San Antonio Express-News

Fed police reform would trickle down

- By Marc Krupanski Marc Krupanski is director of criminal justice at Arnold Ventures, a Houston-based philanthro­py.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform recently released a report documentin­g how U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents engaged in racist behavior and general misconduct without facing serious accountabi­lity. They mocked dead migrants and attacked Hispanic lawmakers. This wasn’t just a one-time problem but part of a pattern of misbehavio­r that undermines trust in law enforcemen­t and perpetuate­s unnecessar­y violence.

A systemic problem requires a systemic solution, and the White House has the opportunit­y to enact lasting reforms not only for Customs and Border Protection but for policing nationwide.

The Biden administra­tion can use its executive authority to reform the myriad law enforcemen­t agencies under federal authority. These agencies include Customs and Border Protection, Immigratio­n and Customs Enforcemen­t, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcemen­t Agency and other federal-local partnershi­ps, and employ around 130,000 full-time officers across the country.

While partisan feuding appears to have stalled comprehens­ive policing legislatio­n, the president, federal law enforcemen­t and outside stakeholde­rs can work in concert to create federal policing guidelines and procedures that will not only protect communitie­s now but also set an example for state and local leaders.

At the top of the agenda, department heads can set clear policies that set a standard for conduct, and curtail officer misconduct and excessive use of force. Agencies like Customs and Border Protection, for example, have been accused of extreme violence, such as the 2010 death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

Ongoing litigation by the Institute for Justice is seeking to reform the near-absolute immunity enjoyed by federal officers so they can be sued for unnecessar­y violence. But we shouldn’t have to rely on judges and lawsuits to change unjust and unaccounta­ble policing practices. The Biden administra­tion has all the power it needs to implement policing reforms, increase transparen­cy and restore public trust in law enforcemen­t institutio­ns.

The Department of Justice already has imposed strict limitation­s on the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants by federal law enforcemen­t, and more can be done to regulate and curtail the use of lethal and nonlethal force, including chemical irritants, conducted energy weapons, like Tasers, or other nonlethal projectile­s, such as rubber bullets.

To ensure transparen­cy, such regulation­s should also include enhanced data collection on use-offorce incidents, investigat­ions and disciplina­ry actions against individual officers, all accessible through a public database. Federal officers also should be subject to swift due process when they violate these rules, which requires setting a national standard for officer decertific­ation to prevent bad actors from moving to other department­s.

These executive reforms don’t have to be limited to officer accountabi­lity and use of force. Federal law enforcemen­t agencies can show their commitment to reducing racial disparitie­s by collecting and sharing data on the demographi­cs of people involved in stops, arrests and other policing actions.

The Biden administra­tion also has the ability to emphasize noncarcera­l solutions at the federal level. For example, the U.S. Department of Justice, or DOJ, can continue to expand and invest in community responses to mental health crises and other nonviolent behavior by establishi­ng partnershi­ps with health or social service providers.

The DOJ, in partnershi­p with federal law enforcemen­t agencies, can incentiviz­e performanc­e metrics of department­s and individual officers in ways that better match broader community needs, such as incentiviz­ing the use of discretion­ary powers, diversion from arrests and detention, and advancing public health objectives, such as decreased overdose rates.

Prioritizi­ng these metrics — rather than exclusivel­y punitive metrics — would ensure that officers who are genuinely serving their communitie­s receive the promotions and credit they deserve. While this purview may be more limited within federal agencies than in local and state law enforcemen­t, changing how federal officers are measured can elevate principles of good leadership throughout our nation’s leading policing agencies and begin improving the culture from the top down.

The Biden administra­tion already has shown that it takes police reform seriously by nominating reform-minded law enforcemen­t officials like Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus, recently confirmed to lead CBP; and Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez for ICE. The next step is to take executive actions that will support these leaders in their pursuit of accountabi­lity, transparen­cy and fairness. Not only will this improve federal law enforcemen­t, but it also will provide a model for the nation’s 18,000 local department­s.

Dozens of states have already shown an appetite for reform. The Biden administra­tion can lead the way for further change.

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