The conviction of Derek Chauvin continues to reverberate powerfully across our nation. There is celebration. There is relief. And let’s be honest — there is trepidation.
We would never understate the historic importance of this verdict, and the long-overdue moment of accountability it has produced. But a key question hangs ominously in the air: Will federal, state and local officials maintain momentum on policing reform or allow it to quietly slip back down the agenda?
The fact is, there is much more work to be done to prevent Americans — especially people of color — from unjustly dying during encounters with police. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, and those of Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude and others, cities were quick to respond with policies that could have prevented such events. That’s commendable, but far too often, police reforms have been pushed through based on good intentions, rather than what the evidence says about their promise to produce intended results.
As members of the Council on Criminal Justice Task Force on Policing, our mission is to review more than two dozen of the most popular reform policies to determine how effective they will be in reducing violent encounters between officers and the public. We don’t just answer the question of whether these policies will work. We dig deep into research and the expertise of law enforcement and civil rights leaders to understand exactly how they work, and recommend provisions that will yield the greatest benefits for safety and justice.
COLUMN:Racism within police ranks: A look at the struggles of Black cops by a former officer
We began with three of the most common reform measures: banning chokeholds, requiring officers to intervene when they see peers using excessive force, and restricting no-knock warrants.
Banning chokeholds is just a starting point
In the wake of Floyd’s death, jurisdictions all over the country either adopted or considered bans on neck restraints.
Chokeholds and vascular holds can be effective and safe methods of control when properly applied. But we know that some officers will resort to any means necessary when faced with force. Too much can go wrong in the heat of the moment. Neck restraints should not just be banned in the short term, but also should be eliminated from training and replaced with less lethal methods of control.
Banning chokeholds is not a panacea. In fact, in 2019 fewer than 1% of civilian deaths involving law enforcement are caused by asphyxiation, according to data from FatalEncounters.org. City councils and statehouses that ban chokeholds then declare victory and move on will not see the drop in police killings we all seek. To reach that goal, we need policies that complement chokehold bans and address other factors at play when police use excessive force.
COLUMN:Jailhouse and schoolhouse: Education that gave me direction is doing the same for my inmates
One factor is the presence of other officers on the scene. Floyd died while three officers looked on. Duty-to-intervene policies are designed to prevent that type of inaction, but those rules are meaningless if they’re not enforced. And not all agencies have a policy. Those that don’t should adopt one immediately. Officers who fail to intervene must be held accountable.
Not just duty to intervene, but duty to report
In addition, the reporting of all manner of misconduct — from the use of racist language to the verbal abuse of civilians, drinking on the job or other signs of officer stress that could lead to trouble — should be mandatory.
Given the powerful code of silence that characterizes police culture, enforcing mandatory reporting isn’t easy.
It requires supervisors to crack down on noncompliance, model appropriate behavior and foster an environment that discourages negative stereotypes, racial biases and other behaviors that allow officers to justify misconduct.
COLUMN:Martin Luther King III: ‘Death penalty was never intended … to give Black families like mine so-called justice’
But mandatory reporting is critical. By identifying early warning signs, it can help officers get the support they need while preventing mental illness, substance use disorders and other problems from influencing their interactions with residents.
No-knock warrants don’t reduce crime
Along with chokehold bans and duty-to-intervene policies, the use of no-knock warrants has drawn increased scrutiny, especially after Taylor was shot and killed during a controversial nighttime raid conducted by Louisville police.
Most states allow no-knock warrants in some form. But our review concluded that the tactic is ineffective in reducing crime, dangerous to both civilians and officers and unreliable as a means to recover evidence.
No-knock warrants should be banned for all but the most severe threats to safety, such as hostage situations. Quick-knock warrants — the practice of entering a premise a few seconds after knocking — should be restricted as well. While ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, quick-knocks are essentially identical in practice to no-knocks, especially when conducted in the dead of night.
POLICING THE USA:A look at race, justice, media
Thanks to a camera-equipped cellphone, Floyd’s death made the profound need for police reform undisputedly clear for millions of Americans. It’s now up to lawmakers and police executives to adopt policies that, if faithfully enforced and combined with other needed changes, can improve the fairness and effectiveness of our public safety practices.
Art Acevedo is chief of police in Miami. Michael Nutter is a former mayor of Philadelphia. Nancy La Vigne is executive director of the Council on Criminal Justice Task Force on Policing, on which Acevedo and Nutter serve.