Make Community Policing Guiding Principle of U.S. Law Enforcement: Study

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Photo by Giordio Montersino via flickr

Community policing principles should be incorporated into every facet of U.S. law enforcement activities, from the training of raw recruits to performance measurements of serving officers, says a new study released by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The massive 416-page report, entitled “New Era of Public Safety,” which the conference described as a “starting point for communities and police departments to work together to achieve policing reform in the 21st century,” offers 100 sweeping recommendations to police agencies across the country—including some that openly contradict policy strategies of the Trump administration.

Based on consultations with leading chiefs, academics, policymakers, and police organizations, the report argues that police agencies across the U.S. must allow communities a “greater say” in their operations in order to eradicate the racial biases and warrior culture that have opened a chasm of distrust between law enforcement officers and the citizens they serve—particularly in at-risk communities—over much of the past decades.

“The pain and frustration are profound,” wrote Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the  Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in her introduction to the report.

“It is no understatement that we are confronting serious challenges in solving the erosion of trust between police and the communities they serve.”

The emphasis on strengthening community policing comes as the White House considers eliminating the Community Oriented Policing Services Program (COPS), established in 1994 during the presidency of Bill Clinton, by folding its budget into other programs within the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs.

One of the advisors to the report was Ron Davis, a former COPS director and a former California police chief.

Many of its recommendations have long been on the agenda of police reformers, but by putting them together in a single report, the study amounts to the most comprehensive blueprint for transformation of American policing since the release of President Barack Obama’s 21st Century Task Force on Policing in 2015.

Among its most notable recommendations:

  • End the practice of “broken windows” policing and eliminate the criminal enforcement of minor offenses that do not endanger public safety;
  • Make it a standard departmental practice to encourage officers to live in or near the neighborhoods they serve, and return to the practice of foot patrols and beat policing;
  • End the practice of assigning police to schools;
  • Establish more systematic programs to deal with officer well-being.

The report also emphasized that police managers should make it a matter of policy to “permit the use of force only when necessary to resolve conflict and protect public and officer safety,” and should “prohibit and regulate tools and tactics with a high risk of death or injury that are disproportionate to the threat.”

The report cautioned that there were no “one-size-fits-all” solutions to policing challenges in a nation with 18,000 law enforcement agencies of widely different sizes and structures.

But it said that general principles of behavior and practice were applicable to all officers and their managers, under the overriding umbrella of community policing.

“Policing reform depends on community engagement,” the report’s authors wrote.

“Those who know and understand their public safety needs are best positioned to help police departments develop policies and practices to meet those needs.”

Roadmap to 21st Century Policing

The report contained  policy and practice recommendations in 12 broad areas that it said constituted a “roadmap to 21st century policing,” including crisis response, use of force policies, accountability, first amendment and free speech, data retention and officer health.

In the most noteworthy challenge to administration policy, the report said police had no business asking individuals for their immigration status.

“Officers may record this information only if (1) people voluntarily provide it and (2) ot relates to the incident (e.g., a potential hate crime),”  the report said, noting that fears of being stopped and asked such questions “may cause people to under-report violent crimes, such as intimate partner violence.”

Through the report, researchers cited instances of “best practices” developed by police agencies around the country that illustrated some of their recommendations.

It noted for example that after the city of Anaheim, Ca., established in the early 2000s “permanent neighborhood councils to facilitate neighborhood problem-solving,” neighborhood crime dropped by 80 percent.

The report advised police managers to go outside their “comfort zone” by engaging with community organizations that were openly skeptical or opposed to them, rather than stay with traditional stakeholders who supported law enforcement.

Public safety could be most successfully achieves over the long term  when it was “co-produced” by police and local community organizations, the report said.

The report cited the police department in Gary, Indiana, which served as one of six pilot sites for the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice. Under the initiative, officers were trained in procedural justice and encouraged to hold regular “listening sessions with youth, intimate partner violence survivors and residents in high-crime neighborhoods.”

Underlining an emerging trend among urban police forces, the report said departments should develop “crisis intervention approaches” that de-emphasize traditional law enforcement approaches to troubled individuals.

“Our society should aim for the least ‘police-involved’ responses to crises,” the report said, citing efforts underway in many cities to divert individuals with mental health issues or developmental disabilities to appropriate caregivers in the community.

Police should also adopt “harm reduction models for people with substance use disorders,” the report said, in a reference to the practice of administering medication to arrest opioid overdoses and avoiding arrests of opioid abusers.

Police forces should also eliminate “discriminatory and bias-based stops, searches, and arrests”  and safeguard against “unconstitutional surveillance,” the report said.

The report said police had no business in schools, despite an i trend among school administrators to use them to enforce discipline.

“Antagonistic interactions between officers and students disrupt learning environments and violate the principles of community policing,” the authors wrote. “Moreover, they funnel students into the criminal justice system, which has long-lasting negative consequences for individuals and society.”

The report said in the face of widespread “partisanship and polarization” in American society, police departments should be conscious of not exacerbating further divisions.

“Everyone in America deserves to live in safe communities—this is one thing we can all agree on,” the authors said. “We need a common language to foster better communication and collaboration among those seeking change.

“We believe that true public safety requires communities and police departments to work together to co-produce it.”

Lead author of the report was Lynda Garcia, policing campaign director of the Leadership Conference Education Fund, with assistance from Gabrielle Gray, policing campaign manager of the fund.

The study was accompanied by a toolkit for use by communities and agencies.

Read the full report here.

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