Tyre Nichols' death has reignited the debate around police brutality. Here are 5 proven ways to reduce it - and 2 strategies that don't work.
- Tyre Nichols, 29, died after he was beaten by police at a traffic stop January 7.
- Campaign Zero, a police-reform initiative, suggested six ways to reduce police violence.
Tyre Nichols' death has brought the debate around police violence back to the fore. Nichols, 29, was beaten by police and sent to the hospital in critical condition after a traffic stop January 7. Three days later, he died.
Five fired police officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith, and Desmond Mills Jr. — have been charged with his murder.
It is the latest example of police killings of people of color which includes ex-Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin's murdering George Floyd on May 25, 2020, Louisville police officers shooting Breonna Taylor in her home on March 13, 2020.
According to the Mapping Police Violence database, officer killed 1,123 Americans in 2022. Black people were 2.9 time more likely to be killed by police than white people.
Several years ago, the police-reform initiative Campaign Zero weighed in with research-backed ways to curb police violence. Most, of which buck traditional thinking.
"Everything you've probably heard is a lie. Specifically, the most discussed 'solutions' to police violence have no evidence of effectiveness," Samuel Sinyangwe, a data scientist and the co-founder of a Campaign Zero tweeted in October, 2019.
He added: "For example, body cams don't reduce police violence."
Here are five proven, data-based changes that could make a difference, and two approaches that don't seem to work, according to Campaign Zero.
1. Eliminate language in police union contracts that limit officer accountability
Union contracts and police bills of rights have formalized policies that limit police accountability, per Campaign Zero. These contracts erect at least one barrier to proper oversight of law enforcement officers' misconduct.
Such provisions include the disqualification of certain complaints from being investigated or resulting in discipline.
They also place restrictions on officer interrogations, provide options for officers to appeal for reinstatement, and give officer access to privileged information during investigations.
As of 2020, 40 cities and three states gave officers paid leave while they're under investigation. 43 cities and four states erased officers' misconduct records after a period of time, sometimes within as little as two years of an incident.
A Washington Post investigation found that of the 1,881 US police officers who were fired for misconduct between 2006 and 2017, 451 of them won their jobs back after an appeal.
In many of those cases, arbitrators overruled police chiefs on the terminations — not because there were doubts about whether the officers had engaged in misconduct, but because police departments made bureaucratic errors while disciplining officers, such as missing deadlines.
Experts have recommended that police departments reform their processes for disciplinary appeals to ensure that officers who engage in misconduct are held fully accountable. That might entail eliminating arbitrators from the process and instead leaving the decision to democratically elected officials, such as city councils.
2. Track complaints about officers' use of force
Most complaints against officers aren't public, making them hard to track.
A 2019 study found that police officers who are partnered with officers who garner complaints about excessive force are more likely to receive such complaints themselves in the future.
Researchers examined more than 8,600 Chicago police officers named in multiple complaints between 2005 and 2017. The analysis found that the more officers with histories of excessive force were in a group, the higher the risk that other officers in that group would develop similar track records.
According to Andrew Papachristos, one of the study's co-authors, this link could help predict potential bad behavior by officers and give departments better information about when and how to intervene before violent incidents occur.
Instituting a means of tracking complaints against officers, and making that data public, could provide further oversight.
Legislation that prohibits officers who are terminated for serious misconduct from being rehired could also make a difference.
3. Use more non-police organizations to respond to emergency calls
According to a 2015 report from the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit, at least one in every four people killed by police has a serious mental illness.
Not all officers who respond to an emergency call involving a person with mental illness are trained in crisis management, which may result in mismanaging the situation that ends in police violence.
Programs like Cahoots, which stands for Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Street, in Eugene, Oregon, can work to alleviate those situations by responding to those calls in lieu of or alongside police officers.
A program in Denver that sent mental-health professionals to answer 911 calls about substance abuse and nonviolent emergencies reduced low-level crimes by 34%, a 2022 study found.
Leveraging crisis workers and mental health providers to respond to incidents involving substance abuse, mental health crises, and homelessness, for example, could work to minimize violence.
4. Demilitarization is imperative
A common theme at protest scenes across the country has been police officers' use of military-grade equipment against unarmed civilians.
That's largely thanks to a Pentagon program known as 1033, which allows the military to send surplus military equipment to police and sheriff's departments. The program has resulted in local law enforcement agencies being outfitted with armored vehicles, bayonets, and even grenade launchers.
But research has shown that receiving more military equipment makes police departments more likely to use it. According to a 2017 study, researchers found that just having the equipment "leads to a culture of militarization" within police departments, causing them to "rely more on violence to solve problems."
Former President Barack Obama limited in the program in 2015 and barred certain types of equipment from being sent to police departments.
President Donald Trump reversed the action in 2017, and as of 2022 Democratic senators were urging President Joe Biden to rein it in again.
Reinstating limits around which type of gear can and should be sold to local law enforcement agencies could help reduce police-inflicted violence and death.
5. More restrictive laws governing use of force
"Use of force," according to the international association of chiefs of police, is the "amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject."
That could encompass everything from using a chokehold, mace, or Taser. Police departments that have more restrictive policies around what use-of-force methods are allowed are much less likely to kill people.
Campaign Zero suggests departments ban chokeholds, and utilize deadly force as a last resort only after officers have tried and failed to use de-escalation — the strategic slowing down of an incident that allows officers more time, distance, and space to peacefully resolve conflict.
These changes, along with requiring departments to report and publish online data on all uses of force, could reduce police violence.
2 methods that don't work: implicit-bias trainings and body cameras
Implicit-bias trainings have become one of the most popular reforms that police and sheriff's departments have implemented in recent years. The idea is that training officers to be more aware of their subconscious biases about class, gender, and race will help reduce conflicts with marginalized communities.
Yet experts have grown skeptical over whether this training works. For one, there are few consistent standards and assessments for the trainings, and therefore it's difficult to track exactly how effective they are, The Atlantic reported.
Instead, police-reform advocates have pushed for departments to prioritize de-escalation training, rather than implicit-bias training.
Body cameras are another method that haven't been proven effective when it comes to excessive force instances.
Though police departments across the country have adopted body cameras for officers — often in response to public pressure for transparency — studies have shown mixed results as to whether they actually reduce excessive-force incidents, and whether they lead to police being disciplined or prosecuted for misconduct.
A review of 70 empirical studies on body-worn cameras found that they did not have statistically significant or consistent effects in reducing police use of force.
Furthermore, the footage appears to more frequently be used against citizens, not police officers. Research has shown that 93% of prosecutors' offices have used body cameras mostly in cases against citizens, not against police.
Though it's unlikely that police departments will be giving up their use of body cameras anytime soon, organizations such as Campaign Zero have advocated for police departments to enforce stricter policies to prevent the cameras from being used to surveil marginalized communities.
This article was updated to include the news of the killing of Tyre Nichols. Aylin Woodward contributed to the previous version of this article, originally published on June 3, 2020.
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