Regulate Use of Force
In this month’s issue, we draw on decades of Reason journalism about policing and criminal justice to make practical suggestions about how to use the momentum of this summer’s tumultuous protests productively. Check out Damon Root on abolishing qualified immunity, Peter Suderman on busting the police unions, Jacob Sullum on ending the war on drugs, Sally Satel on rethinking crisis response, Zuri Davis on restricting asset forfeiture, Alec Ward on releasing body cam footage, Jonathan Blanks on stopping overpolicing, Stephen Davies on defunding the police, and Nick Gillespie interviewing former Reasoner Radley Balko on police militarization.
“Through a combination of specific legislative acts, departmental procedures, monopolistic default, and the general effect and aura of the laws they enforce, police have come to a point where, to one degree or another, they are above the law. Not only may (and do) and must police squash rights within the law, but, the degree depending on circumstances and motive, they may also do so outside the law.”
“The Cops: Heroes or Villains?”
As tens of thousands of Americans marched through the streets following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, city councils, state legislatures, and Congress all wrestled with how to address protesters’ demands for an end to police brutality. One problem is that the standards for how and when police can use force on someone are complicated, and strong-sounding reforms have a funny way of getting neutered at the street level where day-to-day police interactions occur.
New York City banned police from using chokeholds, for instance, but that didn’t stop New York Police Department (NYPD) officer Daniel Pantaleo from killing Eric Garner in 2014. Cities spent money on implicit bias and de-escalation training in the years following the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, but Floyd still died with a knee on his neck. The number of fatal police shootings has hovered around 1,000 per year since 2015, according to a database created by The Washington Post.
Yet there are concrete policy changes that, taken together, could improve policing and reduce excessive force incidents.
Defining the Continuum of Force
One of the most pressing demands from activists is to change departments’ use-of-force policies, which govern how and when police can initiate force against a person. Every department has its own procedures manual, and traditionally lawmakers and courts have been l
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