Police reforms and the problems they face

On Twitter a few days ago I wondered what some of the demands of protestors are. Thinking about successful protests in history, the ones that had specific policy, legislation, or actions as their end goal are the most successful. Whether that’s LGBT people and equal marriage rights through legislatures and courts, suffrage for women and blacks both culturally and legislatively, or a new country like in the Revolution.

I’m still mulling these thoughts over. But I’m starting to hear and learn about some of the demands of protesters that go beyond broad cultural issues.

Formal apologies from police departments for past abuse and transgressions

This is going to be a challenge for many departments, I think, because of the obvious notion that individual officers are likely to feel attacked for practices that go back to protecting the slave trade. But, it’s necessary and one that should come from everyone in every department.

Improved training to identify biases and weigh the use of force

Departments are heavy on training and continuing education. In the Academy, training no doubt focuses a lot on firearm skills, physical fitness, and defense. The rest, I gather from my recent ride-along with officers, is training that is often online and an annoyance.

Officers are tasked with taking ongoing training like many professions. And like many professional attorneys, insurance agents, etc., that training is less, uh, “deep and attentive” on the “academic” stuff. It’s more akin to how most of us felt about homework in elementary school: a thing to whisk through as quickly as possible to get it done.

For officers, this means online training that’s easy to click through or ignore. Much of it is likely to be a brief, boring video they let play while driving around responding to calls. To be fair, this isn’t just a problem for or about officers. Most professional continuing education is done like most people do most work most of the time: scatterbrained, multi-tasked, unfocused, and ‘a required thing someone makes me do’.

Training should be paid, offered in settings that are conducive to the subject matter, and rigorous.

Respond like fire and EMS

Credit to this idea to my friend Tim Maguire, who has long advocated for police responding to emergencies like police and fire departments: park at the station and go respond when called.

I’m sure it happens, but we know that most of the time officers are unlikely to stumble across a crime in progress. It probably wouldn’t impact response times much if we just dispatched officers from stations.

However, during my ride-along, it became apparent that most officers are always responding to a call. And when there isn’t a call, driving around knowing neighborhoods does have benefit. Seeing the same car door open for a couple of days in the row, an out of place car that never moves, and other “Hm, that’s odd” moments are the norm.

So I’m conflicted on this. There’s also the matter of traffic safety, something Indianapolis sorely lacks and without cops driving around no one would ever get caught.

Re-aligned funding

A surprising number of government units can raise fees to support themselves. Courts, police, the BMV, and many others have enough leeway or connection to raise a fee or fine that gets directed at itself without anyone noticing. For police that’s writing tickets that go back into their budgets. This should stop and instead be directed to general funds without circling back around to departments.

Also, police body cameras are a given. My ride-along experience with IMPD was an indication that officers want them. Because good officers who do their jobs with professionalism want the ability to show they acted appropriately. In Indianapolis, this is supposedly coming soon. But as we see in Louisville, police seem to find ways of disabling them.

Incredibly high standards

Indianapolis has some of the highest-paid officers in the country. Starting salaries around $40k that run up to $70k annually in just a few years. It’s dangerous work, and like their colleagues at IFD, I have no problem paying the individuals a healthy chunk of money for it. In Indianapolis, $70k goes a long way. Not every department is like that, however.

Ultimately, we should hold police officers to the standards we have for plane mechanics or pilots, elected leaders, doctors, and those running our public institutions like schools. You have to be truly excellent and of utmost character and standing.

There can’t be a time where you’re “Eh, I didn’t do so good on that surgery” or “That plane crashed a couple of times with that guy.” We have to be all in on clear, documented, standards of conduct, behavior, and professionalism. And when those standards aren’t met, like a doctor with too many malpractice issues, you have to be able to move on somewhere else.