Law enforcement: Use caution when calling for sweeping policing reforms

by Amy Cooke

Raleigh, NC – In America 2020, protests and hashtags have replaced public policy debate and deliberative process. Giving into protesters demands to #DefundThePolice, the Minneapolis City Council pledged to “dismantle” the city’s police department.

A note of caution. Take my words through the filter of a proud wife of a retired member of law enforcement. My husband spent 35 years as a cop, 12 as the elected sheriff. Every time he walked out the door, I know that he was willing to put his life between a bad guy and someone else’s family.

Like everyone, the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer horrified me and so does the lawlessness and violence gripping our communities. To some extent, protesters are reacting to what they’ve been told. For nearly a decade, the rhetoric surrounding the war on law enforcement has escalated even though statistics regarding the use of force show a dramatic decline.

No doubt you’ve heard or read the headline that blacks die at the hands of police either double the rate or disproportionally compared to whites based on their percent of total population. That’s the wrong measurement according to U.S. Commission on Civil Rights member Peter Kirsanow. Instead, we should look at the percentage committing violent crime

In a National Review column, Kirsanow wrote, “the data make clear that blacks are, indeed, overrepresented among victims of police shootings, but underrepresented relative to black overrepresentation in crime, particularly violent crime.” He provides the numbers for context. Whites make up 76.5 percent of the U.S. population; blacks are 13.4 percent. Whites commit 59 percent of violent crimes while blacks commit 37.5 percent.

Further, use of force isn’t an epidemic as we’ve been told. In an article for The Federalist Society Review, the Manhattan Institute’s Rafael Mangual detailed a research team that followed midsized police departments in various states including North Carolina over a two-year period, analyzing more than 1 million calls for service. Of those calls, 114,000 resulted in arrests, of which 99% were completed without force. Of that 1% requiring force, 98% of arrestees sustained no or only mild injury.

Even in New York City, with the nation’s largest police department, use of force has dropped dramatically, according to Mangual. In 1990 officers discharged their firearms 302 times, wounding 221 and killing 39. By 2016 those numbers dropped to 72, 23, and 9 respectively, while the city’s population has increased by more than 1 million people.

Nearly 700,000 officers make more than 10 million arrests annually. The narrative of them as brutal racists isn’t true. Yes, horrifying isolated incidents occur, but fortunately they aren’t the norm. Unfortunately, they are used to amplify an incorrect narrative about law enforcement in general, which is driving protesters’ demands to disband police departments across the country. The danger of this should be obvious, especially knowing that two radical left groups The Working Families Party and environmental activists Sunrise Movement initiated it, according to Vox.

Still, things can be done to improve community policing, including the following:

  • Bad apples: Allow law enforcement agencies to share internal investigation reports to prevent “bad apples” from being hired at another agency that is unaware of the officer’s record.
  • Additional anti-bias and proper use of force training including chokeholds: this will come at a cost but is an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.
  • Keep workplace freedom in place: Resist collective bargaining for public sector employees. Law enforcement agencies with the biggest problems are almost always large metropolitan, unionized departments that protect “bad apples” through union contracts.

At the same time, we should avoid bad policies like eliminating the good faith exception within Qualified Immunity — the legal doctrine that largely protects government actors from being sued while performing their official duties. Getting rid of the good faith exception would require individual officers to live by an impossible standard of perfection. Beyond a reasonable doubt would replace reasonable suspicion as grounds to engage a suspect. That’s fine for crimes of graffiti or petty vandalism, but not if my daughter’s life in jeopardy.

Without the good faith exception, no one you’d want to work in law enforcement would because they couldn’t afford to insure themselves if they madeå a mistake through no fault of their own — such as faulty eyewitnesses or bad lab reports.

A bill moving through the Colorado legislature seeks to eliminate QI, including good faith and it includes monetary damages. Colorado Sheriff Steve Reams says if it passes and he loses an ACLU lawsuit against him regarding COVID-19 and vulnerable populations in his jail, he may be on the hook personally for $8.9 million.

Last, avoid civilian oversight commissions with subpoena power to investigate complaints. They turn into star chambers for agenda-driven activists looking for a platform to legitimize them. Instead, use the courts to charge officers who have actionable complaints against them.

The vast majority of law enforcement officers welcome good policy, but I fear mob rule driven by an incomplete narrative has seized the moment. Who would want to serve under current conditions? If we can’t restore order, law enforcement may not be there as violence continues.


Amy O. Cooke (@TheRight AOC) is president and CEO of the John Locke Foundation.

Advertisements