Walker began the text with the notion that police were in a “National Crisis” and needed new strategies to improve public trust and legitimacy. He identifies many recent “best practices” in policing as the foundation for a “New Conversation” about police reform. Walker provides a clear “roadmap for the future “of police reform around principles, policies and practices necessary to achieve professional, respectful and lawful policing (Walker, 2018). This essay critically discusses one practice from each of Walker’s three areas, such as principles, policies and practices and how each impacts the future of police accountability and reform. I will also consider the strengths and weaknesses of each of the three practices and examine whether each practice would have limited success as many of the past or will the practice endure the challenges of an undetermined future.
Policing accountability and trust concerns
Despite the Trump Administration’s cancellation of two accountability-related police-reform programs initiated by the U.S Department of Justice (DOJ), signs suggest continued efforts to improve policing practices in law enforcement are still alive. For several reasons: both broader social-political environments surrounding these matters-and internal contexts within the profession offer cause for hope (Walker, 2018). The National Police Crisis currently afflicting the United States resulted from events occurring across the nation relating to Ferguson (Missouri) circa August 2014, initiating a heightened level of public awareness or concern over matters concerning policing accountability which would ultimately set the foundations necessary for future reforms. The passionate debates over required changes caused by this crisis occurred primarily among national law-enforcement entities; these gradually coalesced into a “New Conversation” around necessary policing reforms (Walker, 2018). Central to this conversation are three primary sources that offer a success blueprint: the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, the Police Executive Research Forum (a professional association of police chiefs), and court-enforced settlements issued by the Civil Rights Division of DOJ.
The way that the Trump Administration handled two policing reforms caused worry and alarm among a range of community activists who work on initiatives related to policing issues and experts in law enforcement reform. One such reform was what is often referred to as the “pattern or practice program” that came into being under Section 14141 of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and was located explicitly within The Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section (SLS) (Walker, 2018). This marks a significant moment in American history concerning policing because it saw federal authorities intervene directly in numerous local police departments to end unconstitutional practices while establishing broad governance reforms supported by judicial oversight. Over twenty years, SLS played a crucial role in revamping how police operate, earning acclaim from civil rights advocates and police reform experts alike. William J Stuntz hailed it as “the most important legal initiative for improving police regulations within twenty years” back in 2006. The program conducted almost seventy investigations into various law enforcement agencies since 1997, ultimately cutting deals with forty of them through consent decrees or memoranda of understanding (MOA), making sweeping policy changes concerning officer behaviour regarding the use of force, accountability measures related to unconstitutional behaviour like racial profiling and stopping individuals for searches without following proper protocols which were all geared towards ensuring better constitutional management within policing requirements (Walker, 2018). The program has yet to go without scrutiny from critics who are troubled by what they view as potential intrusiveness in local police affairs, exorbitant financial expenditures at the cost of municipalities, and exacerbation rather than the mediation of tensions between community members and those responsible for their protection. Despite these setbacks or shortcomings in efficacy demonstration, it should be noted that several evaluations from past settlements reveal positive outcomes for the program’s goals.
The National Police Crisis sparked significant action at a national level. In December 2014, President Barack Obama launched an exclusive task force under his leadership dubbed “the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing,” focusing exclusively on issues related to law enforcement agents. This marked a milestone as it was unprecedented in presidential history. The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the “Kerner Commission”, was established to probe riots between 1964-1967, barely scratched the surface and only dedicated two chapters specifically to policing challenges (Walker, 2018). Consequently, many were concerned about how information regarding fatal shootings of young African American men by police officers had been handled previously.
Bolstering current policing practices hinges on addressing issues encompassing multitudinous aspects related to policing strategies. The recent legislation implemented constitutes wide-ranging rules under the auspices of three overarching categories specified in the Vera Institute’s Report. The foremost one revolves around” Improving Police Operations” (Walker, 2018). It endeavours to check problematic elements such as unwarranted use of force. It forbids chokeholds while also curbing racism and individual-based biases prevalent within law enforcement circles enforced by eleven states mandatorily. The second concentrates upon “Documenting Police Operations”, which primarily concerns itself with body-worn cameras, setting up guidelines that enable recordings, possibly protecting those who record interactions between civilians and officers, alongside wanting all police-involved shootings made public with laws governing this practice passed in twenty-eight separate states (Walker, 2018). “Increasing Accountability “bolsters independent investigations into cases wherein an officer’s firearm engagement results in fatalities or the creation of written policies to investigate deaths involving law enforcement officials. Utilizing a plethora of legislative statutes introduced during this period reflects an evident shift towards improving policing practices.
Principles, practices and Policies in future policing reform
Policing reached a juncture marked by public protests, investigative research, and intense debates resulting from the National Police Crisis. The Development of the New Conversation emerged as an answer to this crisis; it forms a critical transformative dialogue providing important guidelines necessary for governance to hold police accountable for their actions. A rough consensus is now visible regarding fundamental principles, policies, and practices required to steer future accountability-focused police reform endeavours. The main focus of this conversation revolves around addressing systemic issues like excessive violence, racial categorizations, and lack of transparency which plague the modern law enforcement system (Walker, 2018). The essence behind this renewed conversation is community engagement, increasing officer training programs and implementing effective oversight mechanisms. Additionally, this conversation highlights how resources could be reallocated toward social services and mental health initiatives to alleviate pressure on already overworked law enforcement agencies.
One notable achievement of the SLS program is its creation of a concise list of “best practices” for constitutional policing, which are now considered a fundamental aspect of both the New Conversation and police reform roadmap. According to the Civil Rights Division’s 2017 report, settlements often comprise similar reforms. Some investigations have even been conducted to establish reform standards that can assist agencies facing similar issues (Feeley and Rubin, 2021). Constitutional standards were implemented as best prison practices during the prisoners’ rights movement.
One of the best practices recommended by Walker (2018, p. 1824) in the New Conversation is “accountability procedures for command level review of the use of force incidents, including primarily a use of force review board (“UFRB”) dedicated to identifying problems in a department’s use of force policies, training, and supervision;” and it has a more significant impact on the future of police accountability and reform. Walker’s (2018) recommendation to establish an accountability procedure for reviewing the use of force incidents at a command level presents promising opportunities for advancing police accountability and reform. One proposed solution is to create a designated Use of Force Review Board (UFRB), which could enhance transparency via structured examination and evaluation processes while providing additional oversight over law enforcement activities. A significant advantage is that such a measure would go beyond typical investigations during incident responses; it could build greater public trust if completed impartially with external experts and community representatives participating as stakeholders on board reviews via inclusive membership appointments underlie this design structure. By intensifying compliance, mentoring subtleties like Use-of-Force Policies or training or supervision modules may be warranted when exposed as unacceptable practices or tendencies within organizations reviewed by board evaluations to guide implementations on predictable outcomes (Walker, 2018). Command-level personnel participation through such a UFRB is consistent with responsible decision-making, beginning at the top and enabling lessons to drive towards continuous improvement in policing culture. Thus, the UFRB can be critical in shaping future policy reforms via accountability and responsible leadership, engendering trust and improving practices. Accountability measures such as the use of force review board recommended by Walker greatly influence police accountability and their overall reformation process.
Accountability procedures like force review boards (UFRBs) carry strengths and weaknesses. While these procedures can enhance transparency, oversight, and meaningful reform efforts, there are concerns over their adoption in police departments due to resistance or limitations in maintaining adequate resources for UFRBs’ functioning (Breckenridge, 2018). In addition to this challenge is ensuring an independent and impartial review board process. This practice’s success depends on many factors, such as law enforcement agency dedication towards improvement along with continued public support for policing advancement combined with periodic assessments leading to modification while keeping up with evolving needs towards achieving improved outcomes in uncertain future circumstances. Increased transparency, along with elevated oversight and purposeful improvements, enable UFRBs to help strengthen responsible training methods for law enforcement agencies in using force, providing better community stability.
The most notable principle articulated by Walker relates to legitimacy. To improve policing practices and reform in America, The President’s Task Force on 21st-Century Policing issued fundamental principles in 2015. Simultaneously partnering groups such as PERF represented more prominent city Police chiefs while advancing policy recommendations around areas such as using force; de-escalation; tactical decision-making; training, among other relevant matters (Walker, 2018). The significant contribution of The President’s Task Force report was emphasizing legitimacy at the forefront of discussions around American policing. This issue had been concerning Police experts for some time and was later dubbed “New Conversation.” To attain legitimacy among citizens is one critical aspect identified by The President’s Taskforce report, which highlighted “Procedural Justice” as central to interactions between Police departments and members of society.
Procedural justice demands respect in how officers handle people, including introducing themselves, providing clear explanations of the reason for contact, actively listening to the individual’s concerns or queries they may have and addressing them promptly. The encounter concludes when an officer explains what the outcome of that interaction means. Importantly, these principles must apply internally within police operations. The Task Force’s efforts extended beyond its initial focus on legitimacy and procedural justice principles by devising ways to address polarization within police internal operations between management-level personnel and rank-and-file officers (Walker, 2018). With several notable contributions towards governing policing practices and addressing reform initiatives, including implementation of independent investigations for police shootings incidents; making information publicly available regarding stops or arrests recorded by local law enforcement agencies; sharing procedures documented within departmental policies; engaging citizens’ inputs during its approach towards policymaking; imparting de-escalation tactics onto its staff in active environments involving residents from diverse cultural backgrounds whilst also providing awareness into unconscious bias.
Legitimacy principles have both strengths and weaknesses. To establish solid relationships between law enforcement agencies and their communities, creating trust is paramount; this is where President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing comes in with its core value of legitimacy. The legitimacy principle promotes actions deemed just, fair and respectful by police officers to create goodwill with the community they serve. However, creating such an equitable system could require breaking profoundly entrenched institutional practices or cultural biases within communities as roadblocks. Despite these challenges, it still validates how crucial maintaining trust is for policing’s future growth. Sustained efforts must work to resolve systemic issues while adapting needs through transparency into all processes for continued success.
The notions of policing recommendations delineated in PERF reports demonstrate significant potential and are highly relevant to forthcoming police reform accomplishments. The policies PERF recommended concerning control of police officer use of force included enhanced training opportunities, de-escalation techniques, and tactical decision-making implementation. Police departments are contemplating adopting de-escalation policies as part of their tactics to reform how they hold themselves accountable when committing excessive violence or brutality against citizens (Engel et al., 2020). Typically, such facilities perpetually emphasize aggressive methods when dealing with crime or conflict, which can lead to tragedy if left unchecked. De-escalation mechanisms prioritize non-lethal policing practices above other tactics, which may trigger unnecessary physical violence between defensive authorities and suspects as they have potential impacts on pushing police units towards better frameworks for exemplary conduct, especially where community-oriented policing is given priority leading to evolving levels of trust between the public and law enforcers (Engel et al., 2022). Additionally, de-escalation measures may help counter some of the issues perpetuated by a “warrior” mindset, such as officer training and cultural issues that contribute to partiality towards using overly aggressive tactics to resolve altercations. Re-orienting their attention towards maintaining peace among citizens and upholding a practical guardian mentality during policing would be a significant shift. It is important to note that enforcing de-escalation policies comes with obstacles that should be noticed as pointed out by Walker (2018), police agencies within law enforcement oppose utilizing de-escalation methods due to concerns surrounding officer safety.
Furthermore, factors could influence policy efficiency, including but not limited to officer discretion quality of training programs provided by departments (Tummers & Bekkers, 2014). To ensure successful implementation in reducing potentially hazardous situations safely, officers must be equipped with the necessary skills and empowerment through proper training, and resources must be allocated adequately. Nonetheless, implementing non-lethal alternatives and fostering a culture based on peaceful resolution has incredible potential when addressing topics such as police responsiveness while building a robust community trust network for future reforms.
The National Police Crisis ignited an essential conversation about police accountability and reform: a “New Conversation.” This dialogue culminated in better approaches to restoring public trust & legitimacy; Walker outlined critical principles, policies and practices guiding this transformation. One vital recommendation from Walker is the Use of Force Review Boards (UFRBs). Through impartial monitoring & evaluating use-of-force occurrences independently, UFRBs can improve transparency while enhancing accountability in policing departments. Implementing them would only be with hurdles like cultural or logistical ones, but overcoming them would guarantee their effectiveness. Even more critical are de-escalation measures emphasizing legitimacy as the foundation of acceptable policing. These are necessary for fostering public trust and non-lethal alternatives to thrive when met with prevailing cultural opposition or inadequacy in training & resource allocation. Thus, the effective deployment of these strategies is crucial to achieving genuine change regarding police accountability and reform.
Breckenridge, J. (2018). Civilians on Police Use-of-Force Review Boards: A Delphi Study of Six Police Departments. Homeland Security Affairs. https://search.proquest.com/openview/a7fe5aabe26a018aa1de25ef095372c2/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=1336360
Engel, R. S., Corsaro, N., Isaza, G. T., & McManus, H. D. (2022). Assessing the impact of de‐escalation training on police behaviour: Reducing police use of force in the Louisville, KY Metro Police Department. Criminology & Public Policy, 21(2), 199-233. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1745-9133.12574
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Rubin, E. L., & Feeley, M. M. (2021). Criminal Justice through Management: From Police, Prosecutors, Courts, and Prisons to a Modern Administrative Agency. Or. L. Rev., 100, 261. https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/orglr100§ion=14
Tummers, L., & Bekkers, V. (2014). Policy implementation, street-level bureaucracy, and the importance of discretion. Public Management Review, 16(4), 527-547. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14719037.2013.841978
Walker, S. (2018). Not dead yet: The national police crisis, a new conversation about policing, and the prospects for accountability-related police reform. U. Ill. L. Rev., 1777. https://illinoislawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Walker.pdf