Uploaded by Robbie Rumph

The Case for Police Reform (3)

The Case for Police Reform
An Analysis of American Police Structure
Robbie Rumph
University of North Carolina Wilmington
May 2021
Table of Contents
〰 Executive Summary - (2)
〰 Background - (4)
History of Police Violence - (4)
Statistical Analysis - (6)
Police Training - (7)
Police Militarization and the 1033 Program - (9)
Police Structure and Code of Silence - (12)
〰 Proposed Alternatives - (14)
Establish Oversight - (14)
Training Overhaul - (15)
Restructuring Departments (16)
〰 Appendix I - (18)
〰 Appendix II - (19)
〰 Appendix III - (20)
〰 References - (21)
Executive Summary
Law enforcement became a particularly hot topic over the past year, the killing of
George Floyd sparked the largest series of protests in United States history. Long-time
activists and regular citizens alike came together to express solidarity with a movement
that has been stirring for decades, finally reaching a flashpoint and becoming the
subject of national discourse with unprecedented levels of outrage. However, the case
for police reform doesn’t begin and end with the conviction of Derek Chauvin, George
Floyd’s death is a symptom of a larger institutional issue encompassing American law
enforcement. “One death is a tragedy, one thousand deaths, is a statistic.” In line with
this saying, 1,127 lives were lost at the hands of law enforcement officers in 2020,
setting a new record for the nation and continuing a trend of increased police violence.
By comparing police killings in the U.S. to other wealthy nations, it becomes apparent
this problem is one that’s uniquely American. Furthermore, a breakdown of the data
reveals persisting racial bias when applying the use of force. Nearly all the data
regarding police encounters is obtained from newspapers due to police department’s
intentional refusal to make this data publicly available. American police are accountable
only to themselves, compounding this lack of external oversight is a phenomenon
referred to as the “Blue Wall of Silence,” the self-preservatory behavior police
departments will engage in to protect each other from culpability. The routine frequency
in which these incidents occur and the inevitable effort to obfuscate the details around
the violence demonstrates how deeply embedded this issue is within our police
It’s important to note that this analysis is not only concerned with addressing
lethality of American police encounters but to highlight the culture of violence that
affects every officer trained in the U.S. and the discourse surrounding them. The abuse
of state-sanctioned violence is one that directly violates citizens’ liberties to exist freely
from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority, a right that inspired the very founding
of America. The severity of this issue is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis, one that
the American public has been unreasonably complacent with. The extensiveness of
policy alternatives discussed run in accordance with the substantiality of the problem
they aim to resolve, ranging from immediate measures that can be put in place to
reduce the escalation of violence, to a long-term overhaul of police structure aimed
towards redefining the role police serve in society. A particular focus is placed on
increasing transparency and accountability within our law enforcement institutions and
ensuring that every officer is best equipped for the situations they’ll encounter. Finally,
policy proposals offer a restorative approach to justice, preventing crime before it occurs
by addressing the source as opposed to the punitive method currently in place.
A Brief History on Police Violence
To say the justice system is broken implies it was at one time functional, though
this is not the case. The brutality and racial discrimination present in American law
enforcement can be traced back to the organization’s first incarnation as slave patrols.
Founded in South Carolina in 1704, these patrols were the nation’s first instance of a
governmental paramilitary group tasked with law enforcement. These organizations
were directed and compensated by wealthy landowners for capturing freed and
runaway slaves alike, effectively functioning as private militias. In 1838, cities began
forming their own publicly funded police departments. Though they now had established
procedures and rules, they were largely beholden to local politicians. Corruption ranged
from using the police to intimidate opposition-party voters to forcefully breaking up labor
strikes. Police were more or less a state-controlled mafia, a strong arm used to coerce
the populace. As time continued, police departments gained more jurisdiction over their
actions and expanded into an autonomous organization of their own. The Civil Rights
protests brought police brutality to the forefront of attention when officers were used to
violently suppress demonstrations. Starting during Nixon’s administration, incarceration
was utilized to disenfranchise specific voter populations. When asked about working in
Nixon’s White House, the former Chief of Domestic Policy had this to say; “The Nixon
campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar
left and black people.You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it
illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the
hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we
could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. Raid their homes, break
up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know
we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” (Lockie, 2019).
The Nixon administration is largely credited as the architect for the future war on drugs,
as it was the first time the criminalization of a controlled substance was used to
subliminally and indirectly target specific communities.The dawn of the 1980s saw a
steady rise in gang-related violence across American cities. As a response to this
growing problem, police departments began heavily militarizing. S.W.A.T. teams were
formed for the first time and with it came deadlier weapons and armored vehicles. As
police were getting more lethal, the laws around drugs got more severe. The Reagan
administration is famous for its relentless war against crack-cocaine, sponsoring
legislation that would disproportionately increase sentences for specifically
crack-cocaine related charges, despite the substance being chemically identical to
powder cocaine. The War on Drugs reached its crescendo in 1994 when the Violent
Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was signed into law. This bill once again
heightened punishments for drug related crimes, specifically adding minimum
sentencing to these non-violent offenses. Bill Clinton signed the 1033 program into law
in 1997, this piece of legislation allowed police departments to purchase excess military
vehicles, weapons, and equipment. The implementation of this program saw the largest
ever increase in police expenditure, records show over 80% of counties have
participated in the program. Now armed with more reasons than ever to arrest
someone, no external oversight, and the outfitting of an occupying military force,
modern American policing emerged.
Statistical Analysis
Figure 1. (above) Graph illustrating the frequency of police killings among wealthy nations. The number of
people killed by law enforcement per 10 million.
Figure 2. (below) Graph illustrating the total number of fatal police encounters among wealthy nations.
A glaringly obvious trend can be immediately discerned upon examining Figures
1 and 2, American police kill at an overwhelmingly higher rate than law enforcement in
comparable nations. The disparity is so great that the United States police are
responsible for more deaths than every country shown combined, both in total number
and rate per 10 million. Even when accounting for differences in violent crime,
American law enforcement kill at a wildly disproportionate rate. Ranking America
amongst all nations isn’t any less disappointing, sitting comfortably between Uruguay
and Angola (see Appendix I). 2020 saw the largest number of fatal police encounters in
American history, claiming the lives of 1,127 people. 58% of these killings were traffic
stops, police responses to mental health crises, or situations where the person was not
reportedly threatening anyone with a gun. Only 16 of these cases resulted in the officer
being charged, just 1% of all shootings, with even less ever facing conviction(Mapping
Police Violence, 2021).
Police Training
Calling American law enforcement painfully inadequate would be putting it lightly.
The United States on average mandates between 13 and 21 weeks of training,
compared to European nations that can require up to 3 years of studying to become a
police officer(Dekanoidze, 2018). Furthermore, the limited training of American officers
places a heavy emphasis on the most violent aspects of police work. New recruits are
immediately bombarded with hours of bodycam footage and radio transmissions that
depict the final terrifying moments of officers killed in the line of duty. From the very first
day of training, cops are taught to distrust the public, that every encounter and every
individual they come across could be a potential threat. Police are taught to act quickly
and without hesitation, placing the potential safety of the officer above the citizens
they’re supposed to protect and serve. This lack of trust in society leads to officers
viewing their communities as battlefields to be occupied, influencing every encounter
they have with the public. The rising prevalence of the “Warrior-Cop” attitude works to
further blur the line between public servant and soldier through normalizing police
militarization and romanticising police violence. This military approach to policing is one
that’s endorsed at all levels within police institutions, training seminars routinely book
speakers like Dave Grossman, whose claim to fame is their ability to convince police
and soldiers to pull the trigger by eroding the natural human aversion to taking a life.
Grossman preaches this discipline, dubbed “Killology,” to over 300 venues a year and
has authored a collection of books propagating the idea that police are being violently
targeted and that an officer is always one late reaction away from a potentially fatal
incident. “Grossman continues to insist that cops are the ones under siege and that they
must be more, not less, prepared to use force.
“The number of dead cops has exploded like nothing we have ever seen,” he tells the
armed citizens in Lakeport. (That is not true: The average annual number of police
officers intentionally killed while on duty in the past decade is 40 percent lower than it
was in the 1980s.) If emergency medicine and body armor hadn’t improved since the
1970s, Grossman claims, “the number of dead cops would be eight times what it is”
today. It’s not clear how he arrived at these figures” (Schatz, 2017.)
By conditioning officers to expect violence, a primary function of the police is ignored.
As a “keeper of the peace,” law enforcement’s number one priority should be
deescalating violent situations, however, this combat-ready warrior mindset directly
works against that objective. Communication and de-escalation tactics are nowhere
near as prevalent in American police training when compared to other wealthy nations,
and the results speak for themselves(see Figures 1. and 2.)
With training lasting less than 6 months and the majority of that time being spent on
combat, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this current system produces officers that
are regretfully unprepared for the situations they’ll find themselves in. For instance, it’s
estimated that over 10% of police interactions involve citizens with a severe untreated
mental illness. More shocking is that over 1 in 4 people fatally shot by police are
suffering from a severe mental illness, making these individuals 16x more likely to
experience a fatal encounter with police(Fuller, 2015).
Police Militarization and the 1033 Program
The 1990s marked the zenith in punitive justice, the 1994 Crime Bill had
escalated the War on Drugs to its record height and an increasing number of cities were
forming militarized S.W.A.T. teams for the first time. Truly a product of its time, the 1033
Program is a piece of legislation permitting the transfer of surplus military-grade
weapons and equipment to local police departments. First signed into law in 1991
before being expanded upon in 1997, this policy aimed to equip law enforcement for
any situation while remaining cost effective. Supporters of the 1033 Program argue that
the use of military equipment improves the safety of officers both physically and by
acting as a deterrent. Militarized police are meant to look intimidating, the fear they
evoke is designed to discourage any would-be attacker or criminal. However, when
analyzing the actual impact of this policy over the past 30 years, a different narrative
unfolds. Because departments have been militarizing at different rates, it’s possible to
isolate the effects the 1033 Program has had on crime rate and officer safety across
multiple departments. The results indicated that not only does police militarization not
decrease crime or police injury, it may actually cause an increase in both. Militarization
decreases public trust in police, potentially leading to more crimes (Mummolo, 2018).
Militarized police are used as an occupying force and are far more likely to be deployed
in Black American communities than in white ones, even when accounting for crime
rates. Unsurprisingly, the use of militarized police directly leads to a general increase in
death at the hands of law enforcement. Examining the relationship between police
expenditures as a part of the 1033 program and fatal police encounters produces a
statistically significant correlation and can even be used to predict future civilian deaths
with 90% confidence(see Figure 3). The reliability in which 1033 Program spending can
be used to project fatal police encounters is perhaps the most condemning testament
against police militarization, predictions that can only be explained by a direct cause
and effect relationship.
Figure 3. (below) Expected number of killings over the range of the explanatory variable with
90% confidence intervals. All other variables held at their means.
Figure 4. (above) The relationship between 1033 transfers and law enforcement agency killings
in Nevada counties in 2013. Map created in ArcMap 10.4 (Esri, 2016). Darker green counties
received more military equipment. Those counties with a bullseye experienced at least one
Figure 5. (below) Predicted number of suspect deaths at varying levels of militarization, with 95
percent confidence intervals (in gray) “The expected number of deaths increases to two at
around five hundred (or $5,000,000). It then doubles to four deaths at around 750 (or
$7,500,000). It is important to note, however, that few police departments in the sample reach
such high levels of militarization(Lawson, 2019.)”
Police Structure and Code of Silence
In every nation across the globe and since the first iteration of police, law
enforcement organizations have been defined by a singular attribute. The only
factor differentiating a police department from a vigilante militia is their power to
utilize state-sanctioned violence. In the modern-state, the government holds
exclusive rights on the use of force; this monopoly over violence is entrusted
upon police departments to enforce laws legislated by the state. The tremendous
weight of this responsibility calls for the highest levels of respect and restraint,
and one would think that officers who abuse the authority granted to them would
be held to the same high regard. The problem is, there’s no clear oversight to
hold officers accountable. The overwhelming majority of police departments are
solely accountable to their own organizations, that is to say, nearly all disputes
regarding officers are handled internally with little to no transparency. There’s no
semblance of oversight at a local or even federal level, in fact, there’s not even a
publicly available database that documents police action and misconduct. Nearly
every report of a fatal police encounter is obtained from local newspapers.
Compounding this issue is a phenomenon known as the Blue Code or Blue Wall
of Silence, this term describes the behavior police officers engage in to protect
each other from culpability. It’s essentially an unspoken “no snitching” rule for
police, and the measures taken to ensure whistleblowers don’t speak out range
from demotions and transfers to death threats and direct attempts on their lives.
“Serpico became even more hated in his department when he testified in June
1970 against fellow officers for taking bribes and receiving payoffs. During a drug
arrest attempt in Brooklyn on February 3, 1971, Serpico faced an armed
assailant and called for back-up, but the three officers conducting the raid with
him failed to respond. The assailant shot Serpico in the face with a .22 pistol, the
bullet lodging just below his eye. Serpico's fellow officers left him to bleed out
rather than call in a "Officer Down." After an elderly man who lived in the
neighborhood called 911, Serpico made it to the hospital and
recovered(Sprecher, 2021).”
This culture of silence is incredibly pervasive, being found at every level of law
enforcement across every department it poses what could be the most difficult
obstacle to overcome when addressing police reform. Without a clear
community oversight and knowledge of what’s taking place in our police
agencies, this abuse of power will continue unchallenged and an untold amount
of injustices will be swept under the rug.
Proposed Alternatives
A wide range of both institutional reforms and community-based alternatives will
be explored and the political, administrative, and technical feasibility will all be taken into
account when evaluating these options. Taking a libertarian approach, the way in which
these propositions contribute to an increase in liberty overall will be of particular
emphasis. American police are much closer to an occupying military force than a
department of civil servants dedicated to protecting their fellow citizens, arguments
made will have a basis in reversing this trend and decrease the unequal divide seen
between law enforcement and civilians. The extensive scope of the issue means that
proposals made will consist largely of policy directions as opposed to specific
legislation. Additionally, some policies discussed will require more time to implement
than others, as such, policy proposals will be presented in order of feasibility. Meaning
they are ordered based on their potential to be implemented under our current system,
with more ambitious reforms being discussed last.
Establish Oversight
In order to immediately address the daily abuses of power experienced
under American police, community transparency must be established. Shedding
light on this information will not only reveal the full extent of the issue at hand, but
will disarm law enforcement’s ability to prevent any inconvenient information from
reaching the public, overcoming the blue wall of silence. The followup to this step
would naturally be to institute a community based oversight committee
responsible for reviewing police conduct and following up on reports filed against
officers. It’s essential to additionally provide the community with a means of
holding officers accountable for their actions, whether that means terminating
their employment or pressing legal charges. The way the process works now, an
officer can receive dozens of complaints filed against them without a single
action taken in response, with the complaints only becoming public knowledge
after the officer is involved in a high-profile police shooting. The lack of
culpability is widely recognized amongst cops, any abuse of power is committed
knowing there won’t be any repercussions. An oversight committee could be put
in place to immediately establish culpability in American law enforcement, both
discouraging officers from abusing their position as well as providing a clear path
to justice for victims of police violence.
Training Overhaul
Present day police training is completely inadequate, leaving officers
unprepared to properly handle their public encounters. The warrior culture that
currently infects American law enforcement is rooted in the combat-centric
training officers are brought up in, overhauling the curriculum to heavily
emphasize the responsibility police have to de-escalating violent situations as
well as building community trust will eliminate the inflow of new officers already
indoctrinated into this militant mindset and begin the process of reevaluating the
role police should serve in society. Police conduct has displayed a severe lack of
understanding around mental health, with 1 in 4 fatal encounters involving victims
with severe mental illness. Comprehensive mental health education will improve
officer-public relations, better equip police to respond to mental health calls, and
significantly, if not entirely, reduce the occurrence of police-assisted suicide.
Naturally, academy time would be drastically lengthened to account for the
extended curriculum, bringing American training in line with other wealthy
nations. Reforming police training will bring forth a new generation of officers truly
dedicated to public service and armed with the knowledge to properly assist their
Restructuring Departments
The reorganizing of police structures requires a reimagining of police’s role
in society. As it stands now, the scope of situations police are responsible for is
far too broad to be efficiently carried out by one department. Police are tasked
with mental health check ups/wellness checks, domestic disputes, traffic
infractions, mental emergency negotiations, serving legal documents, and much
more. Is it necessary for officers to be armed while radaring and issuing speeding
tickets? Does the sight of an officer wrapped in body armor discourage citizens
experiencing mental health crisis from attempting suicide? There’s no reason to
place all this responsibility on one agency when separate organizations can be
created to alleviate the burden. Of course, armed police will still exist to respond
to violent crime, but these responses make up a small percentage of police work
overall and sending armed officers to every call creates unnecessary risks.
Unarmed officers that specialize in their respective fields will not only improve
police performance and reduce police response times, but strengthen trust with
the community as well. Some cities are already experimenting with similar ideas;
in Eugene, OR, mental health providers responded to mental emergency calls
instead of police. In Los Angeles County, co-responder teams of mental health
providers and police jointly respond to the most extreme mental health-related
calls. An analysis by the LA Sheriff’s Department estimated this program
prevented as many as 751 use of force incidents and 9 killings by police in
2018.(L.A.S.D., 2018)
In addition to implementing specialized responders, programs to invest
public funds into crime-prevention initiatives that target the root causes of
criminality will create a far safer society than the current punitive approach to
crime could ever hope of achieving. It’s understood that criminality stems largely
from poverty, poor education, and a lack of mental health resources. So, if the
goal is to reduce crime, it only makes sense to improve education quality, take
measures to prevent poverty, and expand the availability of comprehensive
mental health care. Taking preemptive measures to stop crimes before they even
begin creates a safer environment for the community in addition to improving the
life of the would-be perpetrator. Only by making every effort available to ensure
public safety and wellbeing can a department claim to truly “protect and serve.”
It’s no simple task to reimagine entire institutions, and while today’s police are
incapable of living up to their motto, that doesn’t have to be the case for
Appendix I
Uruguay Americas
Rate Per 10
2014 -
Data for 66
use of
Data from
capital city
Appendix II
Appendix III
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