The solution to police brutality continues to be more funding under the belief that police, like many city servants, are overworked and underfunded. However, this is not the case.
The Myth of the Underfunded Public Servant
When addressing the recent gruesome murder of Tyre Nichols, President Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have both advocated for the George Floyd Policing Act, a piece of legislation designed to, ironically, provide more funding to the police. This is not uncommon. In fact, according to American Progress Action, Democrat-run cities actually spent more on funding than Republicans as of 2022 and have more police per capita. If the concern is funding and how that may hinder proper reform, numbers show that the money is already there. In fact, when leaders felt funding was needed for the police, states have been known to cut into social programs in order to give them more money.
“Despite the rhetoric, Democrats are the ones who have placed an emphasis on funding law enforcement. The rest is just a political myth.”
It, understandably could be argued that we have to find some way to police neighborhoods that are rampant in crime to better protect the people, but over policing is a failing method as well.
Over Policing is Not a solution
According to the Center for Health Journalism, Black men and boys face the highest lifetime risk of being killed by police, with one in 1,000 likely to be killed by police in their lifetime, as well as being more likely to be stopped and frisked. This can in turn result in an increased hypervigilance in communities where there are over policing.
“This frequent surveillance and unnecessary criminalization of Black and brown communities by officers are forms of racism and they have lots of consequences for population health equity,” Hedwig Lee, co-director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Equity at Washington University in St. Louis said.
So, the increase in police in Dallas is not really a fix. In fact, it may increase the already present fear in the Black community regarding police.
Community Policing & Implicit Bias
Community policing has been held up as an alternative to over policing, or simply pumping more funds into police departments. However, that kind of reform comes with its own set of issues. As Jeremy Weinstein of Stanford’s political science department describes, community policing is involving regular citizens by building dialogue. This can involve community engagement programs, performing beat patrols, problem-oriented policing and decentralized decision making. However, Weinstein pinpointed three issues with community policing implementation: a lack of prioritization of new practices, limited resources to follow up on the concerns of citizens, and officers rotating to new posts, officers who championed community policing and know how to train others in it. Community policing requires building up trust, and if one of the few officers you’re comfortable speaking to suddenly moves posts, that trust goes with them.
“The bottom line is that community policing isn’t positioned to deliver increased trust and collaboration in environments with limited incentives and resources to enable police to change their behavior. Our conclusion is that community policing should be seen as an incremental reform that can make a difference in well-resourced police departments with strong incentives to be responsive to citizen concerns. But when those conditions are absent, an incremental approach can’t deliver. More systemic reforms are required.”
Implicit bias training is also a shaky method. In 2021, the National Institute of Health found that simply increasing bias awareness and leaning on training programs won’t remove biases. For fundamental change to even be possible, bias enabling and inequalities have to be recognized.
“Organizations must identify the contributors to workplace inequities and change bias-enabling processes to achieve equity in the scientific workforce,”-National Institute of Health
The Power and Flaws of Consent Decrees
So, if funding does not offer much opportunity for reform, what does? If incidents of police brutality gain the attention of the Department of Justice, a tool that can be utilized to enforce reform is a consent decree. A decree can cover everything from use of force policies to civil rights violations, and is geared towards promoting police integrity and preventing misconduct within departments. They are typically overseen by federal judges, who can determine when they will end, and they have been shown to be effective. In 2000, Los Angeles City Council approved a decree for the LAPD as a result of corruption that was eroding the department, for a minimum of five years, which was ultimately extended. While government oversight was something that LAPD officials were not happy with, it did seemingly offer change in their department.
“In these last 12 years the Los Angeles Police Department did not just comply with the consent decree, they took it to heart. They used it as a guide to change their culture. The entire department, from the officers on the beat in the neighborhoods to the top brass downtown, have made these reforms their reforms,” said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to the LA Times.
Consent decrees are not without their faults however. There are multiple factors at play that can contribute to the success of one. For example, former attorney general Jeff Sessions limited consent decrees, issuing a memo requiring “special caution,” prior to enforcing one. It also limited the terms for consent decrees and the settlement agreements that take place with state and local governments. This put anyone looking to enforce reform via decrees in a tough position.
“Stymieing future consent decrees is bad enough, but Sessions’ memo will make it challenging to negotiate any effective police reform agreement going forward. It also makes it more difficult for the Justice Department’s civil rights lawyers to enforce agreements already in place,”- Christy E. Lopez of The Marshall Project said in 2018.
Consent decrees are also enacted after the Department of Justice steps in, i.e. when the crime becomes very noticeable. If the police brutality taking place in your city isn’t significant enough, you may not get on their radar, and you may not be able to get help.
Depending on the city and the mayor ruling over it, there is very little chance for a consent decree to be enacted, and when its lifted departments could just revert back to previous behavior. See, for example the LAPD, which within the first three days of 2023 killed three men of color, which raised concern over their use of force.
Ultimately, police change can’t just be done via bias training or consent decrees, it’s far more complicated because the injustice existing in police goes deep. Formative change has to be made to help residents. Its formative legislative change, and it’s a system built on prioritizing rehabilitation and offering justice rather than on providing penance. Crime, statistically, can be linked to economic instability, so rather than hiring more officers, why not push for infrastructure which can offer a chance for more jobs for citizens (and in turn offer more economic stability in that area)? Why not put funding into social services and improve education, which has also been statistically proven to lower crime? Why keep building up the police and throwing in reform legislation that may fix things? Why not dismantle the unnatural power given to police and build up programs that have been proven to help lower crime?