Police reform: what to do?
Police Unions And The Fight To Reform Law Enforcement
David Sklansky: &# 171; As long as the police exist, so many are trying to reform it&# 187;
What does the slogan “Divest the Police of Funding” mean? How are the US authorities trying to tackle the problem of police violence? What needs to be reformed in the work of the American police?
David Sklansky, Stanford University Professor of Law, Says Mass Demands for Police Reform as Proof of the Health of American Democracy.
Margot Gontard: In the wake of the “Black Lives Matters” protests, US President Donald Trump signed a police reform decree. How serious is this step?
David Sklansky: The decree does not introduce any fundamental changes. However, the very fact of its appearance is important, because it is an expression of recognition that there is a serious problem with police violence in the United States and the need to control it. It is also important that the President signed the decree, as his previous statements suggested that he did not believe in the existence of this problem. However, this decree is much less reformist than the bill proposed by the Democrats in the House of Representatives..
The Democrats’ bill is very radical and serious. If adopted at least partially, it will lead to major changes in US law and will be a big step forward. Among other things, it simplifies the prosecution of police officers who are guilty of violating the constitutional rights of citizens. The bill prescribes the training of police officers in techniques to minimize the need for the use of force. It obliges to closely monitor cases of the use of weapons by police, cancels racial profiling.
M.G .: Will this bill turn into law?
D.S .: Yes, I think the law will be passed because there is a broad consensus that such a law is necessary. The Democrats have proposed their own bill. Republicans are ready to come up with their proposals. I think both of them understand that the time has come to act..
M.G .: What is the call on the streets to strip the police of funding??
D.S .: It would be presumptuous to try to express what thousands of protesters in the United States are talking about. I think that those who demand to deprive the police of funding, represent this in different ways – some more literally than others. I think everyone wants radical reforms and a rethinking of the process of ensuring public safety. The slogan “Drain the Police of Funding” reflects the view that we should not rely so heavily on armed police officers that our society should be different in ensuring the safety of people. Those using this slogan explain what it means to transfer funds and resources, usually allocated to the police, to other structures that will work to reduce the level of violence and ensure safety..
The USA is a country of eternal reforms. As long as the police exist, so many have been trying to reform it. This speaks to the strength of our democratic system. It should be so! If a large group of armed men patrol your streets and no one pays attention to how they are using the given power, and does not make any complaints, this is a bad sign – it means that something is wrong. Protests and attempts to reform the police are a sign of the health of our democratic system. A sign of ill health is the lack of serious progress. But something was done, for example, in the late 80s – early 90s, when the federal and local authorities supported the idea of close cooperation between the police and society. The departure from these principles began even before the Trump administration came to power, but has accelerated in recent years..
Protesters against police violence have done an impressive job of making this issue a part of the national agenda. It is wrong to think that the most important thing is the amount of money that will be sent to police stations. It is important to listen to people in pain and suffering and try to identify the causes of this pain. When the deprivation of funding for the police is called for, there is talk of the need for less paramilitary police work. These are valid requirements that you should pay attention to..
M.G .: What would you suggest to do?
D.S .: The question is how are we going to solve problems that were previously required to be solved by an armed policeman. It is logical that some of them were dealt with by other authorities, and not by the police. There are examples when police officers themselves found alternative ways of responding to problematic situations related to people’s mental health, conflicts, violence…
I don’t think it will be enough just to take some of the duties away from the police. The police will continue to exist. And given how many firearms there are in the United States, we will also have an armed police..
But it is necessary to decide who will act as a social mediator when the police are no longer involved. For example, police departments deal with situations caused by the mental problems of people. They do it not at all because they want to do this work. Most police officers will be delighted to have someone else do the job. But we – society – did not provide them with such an opportunity. The police are the last resort we turn to when there is no other way to respond to a situation.
M.G .: Experts argue that one of the reasons for police violence is inadequate police training. Do you share this point of view?
D.S .: Yes, I believe that the training should be improved, the police are not trained enough – first of all, how to achieve de-escalation of the conflict situation and avoid the use of violence. Even in police departments, where this is taught, a militant culture of behavior is simultaneously instilled, police officers are taught to be tough.
The militaristic approach to maintaining order has long been celebrated in film and television. But once you give a group of young people some serious weaponry to go outside and keep order, you should be concerned that they don’t get carried away and overdo it. This is true for every state that has a police force. In countries that have made the police less lethal and better relations between police and citizens, police are reminded daily that the main thing in their work is not the use of force, but ensuring the safety of people and the ability to listen to them. The most important police tools are to listen to and talk to people. This idea is very old, but it needs to be constantly reminded of it..
In the United States, as in many other countries, there is a tradition of paramilitary police. Police officers walk around with weapons and in uniforms, they are organized into platoons, commanded by lieutenants and captains, and are trained in the skills needed in battle. There is a constant temptation to think of police work as a military operation. However, this should be avoided..