Our nation continues to face the ongoing legacy of racism through police violence and bias, which has led to the tragic and disturbing shootings of people of color as well as unarmed and mentally ill citizens. Mayors alone can’t reduce police violence and bias, but they do play a key role.
In December 2014, in response to continued policing killings of civilians and subsequent urban uprisings, President Obama signed an executive order to establish the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Over the next year, the task force convened several times and issued its final report, including a set of recommendations for the nation’s police departments.
There are cities and police departments around the country actively working on long overdue reforms to reduce police bias and increase accountability and transparency, but there is so much to be done.
What Cities Can Do
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Officer Training & Support
Many police departments, such as those in Burlington, VT, Minneapolis, MN, San Francisco, CA, and Salt Lake City, UT are stepping up their officer training in de-escalation techniques. Sometimes called “Force Mitigation,” using strategies to slow down interactions and alternatives to physical force in a police response can reduce the likelihood of fatal interactions with police. Police Executive Research Forum Executive Director Chuck Wexler has written extensively on this topic, and it is the cornerstone of the organization’s “30 Guiding Principles on Use of Force,” released in 2016.
Officers need more training and tactics to interact with agitated, mentally ill, or drug or alcohol impaired citizens. According to data released by the Washington Post, approximately 25 percent of fatal officer-involved shootings in 2015 involved subjects displaying signs of mental illness. Burlington, VT partners with its local Street Outreach Team, which provides crisis intervention services in response to calls involving people suspected of experiencing mental health episodes. Salt Lake City, UT’s Community Connection Center, located in one of the city’s most volatile neighborhoods, embeds social workers in the police department to look for other ways to serve distressed citizens during and after their interactions with the law.
The mental and physical health of officers is also a factor in their ability to behave reasonably and compassionately. The Henderson (NV) Police Department created a Restorative Rest Program to reduce fatigue and increase mental focus by allowing for on-duty officers and supervisors a resting period in a secure location during breaks. Many other departments are pursuing a variety of officer wellness programs, from yoga classes, to mandatory screenings, to crisis and violence counseling services.
Increasing productive and peaceful police and community dialogue can improve police-community relations. Charlotte’s Cops and Barbers initiative has worked to build relationships between police and the community; Spokane’s (WA) Youth and Police Initiative is working to build relationships and dismantle stereotypes.
Public Trust & Transparency
To increase public trust and transparency, many departments and cities are turning to data and technology. The Cranston (RI) Police Department uses MyPD, a mobile app that enables residents to submit feedback directly to the department. Departments across the country are increasingly posting use of force and biased policing reports directly to their web sites, and distancing their review boards both physically and personnel-wise from their main law enforcement operations. In addition to publishing a wealth of police data online, the city of Toledo (OH) is further using data in its Operation STOP program to target high crime areas for proactive enforcement and then to offer residents in those areas additional resources.