The End of Police Reform?

For 60 years I’ve hoped (and worked) for police reform.

Yes, I have seen some significant improvements — police today are more educated, their ranks more diverse, and their armament, communications, and equipment consistent with today’s technologies.

But this is also what I see which will work against major improvements in policing and our system of criminal justice.

— A major effort of the Obama administration in their Task Force on 21st Century Policing has been swept to the sidelines and, essentially, forgotten. (Does anyone remember their recommendations?)

— The Attorney General of the United States does not believe in federal oversight of local police agencies which have a pattern of abusing the civil rights of it’s citizens. (Remember how our schools were integrated and voting rights assured?)

— The current President has appointed a task force on policing and criminal justice that appears to be devoid of academics and representatives from those groups in our national which have the most contact with police. (If police are to occupy a position of trust among all members of our society they will need to bring together ideas from academics, legal scholars, elected officials, and community activists as well as ideas from progressive police leaders.)

— The current pandemic will cause significant reductions in funds available for police improvement as our economy attempts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. When police and other members of the criminal justice system are not adequately funded injustices and quality in services will diminish and errors will begin to rise.)

— The pandemic will cause problems for police in terms of trust and support if they are called to additionally become “public health officers” and required to enforce social distancing, masking, and other health requirements which will cause an overall diminishment in their support and trust; especially when public health requirements are viewed by a large number of citizens as “political.” (Add to this an abundance of “conspiracy theories” which place the police as part of the problem and working against those who ascribe to them.)

— Many of the pressing issues regarding the police function such as deadly force use, militarization, accountability, training methods, and loss of trust in communities of color have almost eliminated the focus that began in 2015 after the Ferguson shooting incident. (We cannot continue to ignore our system of policing only to gear up when there is a concerted public outcry,)

I worry.