Beyond Confrontation: Community-Centered Policing Tools

Courtesy of Elvert Barnes

There is no single, universally accepted definition of use of force. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights defines use of force as a legal and appropriate tactic for police in "diffusing situations, apprehending alleged criminals, and protecting themselves and others."[4] The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) defines force as "the amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject."[5]

In the wake of a mounting number of tragic deaths, this brief is offered as a tool to communities to help them better understand what standards guide the use of police force, how that force is applied across the country, and what strategies exist to minimize such acts of aggression. It is one of a series that will explore steps that can be taken to improve how police officers relate to the communities they serve. The practices in these briefs, beginning with this one exploring the use of force, will be consistent with the core elements of community-centered policing—building strong community partnerships and pursuing a problem-solving approach.

Acknowledging the role and impact of implicit racial bias in police encounters is a critical starting point.[6] Distinct from consciously held prejudicial perceptions and actions, implicit bias affects attitudes, decisions, and behavior in ways that an individual may not even be aware of.[7] Implicit bias among police officers can have deadly consequences, since police are armed and given discretion to use force when they deem appropriate. In fact, a 2012 study found that 224 police officers who had to make instantaneous decisions about whether a suspect was armed or unarmed in  a video-game simulation "were quicker to shoot an armed black person, and slower to refrain from shooting an unarmed black person, than they were with members of any other racial group."[8] Similarly, an earlier study found that officers were "uniformly faster to shoot an armed black target, relative to an armed white target, and uniformly faster to press the 'Don't shoot' button for an unarmed white target, relative to an unarmed black target."[9]

The social psychology concept of "stereotype threat" can also factor into police decisions about whether to use force when interacting with communities of color. For instance, black males who come into contact with police may exhibit physical symptoms of anxiety stemming from fear about being stereotyped as criminals—fear that may be misconstrued by police officers as guilt:

Concern about being judged unfairly by the police because of stereotypes will lead innocent black suspects to experience more arousal, a greater cognitive load, and engage in more self-regulatory efforts than whites during those encounters. Because police believe that nervous behavior is a non-verbal cue to deception… stereotype threat could, ironically, increase the likelihood that individuals will be perceived as suspicious and that this will lead police to initiate investigatory contacts with blacks disproportionately more often than with whites.[10]

Highlighting a further nuance involving the stereotype of black men as hyper-masculine, social psychology researcher Phillip Atiba Goff has found that, when a male police officer feels a perceived threat to his masculinity, he is more likely to use deadly force:[11]

An officer who feels a need to demonstrate his masculinity may be more likely to use force in general, but particularly against people who threaten his self-concept as a man… If African-Americans are seen as hyper-masculine, then the officer will feel more threatened.[12] 

The promising practices cited herein include both proven practices as well as those that are less tested but represent an innovative and thoughtful effort to address a problem. Highlighting practices of a specific police department is not meant as an endorsement of the department as a whole. A department may be implementing a strong effort in one area (for example, training), but nonetheless require significant improvement in another area (for example, in its oversight and accountability systems). Our goal is to highlight efforts that others can learn from, while acknowledging that many law enforcement agencies have progress to make on multiple fronts in how they relate to the communities they serve, particularly communities of color.

Promising strategies to minimize police use of force outlined in this brief include:

Community-Centered Policing Tools

On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, was shot multiple times and killed by Darren Wilson, a White police officer, in Ferguson, Missouri. This tragic act provoked grief and outrage in Ferguson and across the country. We mourned the loss of an innocent young man, taken before his time, and recognized that his killing was the latest in a long and rapidly growing succession of cases involving police use of lethal force against unarmed people of color.

The disproportionate, militarized police response to subsequent community protests in Ferguson — including the use of tear gas and snipers, curfews enforced by armored trucks and tactical units, and the unwarranted arrest of multiple journalists — further incensed the country and, in conjunction with Michael Brown's killing, raised an urgent question:

What must change so that not one more person of color is unjustifiably and indefensibly killed by the police?

While there are no definitive figures on how many Americans are shot by police every year, existing data point to grave differences by race. In 2014 alone, police were responsible for the deaths of 302 Black people across the country.From 2010 – 2012, Black men were 21 times more likely than their White peers to be killed by police.1 Similar racial disparities hold true among those injured by police. [2]

Local law enforcement units too often treat low-income neighborhoods populated by people of color — communities where people strive to live, learn, work, play, and pray in peace and harmony — as if they are enemy territory. Youth of color who should be growing up in supportive, affirming environments are instead presumed to be criminals and relentlessly subjected to aggressive police tactics that result in unnecessary fear, arrests, injuries, and deaths. This approach prevents police from being seen as trusted community partners, undermining neighborhood safety when coordinated efforts are most needed.

The militarization of police departments further erodes the trust that should exist between residents and the police who serve them. The proliferation of machine guns, armored vehicles and aircraft, and camouflage in local law enforcement units does not help police-community relations, the future of our cities, or our country.

To move forward, the country must also acknowledge and counter the effects of systemic racial bias, which impairs the perceptions, judgment, and behavior of too many of our law enforcement personnel and obstructs the ability of our police departments and criminal justice institutions to protect and serve all communities in a fair and just manner.

In the aftermath of Michael Brown's death, PolicyLink, the Center for Global Policy Solutions, and over 1,400 social justice leaders, congressional members, faith leaders, artists, and activists signed an open letter to President Obama, urging federal action through the Justice Department to improve police-community relations through seven principles.

Soon after the letter was issued, the Justice Department launched the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice. Funded with a three-year, $4.75 million federal grant, the initiative invests in training, evidence-based strategies, policy development, and research to combat distrust and hostility between law enforcement and the communities they serve. The initiative brings together a consortium of national law enforcement experts, including the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Yale Law School, the Center for Policing Equity at UCLA, and the Urban Institute.[3]

Several weeks later, the Department of Justice completed its investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, uncovering deep-seated injustice and racism in nearly every facet of the department's practices. Soon after the report's release, a Ferguson municipal judge and several Ferguson police officers — including Police Chief Thomas Jackson — resigned or were fired. At the same time, the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing released a robust report, complete with thoughtful and comprehensive recommendations and action steps to help overhaul policing practices in a way that benefits communities.

While these represent promising steps at the federal level to advance “community-centered policing,” local efforts and leadership are also needed. The seven principles in the open letter to President Obama can guide actions by community leaders to help improve police-community relations and institute community-centered policing at the local level. They can help build mutual trust and respect, increase safety in communities, and minimize senseless killings and excessive use of force by police:

  1. Ensure Transparency and Accountability: Police departments are funded by the public and should be accountable to the public. Therefore, police departments should not investigate themselves. Departments should establish enforceable, impartial accountability measures in instances where police brutality, racial profiling, and/or improper use of force are in question. This includes establishing effective and independent review boards broadly representative of the community, not just police interests. The actions, investigations, and publication of all relevant information, evidence, and policy recommendations of departments and review boards should be transparent and enforceable. Departments should also ensure that data and summary information are properly collected and made publicly available on particular incidents, progress, and trends that relate to suspected police brutality and racial profiling over the years for the department.
  2. Invest in Training: Racial bias is real. Whether implicit or explicit, it influences perceptions and behaviors and can be deadly. Law enforcement personnel should be required to undergo racial bias training in addition to building skills that exemplify problem-solving strategies, conflict mediation techniques, and de-escalation tactics. Officers should become adept at being responsive to community needs and voices, and achieving consistency and continuity in engaging community while enforcing the law.
  3. Ensure Diversity: Police department personnel should be representative of the communities they protect and serve. Therefore, police departments should adopt personnel practices that result in the hiring and retention of diverse law enforcement professionals who are culturally sensitive, speak the communities' languages, and are residents of their patrolled communities. Departments should implement and monitor diversity hiring and retention guidelines to further community trust and partnerships.
  4. Proactively Engage Communities: Too often, law enforcement personnel hold stereotypes about Black and brown youth and vice versa. Lack of familiarity breeds lack of understanding and increases opportunities for conflict. Police departments should work to deconstruct stereotypes and bias by identifying regular opportunities for constructive and quality engagement with youth and others living in the communities they serve. Departments should therefore partner with our communities in solving and preventing problems before they occur.
  5. Reject Militarization: Police should not become an occupying force in our neighborhoods. Emergencies and terrorism are real concerns for our communities, but departments should not rely on military equipment and tactics to police everyday problems or peaceful protests. Departments and communities should reject the transfer of military equipment into local police departments.
  6. Examine and Implement Good Models: It is possible to develop police departments that respect, serve, and protect all people in our communities regardless of age, race, physical and mental ability, gender, or class. Every department should partner with other local, state, and federal entities to quickly identify and establish new policies and practices to improve policing in communities.
  7. Implement Technology and Tools for Oversight: Departments should implement technology that helps to investigate and hold officers accountable for misconduct, such as profiling due to a person's race, class, religion, gender, physical or mental ability, or sexual orientation. The technology should only be used when legitimately apprehending suspects with probable cause, and all information gathered by the use of technology should be made publicly accessible immediately.

In 2001, PolicyLink and Advancement Project released Community-Centered Policing: A Force for Change, a report intended to help advocates, policymakers, and police officials understand models addressing the myriad challenges facing police departments, police-community relations, and the advancement of community-centered policing practices. With the same goal, PolicyLink and Advancement Project have come together once more to lift up solutions, this time with a series of issue briefs that will update some of the examples and best practices originally presented and explore critical new issues in the following areas:

 

We hope these briefs will be tools for community leaders to use in conversations with local police forces and policymakers that can shape new policies to help communities — including low-income communities and communities of color — become healthier, more vibrant, and safer for all to participate and prosper.

Building Momentum from the Ground Up: A Toolkit for Promoting Justice in Policing

Download toolkit

View online toolkit

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Mayoral Pledge

Mayoral Pledge to End Police Violence

In cities across America, neighborhoods populated by people of color—places where residents strive to live, learn, work, play, and pray in peace and harmony—are being treated as military combat zones by local law enforcement. Youth of color—particularly Black youth—who should be growing up in supportive, affirming environments are instead presumed to be criminals and relentlessly subjected to aggressive police tactics that result in community mistrust, unnecessary fear, needless arrests that often have long term financial and human collateral consequences, injuries, and countless deaths. 

Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teen shot multiple times and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer, is just one of 93 known unarmed Black men and boys who died at the hands of police in 2014. The pattern of systemic racial bias is too frequent to be a coincidence. 

Mayors are in a unique position to take leadership in transforming how police departments interact with their communities. The customizable template below consists of a mayoral pledge with important principles and actions that model community-centered policing. Concerned citizens should organize and urge the mayors of their communities to sign the pledge and take proactive and bold leadership to build community trust and help prevent police violence against communities.

Police violence is an urgent problem in our city. In 2014, at least [# of civilians] were killed by police in [name of city], [#] of whom were [Black/Latino/etc.]. It is time for our city to take action to minimize the chance of further deaths of people of color at the hands of police.

I, Mayor [name of mayor] of [name of city], commit to a new vision of public safety based on trust, legitimacy, accountability, respect, and the sanctity of all lives. I pledge to immediately take the following actions to end the police violence epidemic and help ensure that NOT ONE MORE person unjustly dies at the hands of our police force:

  1. Ensure Police Are Accountable to the Community: Police departments are funded by the public and should be accountable to the public. Therefore, our police department will not investigate itself, but will instead establish enforceable, impartial accountability measures in instances where police brutality, racial profiling, and/or improper use of force are in question. This includes establishing effective and independent review boards broadly representative of the community, not just police interests. The actions, investigations, and publication of all relevant information, evidence, and policy recommendations of the review boards will be transparent and publicly accessible. Our police department will also ensure that data and summary information relating to suspected police brutality and racial profiling are properly collected and made publicly available.
  2. Invest in Rigorous and Sustained Training:  Documented studies demonstrate that implicit racial biases influence how officers interact with community members and suspects, and that these perceptions and behaviors can be deadly. Law enforcement personnel will be required to undergo racial bias training in addition to building skills that exemplify problem-solving strategies, conflict mediation techniques, de-escalation tactics, and understanding mental health considerations. Training programs offered by community-based organizations will be prioritized. Officers will become adept at being responsive to community needs and voices, and achieving consistency and continuity in engaging community while enforcing the law.
  3. Ensure Police Reflect and Respect the Community: Police department personnel should be representative of the communities they protect and serve. Therefore, our police department will adopt personnel practices that result in the hiring and retention of diverse law enforcement professionals who are culturally sensitive, speak the communities’ languages, and are residents of their patrolled communities. The police department will implement and monitor diversity hiring and retention guidelines to further community trust and partnerships.
  4. Preserve Life and Avoid Excessive Force: Police will only use force in a manner that preserves the lives and safety of all residents of our community. Police department personnel will do everything in their power to de-escalate situations and use alternatives to deadly force. The police department will not rely on military equipment and tactics—including the use of SWAT teams—to police everyday problems or peaceful protests. We will reject the transfer of military equipment into our police departments and seek to return or otherwise eliminate existing military weaponry in our inventory.
  5. Use Technology for Oversight While Protecting Privacy:  Pending community approval through a democratic process, our police department will implement body cameras and/or other technology that helps to investigate and hold officers accountable for misconduct, such as profiling due to a person’s race, class, religion, gender, housing status, physical or mental ability, or sexual orientation. The technology will only be used when legitimately apprehending suspects with probable cause, and information gathered by the use of technology related to police violence will be made publicly accessible immediately.
  6. End the criminalization of communities of color: We will de-prioritize and, where possible, decriminalize the enforcement of non-violent ‘quality of life’ or ‘broken-windows’ offenses that frequently consume too many resources and end up criminalizing too many young people. We will eliminate police department quotas and reduce municipal fines and fees to remove financial incentives for police officers to focus on minor offenses.
  7. Shift Public Investment to Communities: Our city’s over-policed communities are the same neighborhoods most in need of infrastructure improvements, access to healthy food, affordable housing and transportation choices, good jobs, and important city amenities. The city budget will reflect a shift toward providing essential services to these communities. Further, each and every city department, such as Housing, Community Development, Transportation, Planning, Parks and Recreation, and Public Works, will take responsibility for—and work together to improve—public safety.

 

____________________________________

[Signature of Mayor]

 

CLICK HERE to download a .pdf of the pledge.

Limiting Police Use of Force: Promising Community-Centered Strategies (Brief 1)

Beyond Confrontation: Community-Centered Policing Tools
Limiting Police Use of Force: Promising Community-Centered Strategies

 

 

Engaging Communities as Partners: Strategies for Problem Solving (Brief 2)

Beyond Confrontation: Community-Centered Policing Tools
Engaging Communities as Partners: Strategies for Problem Solving
 

 


Turning Back the Tide: Promising Efforts to Demilitarize Police Departments (Brief 3)

Beyond Confrontation: Community-Centered Policing Tools
Turning Back the Tide: Promising Efforts to Demilitarize Police Departments

 

Values, Leadership, and Sustainability: Institutionalizing Community-Centered Policing (Brief 4)

Beyond Confrontation: Community-Centered Policing Tools
Values, Leadership, and Sustainability: Institutionalizing Community-Centered Policing
 

Mapping Police Violence

http://mappingpoliceviolence.org