The horrific video images of police applying force on George Floyd has built a common understanding, regardless of political differences, that something is very wrong and needs to be fixed. This intuitive understanding that change is needed will certainly remain with Minneapolis voters in November. But for many the decision will come down to their confidence that a reimagined agency will change the reality on the ground in their neighborhoods.
Advocates of defunding have not yet demonstrated a solid grasp of what can be done to change a police agency that has already adopted most of the leading reforms in the U.S. police reform tool box. Many of this country’s leading police reformers have long advised the Minneapolis Police Department in implementing innovative reform steps.
This is not to suggest that unconscious bias training, community policing initiatives or contracting social workers should not be part of a new agency, but these previously attempted reforms are unlikely to be viewed by voters as fundamentally addressing the deep lack of trust in the police in many Minneapolis neighborhoods.
Police reformers must be willing to go outside their comfort zone and consider reforms from across the globe.
Police officers in Germany, Finland and Norway, for example, are banned from shooting to kill (targeting the torso) except in a narrow set of circumstances in which an armed suspect has control over a hostage or a weapon of mass destruction.
A topic that never arises in reform debates in the U.S. is why every democratic country outside the Western Hemisphere has shoot-to-wound as a possible option in their training, but it is not found in the training received by officers patrolling American cities. In a country that experiences tens of thousands of police firearm discharges each year, it’s obvious that many of these cases in the U.S. arose under circumstances that would have allowed for the shoot-to-wound tactic that is commonplace in Europe.
Another major discrepancy between U.S. and European practices that directly relates to the Floyd case is the continued disregard for officers working a second job until 2 or 3 a.m. before beginning their police shifts. In discussing the Floyd video, my European colleagues find it inconceivable that a city entrusting someone with the right to use deadly force on its streets allowed officer Derek Chauvin to wear his uniform and weapon to a second job at a nightclub for 15 straight years.
Department of Defense-funded studies on military police hours demonstrate that excessive work hours diminish the quality of officer decisionmaking. Most police departments in the U.S. do not even have a policy on off-duty employment and have not assessed the impact that fatigued “zombie officers” operating on little sleep have on police-community relations.
The disparity between U.S. and global standards is perhaps most pronounced when examining U.S. Department of Justice-led reform in Europe in comparison to the reforms the DOJ advocates for American cities. In Georgia and Ukraine, the U.S. committed millions of dollars in support of reform only after the government agreed to defund the former law enforcement organizations and stand up reimagined police departments.
In Ukraine, public trust in the police tripled for the new patrol police after the new officers were selected by joint commissions that includes civil society representatives. Armenia is currently planning a similar use of civil society in selecting officers in its planned defunding of its former police agency, while Canadian agencies include civil society representatives on officer promotion boards.
Certainly, U.S. cities are unique in terms of the threat and the matching policing strategies, but reimagining policing cannot be limited to just the existing U.S. policing and reform paradigm. Reshaping the public view of the police will require a willingness to look at reforms around the world that have reduced mistrust in communities whose perception of the police was formed by years of discriminatory and callous policing.
Robert P. Peacock is assistant professor, Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, Florida International University.