Unfortunately, the current police reform legislation being debated in Congress will not enact substantive improvements to how our nation is kept safe. The Senate and House legislation are both hindered with language such as; “initial review and analysis,” “recommend,” “…disseminate…a report,” and “study.” These are not action words; it’s bureaucratic government speak that allows some to claim credit for doing something when, in essence,they are just kicking the can down the road.
It is imperative for our nation’s leaders to move beyond sound bites and the familiar Washington, D.C., gridlock that produces nothing more than task forces, hearings, reports, and recommendations. When it comes to improving policing, it’s time to actually do something. Congress should look west to see what the Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose police departments are actually doing to systematically improve outcomes when it comes to police and community interactions.
With over 18,000 law enforcement agencies throughout our nation, how can reform get implemented? Use the power of the purse. For jurisdictions that refuse to implement national reforms, at a minimum; cut off their federal funding.
We urge Congress to establish minimum standards for police use-of-force just like California did in 2019 with AB 392 and its companion law, SB 230. These two laws provide clear use of force guidelines for police officers to follow and they created unambiguous policy mandates that jurisdictions must adopt and train their officers to meet.
There should be no safe harbor for anyone not intervening to prevent abuse, especially peace officers sworn to uphold the law. We encourage Congress to create minimum standards requiring officers to intervene and report excessive force or misconduct if they observe it.
Federal funding should be directed toward providing continuous scenario-based training for peace officers to meet these uniform minimum standards.
It’s also time for law enforcement to move beyond the phrase, “No one hates a bad cop more than a good cop.” Congress should create a national database of former officers that have been decertified by their respective state or fired for gross misconduct after an allegation has been fully adjudicated. If you’re a bad cop in any city, you should not be a cop in any other one.
Congress should also mandate the implementation of an early intervention system that effectively tracks an officer’s uses of force, any complaints, pursuits, and other critical variables and compares that officer to their immediate peer group to determine if there is a need for intervention, additional training, mentoring and/or supervision.
Instituting these reforms will improve police and community outcomes, but more must be done. That is why the LAPD and SFPD have implemented an alternative response to 911 mental health calls that are deemed safe for a non-law enforcement response. In San Jose, the police union proposed a similar plan. It makes all the sense in the world to have a mental health clinician or social worker dispatched to assist someone in crisis as long as it is safe. Congress should enact minimum standards and provide funding for this important reform.
Funding should also be allocated for down payment assistance so officers are able to afford to live near their work. Higher education incentives and loan forgiveness should also be provided as should hiring and retention bonuses to allow jurisdictions to recruit and retain highly qualified officers from the very communities they serve.
Federal legislation with muscle behind it, strong supervision and objective oversight will improve policing and allow for a concerted effort to address some of the root causes that may be contributing to unsafe neighborhoods. Government officials must do better at eradicating homelessness, addressing our opioid crisis, establishing a coordinated mental health support system, and creating economic and educational opportunities for everyone. Sometimes more police are not always the answer.
The murder of George Floyd and the conviction of Derek Chauvin are seminal moments in our nation’s history and should be a catalyst that improves how our nation is made safer. It is time for Congress to stop studying reform and enact it. Police reform mustn’t languish and become a political hot potato like immigration reform. For additional information go to investinpolicing.com and join us in calling on Congress to act now.
Craig Lally is president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, Tony Montoya is president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association and Paul Kelly is president of the San Jose Police Officers Association.