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Jun 16 2020

Police “Reform”

It never works.

Then again, it isn’t designed to.

‘It’s not about bad apples’: how US police reforms have failed to stop brutality and violence
by Sam Levin, The Guardian
Tue 16 Jun 2020

A growing body of research suggests that some of the most widely adopted reform efforts have not succeeded at curbing police violence in the ways the policies intended.

Research into the use of body cameras by police officers has shown no statistical difference in behaviors or reduction in force when the cameras are on. Body cameras also haven’t stopped egregious killings, have rarely led to discipline or termination, and have almost never yielded charges or convictions.

In 2018, three years after Sacramento began a $1.5m body-camera initiative, officers fatally shot unarmed Stephon Clark in his family’s backyard. The release of the videos traumatized the family, but prosecutors ruled the killing was justified because officers thought his phone was a gun.

In Oakland, California, a police department monitor found that officers were failing to properly turn on cameras nearly 20% of the time.

And over the years, police have mostly used footage to prosecute civilians, research shows: “Not only is it ineffective in stopping police violence, it actually expands the powers and surveillance capabilities of police,” said Mohamed Shehk, with the abolitionist group, Critical Resistance.

Policies aimed at preventing excessive force and protecting free speech rights at protests have similarly led to little change. In protests across the country this week officers from some of the same departments that enacted reforms were seen violating those policies.

In Austin, policy dictates that officers may use beanbag rounds to de-escalate potentially deadly situations or “riotous behavior” that could cause injury. But at one of the early protests after Floyd’s death, police fired a beanbag round at a 16-year-old boy’s head, even though he was alone on a hill far from officers, and appeared to be watching the events. His brother said the ammunition fractured his skull and required emergency surgery. “The policies certainly don’t allow you to shoot an unarmed child in the head for no reason,” said Emily Gerrick, managing attorney with the Texas Fair Defense Project.

In Los Angeles, protest footage analyzed by the LA Times appeared to show officers firing projectiles at someone’s head and firing from a moving vehicle, both of which are prohibited.

And although New York’s governor touted a new state law passed this week banning police use of chokeholds, others have called it “useless”, noting that the city police department had banned the practice in 1993, two decades before an officer placed Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold.

Studies have also come to mixed conclusions as to whether increasing the diversity of police forces has led to culture changes within those departments.

One researcher who interviewed hundreds of residents of Ferguson and Baltimore after the uprisings in 2015 found increased representation didn’t address structural and cultural problems within the departments that had created deep distrust among the population. Despite its relatively diverse force, Baltimore continued its “severe and unjustified disparities” in stops and arrests of black Americans, the justice department found in 2016.

When Eddie Johnson stepped up as Chicago police superintendent in 2016 following intense controversy over the killing of Laquan McDonald, he immediately faced backlash for saying he has never witnessed misconduct in 27 years on the job. But he promised to change the culture, saying a “cover-up is always worse than an incident”. Three years later, the mayor fired Johnson, saying he had been “intentionally dishonest” about a scandal in which he was found asleep in his car.

“People thought that being black he would understand systemic racism,” said Calida, the Chicago activist. “Having more racially diverse police isn’t going to help.”

A former Richmond, California, police chief, Chris Magnus, one of the first openly gay chiefs in the country, received national attention for his progressive strategies to reduce gun violence and for holding a Black Lives Matter sign in 2014. The department emphasized working with community members instead of punishing them. But two years later, the department was caught in a huge scandal involving officers’ sexual exploitation of a teenage girl. At least six officers were implicated, including the department’s chief of staff.

Efforts to train officers to more frequently use non-lethal force have also not stopped tragic killings . In 2017, Seattle insisted it had created a progressive model for crisis intervention and de-escalation training, aimed at finding ways to slow down situations, isolating people so they can’t harm others, and using non-lethal force.

But when Charleena Lyles called 911 to report a burglary, two officers showed up to her door, and within less than three minutes shot her dead in front of her one-year-old son, later claiming she was holding a knife. Both officers had completed the crisis training.

There is also minimal evidence that implicit bias trainings affect officers’ prejudiced behavior on the job, and some research suggesting they could even be counterproductive, making officers resentful and more entrenched in racist viewpoints. In San Jose, California, earlier this month, a black community activist who had trained police on implicit bias for years, and personally knew the chief and others, tried to de-escalate a confrontation between officers and protesters. Police shot him in the groin with a rubber bullet, possibly preventing him from having children.

These kinds of repeated scandals are reminders that misconduct, abuse and brutality aren’t isolated acts that reforms can fix, activists said.

“The issue is not a ‘bad apples’ problem,” said Alisa Bierria, an organizer with Survived and Punished, a prison abolition group. “There is something specific about the institution of policing that is intrinsically violent.”

That idea was exemplified this month in Buffalo when two officers were suspended after video showed them shoving a 75-year-old peace activist to the ground. More than 50 officers, the entire emergency response team, resigned from that unit after the suspension, apparently in support of the two colleagues.

In the wake of protests, a handful of US mayors have pledged to reallocate some funds from police, and many more have, once again, promised to improve policies.

But given the failure of many past reforms, a coalition of activists actively opposes such moderate policy shifts and argues the US needs more radical change, pointing at the failures of past reforms. These activists say that it would not only be a waste of the momentum of these global protests, but that continuing to rely on police departments to address their own violence will simply lead to ongoing harm.

They point at the continued power and influence of police unions and legal protections for police officers accused of wrongdoing and excessive force as barriers to change. If police and politicians who oversee law enforcement continue to adopt policies that focus on fixing individual behaviors, they say, it will not address institutional and deeply embedded cultural problems.

Instead, they are backing efforts to immediately reduce police power and size, as a way to move toward dismantling police departments and creating different models of safety.

“Reform is only a way to steal more resources from the community,” said Kristiana Rae Colón, a Chicago playwright and co-director of the #LetUsBreathe Collective.

Very simple. Zero tolerance (hey, if it works for kids it will work with Cops). If your Body Camera “fails” and you don’t notice it and report back to the Station for a replacement?

You’re fired.

What? Interferes with your Doughnut run?

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