Campaign Zero Releases Ten-Point Police Reform Program

An organization called Campaign Zero has released a comprehensive ten-point police criminal justice reform program this past week. The organization affiliates itself with #BlackLivesMatter. In producing the policy demands, it used the best recent research and lawmaking in regards to police practice and reform.

The ten reform policies are as follows:

  1. End Broken Windows Policing: “Broken Windows” is the policing theory that major crimes stem from minor crimes. The NYPD is infamous for its aggressive execution of Broken Windows policing. This has led to massive racial profiling by the NYPD, and, in using police force against the sale of loose cigarettes, the death of Eric Gardner. Even if Broken Windows is correct, criminalization and the use of police power is not an effective way to reduce minor disorder. In addition, some public disorder is caused by the mentally ill, who are not within the bounds of criminal law. Instead, police forces or other public agencies should establish “mental health crisis” teams that know how to handle the mentally ill.
  2. Community Oversight: Campaign Zero advocates civilian commissions for disciplining police officers and nominating police chiefs. Also, they want an independent complaints office to be established that can promptly investigate citizen complaints. Both of these offices need to be free of police influence.
  3. Limit the Use of Force: Campaign Zero looks to multiple cities for reform of use of force policies, which include restricting the use of deadly force and high-speed car chases, reporting all deaths and injuries caused by the police, and improved de-escalation training.
  4. Independently Investigate and Prosecute: Because standard prosecutors are often the allies of the police (for organizational reasons), special prosecutors and independent investigators will be needed for police misconduct.
  5. Community Representation: The police should become more diverse, to reflect the community that they police. However, this is more a reform of image and not substance. We already know that more diverse police forces are not less violent.
  6. Body Cameras and Filming of the Police: The demand for body cameras on police is by now well-established. When they work, they reduce the use of force. When they don’t, it’s because that police force has already figured out how to game the camera. Laws permitting filming the police are also popular, but not respected by the police in the jurisdictions where such laws are in effect.
  7. Training: Police training tends to focus on the use of force and officer safety, out of all proportion to actual need. Police training needs to be geared more towards social interaction, rational de-escalation rather than authoritarian command, and what role police are meant to play in society (they are not there, as one police chief put it, to “tell people what to do”).
  8. End For-Profit Policing: “For-profit” policing is a bit of misleading rhetoric. At first glance, I thought it meant the takeover of public safety by private for-profit security forces, which also needs to end. Campaign Zero also means the pernicious practice of using misdemeanor law and civil asset forfeiture to fill the coffers of the municipality. Ferguson PD were clearly ruining the lives of its black citizens to extract fines and fees for the municipality. It could be as subtle as reducing the timing of the yellow traffic light to get more violations against the red light (while also increasing accidents).
  9. Demilitarization: Campaign Zero is a light touch here, demanding an end to the federal 1033 Program and restricting the purchase of military-grade weapons and the use of SWAT teams. I think that we can safely say that there is no real need for police departments to have any military weapons. Also, no local police department really needs a SWAT team. Local police use SWAT frivously and dangerously, resulting in unnecessary deaths. Most famously, a SWAT team in Georgia burned a hole through a baby after throwing a tear gas cannister into her crib. State-level mobile SWAT-style teams would use less personnel and material, and they would be used more appropriately because of their scarcity.
  10. Fair Police Union Contracts: Campaign Zero advocates for revising police union contracts to remove the ridiculous privileges that place police officers above the law, such as blocking investigations or ensuring continued pay after killing someone. I disagree strongly. Sworn law enforcement officers of the state are not normal employees who need protection from their employer. As the last year has hopefully made clear, we need protection from them. Instead of renegotiating union contracts, police unions should be banned altogether. This is something I wouldn’t say about any other labor union, of course, but the police aren’t any other worker.

Campaign Zero has made a great start. Yet I think effective long-term reform requires further policies:

  1. Disarm Police Patrols: The police of the British Isles and of New Zealand demonstrate that alternative police weapon policies are safe and effective, especially at saving the lives of citizens. Police forces in these countries have special firearms units, while the rest of the force either uses non-lethal weapons, or requisitions a firearm in special circumstances. (This hasn’t made the United Kingdom any less of a neoliberal police state, but that has more to do with its collapsing political system.)
  1. Limit the Scope of Police Jurisdiction: Criminal justice is used for everything in the United States. Is the neighbor’s party too loud? Call the police to tell them to keep it down (you never know what kind of people they could be). The police also handle homelessness (by forcing them out of the city), drug abuse (by arrest), and mental health crises (see above). And recently, SWAT teams have been used to serve health or zoning code violations (there might possibly be drugs on the premises!). Violence from the police would be less likely if the scope of their activities were constrained. Some of this police overextension can be solved through decriminalizing various activities. Portugal famously decriminalized drug use with no ill effect, while New Zealand legalized prostitution, greatly improving the health and well-being of sex workers. Many police functions do not require police powers, that is, the power to deprive persons of their liberty and to search them and seize their property, either by warrant or probable cause. Also, in some jurisdictions, bearing arms for those purposes. But these powers are not needed in many of the cases that the police currently handle. Unarmed civilian employees, either as part of the police service or another agency, could handle mental health crises, community patrol, criminal investigation, traffic management, first response and general services. If police powers or firearms are needed, then law enforcement officers can be called in.
  1. Break the Police Unions and Solidarity: See above. If ComGlobeCorp can break the will of a union for wanting an extra dollar a day, then surely we can break the police unions that protect killer cops.
  1. Break the Cult of Violence: Working to end police violence is a difficult battle, although the tide may be turning. With all that killing on all those cell phones, people can no longer look away. The battle is difficult because the amygdala is a powerful component of the brain. The amygdala is the part of the brain that tells you that killing will work, because you are afraid. It’s a short-term solution that is very satisfying to the ape brain. People are afraid of school shootings, so they want armed police in schools, even though that’s resulted in tasered children, handcuffed four year olds, and elementary school children arrested for writing on their desk. There’s another mass shooting, so people buy more guns, even though owning a gun makes you more likely to be the victim of a shooting death.

The alternative is reason, of course. This means the application of the most successful methods for criminal justice and public safety. Violence, as a significant cost, does not factor into many of these methods.

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