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Four things we can change to reduce police violence in America

Calls for police reform have never been louder, but in order for actual reform to take place, we need to make concrete changes that work to keep citizens safe while holding police accountable. The people over at Freethink have written four things we can do to end police violence in America. You can find them below.

Data transparency: Twenty-two states currently have laws that specifically exempt the release of police records in order to keep them confidential. In another 15 states, public access to these records is incredibly limited, leaving only 12 states in which police disciplinary records are public. Without access to these records, the public cannot hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct or determine if their practices are effective in limiting the use of force. American citizens are calling for change and, it seems, the first step to creating purposeful police reform would be to pull back the veil on this protected information and allow increased transparency into the practices of police departments. 

Body-worn cameras: Although many departments across the country began to utilize these cameras, new issues arose such as a lack of regulation and footage not being made available to the public. And the jury is still out as to whether or not the cameras significantly decrease the use of force. One study conducted by Arizona’s Tempe Police Department found that while the use of body-worn cameras resulted in a slight reduction in the use of force among its specialized units, the cameras made little to no impact among regular patrol officers. Reforms can be made to ensure that this measure is implemented more effectively across the country.

Police unions: One of the biggest obstacles to purposeful police reform is the magnitude and power of police unions. A University of Chicago study found that a Supreme Court ruling which gave officers the right to unionize resulted in a 40% increase in violent misconduct carried out by sheriff’s officers. One potential cause for the increase in misconduct is that the unions make it difficult to punish officers who abuse their power. An analysis of 178 police union contracts found that 156 of them included at least one provision that could disrupt any attempt to legitimately discipline officers who have acted in misconduct. These include investigation time limits and interrogation rules. If we want real police reform, then we must reduce the power of police unions.

Qualified immunity: Qualified Immunity, created by the Supreme Court in 1982, was originally intended to protect government officials acting in good faith from financial liability. It ensures that officials are protected so long as they have not violated the law that is clearly established. In other words, a previous court ruling must exist showing that similar conduct, under similar circumstances, violates constitutional rights. The issue with this approach? An officer can claim qualified immunity even if they have done something extremely inhumane just because no prior ruling existed in that jurisdiction regarding that particular action.

The goal of police reform is not to punish police officers. Rather, it is to ensure that officers acting out gross misconduct do not represent the system as a whole. 

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