USA TODAY International Edition

What it means for reforms

Police’s use of lethal force faces unpreceden­ted scrutiny.

- Kevin Johnson

When Michael Brown, a Black teenager, was fatally shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, a special White House panel quickly offered up a wave of reforms expected to help guide law enforcemen­t through the most fraught encounters.

The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing produced 59 recommenda­tions, following testimony from 140 witnesses.

“Building trust and legitimacy on both sides of the police- citizen divide is not only the first pillar of this task force’s report but also the foundation­al principle underlying this inquiry into the nature of the relations between law enforcemen­t and the communitie­s they serve,” the study group concluded.

Just six years later, the findings in what was then regarded as a landmark analysis of modern policing have been obscured in a new wave of deadly actions that have renewed calls for reexaminin­g American law enforcemen­t.

On Tuesday, former Minneapoli­s police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd. This represents only one exhibit in a growing body of evidence in which police officers’ use of lethal force faces unpreceden­ted public scrutiny, condemnati­on and demands for change.

‘ We haven’t learned anything’

During the 14- day Chauvin trial, new images of fatal police encounters in Chicago, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota and elsewhere have competed with the nowfamilia­r video clips of Floyd pleading for his life while pinned under Chauvin’s knee.

“It’s like we haven’t learned anything,” said Philip Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University who studies crimes involving police. “I don’t know if we’ve made any meaningful progress” since the 2015 White House policing report.

Yet Stinson and other analysts said the findings outlined in the study commission­ed by the Obama administra­tion are likely more relevant than at the time they were issued.

“If you go back to that report, I think you will find a lot of meat is left on that bone,” Stinson said. “There is a lot there to work with.”

A break in the ‘ blue wall’

During closing arguments in the Chauvin trial Monday, Minneapoli­s prosecutor Steve Schleicher sought to separate the murder case against the former officer from a referendum against American policing.

“To be clear, this case is called the state of Minnesota vs. Derek Chauvin,” the prosecutor said. “This is not called the state of Minnesota vs. the police.”

But Samuel Walker, a professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska, said that the broader implicatio­ns of the case and policing at large cannot be ignored.

“In an external sense, the prosecutor’s argument is true,” Walker said. “But I think the public’s focus on the related problems with policing is very widespread and deep ... I think there will be a response and that mayors and governors will demand more policing reforms.”

Since Floyd’s death last May, Walker said he tracked community reaction in the country’s 50 largest cities, concluding that local officials approved an array of changes to law enforcemen­t tactics, from bans on police chokeholds to prohibitio­ns on so- called no- knock warrants that led to the death of a Kentucky woman, Breonna Taylor, during a police raid last year.

Walker said 84% of the cities approved at least some changes in local law enforcemen­t policy or operation in just a four- month period, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, last year.

“I am guardedly optimistic” that the pace of reform will continue post- Chauvin, Walker said.

The professor noted that Chauvin’s trial, specifically the prosecutio­n testimony of Minneapoli­s Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and other city commanders who condemned the officer’s tactics represente­d a break from traditiona­l so- called “blue wall of silence” in which police have been hesitant to criticize fellow officers – let alone bear witness against them in criminal trials.

“That command officers were willing to testify set an exceptiona­l precedent,” Walker said. “You cannot discount the significance of that and what it signals to other police chiefs.”

David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who writes extensivel­y about police conduct, said any rethinking of law enforcemen­t operations must also include shifting responsibi­lities for calls involving the homeless, mentally ill, even traffic infraction­s away from police,.

“We just don’t need people with guns and handcuffs for everything,” Harris said. “But any measure of future success has to involve a reckoning with the system that brought us here.”

‘ A guardian - rather than a warrior’

Until Floyd’s death last year, no brighter public spotlight had been cast on aggressive policing than in the aftermath of Brown’s death in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.

Provocativ­e law enforcemen­t tactics, especially those used to put down the civil unrest following Brown’s death, prompted the formation of the presidenti­al task force that delivered a national warning of the potential perils when police agencies lose the trust of the communitie­s they serve.

“Law enforcemen­t culture should embrace a guardian – rather than a warrior – mindset to build trust and legitimacy both within agencies and with the public,” the task force concluded. “Law enforcemen­t cannot build community trust if it is seen as an occupying force coming in from outside to rule and control the community.”

Every aspect of policing, from crime reduction to officer training, hinges on that trust, the task force found.

The brutal manner and public nature of Floyd’s death represents a new call to action that builds on the lessons of Ferguson, Harris said.

“The idea that police officers are warriors means that in war a certain number of casualties are acceptable,” Harris said. “That has no place in law enforcemen­t. That just has to go.”

18,000 police agencies in the US

Laurie Robinson, a former assistant attorney general who co- chaired the policing task force, said there were “high hopes” that the task force’s work would make a difference.

“But we realized because of the decentrali­zed nature of policing ( there an estimated 18,000 police agencies) that this was not going to produce an accelerate­d solution,” Robinson said. “This was going to be a long haul.”

“The next step for policing has to involve putting pressure on law enforcemen­t leadership and labor unions,” said Robinson, now a professor criminolog­y, law and society at George Mason University. “They are going to have to think long and hard about what lessons have been learned.”

At the end of the task force’s work in 2015, Robinson said President Barack Obama asked her and co- chairman Charles Ramsey, a former police chief in Washington, D. C., and Philadelph­ia, if there was an aspect of law enforcemen­t that required more examinatio­n.

Robinson said that they immediatel­y agreed that a closer study of officer hiring and recruitmen­t was needed.

“If there was one more thing that needed to be added, it was more attention to who was being brought into policing and what kind of officers are going to staff police department­s going forward,” she said. “That is fundamenta­l.”

Jim Burch, president of the National Police Foundation, described the document as a “compass” for law enforcemen­t. “It’s not like we don’t know what to do,” he said. “It’s just that we haven’t found the courage to do it.”

“It’s not like we don’t know what to do. It’s just that we haven’t found the courage to do it.” Jim Burch president of the National Police Foundation

 ??  ?? Police officers arrest a man who refused to leave when police in riot gear cleared an area in downtown Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. ROBERT COHEN/ ST. LOUIS- POST DISPATCH VIA AP
Police officers arrest a man who refused to leave when police in riot gear cleared an area in downtown Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. ROBERT COHEN/ ST. LOUIS- POST DISPATCH VIA AP

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