ASSESSING THE EVIDENCE
Six years after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the killing of another Black man – George Floyd – by a Minneapolis officer last summer poured fresh fuel on the fight for racial justice in the United States. Millions of Americans took to the streets. Their message was clear: too many people, especially people of color, are dying during encounters with police. Local, state, and federal lawmakers were quick to respond, offering – and in many cases enacting – policy changes targeting police use of force and myriad related problems. Such efforts are essential, and laudable. But too often the reforms lack a foundation in science and evidence, making it unlikely that they will produce essential progress.
“The analyses produced by this Task Force will serve as essential resources for policymakers, advocates, and others striving to ensure police provide effective, equitable, and respectful services to those they are sworn to protect.”
The Council on Criminal Justice convened the Task Force on Policing to address this shortcoming and help our nation move decisively forward in ensuring police agencies provide effective, equitable, and respectful services to all of those they are sworn to protect. Established in November, the Task Force was asked a distinct question: of the most commonly proposed reforms, which ones are the most important—which will have the greatest impact on preventing police use of excessive force, reducing racial biases, increasing police accountability, and improving the relationship between law enforcement and communities? To fulfill that mission, Task Force members are weighing the relative value of each proposal based on the best available research and on their individual experience and expertise. The goal is to help policymakers sift through the dizzying array of good ideas and focus on measures they believe will create the greatest change.
“It is my hope and expectation that this Task Force will help our country sort through the multitude of good ideas and find those offering the greatest promise to produce true change.”
Members bring to this task backgrounds that span a wide array of stakeholder perspectives: law enforcement, civil rights, research, big-city politics, racial justice, police oversight, and advocacy born of the gut-wrenching loss of loved ones to police violence. While they do not see eye to eye on everything, members are committed to advancing reforms that ensure this pivotal moment is not squandered, but rather leveraged to ensure police agencies evolve and provide the service and protection all Americans deserve, no matter the color of their skin. Given the urgency of these times, the Task Force is working quickly and will release its assessments – adopted by consensus – as they are completed. Measures selected for evaluation will include those targeting use of force, training, recruitment, officer wellness, community oversight, militarization, and more. Creating a foundation for this work, the Council also will produce a statistical portrait of policing that traces key trends that should inform public debates about the future of law enforcement in America.
A statement on the assault on our Capitol
"After Ferguson, we were promised change, but the change we need has not come to be. Can we come together now and acknowledge that true public safety requires us to shrink the role and power of police? We must."
As they conduct their deliberations, Task Force members have been mindful of the sobering and challenging events that defined 2020—and have continued into the new year. COVID-19 added new peril to the job of policing, and, at year end, thousands of officers had been infected and more than 200 had died. As the virus continued its deadly advance, the police-involved shootings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, Patrick Warren, and others drove waves of outrage, forcing the United States to confront its legacy of racial injustice and wrestle with the role of law enforcement in our communities. Meanwhile, homicide rates spiked in cities across the country, likely resulting in the biggest single-year increase in murders in U.S. history. Turning outrage into meaningful progress won’t be easy, especially when a core dimension of the problem has stubborn roots that stretch back centuries. But with intention and a common purpose, the nation can advance from last year’s catastrophic events toward a time when fair, effective, and just policing is a reality for all Americans. This Task Force is committed to that vision. The recommendations outlined here are realistic and achievable, yet also capable of pushing law enforcement agencies toward the profound change we seek.