What Police Reforms Can We Expect During These Times of Social Unrest?

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As Black Lives Matter protests continue across the United States, law enforcement agencies are reviewing their policies. They are establishing police task forces, and discussing guidelines on dozens, if not hundreds of issues, including use of force, body cameras and whistleblower protections. In Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed, the city council took a bold step, pledging to establish an entirely new public safety system.

How do communities and police departments determine which approach is right for them? Who sets the policies and procedures that guide America’s police force, and what does it take to usher in change?

Every police agency in the United States must uphold three constitutional amendments. The 4th Amendment protects citizens from unlawful searches or seizures. The 5th Amendment is in place to prevent self-incrimination. Miranda rights fall under this amendment – the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. The 6th Amendment guarantees the right to a jury trial and proper court proceedings.

Unlike constitutional rights, policies are set by individual agencies depending on the needs of the community. Every police agency has a set of policies they follow. These standards provide guidance for keeping citizens and officers safe and set expectations about how situations will be handled. The vast majority of policies are set at the local level. One factor that complicates police policy is the sheer number of agencies in the United States.

“People don’t always think about how many law enforcement agencies there are in this country and on a national level, there’s more than 17,000,” said Derek Paulsen, interim dean of the EKU College of Justice and Safety, in an interview with National Public Radio station WEKU. That number includes federal agencies, state police, county sheriff’s offices and police departments in cities of all sizes. More than 85 percent are at the local level.

In Kentucky, there are more than 300 law enforcement agencies, which means there could potentially be 300 different policies on any given topic from employee benefits to crowd control in a single state.Policies are continually evolving as society evolves. In the last decade alone, departments have created policies on drone activity, using social media to identify subjects and wearing body cameras. In addition to creating new policies, they are continually updating older ones.

Agencies have several sources of support when they create policy. They can consider the history of the issue, talk with front line officers about what they are seeing or work with a citizens’ review board. For instance, they might seek out communities of similar size or cities dealing with similar issues to determine best practices. They can also look to professional organizations like The International Association of Chiefs of Police, which oversees a law enforcement policy center with model policies and recommendations.In the current climate both officers and citizens want to be more involved in finding solutions. Research has shown that officers who work in community-focused agencies report higher rates of job satisfaction than those who do not.

“There’s a demand by communities for more open information. That is the sharing of information about what is going on in a policing agency,” said Paulsen. That’s apparent in more crime data being put online and in the increase of open communication. He noted that transparency is being demanded of numerous government agencies, not just the police.

Ideally, policy and procedure discussions would examine the training and resources officers need along with honest conversations about what the community is experiencing. When the focus is on solutions, law enforcement professionals and community members can work together to identify challenges and make positive changes.

“I think we will see more reviews by police agencies,” Paulsen said, describing what might happen in the coming months. “A lot of agencies will do an after-action analysis of how they responded. They’ll do a review and say ‘How did we do and what can we do better? Where did we fail? How do we address that through policy? How to we address that through training?’”

Listen to Paulsen’s full interview with National Public Radio on WEKU 88.9. https://www.weku.fm/post/eku-criminal-justice-expert-says-dialog-between-police-and-protestors-beneficial

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