Kaine and Pence failed to address criminal justice reform

Getty Images

Given their performance during the 2016 vice presidential debate, it became abundantly clear to me that neither candidate possesses more than a superficial understanding of what is needed for successful criminal justice reform. What I heard was nothing more than a series of ostensible talking points, which is unfortunate, considering the dire status of our country’s criminal justice system.

{mosads}For example, during Tuesday’s debate, Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence questioned, “When African-American police officers involved in a police action shooting involving an African-American, why would Hillary Clinton accuse that African-American police officer of implicit bias?” Pence’s question reflects a relatively superficial understanding on how racism manifests in the United States.

Although the police force has become increasingly diversified in recent years, with some jurisdictions employing over 50 percent non-white officers, this does not necessarily translate into less implicit racial bias. Since the 1940s, research has indicated that even non-white Americans perceive people of color negatively (e.g., studies colloquially referred to as “the doll tests”). Although some would hope that our society has become post-racial, when we envision a “criminal,” many Americans, of all races and ethnicities, still picture someone of color. As such, the judgment of even non-white officers can be clouded with implicit racial bias.

Or take the comment from vice presidential Democratic candidate Tim Kaine: “The way you make communities safer and the way you make police safer is through community policing.” In response, Pence chimed in, “And let me say, at the risk of agreeing with you, community policing is a great idea. It’s worked in the Hoosier state. And we fully support that.” The only problem is that, despite being a decades-old practice, there is little empirical evidence to suggest that community policing actually reduces crime.

Community-oriented policing (COP) is a law enforcement philosophy made up of three key components: community partnerships, organizational transformation, and problem solving. Research suggests that these activities have a significant and measurable impact on citizen satisfaction, perceptions of disorder and police legitimacy. However, there are mixed and limited findings on whether these practices actually reduce crime and fear of crime. Moreover, while Kaine and Pence claim to have successfully implemented this in Virginia and Indiana respectfully, they haven’t proposed how they would make such a strategy work on a national level.

As a Virginia resident, I know that COP was not implemented statewide. For example, while Kaine was governor of Virginia and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, divisive anti-immigrant policing laws, like 287(g), were implemented in Virginia. These laws were considered counter to COP principals, since they were perceived as targeting the Latino population. Ultimately, although COP could theoretically assist in improving law enforcement and race relations, it isn’t clear how it would be effectively put into practice on a national level and actually reduce crime.

More importantly, there are a host of other policies that should be considered to address the concerns from Dallas police Chief David Brown, which prompted the initial question. After five police officers were killed in a sniper attack in downtown Dallas during a Black Lives Matter protest, Brown said: “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. Every societal failure we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, not enough drug addiction funding, schools fail, let’s give it to the cops.”

Community-oriented policing will not decriminalize mental health or help the more than 40 percent of incarcerated people who suffer from mental illness. COP will not result in more drug courts or help treat addiction, which could assist persons who are charged with drug crimes reintegrate into society and not recidivate. COP will not address the substandard schooling that disproportionately affects predominantly communities of color. All of this is to say that COP will not address Brown’s concern, which is the burden placed on police by the large number of people pulled into the criminal justice system.

Neither candidate adequately demonstrated comprehension on the gap between law and practice, which makes me feel that neither candidate is capable of changing the criminal justice system for the better. Both sides are simply placating their electoral base. If we can’t hold our president and vice president accountable for the promises they make during their campaign, it’s improbable that we will be able to hold our police officers accountable for their mistakes and biases post-election.

Mehlman-Orozco is the author of “Hidden in Plain Sight: America’s Slaves of the New Millennium.” She holds a Ph.D. in criminology, law and society from George Mason University. Follow her on Twitter @MehlmanOrozco.

 The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags community policing COPS Criminal justice Criminal justice reform Hillary Clinton Indiana Mike Pence Mike Pence policing Tim Kaine Tim Kaine Virginia

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video