New Ideas for Police Reform Surge Amid Worldwide Protests


John Wayne Lucia III via Wikimedia Commons

Black Lives Matter protesters worldwide are calling for an end to police brutality, but the logistics of these plans remain unclear.

Katie Buelt, Features Editor

In the eight minutes and forty-six seconds that a Minneapolis police officer held his knee on George Floyd’s neck, a massive change was made to the public’s view of police brutality and its extent. For weeks now, protests have erupted nationwide with thousands of people uniting to make their cries for change public. But what changes, exactly, are in the works, and how likely are they to actually be implemented? It’s important that we all take a closer look at the ways the government and individuals can push for reform to prevent the perpetuation of horrific and racist acts by law enforcement.

Recently, protesters and politicians alike have been talking about a policy known as “defunding the police”. This essentially entails the redirecting of part of a town’s budget from police departments to other community and social services, including schools, homeless shelters, and aid for the mentally ill. The idea is that investing in the overall quality of a community will deter crime, preventing the need for police responses and the use of excessive force.

One example of a city who took this step is Camden, New Jersey, which completely dissolved and restructured its police department in 2012. According to CNN, crime has dropped by half in the city, which was once known as one of the country’s most violent. While the police force was once corrupt and greatly feared throughout Camden, officers now hold community gatherings and make honest attempts to learn about the people they were hired to protect. Unfortunately, because of the rarity of police defunding in the past, there is little solid evidence of its efficacy, leaving some skeptical. However, this hasn’t deterred some cities, including Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed, from taking a chance in the name of rooting out corruption.

Another possible reform involves abolishing the legal doctrine of qualified immunity. Qualified immunity states that police officers and other federal officials are not personal liable for constitutional violations, and therefore cannot be sued for their actions unless there is legal precedent in which such a lawsuit occurred. This makes conviction of police officers, and justice for victims of police brutality, extremely difficult. While eliminating qualified immunity is currently part of talks on Capitol Hill, whether or not it will make it into a finalized reform bill remains unknown. Many Republicans worry that it could lead to an overload of frivolous lawsuits; for example, Senator John Corbyn of Texas reasoned, “I think you need that sort of balancing of interests that qualified immunity provides.”

Police militarization has also been hit hard in the wake of Floyd’s death. Tactics such as the use of military-style weaponry, SWAT teams, and armored vehicles, many have argued, only serve to evoke fear and are used disproportionately in black communities. In fact, a study by Princeton University political scientists found that for every ten percent increase in the size number of African Americans in a given area meant a ten percent increase in the number of SWAT team members. Many advocates are hopeful that the demilitarization of police forces will lead to a decrease in excessive force, or, at the very least, decrease fear of law enforcement.

Each of these reform methods has its own strengths and weaknesses. And unfortunately, because our country has a nasty history of ignoring police brutality, there are very few examples of these reforms being instituted that can be used to prove their worth. However, with no cure-all solution, it is even more important that we push forward on these reforms, figure out how much they help, and ultimately make meaningful change in the name of the countless people who have lost their lives to police brutality.