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Change demands collaboration

Change demands collaboration
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The murder of George Floyd sparked a wave of demonstrations and debate about law enforcement and race across America. In the weeks since, our federal elected officials have put forward two legislative proposals (H.R. 7120 and S. 3985) to reform the practice of law enforcement. 

There are strong policies in both proposals — requiring body worn cameras, raising the standard for training and recruitment and ensuring that “bad officers” do not remain in law enforcement, among others. All are much needed and long overdue policies that will help restore trust in law enforcement. Unfortunately, these two proposals were immediately pitted against one another, and branded as the Democratic solution and the Republican solution. Now, headlines across the country are telling Americans the debate on police reform has hit an impasse. 

Process matters. Collaboration can lead to an outcome that promotes the common welfare. Last year, California took a comprehensive look at how we could change our policies to minimize the use of force. As the nation’s largest statewide law enforcement association, the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) spent over a year surveying best practices nationwide and collecting input from legislators, the American Civil Liberties Union, our attorney general, diverse experts and impacted stakeholders. We carefully and intentionally listened to one another. We made the table as big as possible to include everyone who wanted to pull up a seat, and together, all stakeholders had a hand in negotiating a legislative package to address our shared goal of protecting all Californians. 

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This collaborative process paid off when Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomWashington, Oregon, Nevada join California plan to review COVID-19 vaccine OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Ford, GM scientists knew in 1960s that emissions caused climate change: report | Testing for oil in Arctic wildlife refuge proposed for this winter | Biden's oil stance jars Democrats in tough races Electric vehicles see state-level gains MORE (D) signed Assembly Bill 392 and Senate Bill 230 into law. AB 392 changed the standard for lethal force by a peace officer to only justifiable “when necessary in defense of human life.” SB 230 established new statewide reporting requirements, higher training standards, uniform guidelines for when officers are authorized to use force, and specific policies across all departments requiring de-escalation, an officer’s duty to intercede, rendering medical aid, proportional use of force and more. Together, these two laws represent the most significant change in California’s use of force policies since 1872 — and provide a framework of the principles that should be embodied in a federal reform bill.

California is one of the largest and most diverse states in the nation and our new policies apply to all. We know from our own experience that enacting federal legislation to modernize law enforcement is achievable, but it will require genuine listening and collaboration. 

We must also acknowledge that no legislative solution will, on its own, right historic wrongs. I am a proud member of our nation’s law enforcement community, but I also recognize the flaws in our system and the troubling moments in our history. Throughout our nation’s history, law enforcement has been deployed to enforce unjust laws. For centuries, rank-and-file officers had been the frontline enforcement on behalf of a larger system that is too often plagued with racial injustice. That history has created a long-standing lack of trust between law enforcement and the communities that we have sworn to protect — a challenge that simply cannot be addressed overnight or in silos.  

That lack of trust is reinforced every time an officer’s actions are inconsistent with the missions and goals of our profession. When this occurs, we too are outraged — and we have a duty to intercede, an obligation to speak out and a moral imperative to hold those officers accountable. 

As peace officers, we cannot fulfill our responsibility to serve and protect without the trust of the communities we serve. We must do everything in our power to restore trust in law enforcement. We need the resources necessary to improve training, enhance recruitment and allow for better community policing — we need to be part of the solution.

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To make real progress, we must make a genuine effort to understand what it is like to walk in each other’s shoes. We must replace fear and anger with empathy and understanding. We must seek counsel from those whose backgrounds, beliefs and experiences are different from our own — that includes the voices of the men and women in law enforcement who need to know that they are part of the conversation, not simply subject to it.  

Our democracy hinges on the notion that people can come together, that we can engage in an informed discussion to achieve a level of common understanding that will foster a better future. The world is watching. We cannot let this moment end in an impasse. Americans are demanding leadership. Leadership requires collaboration. PORAC is committed to being part of the national solution.

Brian Marvel is President of the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), a professional federation of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. PORAC represents over 77,000 public safety members in over 930 associations, making it the largest law enforcement organization in California and the largest statewide association in the nation.