No one solution will solve the problem, but we can take a look at various policies/changes that can be made to help the situation.
Police Body Cameras
One solution, albeit not an entire solution, is police body cameras.
While some of the research surrounding their efficacy is debatable, there are promising positives that emerged from a handful of studies. Some positives found were:
- More positive interactions between officers and citizens
- Citizens feeling safer
- Reductions in citizen complaints
According to the Washington Post's Police Shootings Database, 189 unarmed and not fleeting people shot and killed by police since 2015. Of those, only 25 occurred from police wearing body cameras. Would be interesting to compare this rate to the rate of police officers who wear body cameras, to see if it correlates to a drop in killings.
Camera footage also provides training opportunities for police officers, and provides them an opportunity to witness a point-of-view interaction, and how best to resolve situations they may otherwise not be prepared for, potentially resulting in a decrease of excessive force use.
Body cameras can also protect police officers from legal trouble when their actions were justified.
While expensive to implement, the studies found a decrease in time spent by officers preparing paperwork, and less people taking their case to trial, which both counter the increased spending.
Still, given all this, the use of body cameras alone likely won't be enough to see a huge decrease in brutality.
End Qualified Immunity
Police officers are often immune from suits for violating citizens' constitutional rights unless the officers' actions violate "clearly established" law. The problem is that The Supreme Court interprets the term "clearly established" so narrowly that there is rarely a case that has identical facts to that in question, resulting in officers routinely getting away with horrendous abuses.
Again, rolling back or narrowing qualified immunity will not stop all police abuse, but will make it possible to hold police accountable in court for egregious violations of civil rights, which in turn will alter their incentives.
While some state and local governments might respond by indemnifying police officers for the damages they have to pay, it is still unnecessary money spent, incentivising a crackdown on brutality.
Curbing or Banning Police Unions
Empirical research has shown that impunity for police brutality is often promoted by police unions. Eliminating disciplinary issues from the list of matters that are subject to collective bargaining could curb the power unions have over these matters.
There would no doubt be massive push back against this kind of actions, but progress is possible if liberal civil liberties advocates can find common ground with conservatives who dislike public sector unions more generally.
Rolling Back the 'War on Drugs'
No doubt a more controversial measure, but it has been shown that an increased militarization of police, and of hyper-aggressive tactics that routinely lead to violence and abuse, can be linked to the war on drugs.
The War on Drugs results in many of the most extreme police tactics and most dangerous confrontations with civilians, especially minorities in urban areas. In fact, in 2011, the NAACP called for an end to the War on Drugs because it causes great harm to minority communities.
Attempt to curb racial profiling
This is much easier said than done, since often profiling is linked more to the characteristics of a neighbourhood and the predominant race of that area, not directly about race.
However, a 2019 Pew Research Center poll found that some 59% of black men and 31% of black women say they have been unfairly stopped by police because of their race. There is a correlation between a higher level of education, and less profiling, likely as a result of the type of area in question, as stated above. Regardless, it's still happening at an unfair rate. Even Senator Tom Scott has recounted multiple incidents in which he was racially profiled by police. If even a senator is a victim of profiling, it's clearly more than just about class/circumstance.
Camden, NJ Approach
Camden, N.J., took its own big step in 2013. The city was in a public
safety crisis, with murder rates 18 times the national average and
scores of excessive-force complaints, when the mayor and City Council
dissolved the existing police department and created a countywide
force in its place.
A majority of the police were rehired, but each had to complete a
50-page application, retake psychological testing and go through an
interview process, former police Chief Scott Thomson said. He led the
county police from 2013 to 2019 and the city's force before then.
The department instituted other changes, including putting more
officers on the street on a regular basis, getting to know the
community and changing the way an officer's performance was measured —
not by the number of arrests or tickets issued, but other outcomes.
They also moved to a more "community policing" approach, and worked to improve relations between citizens and the police, along with body cameras, and de-escalation training.
After all this, homicides have gone down from 67 in 2012 to 25 in 2019. Excessive-force complaints went from 65 in 2012 to three.
De-Escalation and Mental Health Training
Often police-civilian encounters escalate unnecessarily, often as a result of mental health issues, and the officers in question not knowing how to de-escalate properly, or handle somebody's mental health breakdown.
These negative interactions continue to deteriorate police-civilian relations, and result in some of the extreme "abolish the police" and "all cops are bad" movements we've seen as of late. Proper training can potentially curb this, and improve community relations, as seen in Camden, NJ.