This keeps happening and people keep protesting, so why has nothing changed? It is not enough to ask for change, activists must define the policy changes they want. It is not enough to ask for “less racism” or “less brutality”, because these are ambiguous terms that existing police institutions can simply ignore. Activists must identify specific policy and systemic changes, then hold officeholders accountable for failing to implement them. Specifically, (1) police recruiting and hiring procedures must change to weed out recruits prone to violence or racism; and (2) the system in place to hold officers accountable for breaches in policies must be reformed. Most importantly, there must be one cohesive plan accepted and proposed by candidates in every major city election so that the public is continuously educated on the same plan. If different plans are proposed, the public is not sufficiently saturated on its details, and is less likely to hold officeholders accountable for failing to implement it.
The easiest way to clear police forces of racism and over-aggression is to not hire it in the first place. The application process should include questions regarding prior involvement in race-based organizations, specifically white supremacy groups. If possible, psychological testing should be involved (even in written test form) to identify recruits that are prone to over-aggression and racism. These can test for their decision-making in stressful situations, impulse control, reliance on race in decision making, proclivity to violence, tendency to ignore protocol and other relevant factors.
Developing these tests will require involvement from academic institutions and federal funding, since city budgets will not have room. They will also require continued testing and revisions in order to sharpen their scope and ensure that qualified candidates are not excluded. Accordingly, activists will need to expose city official candidates and federal legislative candidates that fail to agree to these policy changes during their campaign.
The officer in Floyd’s murder was given eighteen reprimands prior to this incident, with no real consequences. Eighteen. This is common in most cities because officer sanctioning is performed by those within the police system. Police officer unions often advocate on behalf of the sanctioned officer in order to minimize the punishment. This allows officers to stray outside of protocol and use banned tactics with no real threat of permanent recourse.
Officer bodycameras must be made mandatory. Additionally, the review process must involve a citizen review board, separate and apart from the police system. Violations of protocols including the use of racial profiling and the use of banned tactics (like the knee-on-neck that killed Floyd) should be accompanied by minimum “sentences”, including demotion, and pay decreases. A subjective system must be put in place such that a certain number of violations results in termination. These must be hardline rules, to eliminate the subjectivity involved in assigning penalties to these violations.
Officers who have been sanctioned should be encouraged to seek psychological and emotional counseling. The system should not just be a means of punishment, but also a means to identify and quantify the officers that require counseling so that retention does not immediately crater.
None of this can happen without the involvement of the police officer’s union. You are instituting changes that threaten their very livelihood, and resistance will be natural. The message from the activists must accommodate those officers who agree with reform in order to obtain acquiescence from the union. First, we cannot go on stating that “all officers” are bad. This message forces even officers that agree with reform to take a position against you, since your very message implicates their character. The message should always begin with a statement that “the majority of officers are good, but the few that are not endanger the community as well as the good officers. Protecting bad cops endangers good cops when the community no longer trusts authority.”
Additional pressure can be placed on the unions during votes regarding pension funding and salary budgeting. Votes on raises and pensions must be continent upon agreement from the officer’s union of these changes. Activists can track candidates for mayor, city counsel and police positions (if it is an elected position), to verify their agreement to these plans.
These will not cure the world’s ills. There will still be racism, but these policies will achieve the most “bang for the buck” in terms of screening out dangerous candidates, and motivating existing police forces to reshape and adhere to their policies. Joe Biden proposed federal legislation regarding officer reviews. Though commendable, those will be difficult to pass on a nationwide scale and will likely take some time. However, city centers usually contain a diverse population and routinely elect democratic mayoral and counsel candidates that are already accepting of these types of changes. Accordingly, focus on these elections will yield more immediate results. The nation is outraged and wants change, but we must define the exact changes we want or risk losing this opportunity to move forward.