By: AIF Staff
The recent protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks are the latest and most visible reminders that policing power is one of the most critical responsibilities we give the State in our free society. Its importance cannot be overstated –citizens are unable to go about their daily lives if they are living in fear of violence. And more often than not, police officers are leaders in our communities, who selflessly undertake the vital role of keeping citizens safe from crime and illicit activity.
The challenges that police officers face while doing their jobs are large, and they are given powers that are commensurate with those challenges. However, with that power comes the expectation that the police will use their power responsibly.
As the last few weeks have shown, there are many ideas on how to improve policing and how to preserve the trust between the police and the communities they serve. House Democrats have introduced the Justice in Policing Act, Senator Tim Scott and his Republican colleagues have offered the JUSTICE Act, and the President has offered solutions via an Executive Order. These are all positive contributions to a long overdue, and much needed, conversation about how we ensure that our laws are enforced equally and that proper oversight is given to the law enforcement officials in whom we entrust these important responsibilities. Our country has put off having this difficult, but necessary conversation for too long and as a result, countless lives have been lost and meaningful progress has been delayed.
A critical piece that should not be overlooked in our current discussion about policing reform is the importance of allowing evidence and data to drive improvements in policing strategies. As policymakers look to improve policing operations and reduce preventable abuses of authority, they will need a roadmap to understand what actually works in this space. In order to develop this roadmap, both the Administration and the Congress should build on other programs that have developed a body of evidence around what works, and then, on a bipartisan basis, determine the optimal level and allocation of funding for those programs.
As Congressman Will Hurd said in a recent op-ed: “The way we solve these broader issues isn’t by defunding the police but by ensuring they do better.” The best way to determine if departments are in fact doing better, is by increasing and strengthening the amount of evidence and data related to their work.
Increasing the utilization of reporting, evidence, and data is not a new concept, and the federal government has successfully done this before. One example to look towards is the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Visitation program. This program, created under President Bush, codified under President Obama, and reauthorized under President Trump, provides for a tiered-evidence funding model where new interventions are tested, promising interventions are scaled up, and proven interventions are funded at higher levels. This model has led to the successful funding of nurse-family partnerships and it gives policymakers a template to follow in the pursuit of evidence-based policing strategies.
As Congress works toward improving policing outcomes, they should create a tiered-funding model at the National Institutes of Justice to identify and fund policing practices that reduce violence and improve officer safety. All levels of government are going to be rolling out new public safety practices or incorporating reforms that have been pushed for years, as governments do so, they should ensure police departments are actually achieving the goals that are being pursued.
To help advance the conversation about compiling better data and evidence in policing, former Speaker Paul Ryan, the President of the American Idea Foundation, sent the following letter to Attorney General William Barr. As Ryan said in the letter:
“Our nation’s law enforcement officials have one of the most difficult occupations in our society. They are given immense powers to complete those tasks and have a responsibility to uphold the public’s trust by equally applying our laws. In light of this power and responsibility and to improve its efforts, we urge the DOJ to prioritize learning how best to continue guaranteeing the safety of our citizens and law enforcement personnel.”
Without question, we need to act decisively to prevent police officers from abusing their authority and from harming the very citizens that they swore an oath to protect. But as we do this, lawmakers should also push to increase the amount of data and reporting around techniques and strategies and create a repository of good ideas that have proven to work in communities around the country.
Given the immense responsibility that we place in our law enforcement officers, increasing the amount of evidence and data collected with their efforts will ultimately help the police and their fellow citizens, who they serve and protect, achieve a more equitable system of justice.