We see stories in the national news or video on social media about horrific actions taken by a fraction of law enforcement officers. These events reduce public confidence in policing. Today, one out of every two Americans lacks confidence in the police. This is nothing to celebrate. According to Gallup polls, in the late 1960s, seven out of 10 Americans had confidence in the police. That was during a period of civil unrest, the civil rights movement and riots.
As research in evidence-based best practices evolves, law enforcement agencies must be willing to adapt and move policing forward, or new laws and policies will be forced upon the profession, sometimes in a knee-jerk fashion without any evidence-based foundation.
Proposed laws and benchmarks on the state and federal level have been thrust upon the law enforcement community. Most of these proposals for change are also unfunded mandates, further stretching policing resources.
There is no one-stop shop to find all the benchmarks, policy changes, new law proposals and professional organization demands that are being made for change. The following inventory is not all-encompassing but touches upon some of the significant proposed and implemented changes that face our profession, with impacts from line officers to administration, from large to small agencies, from citizen- and university-based groups to policing associations and government. This should be a starting point for everyone from line officers to chief executives to know how the winds of change are blowing.
Georgetown University School of Law’s ABLE Project
The Center for Innovations in Community Safety created the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) Project dating back to 2014. This is a voluntary program, but it does set a benchmark for the profession.
Training consists of eight hours of coursework, which must be attended by all officers in the agency. There is a required two-hour annual in-service class. To date, 316 policing agencies have signed on, training 159,000 officers. ABLE training and implementation are provided at no cost, but those agencies must commit to creating a culture of active bystandership, peer intervention and wellness through policy, training and accountability.
The Police Use of Force Project
This grassroots group was birthed in the aftermath of the Ferguson protests and created Campaign Zero (CZ) to recommend solutions to end police brutality. In its “Police Use of Force Project,” CZ identified eight policies aimed at decreasing the likelihood of police violence, better known as #8CantWait:
- Require officers to de-escalate situations before resorting to force.
- Ban chokeholds.
- Require officers to give verbal warning before using deadly force.
- Ban shooting at moving vehicles.
- Require officers to exhaust all alternatives prior to using deadly force.
- Require officers to intervene to prevent excessive force.
- Require comprehensive reporting on use of force.
- Require a use-of-force continuum.
The New York School of Law Policing Project
The Policing Project addresses use of force and racial profiling, facial recognition and reimagining public safety. The project embraces transparency, racial justice and equitable treatment. The project has 55 standards as part of its sound policing, accountable policing, just policing, effective policing (SAJE) standards project, which are available on its website at policingproject.org/saje-policing-page.
The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (2015)
The report made 156 suggestions under five pillars: building trust and legitimacy; policy and oversight; technology and social media; community policing and crime reduction; training and education; and officer wellness and safety. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) offers a 21st Century Policing Blueprint (see theiacp.org/icpr).
This comprehensive look at change in policing remains relevant today, echoing many of the ongoing expectations for changes in policing by government and citizen organizations.
Kansas’ racial and bias-based policing law (2015)
Kansas enacted legislation in 2015, as some other states have done, to target profiling, require annual bias-based training, create guidelines for community advisory boards, require specific policies to prohibit racial or other biased-based policing and submit annual reports to the attorney general on race-based citizen complaints. There are 10 statutory requirements. This is an example of community-driven change that has become law in Kansas and other states.
Executive Order 13929 (2020)
Former President Trump issued this order that required all state, local and university law enforcement agencies to be certified by credentialing agencies. The order required that two standards be met, or federal funds/grants could be eliminated:
- The agency’s use-of-force policies prohibit chokeholds, except in deadly force situations.
- The agency’s use-of-force policies adhere to all applicable federal, state and local laws.
IACP Policy Framework for Improved Community–Police Engagement (2020)
The IACP issued a recommendation for all police departments to embrace the following:
- Adopt the “National Consensus on the Use of Force” that was created by 11 of the nation’s largest professional policing associations in 2017.
- Mandatory participation in the national use-of-force database.
- Develop national standards for disciplining and termination of officers.
- Develop a national police officer decertification database.
- Enhance police leadership and culture.
- Implement improved recruiting, hiring and promotion practices.
- Enhance ability of police agencies to implement effective discipline.
George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021
This bill, which was defeated in the Senate (in both 2020 and 2021), has received new interest in large part because of the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis. The legislation is endorsed by more than 100 civil rights groups. This bill targets accountability for misconduct, restricts the use of certain policing practices, enhances transparency and data collection, and establishes best practices and training requirements.
This bill establishes a framework to prevent and remedy racial profiling at the federal, state and local levels. It restricts the use of no-knock warrants, chokeholds and carotid holds. It lowers the criminal intent standard — from willful to knowing or reckless — to convict an officer in a federal prosecution and limits qualified immunity. The bill creates a national police misconduct registry to compile data on complaints and records of police misconduct.
It directs the DOJ to create uniform accreditation standards for law enforcement agencies and requires enforcement officers to complete training on racial profiling, implicit bias and the duty to intervene when another officer uses excessive force.
Executive Order 14074 (2022)
President Biden’s police reform executive order mandates changes for federal law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in hiring, background investigations, discipline, investigation of in-custody deaths, use of body cameras and more; the implication is that similar requirements will fall upon local law enforcement next.
Use-of-force tracking is now mandatory for federal LEAs, and state and local agencies will be encouraged to participate to a larger extent. Banning of chokeholds and carotid restraints by federal LEAs unless deadly force is authorized is now in effect. The order mandates use-of-force training and annual anti-bias training; limits the use of no-knock warrants and the transfer of equipment to state and local law enforcement in the 1033 Program; and issues best-practice guidance to local law enforcement on dealing with people in mental health crises.
The order highlights law enforcement accreditation requirements with non-compliance resulting in a loss of federal discretionary grants. This is an important note for the 35 states that have state-level accreditation programs or agencies accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). Connecticut, Oregon and Florida have passed legislation mandating all police agencies in those states to be accredited. It’s estimated that only 3% of agencies nationwide have achieved accredited status so far.
Policing is not a one-size-fits-all operation. With over 18,000 local LEAs, the needs of stakeholders are different. Leadership varies greatly, the crime challenges and available resources are different, and community expectations vary widely.
Policing efforts are only slowed based on resources, and of the over 200 reforms listed, almost all are unfunded mandates. There are recurring themes in the changes being offered up from citizen groups and government officials over the past decade. Yet policing has been involved with back-end accountability for far too long — it kicks in only after something has gone wrong. Instead, from line officer to chief or sheriff, we must embrace continuous improvement at the same time society is demanding policing to evolve.