Over the last seven years, communities and police departments have struggled over the difficult questions central to police reform efforts—when it is appropriate to use force, how should officers and agencies be held accountable, what should the community’s role be in police policy and oversight, and what roles must other agencies play in public safety.
In that time, we have had a presidential task force that looked specifically at policing; a presidential commission that examined the entire criminal justice system; multiple investigations, reports, and assistance programs from the Department of Justice; and numerous joint efforts by police and civil rights organizations that have worked together to advance reform of both policing and the criminal justice system as a whole.
However, during this same time, a time of profound national need, the United States Congress has done nothing.
Congressional failure to act on meaningful police reform legislation has impacted and continues to directly impact the safety of our citizens and officers. In the aftermath of the Chauvin trial, it is imperative that leaders from both parties come together now to pass meaningful police reform legislation that is thoughtful and evidence-based and considers wide-ranging community needs and expectations.
Understanding that these are complex topics with many diverse elements, Congress should focus on the big-ticket items where agreement exists and act now—and agree to work on the more complex topics going forward by debating the merits of potential approaches and seeking evidence-based solutions.
Unfortunately, this has not happened. Disagreement over a few provisions has derailed serious consideration of broader reform proposals that have widespread support from both social justice organizations and the policing profession. These proposals would help advance the policing profession and enhance the trust that must exist between communities and police.
In the absence of compromise, we will continue to see piecemeal, ill-informed, short-term solutions passed at the state and local level that lack the scale and scope to address what is clearly a national issue. Or, even worse, nothing will be passed at all. At a time that is calling out for bold national leadership, inaction and grandstanding from our elected officials is simply unacceptable.
Thankfully, it appears that at least a few congressional leaders, led by Senators Cory Booker and Tim Scott, are finally working towards compromise solutions that will break the gridlock and help move the nation forward.
We are not naïve, and we understand that there are often sincere ideological and philosophical differences that drive the disagreements over these issues. The IACP, more than most, understands the complexities and competing equities involved in police reform discussion. We have spent decades working with community leaders, advocates, elected officials at all levels, and police leaders to develop programs, policies, and policing approaches to reform and improve policing and the critical community-police relationship.
That is why the IACP will gladly sit down with any Congressional leader at any time to talk through the complex foundational legislative components that can help today—via meaningful compromise legislation and a stroke of the President’s pen.
If members of Congress are looking for a starting point to forge consensus, for proposals that are supported by policing leaders and were built by engaging with those who hold different perspectives, the IACP offers the following framework of key policing reform proposals.
- Adopt the National Consensus Policy on Use of Force. The National Consensus Policy on Use of Force makes it clear that it is the policy of law enforcement agencies to value and preserve human life and that they should develop policies and training practices that focus on de-escalation and the application of force only when necessary. This policy also makes clear that an officer has a duty to intervene to prevent or stop the use of excessive force by another officer and addresses the issue of chokeholds and vascular neck restraints.
- Mandate Participation in the National Use of Force Database. Mandatory participation in the National Use of Force Data Collection effort will help law enforcement, elected officials, and community members better identify and understand the totality of incidents, trends associated with use-of-force incidents, and other outlying factors.
- Develop National Standards for Discipline and Termination of Officers. There is a need to develop national standards and policies for the discipline and termination of officers so that there is uniformity and a gold standard of excellence and to prevent malevolent, incompetent, or dishonorable individuals from remaining in the police profession.
- Mandate Participation in the National Police Officer Decertification Database. A national police officer decertification database will aid law enforcement agencies in making informed hiring decisions and to prevent officers who have been terminated by an agency from being able to go to another state to be hired. An agency or official in each state would be required to submit data concerning officers employed, separated from employment, and whose certifications have been revoked in the state. Rather than create a new decertification database, the IACP supports funding for and mandatory participation by every state in the National Decertification Index managed by the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST).
- Enhance Police Leadership and Culture. Police leaders must prioritize diversity and create a culture of equity and inclusion by working to eliminate racial, ethnic, and gender bias in the workplace.
- Implement Improved Recruitment, Hiring, and Promotion Practices. This includes increased educational standards, background investigations, targeted recruitment efforts, review of hiring standards and practices, diversity, training, and recruit training programs.
- Enhance Ability of Police Agencies to Implement Effective Discipline. Contracts, labor agreements, and civil service rules often make it difficult for departments to swiftly remove problematic officers. Additionally, labor arbitrators routinely reinstate officers that have committed egregious acts, and police leaders are left with no option and are forced to be held accountable for officers they wanted removed from their agencies. While ensuring that the due process rights of officers are respected, the authority of management in disciplinary proceedings needs to be enhanced to allow agencies to expediently discipline and terminate officers.
It is beyond time to pass meaningful police reform.
It is beyond time to act.