrants make up about 40% of all warrants served. In Maryland, 90% of SWAT deployments were to serve search warrants, with two-thirds of those through forced entry.
Terrorizing women and children at 4AM, forced face down with guns to their heads, after shooting Fido, is not how our society should routinely serve warrants. The reasons for this practice do not justify the damage done to our social fabric. They violate precedent and result in a huge erosion of our property rights--which are human rights. The brutality of this tactic also invariably impacts other inalienable rights.
6. More police training. Police need to invest in continuous training, including the following:
Weekly conflict resolution and de-escalation drills
Regular training in relevant martial arts, like jujitsu, using holds & submission techniques, which give officers tools to end a confrontation without resorting to deadly force
Training will increase officer confidence and reduce the PTSD impacting our police and those they serve. This sort of training coupled with demilitarization will modify the overall police posture, decompressing tensions undermining relations between the police and our communities. Implementation of continuous training also demands more funding for police departments. Higher caliber police forces would more effectively serve our communities and improve the overall quality of life for everyone, including the police.
7. Focus, Rewards, and Incentives. Currently, departments chiefly reward officers for the number of arrests made and prosecutors for their conviction rates. This is not justice. This is a bounty system, especially in the courts. Different performance metrics are used in many localities, but the bounty-culture still needs to change.
The point of a criminal justice system is to keep the peace and maintain domestic tranquility. Today, three million people are in prison in our country, which is 1% of our population. This is a testament to the failure of our judicial system. Society’s goal is having peaceful and safe communities, not prisons at overcapacity. While “broken windows” policing works, how can we provide carrots instead of relying solely on sticks?
8. Words matter. The term "Law Enforcement Officer" is another perversion. We once referred to police as "Peace Officers," because we rightly understood that a few laws, properly enforced, and with a focus on “peace keeping,” was the proper role of a criminal justice system. Transitioning to a focus on "law enforcement," with its myriad of laws, transformed our police into a collections division to increase revenues by penalizing our citizens--sometimes even imprisoning or killing them--for questionable infractions, thereby breeding resentment and contributing to periodic explosions of street violence and riots.
9. Provide real public defenders. In the courts, the greatest injustice is the lack of resources for quality public defenders. This too often results in expedient plea deals rather than a vigorous defense of the accused. The courts are where the poor are most disadvantaged. Prosecutors are given far more resources than public defendants, tipping the scales of justice.
We are all to blame, and we all must be part of the solution.
Excellent article with many good points. I think that disbanding police unions (like Reagan did with the air traffic controllers union) would also be a step forward. Moving to a kiosk system of policing where eight police, in shifts, have a small station in the community. With these kiosks sprinkled through the community instead of one or two large stations the residents will get to know "their" peacekeepers and the police will also get to know their community. The peacekeepers should also be rotated to different kiosks every two years of so with the idea that familiarity breeds contempt and corruption. Finally, lifetime appointments of state and federal judges and a cap on the age of a sitting judge must be put in place. Airline pilots “age out” at 60. Why not judges? Just my $0.02.