Police departments from Seattle to New York and Dallas to Salt Lake City are rethinking notions of policing that have held sway for 40 years, making major changes to how officers are trained in even the most routine parts of their work, the New York Times reports. Changes departments are considering include revising core training standards and tactics, reassessing when and how to make arrests, and re-evaluating how officers interact with the public during street and traffic stops. At the forefront are de-escalation tactics, the variety of methods officers use to defuse potentially violent encounters, such as talking and behaving calmly and reasonably with sometimes unreasonable people.
The question is whether today's aggressive policing, based in part on the broken windows theory of cracking down on the most minor offenses, is compatible with a more progressive goal of simultaneously catching criminals and building greater trust within neighborhoods. “I was trained to fight the war on crime, and we were measured by the number of arrests we made and our speed in answering 911 calls,” said Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole, who is overseeing changes in a consent decree with the Justice Department. “But over time, I realized that policing went well beyond that, and we are really making an effort here to engage with people, not just enforce the law.” The efforts nationwide are largely a response to fatal police shootings of unarmed African Americans, and to pressure from both the White House and the public for local law enforcement agencies to become more transparent.