What Would Meaningful Police Reform Look Like? (40:50)
Vice President for Criminal Justice, Cato Institute
David M. Rubenstein Fellow in Governance Studies, Brookings Institution
Director, Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties, R Street
Police are supposed to preserve and protect, but problems in policing have begun to dominate the national debate. And what will the resulting policy changes look like? And will these reforms address what is going on? In this episode, Clark Neily, vice president for criminal justice at the Cato Institute; Arthur Rizer, director of criminal justice and civil liberties at R Street; and Rashawn Ray, David M. Rubenstein Fellow – Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution discuss: what would meaningful police reform look like?
President Trump: We need to bring law enforcement and communities closer together.
Sallie James: Police are supposed to serve and protect, but problems in policing have begun to dominate the national debate.
Bill Maher: We all need the police. I think we respect them. But there is something wrong with police culture.
Robert O’Brien: 99.9% of our law enforcement officers are great Americans. But you know what? There’s some bad apples in there, and they need to be rooted out.
Sallie James: And what will the resulting policy changes look like?
Andrew Cuomo: This is systemic reform of police departments.
Jacob Frey: We need a full-on culture shift in terms of the way the police department does business.
Sallie James: And will these reforms address what is going on?
Rashawn Ray: In America, every 40 hours a black person is killed by police.
Norah O’Donnell: $12 million will go to the family of Breonna Taylor.
FOX 5: A massive $20 million settlement today for the family of William Green, the unarmed black man killed by a police officer.
Sallie James: If Americans can broadly agree on nothing else, we should be able to agree that much of the bitterness and political tribalism that drives our public discussions is unhealthy for our country. In order to debate contentious public policy issues in a respectful and engaging manner without abandoning deeply held principles, the Cato Institute, in collaboration with The Brookings Institution, present Sphere.
Sallie James: In this episode: What would meaningful police reform look like? Joining us today are Clark Neily, vice president for criminal justice at the Cato Institute, Rashawn Ray, a David M. Rubenstein fellow in governance studies at The Brookings Institution, and Arthur Rizer, director for criminal justice and civil liberties at R Street. Welcome, gentlemen. I want to start by reading you a quote from a recent issue of Reason magazine addressing fixing the police, in which the editor wrote, “Chanting ‘Defund the police’ is exciting; trying to figure out what that might look like across thousands of different jurisdictions is irksome. Spraypainting slogans on a bust of Christopher Columbus gives a thrill; crafting legislation to hold officers accountable for misconduct in court is tricky and time-consuming.” We’re here today to thoughtfully consider those tricky and time-consuming solutions. But before we address the avenues and obstacles to reform, Rashawn, I want to start with you. How would you initially respond to the question of what meaningful police reform should look like?
Rashawn Ray: Well, thank you for having me. I think it’s a few specific things. I think the first big thing is we have to increase accountability. Part of the main problem with law enforcement is that there is a lack of accountability, from police officers to the communities they serve. I think one big way to deal with this is to restructure civilian payouts for police misconduct. What this means is shifting the burden from taxpayer dollars to police department insurance policies. Now, I still think that the municipality should pay for that policy, but the money should come from the police department budget. Breonna Taylor’s family was just awarded $12 million. That money did not come from the police department budget. That money came from the general funds in the city of Louisville. In a place like Chicago, over the past 20 years, Chicago has spent about $700 million on civilian payouts for police misconduct. And then in the city of New York, they spent about $300 million just in a couple of years span. This money could be put toward education and work infrastructure, and I think a big shift could be shifting it from taxpayer money to police department insurance policies. I think the second thing that should happen is we really need to think critically about officers’ own health. In this broader discussion of policing, missing is not only the voices of law enforcement themselves, but also what is happening in their own minds and in their own bodies. So, recent research has highlighted that about 80% of officers suffer from chronic stress. They suffer from depression, anxiety, they have relationship problems, they get angered easily. One out of six report being suicidal. Another one out of six report substance abuse problems. And this is the kicker: 90% of them never seek help. I think that officers should have mandatory mental health counseling. They should go four times a year. One thing I know as a sociologist is that when you normalize things, they don’t become stigmatized as much. So, part of the reason why it’s stigmatized is because there are real ramifications to officers when they seek psychological counseling. It goes in their training file. Oftentimes, when they come up for a promotion or a specialty unit, they view that they’re not tough enough, they can’t really handle it. And then I think another part of that is that officers are underpaid. They are overworked, they’re overstressed. And oftentimes they cannot afford to live in the major cities that I mentioned, from New York City to Chicago to even metro Atlanta at times. And instead what they’re doing is they’re working a lot of overtime. They’re working secondary jobs. They’re working 60, 80, 100 hours a week, and what we need to have happen is officers live in the communities where they actually work. I think that will do a couple of things. First, they will start to experience the community. They’ll send their kids to school there. They will become friends and neighbors with people – things that honestly happen oftentimes in suburban neighborhoods that are predominantly white that don’t happen in predominantly black neighborhoods. And then, finally, I think we really need to do something with the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights, and part of that is ensuring that there can be representation on civilian oversight boards in police departments to hold officers accountable to create equity and transparency.
Sallie James: Arthur, you’re a former prosecutor and a former police officer. Do Rashawn’s proposals sound like good ideas to you?
Arthur Rizer: I mean, absolutely. I think that, one, police have to be of the people, for the people. I know that sounds cheesy to some, but in reality, a police officer is a civilian. And too many times you hear police officers talking about themselves like they’re somehow outside of the community. I have done lots of research with police. I’ve just finished a project where I spent 351 hours riding around with cops in three cities; Montgomery, Alabama, Miami, and L.A., and over and over we heard the same kind of mantra of it’s us versus them. And I think that ensuring that police officers think about themselves as part of that community is important. I think another, you know, giant aspect as it relates to police reform really is training, but not the training that we keep hearing about, you know, the blurbs we see on the news. We don’t need longer academies. I’m not saying that is a bad idea, but I don’t think that’s going to fix anything fundamentally. What we really need to do is fundamentally change what police training looks like. We need to move away from the stress model that has really drawn from a paramilitary format, and we need to move away from the vast majority of the hours being on the range ensuring that your shot group is tight, and ensure that police officers know when use of force is appropriate that they feel like they are – they feel like they have all the resources available to understand the consequences of using force on an individual. And I absolutely agree with aspects of transparency, but I think all of those kind of wrap into what I think is the fundamental, most important aspect of reforming police, which is police culture. We have to restructure the way that police think about themselves. And I know that sounds like a huge task, but we’ve done it before in this country. And, you know, I’m at the position now where I think we don’t have any choices. We have to actually dig deep and come up with better ideas and ensure that our police are of the community for the community.
Sallie James: Clark, you’ve also said in addition to some of these, you know, cultural and training aspects that Rashawn and Arthur are talking about, you’ve also said Clark, that we need to think deeply about how police generate revenue and the incentives that they face. Can you say a little bit about that?
Clark Neily: Well, look, just like anybody else, police officers have to demonstrate productivity on the job. There are only so many ways that you can do that. You either need to make arrests, you need to hand out citations, you need to make forfeitures so you bring in money. There are only so many ways that you can demonstrate to your leadership that you’ve been out there actively doing your job. Look how difficult it is for a police officer to get credit for something like, you know, I didn’t arrest anybody this week, but I had a lot of really good conversations with people, you know, on my beat. That’s actually what we should be encouraging them to do, but it’s very difficult to, you know, sort of give a police officer credit for something like that. And what I would say is this: You can’t have effective law enforcement without the trust and support of the community. And when we are sending police out into these communities to enforce laws that two-thirds of Americans don’t even think should be on the books, like simple marijuana possession, which is still aggressively enforced, and when they go out in the communities and enforce those laws in a racially disproportionate or disparate manner, which they do, then how on earth can they expect to earn the trust and support of those communities and how can they expect to have a good relationship with them? So, part of this is on us, I think, to fundamentally reconceptualize both the mission of police and the culture in which that mission is carried out. But part of it also is for police to take an honest look at themselves. Look at the influence that they exert in the political process, look at the way that the police unions exert so much influence on what laws are even on the books. So, when a police officer – you complain about what they’re out there in the street doing – and they say, “hey, I don’t make the laws, I just enforce them” – nothing could be further from the truth. The law enforcement lobby is extraordinarily influential, and they absolutely help make the laws. So, we all, I think, have to be honest with ourselves about what’s going on and how we need to do better. And, certainly, removing from police officers’ pressure to help fund their own budgets by taking money and property away from members of the community is one of the first and easiest reforms that we could hopefully all embrace.
Sallie James: It’s really interesting that the three of you all coming from such different backgrounds have so much in common around this topic in terms of, you know, the kind of – the three things I’m hearing from all three of you are training, culture, and incentives. Americans are largely in agreement here as well. A recent YouGov and Cato poll found that 63% of respondents support eliminating qualified immunity for police and 84% oppose erasing records of police misconduct every few years. So, we’re being civil here, which is the purpose of Sphere, of course, but there are parts of this issue that have resulted in extreme consequences. I want to read you a quote from an op-ed recently that said, “The real blows to policing in America are being struck in broad daylight. Every day, the rage of the rioters is reflected and codified in increasingly unhinged political attacks against police departments and the officers who staff them.” So, given that we have kind of broad agreement among the three of you as examples of kind of policy wonks and then within the American public as well, broadly, and yet we have this kind of under siege mentality of the police. How can we move policy discussions forward in such a polarized atmosphere? Arthur, do you want to start?
Arthur Rizer: Yeah. I mean, I think I’ll start with something that Clark said, is we put police in impossible situations. And he’s exactly right. They are absolutely embedded in the lawmaking process, and I pass laws for a living. I lobby, I write policy, I try to get things implemented across this country. And almost every time I talked about police issues, the first thing that a legislator will ask me is, “Have you talked to the police union? Have you talked to the prosecutors union?” Because they want to know where they stand before they come out on anything. And I think that we have, you know, put police in this position where they feel like they have to have input on the laws that are being promulgated and that is, you know, kind of a quirky, you know, I don’t think any other country does this. I can’t think of a single other country that has police so deeply embedded in the process of making laws. And so I think we have to start there of stripping out the role of police from issues that they shouldn’t be involved in. We have to define what the role of police is. Is the role of police law enforcement? Well, certainly that is one element of law enforcement. But police officers should not identify themselves as being law enforcement officers, or LEOs for short. And I’m, you know, I’m guilty of that. I’ve done that before myself, but they really should identify themselves as being helpers, as being people who are out in the community, first responders, ensuring that their community is safe as could possibly be. But I think the vast majority of officers are great and want to do a good job, but they have the mindset of I am out there to enforce the law. And I actually don’t think that’s what their role should be. We talk about proximity a lot in the criminal justice reform. You know, we need to have proximity to the problems. But police actually don’t really have [inaudible] to what success looks like in criminal justice reform, because the only tools that they have are hammers. And when you know, as the cliche’ is, is if you give someone a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And this is the environment that police are recruited in, this is the environment that police are trained in, and then when they get in their FTO cars and become full-fledged law enforcement officers, that of course is the mentality they hit the streets with.
Sallie James: Clark, what do you think about that? I mean, is it having the police less involved in policy discussions and law enforcement discussions or law crafting even, is that – does that sound like a good way forward to you?
Clark Neily: I think so. I mean, it’s certainly part of the process to have people, you know, who have such a concentrated interest exerting so much influence in the system, particularly when the interests of police and citizens so often divert. Just to take one example, you mentioned qualified immunity earlier. So, this is a legal doctrine that the courts invented to make it more difficult to sue police and other government officials who have been plausibly alleged to have violated somebody’s rights. The ordinary citizens do not have any interest whatsoever in making it more difficult to sue police officers who again have been plausibly alleged to abuse their authority, but police have a very strong interest in maintaining that policy. And it turns out that qualified immunity has been very difficult to get rid of, even though Cato and other groups, R Street included, have been working hard to at least, you know, modify that policy, if not get rid of it. So, that would be just one example of where the interests of the sort of law enforcement community diverge from those of ordinary citizens, and if it turns out that the law enforcement community is exercising a disproportionate amount of political influence, which I firmly believe they are, then policy is perhaps going to reflect that conflict and that distortion.
Sallie James: Rashawn, what do you think – as somebody who perhaps comes at this issue from a different perspective – we could do to bring in a more kind of productive discussion in introducing reform?
Rashawn Ray: Well, I think it’s interesting, because what we’ve heard from the data and even from our discussion thus far, there is a lot of synergy. And across the board, whether that be politically or when it comes to social class or race, people have similar perceptions of what needs to happen in policing. Now, there are differences in how people think we get there, but people are clear that there are huge problems. And I think in this moment, obviously we know the reason why we’re having this discussion is because of racial disparities in policing that not only affect disproportionately black people or Latinos, but also when you just look at the overall sheer numbers of police use of force also impacts a large number of white people in the United States. And so I think when we have this discussion, it is perceived as some sort of way that people are drastically different, but they’re not, and I think that speaks to the fact that big change is going to happen, but also the onus is not solely on law enforcement. I learned years ago doing this work that when you get into the trenches with police departments and police unions and the like that then you realize there’s a group standing on the side that we just heard about looking back and forth at the community and police officers. And that’s policymakers. Policymakers are the ones who sit on judicial committees, who sit in the state legislature, who sit on the county counsel, and who also sit on Capitol Hill who can pass legislation to make these changes. And we simply need the political will to override the Fraternal Order of Police to pull back the way that they have extended their overreach, and part of that is really thinking historically that in many regards, law enforcement is doing exactly what it has been designed to do. And part of that is to maintain law and order and police people, particularly to police marginalized people, and part of that for me is thinking that historically that law enforcement originated in slave patrols. We then had during the civil rights movement organizations like the Emerald Society and others popped up with suborganizations and subgroups around the country, like in Prince George’s County, Maryland, known as a group that takes names and busts heads in the county, that was literally their Facebook group, and then we know even more recently that the Department of Justice has put out multiple reports highlighting the way that far right groups, white nationalists, white supremacist organizations, have been continuously infiltrating law enforcement. These are some of these bad apples, but these bad apples come from somewhere. I mean, when you have bad apples that have fallen off a tree, you don’t simply say, oh, where did this apple come from? Instead, you look at the tree and say something’s wrong with this tree. This tree has problems. And often times what you do is you cut down the tree and plant it anew. And I think that’s part of thinking about reimagining policing is that bad apples come from rotten trees, and all of us are highlighting the organizational, systemic, and cultural ways that law enforcement needs to change, because overall, police officers are going out every single day, like I know the ones in my family are, just trying to do their jobs. But they’ve been put in difficult situations with the laws as well as the incentive structures and the culture that leads to the outcomes that we see spilling over into our streets.
Sallie James: Let me pick up on something you just said there because it kind of leads to my next question, which is about accountability. And, excuse me, about what happens when you have a bad apple that in fact comes from a rotten tree. Let me read you a statement from the Major Cities Chiefs Association In the wake of the George Floyd murder: ‘Accountability must continue to be the cornerstone of tangible and substantive change and ethical policing.’ Do you think those police chiefs really want accountability? So, Clark, I don’t know if you want to talk a little bit about the accountability structure here and whether this quote from the Major Cities Chiefs Association is an accurate reflection of how police forces are thinking.
Clark Neily: What I would say is this: I do think that there are definitely a significant number of police chiefs who are quite frustrated by their inability to get rid of the bad apples, to, you know, basically run their department the way they wish they could run it, and to be able to discipline officers when they deserve it, and to terminate officers who are dragging down public perception of the whole department. I think it’s probably also the case that there are some members of leadership who just kind of want accountability as a window dressing. They want – they know they need to go out and say that they desire accountability, but their actions don’t always match their words. I do think that this is one of the most significant issues that we’re facing right here, right now, and that accounts for so much of the frustration, because it’s not just a lack of proper accountability, which I think absolutely is a problem, it’s the massive differential between the level of accountability to which we, as ordinary citizens are held, which you correctly point out, is very, very high, and we’re not just held by anybody. We are held by members of law enforcement to a very high standard, but when the accountability shoe is on the other foot, they insist on an extremely low level of accountability. Anybody would be frustrated with that scenario and people are finally beginning to realize just how huge that differential is. They resent it and they should resent it.
Sallie James: Arthur, I’m sure you want to speak up for the brotherhood here. What do you think about this, this idea of asymmetric accountability, or perhaps somewhat of being a window dressing idea, if you like?
Arthur Rizer: Yeah. I mean, this is actually interesting. So, I actually think that chiefs of police do believe that. I think that most chiefs of police get it. The problem is that most chiefs of police -and Clark, you know, alluded to this earlier – do not have that great of control over their staff, over their officers. And I’m going to lay this out for you through the lens of one police shooting. Phil Brailsford, he shot an individual named Daniel Shaver. And Daniel Shaver was begging for his life right before Officer Brailsford shot him with an M4, deployed into the hotel room with an M4, and by the way, people should understand that an M4, or AR-15, basically the same rifle, is a two-handed weapon system. So, when you go into a situation with a two-handed weapon system, you have then eliminated all of your other possibilities for any other tool to use. So, they went into that situation with the intent to do something. Now, this officer was fired, he was tried, he was acquitted, and the chief of police was forced to hire him back in order for him to retire in order to get disability for PTSD because of shooting that individual in the first place. This is the situation that we’re in. When we talk about police culture, this is what it looks like. And, you know, we talk about militarization. It isn’t just the fact that they use rifles that are designed for military purposes, or they have, you know, things that look like tanks, you know, personnel – armored personnel vehicles – it’s that their mentality has been militarized. You know, I tell the story from my research where I asked officers, ‘Do you have a problem with militarization?’ And the vast majority of officers say no. I have no problem with patrol officers – and that’s part of my question – patrol officers carrying military-grade equipment dressing like soldiers. And then I ask them, ‘Do you think that it changes the officer’s perspective of themselves?’ And the vast majority admitted, ‘Yes. It does. Maybe not for me, but for other people I think it probably makes them more violent.’ And then my third question, which is the kicker, ‘Do you think it changes the perception of the public?’ And almost all of them said yes, it scares them. And if you smush those three questions together, that gives you a very scary inner look at the way police view their culture and view their accountability. And the one word that we haven’t said yet, which is incredibly important when it comes to police reform, is prestige. What is prestigious in policing? And I guarantee you it’s not being a community-oriented police officer. It’s not. It’s not even being on patrol. It is being in SWAT and I’ve asked this question, so I have the data on it. It’s being on a homicide unit. It’s being one of those officers who get into the term of art called ‘in the shit.’ They actually say that. I remember being on one scene where an officer used force against a woman and they saw me standing there because I was an observer, and they were nervous until they found out that I was a former police officer and then they laughed about it. And this is routine among policing in this country.
Sallie James: This goes back to what you were saying, Rashawn, about the mindset and some of the mental health problems that are within the police. I mean, if this is the culture and the behavior that is rewarded, whether it’s prestige or promotions, then that’s a problem in the training as well, isn’t it?
Rashawn Ray: I mean, that’s exactly right. I mean, the first thing is when it comes to training nationally, that officers receive about 50 hours of firearm training during their service. They receive less than 10 hours of de-escalation training. So, when they show up at a scene and pull their weapon, whether it be on teenagers walking down the street after playing a basketball game or someone with a hotel who should have never been shot and killed, we shouldn’t be surprised at the likelihood by which they pulled their weapons. The other thing that’s important to note is that when we start talking about these particular stories and the impact that they have on policing, it has detrimental impact. I remember one time we were observing a training class, and we observed at the Lab for Applied Social Science Research at the University of Maryland, where I’m the director, we collected tons of research on policing. And so we were observing what this one department went through. And this one officer didn’t make the right decision in what’s called the MILO program. Others on this panel with us know what program that is, but it’s essentially a two-week program where training officers can select what happens next. The officer made the wrong decision. He ended up getting shot with red pellets, which hurt, by training officers who were sitting in the dark to shoot him like the video game did when he made the wrong decision. And then they made him walk around for a week with his uniform with those red pellets on it, so everyone could see that he got shot and probably would have been killed if this was actual life. We expect that that person is going to go out and not be trigger happy when something happens? Back to police chiefs, yes, a lot of them want to do something. But look at Minneapolis. The police chief who they currently have not only is he the same police chief who was over internal affairs when Derek Chauvin and others received most of their complaints, he was also an officer who had previously sued that department for failure to promote and racial discrimination. Like, that is the pattern. The other big thing that we have to know when we’re talking about police chiefs is there is another king, if you will, or queen in the room, or in the department, or in the area, and that is the Fraternal Order of Police president that the police chief is oftentimes appointed by the mayor, or the county council, or what have you, the Fraternity Order of Police Chief is voted in by the other police officers and oftentimes has more power and control over those officers than the police chief does because the police chief is outward-facing. So, it makes sense why police can say the right thing, why oftentimes they’re in the right place having these conversations, because they’re having very different conversations with people than other officers are. And we have to make that distinction when we’re talking about who has the power to do things and influence culture.
Sallie James: That’s a really good point. I want to come back to something that all of you have touched on, which is this – the extent to which police are operating under a siege mentality, under a warrior mentality, and that brings to me an obvious question, which is how many of these problems are, to some extent, caused by the drug war?
Rashawn Ray: I think in the grand scheme, when we look at police use of force, police use of force was going on before we had the 1986 drug bill that created huge disparities between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. Before the 1994 crime bill, use of force and racial disparities were happening before that. I mean, we can go back to the fifties and sixties where we have data and we see huge disparities by race. And social class doesn’t explain it. And in fact, in the sixties, college-educated blacks, mostly black men, had a much higher rate of being killed by the police than all other groups. Those were our civil rights leaders. And so that is part of the law and order narrative that is being pushed. So, you know, it’s easy to blame these sort of things on drugs, but even in places where drugs aren’t a problem, we still see these disparities. And we also know that if drugs were really the culprit and the fact that between blacks and whites they have similar rates of using drugs and also oftentimes distributing drugs, but the huge disparities in who is arrested, and incarcerated, and convicted for those drug crimes, and drugs and oftentimes smelling something in a car leads to additional things that come along with law enforcement as a whole.
Sallie James: Arthur, what do you think about that in the sense of you’ve served as a police officer – do you think the drug war makes the job of being a police officer more risky in the sense that both sides, if you like, of this war are in this arms race?
Arthur Rizer: Yeah, I mean, I would agree with Professor Ray that absolutely his comments on you go back 50, 60, 70 years, the racial problems we’ve had with police have always existed. You cannot divorce history from this problem. And the very first police units were slave hunters. But the war on drugs absolutely escalated a lot of this. I mean, since 1980 crime has been on a pretty rapid decrease, but the usage of SWAT is up 1400%. And because the police use the excuse of well there [inaudible] so we have to, you know, kick in doors or they’re going to get rid of the drugs, so we have to kick in doors. So, that right there has created this kind of militarized aspect. And let’s remember, if you have a war, you have to have an enemy. And if you have an enemy, you need soldiers to fight that war, and we cannot forget the creed of the soldier in the United States Army is “I stand ready to engage the enemy in close combat and destroy them.” The creed of the police is supposed to be “Protect and Serve.” Those are two fundamentally different things. I also think that your comment about overcriminalization is incredibly important. And it’s something – we still haven’t – I mean, we are sliding back on the war on drugs very slowly. A lot slower than we should. We should be way further along than we have, but when it comes to overcriminalization, we are actually doing more damage.
Sallie James: Clark, too many laws too forcefully applied? Is that what you’re going to say?
Clark Neily: Yes, but I want to stick with the drug war because I have a somewhat different position. I think we’re going to find out in the long run that the war on drugs was one of the three or four most immoral and indefensible policies and destructive policies in the history of this country. If you wanted to vastly increase the amount of crime in a particular location, you would be hard-pressed to come up with a better way of doing that than to take a product that lots of people like to enjoy and making it illegal. Imagine if we made it illegal to possess or sell coffee tomorrow, which, as a coffee hater, part of me would love that. Two things are gonna happen. First, people who enjoy coffee now are going to continue drinking it, which is going to make them criminals. And second, they’re going to have to find somebody to supply them with coffee once all the Starbucks shut down. And what you’re going to get is a black market. And in the history of humankind, there’s probably never been a more productive generator of crime, and specifically violent crime, than a black market. So, when you take an activity that lots of people wish to engage in, including ingesting mind-altering substances, you make it illegal, you are going to create conflict where there didn’t need to be any and you are gonna have to find people who are prepared to enforce a fundamentally morally indefensible legal regime. That, in my view, is the moral of the Breonna Taylor story. There’s a lot else that went wrong there, but the fact that those police officers were ever outside her apartment with a warrant in the first place is why that incident happened. And there was a lot of poor training and poor decisions that got made that made that decision even worse, but if we didn’t have the drug war, those three police officers never would have been outside that door. They would have been off enforcing a law that actually matters.
Sallie James: So, can you come up with a few actionable ideas that we can implement to create changes that mean we will see actual real results? Arthur, I’ll start with you.
Arthur Rizer: The most important position in police departments, in my opinion, and according to most, in fact, all the officers I interviewed, is the FTO, the field training officer. That is the officer that gets that rookie right outside the academy and teaches them how to be a cop. In fact, every police officer has heard the sentence from their FTO, “I know what they taught you in the academy. I’m now going to teach you how to be a cop.” But what I also found in my research was that every single FTO thought that their job was not prestigious. They thought that they were important, but not valued. And the vast majority of the FTOs I interviewed, when I said ‘What are they looking for for an FTO in this department?’ They would say something to the effect of a heartbeat, a pulse, and a live body. So, what that means is the most important job in policing, the one that sets the culture – I call them the flag bearers of culture – is the job that nobody respects, they don’t respect themselves, and I think that that is fundamentally a root cause of many of the culture issues, because the people who become FTOs are the people who can’t get into SWAT, which is considered prestigious, and the people that are kind of left behind in the patrol car for their career. And I think that that is one thing that we could do that would have a dramatic impact on police culture in our departments across the country.
Sallie James: Rashawn, what do you think? How do we change police training, and culture, and incentives?
Rashawn Ray: I think it goes back to some of the two biggest things that I mentioned. Part of that deals with qualified immunity. The other part deals with the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights. And I think the biggest ways to circumvent those policies is not only thinking about what happens if the Senate actually brings up the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which I think they should, but we need to shift the civilian payouts away from tax money and shift it to police department insurance policies. I think that would instantly change the accountability structure. I think the second thing is we need to ensure that community members who are on civilian oversight boards, that they have representation on the internal police misconduct boards within police departments. That is critical. Without that, all police chiefs do, of course they get excited about civilian review boards, because people think they’re making a difference, but it’s simply symbolic. If we want to make change, we have to be sitting on those trial boards, or community – or misconduct boards, whatever it’s called depending on the municipality, to ensure that there is accountability, transparency, and equity. Because one of the things I know – we’ve been talking a lot about racial disparities outside of law enforcement what happens on the streets when police officers interact with civilians, but it’s also about the internal disparity between white and nonwhite officers, between men and women who wear the badge in terms of sanctions, in terms of discipline, in terms of promotion. My research shows that black officers are less likely to be promoted. They are more likely to be sanctioned for similar sorts of infractions. And these sort of things would not happen if there was community representation to ensure that there was accountability and equity in the process.
Sallie James: Thank you. Clark, what institutional or legislative changes would you suggest to implement real reform?
Clark Neily: Well, I’d like to pick up on something that Rashawn said, because I think he’s exactly right. The way it is right now, police almost never suffer any financial consequences for their own misconduct. They are almost always indemnified for that misconduct when there is a damages payout. And what that means is simply that their department or the city, which is to say us, the taxpayers, end up paying those damages claims. That is absolutely the wrong way to do it. What we should do instead is eliminate indemnification, make the officer responsible, and then require them to purchase professional liability insurance the exact same way that doctors and lawyers do. This would give insurance companies a strong incentive to identify the problem officers early, to raise their rates just the way that insurance companies raise the rates on a bad driver, or a doctor who engages in malpractice, and the beauty of this system, which we could absolutely implement tomorrow, is that the cost of this insurance policy would get higher and higher the more misconduct an officer engaged in. Eventually, the worst officers would become uninsurable, and therefore unemployable. And this would help to solve the problem that police chiefs’ hands are so often tied by work rule, by the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights. There would be no requirement for the police chief to terminate the officer. The officer would simply be unemployable by virtue of the fact that they can’t secure professional liability insurance. So, I think that’s the first thing. The second thing: I think so much of this comes down to institutional culture. I want to mention a success story. My friend Scott Thompson. I serve on the board of the NYU Policing Project with him. He helped to turn around Camden County Police Department. He insisted upon an ethical approach to policing that respected individuals, that put a strong emphasis on not using force, not hassling people for rink-a-dink things like tickets and citations, and I really think that Chief Thompson turned the culture of that police force around, took it from one of the most ineffective and corrupt police departments in the entire country to one of the top-performing ones. If you get the right person in the right role and you give them the tools and the power they need to reshape the department, it is possible, and we’ve seen it done. You can absolutely transform the culture. It’s not easy, but it is possible. And we’ve got to commit ourselves to insisting that it be done and not simply stand by while the tragedy continues to unfold in front of our eyes.
Sallie James: Rashawn, final thoughts from you for today.
Rashawn Ray: You know, I think it’s interesting that, I mean with Clark and Arthur, I mean, I agree. All of us pretty much agree. And I think when you follow the research, you come to similar conclusions. And what we need in law enforcement is to continue to take an evidence-based research approach. We hear that statement, but is it really applied by taking an evidence-based, market-driven approach? What works in one municipality might not work in the other municipality, so you need to do the research and figure out what happens there. It’s not only about reallocating, but it’s also about shifting, and part of shifting is shifting where the incentive structure is, shifting what the focus is placed on to help then change the culture. So, that is viewing officers from a wellness perspective to treat them as human beings, not as just warriors, and not just as thinking about shifting from warrior to guardian in that dichotomy, but it’s also helping them to change an incentive structure. As we think about reallocating, we need to think about shifting, and we need to allow the research to guide us in these decisions.
Sallie James: Final thoughts from Arthur.
Arthur Rizer: People say a lot you can’t change culture, and I think that is fundamentally flawed. We have done this in the past in our country. It is hard. And with policing it is especially hard because it’s like trying to change an engine on an airplane while you’re flying it. But if we are committed – and we have to be because of what’s happening in our country – this is dividing us. You know, the officers that I interviewed felt like they were at war with their own cities. That is a problem. That is a sad problem. And I think that if we took this seriously and we really devoted our energies into, you know, reinvesting in police, ensuring that they had a clear mission, and then ensuring they had the tools to do those missions, we would all be safer, we would all be more free, and I think the quality of life for both police and those who are policed would be better.
Sallie James: Clark, you get the final word today.
Clark Neily: It’s hard to think of what I could possibly add to these excellent points that have been made. Maybe I would say this: If we want to respect police, we should only ask them to do things that are respectable. It is not respectable to engage in civil forfeiture and take somebody’s car that they need to get to work, you know, just because maybe there’s a little bit of marijuana on the floorboard or something like that. That’s not a respectable thing to do. It’s not a respectable thing to hand out a two or three or $500 ticket to somebody just because they’re trying to get to work and maybe they’re driving on a suspended driver’s license. It’s not a respectable thing to have somebody barge into somebody’s home in the middle of the night, you know, with machine guns and a SWAT team just because they happen to be selling the wrong not particularly harmful intoxicant from their home. These are not respectable things for people to do, and therefore we shouldn’t ask a police force that we want to respect to be doing things. We should only ask police to be doing respectable things, and they should insist that they only be given respectable missions. Until we fix that, until police consistently engage in respectable activities, it’s going to be very difficult for the public to respect the police.
Sallie James: Well, respect is one of our themes here at Sphere. As I said, the purpose of Sphere is to debate and consider deeply contentious issues in a respectful forum. Thanks so much to the three of you for doing that here with me today. For more information about Sphere, please go to our website at ProjectSphere.org. Thanks so much for watching.