With calls for police reform raised by the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, questions about the specifics of such reform have been raised. From policy changes, such as the pending stranglehold ban in California, to the disbanding of the Minneapolis Police, it is apparent that there is demand for the police force, as it currently exists, to change.
A recent Reuters poll indicates that the majority of Americans support significant police reform, independent of the survey participant’s own stated political affiliation, with an overwhelming majority of Democratic, Republican, and independently-affiliated participants stating they would support choke-hold bans, mandatory body camera usage by federal police, and required intervention by other officers to prevent the use of excessive force.
In Sacramento, Mayor Darrell Steinberg announced on Monday the creation of a new group to field mental-health related 911 calls, one not composed of police officers or other law-enforcement officials. On the same day, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra published a list of nine police reform recommendations including mandatory officer excessive force intervention, choke-hold bans, and verbal use-of-force warnings.
At the federal level, President Trump signed an executive order on police reform on Tuesday that focused on improving police de-escalation training and creating a database of officers accused of using excessive force. The order did not enumerate specific policy changes such as a choke-hold ban or mandatory intervention procedures.
Though specific police conduct modifications are receiving bi-partisan support and are relatively easy to conceptualize, there is a growing movement calling for the ‘defunding’ of police.
While this phrase is more abstract and less clear to some, it can be seen as a promotion of bottom-up approaches that take into account the particular situation and needs of a given community rather than top-down, police-based intervention. In an interview with the Washington Post, Harvard Kennedy School professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad described the phrase as “an evolving set of ideas and demands”.
“What activists are demanding is shifting resources away from police agencies toward public goods that would enhance the health, safety, efficacy, sense of belonging and citizenship within communities,” he says. “And that means starting with a list of things that police officers do that they should not be doing – and in many ways they never should have been doing – as activists and certainly some of the research like my own historically suggests.”
“We give police officers law enforcement training and tools, but we ask them to do a social service mission,” commented former police officer and Temple University criminal justice professor Jerry Ratcliffe in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier last year. “And so their tools and training and support are not set up for the duty that they have now evolved into.”
‘Defunding the police’ is also not without example, though not as protestors may envision it. Camden, New Jersey disbanded the city police department in 2013, however concurrently increased city surveillance and began to utilize a county-based police force in the city department’s place.
It is unclear to what extent the Minneapolis police disbandment will emulate that of the Camden department. A group has been commissioned by the Minneapolis City Council to recommend law-enforcement transformations and are reported to provide their findings to the Minneapolis City Council by July 24th.