When I first became a law enforcement officer over two decades ago, I swore an oath to serve and protect the people of Duluth. As I watched the video of George Floyd dying at the hands of police officers who swore this same oath in Minneapolis, I was at a loss for words. What I saw in that video went against everything I stood for as a police officer. Their inhumane actions betrayed the badge and damaged the public’s trust in law enforcement officers, the overwhelming majority of whom serve their communities with compassion and dedication.
George Floyd’s life mattered, and I believe the best way to honor his memory is by enacting meaningful and lasting change within police departments nationwide. Reforms must be made at all stages of policing to prevent more abuses of power and restore the public’s trust.
When it comes to hiring an officer, there is no room for mistakes. Reforms must be made to ensure education standards, comprehensive psychological screening and extensive background checks before new officers are hired. When new officers hit the streets, they must follow a qualified training program administered by a training officer who is a leader within their department, understands the community they serve and operates under a community policing philosophy.
Police training officers must be chosen based on their character, community relations skills, knowledge and experience and must continuously train on relevant topics.
It is also imperative that officers and departments alike are held to the highest degree of accountability. This means implementing body cameras in every department. Body camera footage can be used for training purposes, to identify bad policing conduct, to assist in prosecution, and to exonerate.
Changes also must be made to help police chiefs fire bad police officers. Currently, in Minnesota, police departments are public employers and therefore state law allows any termination to be appealed. This process, called arbitration, is all too often the flip of a coin and allows officers who consciously and continuously make egregious mistakes to return to policing. This system must be reformed.
During my 23 years on the police force, I became an expert in community policing. When community policing practices are properly implemented, you do not end up policing your community, you end up policing with your community. To build up trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, it is crucial that police have meaningful interactions with their community on a regular basis.
Therefore, I believe one of the most important steps going forward is requiring police departments to implement a set of community policing standards, using best practices that allow officers to be viewed as participants in the community rather than just responders to calls for service. Any federal funding that is distributed must follow the implementation of community policing best practices.
As violent riots and civil unrest took place in the Twin Cities and across the nation, countless attacks on law enforcement and citizens occurred without repercussion. Despite what the Minneapolis City Council might think, law enforcement is necessary, and abolishing the Minneapolis Police Department is not the answer. We need to inspire the best and the brightest to come forward to serve as police in our communities, but it will be impossible to do so if violence against law enforcement is tolerated and if we don’t recognize most of our police officers are of good character.
Assaults on a law enforcement officer must be met with consequences and we must encourage good people to enter policing.
As a former police officer turned congressman, I remain committed to enacting change at the federal level. However, implementing community policing best practices alone isn’t going to be enough. Lasting reform truly begins at the kitchen table with our loved ones. We must teach our children to love their neighbor, encourage them to stand up for others, and inspire them to serve as forces for good in our respective communities.
As Americans, we all have a role to play in the healing of our nation. I have no doubt that we will rise to the occasion.
Pete Stauber, a Republican, represents Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District in the U.S. House.