Head to Head
Conversations on Politics, Policy in the Golden State
By Donielle Prince
Policing in America: Thinking Structurally
Policing in America is a violent enterprise. Well over 1,000 Americans are killed each year by police officers, a number all the more astounding when compared to other countries that are comparable in terms of wealth and political organization. The state of policing in the United States will not improve as a result of barbecue socials or training, training and more training.
There is hard, serious work to be done. The officers on the street are not the core problem. The design of the system that employs them is the fundamental problem. Change the system, and officers will fall right in line.
In its investigation of the since disbanded Ferguson, Missouri Police Department, the United States Department of Justice detailed how the city of Ferguson, and even surrounding cities in the county, were preying upon these cities� mostly black and poor residents to extort fees and fines. Frequently, police officers, prosecutors and judges actually broke the law in order to pressure residents to pay fines.
After the release of the DOJ report on Ferguson, several reporters and academics released their own reports on the widespread national problem of police departments draining the bank accounts of residents in order to fill gaps in funding for city services.
Against this backdrop, there is also the groundbreaking research that Michelle Alexander outlined in The New Jim Crow, in vigorous detail, about the financial profits that flow from incarcerating as many bodies as possible. Inevitably, this profit-based motivation at the system level leads to police officers targeting a society’s most vulnerable populations to fill the role of cash cow.
Policing on the streets will improve to the degree that the system that employs and deploys officers fundamentally changes how business is done. The following recommendations are not new -- they have been well-studied, yet simply haven�t been implemented.
Law enforcement agencies seem impervious to critical feedback about their performance. However, community and police relations will only improve when:
- Police departments disincentivize arrest. Arrests should be a last resort. In order to achieve this result, police departments must stop punishing or rewarding officers based on their ability to arrest large numbers of citizens. Police officers who manage to handle situations using their de-escalation skills and without arrest should be prominently, even financially rewarded. Police departments must not allow themselves to be burdened with solving their jurisdictions’ financial problems.
- Every jurisdiction with a law enforcement agency in place has a civilian review board. The board must include all of the components of the country’s current strongest such review board -- the board in Newark, New Jersey. This means that the review board operates fully, independently with the authority to both investigate officers as well as mete out consequences, including firing, to officers who violate citizens’ civil and human rights. The review board members must truly include members of the community, not just law enforcement and career politicians or lobbyists. And the community at large must have numerous opportunities to give their input on board proceedings.
- Legislation is designed to shift law enforcement culture. Communities must bring forward and vote for change, like SB 1286 in California, which cycled through the 2015-2016 legislative season and will reappear in the 2016-2017 session. SB 1286 called for stronger civilian review boards and required that all data related to use of force incidents must be made public immediately after the incident. Local civilian review boards can also be constructed via ballot initiative.
- Cities and counties confront and ameliorate their own role in the problem. Cities and counties need to stop relying on police departments to bring them bodies, through fees and fines and through a cheap, incarcerated labor force. Cities and counties need to rethink how they tax and spend dollars so that police officers don’t bear the burden of raising revenue. A second way that cities/counties need to rethink funding in relation to law enforcement is by gradually reducing the number of officers and infrastructural dollars that go to policing, and instead, redirect that money toward programs and services that reduce crime. There are national and global models of this successful approach. Since community safety should be the primary priority, redirecting funds in ways that could actually improve this safety should become a No. 1 focus.
This combination of consequences for improper actions, as well as rewards for adhering to a more humane system of law enforcement, will increase community trust in police officers. Federal, state, county and city governments all have a mandate to help shift the function of law enforcement officers from menace, to true partner in achieving community safety.
Donielle Prince is a chapter lead of Black Lives Matter Sacramento. The Sacramento chapter has been part of the national Black Lives Matter network since November 2015. The opinions in this article are presented in the spirit of spurring discussion and reflect those of the author and not necessarily the treasurer, his office or the State of California.
By Chief Ken Corney
Strengthening Relationships With the Communities We Serve
The practices and principles of policing in the country have changed significantly since President Johnson’s 1967 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice report was originally published. In 2015, the report from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing showed that more than 50 years later, police have a different perspective and a whole new set of challenges they face. In California, police departments are working every day to establish and maintain trust within their communities.
Progressive practices by policing organizations and their leaders are often overshadowed by headlines of a small number of tragic events that take place across our country. Unlike other professions, when one of our brothers or sisters in blue is involved in a tragic event, we are all involved. With a blink of an eye, one city�s tragedy can quickly paint tens of thousands of officers with one broad brush.
Vacaville Police Chief John Carli just returned from his second meeting in two weeks at the White House. He was one of 40 chiefs from across the country invited to discuss community policing with our nation�s executive leadership. Chief Carli firmly believes that relationships with the community are established by getting out and getting to know your community. A quick Facebook search shows what we all know to be true: the Vacaville Police Department has put a strong emphasis on communicating and engaging with their community through social media. Whether it be enjoying smores with local campers, or soliciting assistance from the community to identify suspects, the department�s efforts are paying off. More than 25,000 people �Like� the department�s Facebook page -- that�s over a quarter of the city�s population! In addition to strengthening its social media and campfire presence, Chief Carli recently formed the city�s first Community Response Unit (CRU), which was designed to engage the community through quality of life issues.
This is just one example of what police departments throughout the state are doing on a daily basis to establish and maintain the trust of the communities they serve. However, this focus on building positive relationships is not unique to any one department; Chief Carli exemplifies the best qualities of California�s problem-solving police chiefs. This year, with strong support and advocacy from our profession, the state is providing funding to local agencies so departments can expand programs successful at helping the homeless, individuals with mental health and substance abuse disorders, and at-risk youth. One type of program eligible for funding will be local co-deployment teams, which pair officers with mental health professionals and are proven to positively assist those in need. Deployment of these teams increase the likelihood that an individual in a mental health crisis will receive the help that they need: help that exists outside of the criminal justice system. With a focus on compassionate policing, wraparound services, and long term partnerships, California�s policing agencies continue to dynamically evolve to meet the challenges confronting our communities.
In closing, police agencies across California and our nation transitioned decades ago from �law enforcement� as their primary purpose to, �policing� for the purpose of building safe communities through effective partnerships and active engagement. NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton noted that American Policing has changed more rapidly than any other American institution over the past several decades. I am confident the policing profession will continue to evolve to meet the expectations of the communities we serve.
Chief Ken Corney is the Police Chief of the Ventura Police Department and President of the California Police Chiefs Association. The opinions in this article are presented in the spirit of spurring discussion and reflect those of the author and not necessarily the treasurer, his office or the State of California.