A ‘Defining Crossroads’ for U.S. Policing in 2020

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Policing in the U.S. is at a defining crossroads. Will there be substantive reforms to law enforcement or will the protests of 2020 dissipate and allow agencies to retreat to traditional ways of enforcing law and order? “It worries me that the profession as a whole does not see the damage we’ve done to our communities,” Charlottesville, Va., Police Chief RaShall Brackney tells CNN. “Without that understanding and reckoning of it, it will continue.” A generation of older cops employed during 1990s hiring sprees is ready to retire. Other officers are rethinking their careers and leaving their jobs. Agencies are struggling to attract new recruits. The Movement for Black Lives provided the infrastructure that allowed thousands of organizers to mobilize millions of people in all 50 states this summer, despite a deadly pandemic.

Black Lives Matter may be the largest protest movement in U.S. history, with estimates of 26 million people participating in demonstrations by June. Police departments and unions favor unifying national policing standards and improving existing policies, which they insist requires more resources. Activists contend that cutting police budgets and reducing police interactions are the best ways to limit harm. Cynthia Renaud, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, says law enforcement is “trying to be responsive to the … changes that our society has been so vocal that they want.” Criminologist Michael White of Arizona State University laments the firings of “innovative and progressive police chiefs. Often, it’s a knee jerk reaction to a controversial incident.” The New York Police Department has lost 2,100 officers of 34,000, an increased departure rate of more than 65 percent compared with 2019. Atlanta has been operating without a fully staffed force, losing 200 officers this year and filling only 1,602 of authorized 2,046 positions.

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