In all 50 states and more than 145 cities, Americans are calling for legitimate police accountability, an end to police brutality, and the transformation of the police system itself. The killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis this May initiated this wave of demonstrations. But Mr. Floyd’s death is only the latest entry in a long history of human rights atrocities inflicted on Black individuals. The message is clear: enough is enough.
In response, Congress has introduced the George Floyd Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act of 2020, which aims to prevent police brutality and calls for national policing standards. For example, the bill reforms hiring practices of law enforcement agencies mandates studies of training procedures that codify a uniform set of procedures for Police Officer conduct and implements other provisions. While this is a step in the right direction, broad legislation at the federal level is fundamentally unable to address the specific issues and nuances of local municipalities’ law enforcement. In order to better respond to the communities they serve, it is critical that local governments and policymakers take action on police reform.
Historically, the City of Berkeley has played a critical role in developing law enforcement practices. August Vollmer, the city’s first police Chief, who among other things, first put officers in automobiles, is hailed as the Father of American policing. Likewise, Berkeley is home to the nation’s first civilian oversight board over the Police Department. Berkeley can continue its leading role by addressing today’s policing issues, namely unconstitutional behavior, racial abuse, and unsustainable expense. Though a gargantuan problem, policymakers in Berkeley and elsewhere can make headway by breaking the larger problem into its individual parts — data-driven budgeting, police accountability, the warrior mentality instilled in police academies, and the use of armed officers in non-criminal cases.
The Office of Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett has authored and passed the Safety for All: George Floyd Community Safety Act, which consists of the following individual policy arms:
- DATA: Analyze Police Call, Response, and Overtime Data
- RE-ALLOCATION: Re-Allocate Funding for Non-Criminal Police Duties towards a Specialized Care Unit (SCU)
- PROGRESSIVE TRAINING: Development of a Progressive Police Academy
- ACCOUNTABILITY: Analysis of Contractual and Legal Barriers to Public Safety Reform
This four-pronged approach begins with making immediate changes, specifically the RE-ALLOCATION of funding based on DATA analysis. The creation of a pilot program for an unarmed Specialized Care Unit composed of trained crisis-response workers to replace police officers as first responders to non-criminal 911 calls is a preventative measure that avoids bringing arms and munitions into non-threatening situations. This initiative works in conjunction with a second proposal to have a third party consultant conduct an analysis of police call and response data with the goal of determining which types of calls warrant the response of armed officers as opposed to unarmed crisis workers. As the City gets a clearer picture of which situations are better handled by unarmed first responders, the program can evolve so that sufficient personnel is available and adequate resources are reallocated to the SCU to handle the caseload, sufficient to handle the caseload, and the appropriate personnel is assigned to the right cases.
The “Warrior Mentality” is a characteristic ingrained in police culture and training. It drives a deep divide between police and the community. So long as this mindset persists, many civilians cease to view the police as members of the community tasked with upholding the law, seeing instead an unpredictable occupying force with a license for violence and the armaments to do so. Unfortunately, existing police academies perpetuate this “Warrior Mentality.” One critical long-term police reform action includes investing in PROGRESSIVE TRAINING for police officers. Developing a progressive police academy and a curriculum that ingrains critical decision-making models that value human life and working towards a peaceful resolution prioritizes de-escalation tactics, and teaches Fair and Impartial Policing (FIP) is essential to rooting out the “Warrior Mentality.” This will help police and community function in greater harmony.
One final piece of the puzzle is ACCOUNTABILITY. Police officers are trained crisis responders whose actions often have a tremendous impact, good or bad, on individuals’ lives. It is thus imperative that their actions and conduct are held to a high standard of responsibility. This includes appropriate consequences for misconduct and enforcement of such consequences. Since major barriers to accountability include union contracts, vendor contracts, and state and federal laws, it is critical that the City Attorney conduct an analysis of potential roadblocks to substantive reform.
This comprehensive targeted approach of DATA, RE-ALLOCATION, PROGRESSIVE TRAINING, and ACCOUNTABILITY paves the way for long-overdue police reform. The Office of Councilmember Ben Bartlett developed the George Floyd Community Safety Act in collaboration with leading experts in criminal justice reform, including Leah Wilson, former Executive Director of the California State Bar; David Muhammad, the Executive Director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform; Marcus McKinney, the Senior Director of Government Affairs & Public Policy at the Center for Policing Equity; and Professor Tracey L. Meares, Faculty Director of the Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School. With their guidance, the Office of Councilmember Bartlett is confident that the George Floyd Safety Act can address some of the most detrimental problems with modern policing and offers carefully measured effective solutions.