Policing through an American prism.

Author:Adegbile, Debo P.
 
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ABSTRACT. Policing practices in America are under scrutiny. Video clips, protests, and media coverage bring attention and a sense of urgency to fatal police civilian incidents that are often accompanied by broader calls for reform. Tensions often run high after officer involved shootings of unarmed civilians, and minority communities, law enforcement, and politicians bring different perspectives to both the individual events and broader policy issues. Collaborative reform, however, can build upon stakeholders' common ground--a concern for public safety, liberty, and equality. Achieving this goal requires a symbiotic relationship between the people and the police, where the relationship is based upon earned trust, a concept that dates back to Sir Robert Peel's Principles of Policing and underlies many modern community policing principles. Under the new administration, the federal government may no longer be a catalyst for police reform. Identifying and embracing the common ground will only become a more important path for police reform where individual cities, departments and communities look to chart a more effective path.

FEATURE CONTENTS INTRODUCTION: POLICING IN AMERICA 2224 I. PEEL'S PRINCIPLES: THE FOUNDATION OF COMMUNITY POLICING 2229 A. The Origin of Police Departments 2230 B. Incorporating Peel's Principles into Current Police Reform 2231 II. THE PROBLEM THROUGH DIFFERENT LENSES 2234 A. A Minority Community Perspective 2234 B. A Law Enforcement Perspective 2238 C. A Political Perspective 2240 III. THE FUTURE OF POLICE REFORM: COMMON GROUND 2243 IV. PATHWAYS TO REFORM 2246 A. DOJ Pattern-or-Practice Investigations: The Challenge and Opportunity 2247 B. DOJ Community-Oriented Policing Service Collaborative Review 2253 C. Do-It-Yourself Pathway 2255 CONCLUSION: AN AMERICAN MOMENT 2258 INTRODUCTION: POLICING IN AMERICA

There is an intense focus on policing in America. Bracing headlines describe uses of force by police resulting in tragic deaths or serious injuries. In New York, Eric Garner was killed by a New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer who applied a chokehold while attempting to arrest Mr. Garner for selling loose cigarettes. (1) In South Carolina, a police officer shot Walter Scott in the back and killed him when Mr. Scott attempted to flee on foot following a car stop. (2) In Minnesota, an officer shot and killed Philando Castile, who was a driver sitting next to his girlfriend during a car stop. (3) In Texas, Yvette Smith was shot and killed seconds after opening her door for police officers who were responding to a call. (4) Other headlines capture deadly violence visited upon police officers in the line of duty. In Virginia, Ashley Guindon was shot and killed during her first shift as a police officer by a military veteran while responding to a domestic violence call. (5) In New York, a man walked up to the window of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu's police car and opened fire, killing them at point-blank range. (6) And a gunman targeting police shot and killed five officers in Dallas--Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patricio Zamarripa--as they patrolled a demonstration to protest police shootings of African-American men. (7) These examples are far from exhaustive. (8)

Although each fatal incident has unique circumstances, in many places, news of these tragedies is viewed through a historical lens of poor relations between police and minority communities. (9) Both local and national dimensions contribute to a climate of tension, anger, and fear in some communities; similar sentiments are also present among many in law enforcement. (10) The topic of policing in America draws new urgency and attention due to viral video clips of individual police encounters and police reform movements such as Black Lives Matter. Policing practices are under scrutiny by the media, the public, politicians, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), private litigants, and police departments. While the events surrounding each incident are different, they give rise to some common questions. Can we recalibrate police-community relations, where necessary, to better keep our communities and our law enforcement officers safe? Can we find a way to minimize use-of-force tragedies that may have grave individual and community costs and serve as flashpoints? Can we find common ground that provides a starting point for police reform where such reform is necessary?

As for common ground, it appears at first glance that the various stakeholders each come to the broader reform conversation with divergent interests. But, these divergences reflect not competing goals but mainly disagreements about which policing practices or tactics will best achieve common goals. The key stakeholders have a common interest in public and officer safety, and in effective police-community relations. The approach to reforming policing to improve both effectiveness and police-community relations is not one-size-fits-all. Departments use varying tactics to meet local priorities and evolving public safety challenges. Although there is no uniform approach, many police leaders have recognized that avoidable uses of force erode public trust (11) and in turn make communities less, not more, safe. (12)

Police use of force, however, is not the only area of police-community relations facing close scrutiny. Legally circumscribed stops are an essential police tactic, but aggressive stop-and-frisk policies that reach outside the bounds of lawful limits increase the frequency of citizen-police confrontations to cite another example. Some of these practices have been the subjects of legal challenges. (13) The impact of these practices on police-community relations can be pronounced, particularly in some minority neighborhoods. (14) A high volume of unjustified stops can quicldy build resentment for law enforcement and escalate tensions between the community and the police. (15) Additionally, if every police-civilian confrontation poses some danger, unnecessary confrontations pose unnecessary dangers.

At the same time, policing is a difficult and dangerous job. The men and women of law enforcement deal with very volatile and unpredictable human problems including domestic violence cases, drug-related violence, gang activity, widespread availability of illegal guns, and frequent encounters with persons in mental distress. Law enforcement officers regularly place themselves one emergency call away from tragedy and are charged with making split-second decisions with potentially grave consequences.

The job is difficult and the tensions in frayed police-community relations are real. Recognizing the need to share information regarding best practices, representatives of law enforcement and policing experts, such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Police Executive Research Forum, the DO] under President Obama, and community voices, coalesced around key policing approaches that they believed could enhance public trust and minimize community tension with appropriate regard for public and officer safety imperatives. (16) For example, President Obama's Task Force on Twenty-First Century Policing emphasized that "trust between law enforcement and the people they protect and serve is essential in a democracy." (17) Community-focused policing models are one way to enhance the bonds of trust and promote more effective policing. (18) In that model, the public looks to law enforcement to keep neighborhoods safe, and law enforcement looks to the public to actively aid them in their effort. This approach to policing is sometimes described as the "guardian mindset." (19) When that relationship between the police and the community breaks down, it can, in some cases, stem from or lead to a more aggressive style that emphasizes zero-tolerance policing and a so-called "warrior mindset." (20) In the latter scenario, the public safety mission may be more difficult to achieve. (21)

The relationship between law enforcement and the community also exists in a broader context. Properly conceived, law enforcement serves democratic goals. According to one foundational conception of policing--the Peelian principles--the police power derives from public consent and approval. (22) Although Peel's Principles are traced to England in 1829, this Feature evaluates the current landscape of police reform against these principles, which highlight the importance of democratic mechanisms and the public good. In his farewell address, President Obama observed that democracy does not require uniformity, but it does require a basic sense of solidarity. (23) The same is true in the Peelian framework of policing, which emphasizes the capacity of community-focused policing to serve our communities through well-calibrated practices and policies.

In this Feature, I argue in favor of a democracy-reinforcing model of policing that revisits Peel's principles in the contemporary context. Part I sets out Peel's principles and draws parallels between their original application and their continuing relevance today. Part II considers certain of the key stakeholders who have an interest in police practices and reform, including minority communities, law enforcement, and politicians. It explores aspects of each of their perspectives to identify their respective interests and any common ground between them. Part III examines how Peel's Principles capture the common ground identified in Part II and connects this framework with community policing reforms that some jurisdictions have already started to implement. Part IV describes three different reform pathways that embrace Peel's vision of legitimacy and trust, paying special attention to how the Trump Administration might impact each of these approaches.

There is no perfect system of policing and no panacea capable of eradicating crime or the racial tensions that exist both within and outside of the policing...

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