In today’s societal war “police reform” is the front line, yet most don’t actually want change. In fact many have some weird revenge fantasy they want to see played out, demanding that police budgets slashed drastically, departments downsized, authority stripped, or entire agencies abolished all together.
That is not reform, that is the destabilization of communities.
What we’re seeing in America is an intervention for police, yet our law enforcement are not allowed in the room. Instead, the only representatives for police are the chief and sometimes union representatives.
If it wasn’t obvious, officers do not pick their chief. The sitting mayor appoints a chief.
Reform 1: Elect the Chief
If we’re going to start with genuine reform, then the Executive Branch needs to relinquish its authority over law enforcement and allow the position of police chief to be elected by the community it represents.
Policing should always be black and white, never red or blue. This would allow community members (including officers) to elect their local law enforcement leader, which makes that chief directly accountable to the people rather than a politician.
Reform 2: Standardize Hiring & Training
If police are contributing to a problem, then taking away personal protective equipment, less-lethal tools, accountability, manning levels, support services, and training is the opposite of a solution. Instead, we need a standard of hiring and qualification practices for law enforcement across the nation.
Before you scream “POLICE STATE” allow me to explain: I am NOT saying that we should federalize all law enforcement. I’m saying law enforcement across the board should have basic federally outlined policies (no-neck holds), hiring practices (background investigations), entry level training (basic academies), and equipment (less-lethal tools and body armor).
Much like I expect any person in the United States who passed the fifth grade to be able to read, I expect a cop from any state to know the difference between their taser and their Glock.
Reform 3: Abolish Quotas
By far one of the most powerful tools police have is their discretion for low level offenses. Some states have gone as far as making quotas illegal, and other states have claimed to have ended the practice, but what we see most often is the same issue under a different name.
New Mexico State Police Chief Robert Thornton denies there is a quota even as officers complain that they are disciplined for not writing enough tickets.
Albuquerque is firm on its claim that the APD doesn’t practice quotas, but APD officers know that’s inaccurate. Leaders of the six area commands can mandate their officers conduct a certain number of traffic stops, on-sites, and arrests. The loophole is that officers can usually write warnings in lieu of citations or arrests, but the problem is not the end result, it’s the root of the reasonable suspicion/probable cause.
According to the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association, APD can implement “productivity goals” to ensure their employees are active and busy. At NMSP, they’re referred to as “minimum performance standards.” Quotas undermine public trust. They strip officers of their discretion and put the focus on arbitrary numbers rather than public safety.
Reform 4: Transparency & Outreach
Another key aspect of genuine reform is public transparency paired with public education.
In active investigations, only so much information can be provided to the public without jeopardizing the investigation. APD seems more willing to release OBRD (On-Body Reporting Device) footage of officer-involved shootings sooner than many agencies across the U.S. But rather than allowing the media to control the narrative departments should release the uncensored video with a representative explaining the contents of the footage.
Education would be a great tool regarding public outreach. APD mandates all field officers attend a certain number of community events and using that time to educate the public could prove very effective in quelling tensions between communities and the police.
Explaining citizens arrest laws, self defense, how to avoid being victim of certain crimes, explaining various departments policies and basic officer tactics, and breaking down criminal/case law could negate a lot of animosity moving forward.
Reform 5: Accountability
One of the most important aspects of police reform is accountability. Local governments should create an independent state-level agency tasked with investigating all substantiated claims of corruption, criminal conduct by officers, abuse of authority, and use of force resulting in great bodily harm or death.
This means department Internal Affairs units would only investigate low level uses of force and department/city violations.
This just to name a few but if you want to discuss police reform, leave your prejudice at the door and have a seat at the table. The doors always open.