The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Jeff Sessions is stuck in the police work of the past

Greg Nash

Where you live shouldn’t affect your right to be respected.

Yet, so-called “broken windows” policing strategies intrude upon the personal spaces of individuals just because of how they look and the zip code they’re in.

Yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called for the expansion of broken windows policing practices during a speech he gave to the National District Attorneys Association. This call to action was careless because the evidence shows that these practices do little to improve community safety, and do a lot to alienate communities.

{mosads}The term “broken windows” policing was popularized by George Kelling and James Q. Wilson in a 1982 Atlantic Monthly article. This theory hypothesized that law enforcement officers can prevent violent crimes by targeting less serious public order offenses, such as loitering and prostitution.


This strategy has been expanded and has been used to rationalize racial profiling, to support the harassment of sex workers and street vendors, and to treat community members like suspects because they don’t live at the right address.

There is surprisingly very little support that this theory actually works. In its report “Fairness and Effectiveness in Policing: The Evidence,” the National Research Council noted, “There is a widespread perception among police policy makers and the public that enforcement strategies (primarily arrest) applied broadly against offenders committing minor offenses lead to reductions in serious crime. Research does not provide strong support for this proposition.”

Other studies have similarly shown that there is very little evidence to support this approach to policing. In fact, a 2015 review and meta-analysis of broken windows policing found that, “Aggressive order maintenance strategies that target individual disorderly behaviors do not generate significant crime reductions. … A sole commitment to increasing misdemeanor arrests stands a good chance to undermine relationships in low-income, urban communities of color”.

Yet, law enforcement agencies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on this unproven strategy, and the nation’s chief law enforcement officer is advocating for its expansion.

Instead, policymakers and law enforcement agencies should focus on promoting strategies that enhance community safety, and the safety of police officers, including the strategies outlined below.

1) Focus on collaborative approaches to policing

Police departments should rely upon collaborative approaches that respect the dignity of individuals within the community; focus on problem-solving; and are generally more community-centered and build community trust.

Tactics might include relying upon the use of structural and environmental strategies to reduce crimes, such as adding lighting in hotspot areas, securing abandoned buildings and building partnerships with community members to address specific crimes.

The widespread and systematic use of increasing police-civilian encounters through stop, frisk and questioning, misdemeanor arrests, tickets and summonses for less serious offenses should be prohibited.

2) Create national use of force guidelines

Congress and the Department of Justice should issue a National Use of Force Handbook, which outlines recommendations that are consistent with constitutional and statutory obligations and the Police Executive Research Forum Use of Force Principles. Applicants for federal funds should be required, or encouraged, to comply with these guidelines in order to receive funding. These guidelines would help prevent instances of misconduct and provide clear guidance to police officers as they interact with community members.

3) Screen for implicit bias and aggression

State and local legislatures should pass legislation, which requires mandatory implicit racial bias testing and training for police officers.

Candidates for police officer positions should also be required to pass psychological testing that screens out candidates who display a proclivity for aggression or violence.

4) Encourage consistent monitoring and screening

Police departments should create early warning systems for detecting patterns of behavior, such as complaints filed against officers or personal hardships like divorce, which indicate potential vulnerabilities for the officer and the department.

The primary purpose of such systems should not be to punish but to provide counseling to officers so as to reduce their level of risk as well risk to residents and communities.

5) Use video recording technology

Legislatures should require that police interrogations be electronically recorded during investigations. Police officers should wear body-worn cameras with applicable privacy protections and protocols that require that cameras remain activated.

The Department of Justice should focus on supporting practices that improve all of our lives rather than drumming up support for old models that simply do not work.

I. India Thusi is an assistant professor of law at California Western School of Law. She teaches criminal procedure and regulation of vice, and has litigated cases on policing and structural inequality in the criminal justice system. Follow her on Twitter @inGerri.

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

Tags Department of Justice DOJ Jeff Sessions Jeff Sessions Justice Department police reform policing

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