Comprehensive Police Reform: Reorganizing the Interconnected Missions of Law Enforcement
I read another commentary this morning about 'defunding' the police. This one specifically looked at the Baltimore City Police Department and its particularly troubled history. After offering a review of the issues and the more immediate history of the BCPD, the authors ended with the redundant and simplistic solution of 'significantly defunding police and reallocating money in ways that might curb violence and offer resources....' In doing so, however, they failed to offer a singe related thought or recommendation.
What 'ways might curb violence?' What 'resources' are to be added? And what existing 'resources' can be differently used?
I'm from Baltimore. I'm a graduate of the Baltimore City Public Schools. I haven't just 'driven through' the different neighborhoods often identified when Baltimore is written about but have lived in different ones. I've worked in countless homes across Baltimore City supporting families of children with developmental, socio-emotional and behavioral need. A broad demand to 'defund police' is far easier for those who aren't part of these communities. To many of us who have been and/or are, the need is much more complicated.
The call to 'defund' police sorely misrepresents both, that which is simultaneously probable and explicitly needed. Comprehensive police reform to include significantly reorganizing and re-prioritizing the mission of and how services are provided though local law enforcement is the key. Redirecting existing and targeting new sources of funding must be pursued. Blended police and community processes are the priority. But how might such a broad need be pragmatically engaged?
That social and mental health service agencies who are over overworked, overwhelmed and in desperate need of more resources must be acknowledged and differently supported. This should include more professional hiring, better salaries and lowered caseloads with strong and supportive supervision combined with more effective, pragmatic and relevant training for all. Some years ago, I was invited and given the unique opportunity to provide training to Baltimore's Child Protective Services on a family and child behavioral services model. That it was well received and the discussion great speaks to the need to offer social and mental health service workers a broader professional base and alternative resources
Overworked, overwhelmed and in desperate need of resources public schools must be supported and children far more obviously valued. Teachers should not have have to buy items ranging from toilet paper and learning materials to playground equipment out of pocket. The most experienced teachers need incentives to teach in the most challenged schools. Money and resources must be returned to and efficiently used by public schools. Training and supervision must be mutually strengthened. Children should not have to attend class in winter wearing their winter coats for lack of building heat. Authentic school-based and trained mental health and behavioral resources must be made available.
Short of the most overt behavior (i.e. weapon use; drug dealing), NO child should be arrested in school and suspension/expulsion must not be routinely used as an 'educational' or 'behavioral' strategy. Above all, the classroom and school environment must be designed for Success rather than the tendency to try and 'force fit' - by use of ongoing punishment - children into unsuccessful settings. Children must not be punished for skills they don't have ranging from academic to social, learning readiness and behavioral skill deficits. Just as we teach reading, writing and arithmetic, teachers must better understand, be better trained and supported to teach collateral social, adaptive, behavioral and 'readiness' competencies (the 'Hidden Curriculum').
Medical care and child care must be available. A Community School model in which such needed resources are made available to children and families/caregivers should be considered. This is another example of using existing resources differently. Grocery stores and other resources routinely available uptown must be in place. Benefited employment must be made available.
Police priorities and training must be thoughtfully and deliberately changed with active and accepted community input then logically delivered to include use of targeted merit pay. In this case, merit pay would not connect to more arrests, convictions or the issuance of tickets but, for instance, to officers in districts which show a covariance between fewer arrests with a reduction in specific crimes/criminal activity. Strong, respectful community policing is one way to pursue such outcomes.
In all that has been discussed and written, the status of too often all powerful police unions have been barely touched upon. So many of these police unions through whom unaccountable contracts are most often demanded, delivered and defended must be reorganized.
All police officers do not need to be armed since so many calls are for minor non-violent events. Those not carrying a gun would then not hold to the always final option of having a gun. Use police differently.
Sworn in, trained and unarmed mental health specialist police officers should be part of police agencies. These specialist officers would take selected calls as the primary respondents while providing direct assistance to their colleagues on other calls.
End the militarization of police agencies. To justify these outrageous materials and capital outlays, police must consistently find the need to use them. If such tools are not available, time and force will be allocated differently. With this comes the potential to save large amounts of money which can then be redirected to other relevant initiatives.
Create paid citizen police oversight committees with teeth whose members are voted in by communities/neighborhoods. These committees would also either lead and/or directly participate in all internal police investigations with their input and ultimate votes given full weight.
Police personnel records must be made available at least to the degree as are those of teachers.
End what has long been the explicit demand, often quota based systems placed on patrol officers to write more tickets for traffic and other minor violations as a way to benefit both local and police budgets...which, too often, then connects to a corrupt and poorly regulated for-profit bail bond industry.
End the often corrupt relationship between the for-profit bail bond and for-profit prison industries. Create and pass real legislation which significantly curbs and regulates the activity and reach of the for-profit bail bond industry. End contracts with the for-profit prison industry.
NOBODY should be or remain incarcerated for their inability to pay routine fines and/or generate bail for simple, non-violent crimes. Take the bail-bond industry fully OUT of this loop. The first priority is to ensure such fines and/or arrests are legitimate. When they are, other community-based alternatives should be prioritized if the individual does not have the money. When these fines or minor arrests are not legitimate, to include those identified as harassment, they should be immediately dismissed.
'Mandatory;' predetermined prison sentences must be scrapped. The judiciary should consider having paid 'racial oversight boards' in each region made up of independent lawyers and citizens who can review charges and potential sentences across defendants with an emphasis on racial disparities
Prison must be used for training and recovery rather than more punishment and loss. Authentic social and mental health services must be prioritized which support not only inmates but their families as well. Inmates who've successfully completed their respective sentence must become employable with the right to vote as an American immediately and fully returned.
Children of inmates must be considered for more targeted and specialized resources to include trauma-related care. Children are the victims in this larger cycle and how they are treated across the system, certainly in part, helps guide their individual trajectories.
To work, change must be real