The nation's interest in police reform has never been greater. Conversations that used to take place largely in government buildings and research institutions now permeate living rooms and social media. Those of us who have worked on these topics for many years are now in a position to share what we have learned about how the nation can improve policing practices and begin the critical, demanding task of rebuilding relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
Four elements are key to the success of reform in policing:
Objective assessment. Communities must know that agencies are engaging in reform based on objective and fair assessments. These assessments are the starting point to identifying policies and practices with negative consequences for the community and determining how to address them.
For example, empirical data on racial disparities in traffic stops, citations, use of force, and complaints outcomes can inform an objective assessment. Engaging outside providers to perform independent, evidence-based assessments of policy and practice is more likely to result in legitimate, community-vetted findings and actionable recommendations. These assessments must include community perspectives; otherwise, reform efforts will fail to rebuild trust.
Accountability and transparency. Agencies must also commit to accountability and transparency at all stages of the reform process. Independent assessment results must be made openly and easily available to the public, including all recommendations made to the agency. Agencies should establish procedures for updating the community on their progress for each recommendation, ideally on a public website. Agencies and communities can also benefit from engaging an independent organization to monitor progress and assess compliance with recommendations.
Active community participation. The community must be actively engaged in policing reform. This requires commitment from both the agency and the community. The agency must commit to listening to the community’s concerns and acknowledging how past actions have harmed community members. The community must commit to sharing their viewpoints honestly and working collaboratively toward improvements. This collaboration and honest engagement must be present throughout the reform process for reform to succeed.
Renewed focus and resources. Stakeholders at all levels and types of organizations must make reform a top priority in policing and dedicate the necessary resources to ensure complete engagement. Local governments should ensure sufficient funding for assessments and implementation of innovative, community-oriented policies and practices. States must promote legislation and requirements that incentivize reforms. And the federal government must lead the charge, establishing new, adequately funded programs, as well as renewing investment in successful reform efforts. Federal investment will ensure that reform is available to all communities, not just those that can afford it independently.
For effective and lasting police reform to emerge from this wave of national attention, all stakeholders — law enforcement professionals, researchers, analysts, community members, and government officials — need to commit to these four pillars. We can improve policing, public safety, and public trust, if we commit and work together.