It was a movement born of anger and frustration, but if #BlackLivesMatter is to be anything more than a momentary blip in history, it has to be able to forge a cohesive policy reform agenda. As their ten-point plan bears out, they lay out a very credible and very reasonable policy ground to build upon.
First, they say to end Broken Windows policing. They write, “A decades-long focus on policing minor crimes and activities – a practice called Broken Windows policing – has led to the criminalization and over-policing of communities of color and excessive force in otherwise harmless situations. Police killed at least 287 people last year who were involved in minor offenses and harmless activities like sleeping in parks, possessing drugs, looking ‘suspicious’ or having a mental health crisis.”
They call for ending policing of minor offenses. They write, “The following activities do not threaten public safety and are often used to police black bodies. Decriminalize these activities or de-prioritize their enforcement: Consumption of Alcohol on Streets, Marijuana Possession, Disorderly Conduct, Trespassing, Loitering, Disturbing the Peace (including Loud Music), and Spitting.”
They also call for the end of profiling and “stop and frisk,” by establishing “enforceable protections against profiling to prevent police from intervening in civilian lives for no reason other than the ‘suspicion’ of their blackness or other aspects of their identity.”
They also call for establishing alternative approaches to the mental health crisis: “Mental health crises should not be excuses for heavy-handed police interventions and are best handled by mental health professionals. Establish and fund Mental Health Response Teams to respond to crisis situations. These approaches have been proven to reduce police use of force in these situations by nearly 40 percent…”
Second, they call for community oversight. They write, “Police usually investigate and decide what, if any, consequences their fellow officers should face in cases of police misconduct. Under this system, less than 1 in every 12 complaints of police misconduct nationwide results in some kind of disciplinary action against the officer(s) responsible. Communities need an urgent way to ensure police officers are held accountable for police violence.”
Their plan calls for effective civilian oversight structures and removing barriers to reporting police misconduct.
Third, they call for limiting the use of force. They write, “Police should have the skills and cultural competence to protect and serve our communities without killing people – just as police do in England, Germany, Japan and other developed countries. Last year alone, police killed at least 268 unarmed people and 91 people who were stopped for mere traffic violations. The following policy solutions can restrict the police from using excessive force in everyday interactions with civilians.”
Their solutions call for establishing standards and reporting of police use of deadly force. They suggest, “Authorize deadly force only when there is an imminent threat to an officer’s life or the life of another person and such force is strictly unavoidable to protect life. (Ex: International Deadly Force Standard),” and “require reporting of police killings or serious injuries of civilians (presumably to a central location where they can be tracked).”
They also call for local police to revise and strengthen department use of force policies.
Fourth, they call for independent investigations and prosecutions. They write, “Local prosecutors rely on local police departments to gather the evidence and testimony they need to successfully prosecute criminals. This makes it hard for them to investigate and prosecute the same police officers in cases of police violence. These cases should not rely on the police to investigate themselves and should not be prosecuted by someone who has an incentive to protect the police officers involved.”
They lay out the following recommendations here: First, Lower the standard of proof for Department of Justice civil rights investigations of police officers. Second, Use federal funds to encourage independent investigations and prosecutions. Third, establish a permanent Special Prosecutor’s Office at the State level for cases of police violence. Fourth, require independent investigations of all cases where police kill or seriously injure civilians.
Fifth, they want community representation. They write, “While white men represent less than one third of the U.S. population, they comprise about two thirds of U.S. police officers. The police should reflect and be responsive to the cultural, racial and gender diversity of the communities they are supposed to serve.”
They call for increasing the number of police officers of color and the use of community feedback to inform police department policies and practices.
Sixth, They call on body cameras and the ability to film the police. They write, “While they are not a cure-all, body cameras and cell phone video have illuminated cases of police violence and have shown to be important tools for holding officers accountable. Every case where a police officer has been charged with a crime for killing a civilian this year has relied on video evidence showing the officer’s actions.”
Seventh, they call on new training programs. They write, “The current training regime for police officers fails to effectively teach them how to interact with our communities in a way that protects and preserves life. For example, police recruits spend 58 hours learning how to shoot firearms and only 8 hours learning how to de-escalate situations. An intensive training regime is needed to help police officers learn the behaviors and skills to interact appropriately with communities.”
Here they suggest the investment in rigorous and sustained training. This includes, “Require officers to undergo training – including scenario-based training – on the following topics on at least a quarterly basis and involve the community – including youth of color – in their design and implementation” for things like implicit bias and community interaction.”
They add, “Intentionally consider ‘unconscious’ or ‘implicit’ racial bias.”
Eighth calls for an end for profit policing. They argue, “Police should be working to keep people safe, not contributing to a system that profits from stopping, searching, ticketing, arresting and incarcerating people.” Here the Policy Solutions include: End police department quotas for tickets and arrests; Ban police departments from using ticket or arrest quotas to evaluate the performance of police officers; Limit fines and fees for low-income people; and prevent police from taking the money or property of innocent people.
Ninth, they call for demilitarization. They write, “The events in Ferguson have introduced the nation to the ways that local police departments can misuse military weaponry to intimidate and repress communities. Last year alone, militarized SWAT teams killed at least 38 people. The following policies limit police departments from obtaining or using these weapons on our streets.”
They call for an end to the federal 1033 Program that provides military weapons to local police departments, and for establishing restrictions to prevent local police agencies from purchasing and/or using military weaponry.
Finally, they call on fair police contracts. They write, “Police unions have used their influence to establish unfair protections for police officers in their contracts with local, state and federal government and in statewide Law Enforcement Officers’ Bills of Rights. These provisions create one set of rules for police and another for civilians, and make it difficult for Police Chiefs or civilian oversight structures to punish police officers who are unfit to serve.”
This includes removing barriers to effective misconduct investigations and civilian oversight, and they wish to “keep officers’ disciplinary history accessible to police departments and the public, and ensure officers do not get paid after they kill or seriously injure a civilian.”
It is interesting to evaluate these against local police practices – Davis has implemented some of these reforms already, and they have other practices that should be considered nationally.
—David M. Greenwald reporting