The President's Police Reform Dream Journal

A task force on upgrading policing tactics calls for more guidelines, more training, more spending, but lacks introspection on the state of our laws.


It's okay. He took a diversity class.
Credit: Photographerlondon | Dreamstime.com

The protests and anger that followed in the wake of Ferguson, Missouri, Police Officer Darren Wilson's fatal shooting of Michael Brown was fed not just by the incident itself, but by the absurd militarized response to mostly peaceful opposition. For several days, visuals from the St. Louis suburb resembled something you'd see in Nicolas Maduro's Venezuela.

In response, President Barack Obama took to the media to promise studies and research. "I think it's probably useful for us to review how the funding has gone, how local law enforcement has used grant dollars to make sure that what they're purchasing is stuff that they actually need, because there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don't want those lines blurred," Obama said last summer.

One study by the White House, an examination of all federal programs that provide equipment and funds to local law enforcement agencies, was completed and released last December. It called for more oversight and training over the distribution of military equipment to law enforcement agencies, but did not really call for the elimination or even the reduction of any programs. He has since put a working group together to make recommendations about what sort of military gear should be appropriate to hand over to police organizations.

In addition, he put together a Task Force on 21st Century Policing and gave them 90 days to have meetings (that they insist on calling "listening sessions") for various parties to weigh in on how police can better serve their citizenry. Then they were to put together a report full of recommendations and suggestions for action. The report (pdf) was just released on Monday.

The introduction notes that given such a quick turnaround demand, their report was "sharp and necessarily limited. It concentrated on defining the cross-cutting issues affecting police-community interactions, questioning the contemporary relevance and truth about long-held assumptions about the nature and methods of policing, and identifying the areas where research is needed to highlight examples of evidence-based policing practices compatible with present realities."

What does that word salad even mean? Well, the report's very first recommendation, before it even starts actually analyzing how police function in America, is for another task force, the National Crime and Justice Task Force "to review and evaluate all components of the criminal justice system for the purpose of making recommendations to the country on comprehensive criminal justice reform."

The initial recommendation serves as a good preview of what's to come—a 101-page wish list detailing what every person who participated in these listening sessions wants to see from modern day policing, provided that what they want to see is more, more, more.

The narrow focus and short time frame for the task force means that it cannot and does not engage in any meaningful way with the sheer number of laws on the books, the very reasons that police are forced to interact with the citizenry. While there is a huge number of analyses and recommendations connected to the relationship between the police and the community it serves, there is very little introspection about the role the police play as agents of the will of government. No, there will be no discussion of how high taxes and regulations (and bans) lead to black markets among the poor, and the nasty, frequent collision course that ends with things like Eric Garner's choking death over loose cigarettes. There is a singular reference that police should not have quotas for citations or arrests and that police should not participating in enforcement practices that serve to generate revenue, but that's about it.

Instead there are a lot of calls for training and new programs and procedures. More, more, more. There's so much of it here, and a lot of it feels like it's either redundant and already happening or obvious and being deliberately ignored by agencies. The appendix at the end of the report aggregates all of the recommendations and action items within. There are 152 of them. The vast majority of them recommend new policies, new rules, more studies, and in many cases, additional federal spending for them. They talk about new ways to train officers to de-escalate encounters before they become violent, and increasing diversity training both in hiring and for interactions with the public. They talk about training for dealing with mental illness and drug addiction during the line of duty. There are so many recommendations that appear to be basic matters of law enforcement. A few of them are diplomatically about training police officers not to be jerks ("Because offensive or harsh language can escalate a minor situation, law enforcement agencies should underscore the importance of language used and adopt policies directing officers to speak to individuals with respect"). One is almost literally about training officers to comply with the Fourth Amendment and to ask citizens to agree to searches in advance, subsequently documenting their agreement.

It's also obvious that a chunk of the task force's report has been "captured" by special interests to lobby for particular matters with very little relationship with improving the relationship between police and citizens. One recommendation is for the Department of Justice to partner with colleges to develop a postgraduate study program for police executives. The argument presented: "To advance American law enforcement, we must advance its leadership." What does that even mean? It's pure credentialism. It notes that this institute it's calling for would be staffed with "subject matter experts" (like the ones who contributed to this task force report?) to focus on "real world" problems. Given the pages upon pages of recommendations for new training programs in these very areas, what would a graduate program actually contribute? Then a few pages later, the task force recommends a loan repayment and forgiveness incentive program for police officers to attend college. These "recommendations" are actually a jobs program for college instructors focusing on law enforcement matters.

This is not to say the report is only full of bad ideas. It absolutely is not. It calls for annual reporting on a federal level of the number of citizens killed by police every year. Right now, participation in the FBI's count is voluntary. Many agencies do not participate, and our understanding of how many people are killed by police every year (justified or not) is woefully inadequate. It calls for a national database to keep track of police officers who have had their licenses or certification revoked from one state for misconduct to make it easier for law enforcement agencies to know if they've got a problem cop applying for a job with them. It calls for law enforcement agencies to update their public records guidelines. It calls for "decoupling" immigration enforcement, a federal issue, from local law enforcement officers' general  policing duties.  It is pro-body camera but wants to make sure financial concerns and citizen privacy issues are handled. (UPDATE: In response to a question from a commenter, the task force also calls for external and independent reviews for cases of police use of force that results in death.)

There are other areas where the task force thinks it has a good idea but doesn't really consider the unintended consequences. At one point it suggests that law enforcement agencies maybe look for ways to warn or cite citizens and not arrest them so much. This is a great idea on paper, but in practice, this is exactly how police end up in situations where they're pushed to hand out citations left and right to bring in revenue. At the same time this report is being released, the Department of Justice is eyeing Ferguson for exactly this practice. There's an entire page of recommendations on how law enforcement should interact with schools and students to develop discipline programs that don't result in them taking kids away in handcuffs all the time. It doesn't seem to occur to the task force that the best way to do this is to simply not have police involved with school discipline at all.

Above all those ideas, what this task force calls for is more guidelines, more programs, more analysis, more reports, and more from the police (while at the same time worrying about the health of officers and whether they're working too much). In a country where citizens are more and more questioning government regulations and the very petty laws that cause police to have such fraught relationships with its citizens, the president's task force worries that the problem is that aren't enough rules and guidelines to go around.

Read the report for yourself here (pdf).

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  1. “…because there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don’t want those lines blurred,” Obama said last summer.

    You’re fooling yourself if you think they didn’t have designs on a standing domestic army at the ready for when pacification of the masses was necessary.

    1. Yeah, Patrick Henry scooped this out 200+ years ago. It took me till my 40’s to figure it out…

    2. Calling them an army is like calling ketchup a vegetable.

      1. So, they are a condensed army cooked with vinegar, sugar and seasonings into a thick paste?

      2. Paramilitary then. Plenty of despots have made do just fine with those.

      3. But ketchup is my favorite vegetable!

    3. Wait! When did Obama deep-6 the program to sell military equipment to police forces?

      It must have been while I was on vacation and I just missed it. Right?

      Doesn’t giving cops military equipment “blur” the lines a bit?

      I watch Andy Griffith on TV with my youngest kid when I get home and it is amazing how great that show is. Too bad the Andy’s in real life let the Barney’s slip the chain.

      1. +1 bullet in the shirt pocket

      2. I saw one the other day where an escaped convict was holding a woman hostage. Andy not only refused to attempt a dynamic entry while knowing the convict was holding her, he also spoiled the state police sniper’s shot at the convict alone in a rowboat. It was like being in Bizarro World.

        1. Somebody who has too much time on their hands should redo every episode of the Andy Griffith show with a modern “new professional” cop replacing Andy and Barney replaced by a tactical assault K9.

          I would subscribe to that youtube channel.

          1. Yeah, in this version Barney would be in charge and would be constantly remonstrating Andy for only having 1 bullet.

            Every time Otis showed up Barney would beat the shit out of him while shouting “Stop Resisting!”.

            Oh and they’d show Ernest T. Bass getting his ass beat by the “school resource officer”.


            1. That’s because Sheriff Taylor was there to keep the peace, not to impose orders from above on the people. Cops really should have to watch “Andy Griffith”, it would make them ashamed at how they act, if they *could* feel shame.

        2. This is the episode that we should play in every classroom today:

          * Oh and every episode where Ernest T. Bass appears.

  2. What the report calls for is more money and employees for police departments. And anyone who didn’t call this when the whole kerfuffle started is an idiot. (NB – I called it, but am still an idiot for other, more intrinsic reasons.)

  3. It calls for annual reporting on a federal level of the number of citizens killed by police every year. Right now, participation in the FBI’s count is voluntary.

    The state loves its databases, but only containing data on citizens, not state agents.

  4. Here is a simple rule of thumb: If Obama calls for some sort of plan or project or activity or legislation, then it will GROW GOVERNMENT. That is it, bottom line.

    He is UTTERLY – PATHOLOGICALLY – incapable of not actively trying to make government – in any form – larger.

    1. That’s not just Dear Leader, it’s every elected official, virtually without exception. And probably 99.5% of non-elected ‘officials’ as well. And they’re supported by 96% of the voting population, and probably 99% of the general population.

      Conclusion: Zombie apocalypse, please.

    2. It’s not just Obama, it’s the nature of government in general. People who write all these rules and regulations don’t want their work to be undone in the future, so there’s an unspoken rule to not undo anyone’s previous work. Kinda like how cops look the other way when their buddies are abusing their power, so that their buddies will look the other way when they abuse their power.
      As a result of this, the solution to consequences of shitty laws and regulations is always more shitty laws and regulations, with the logical conclusion being a totalitarian state. That’s just how governments work.

      1. What’s up, comment buddy.

        1. Can’t tell if it’s a shitty day in paradise or a great day in hell.

          1. Considering what I just had for lunch, I’m going with the latter.

            1. I had leftovers from Sunday night. Steak tips (marinaded and grilled rare) with carrots, parsnips, and a baked potato. Not a bad lunch.

              1. Tacos al carbon with chili gravy and queso. Tex-Fucking-Mex at its finest!

    3. If Obama calls for some sort of plan or project or activity or legislation, then it will GROW GOVERNMENT. That is it, bottom line.

      Addendum to the bottom line;

      It will either A) be poorly thought out, B) have the opposite of the intended effect, C) require additional funding to fix A and B, or D) any combination of A, B, and C.

  5. Consultants, educators, and bureaucrats call for more consultation, education, and bureaucracy.

    Task forces are unpredictable like that.

    1. The only question is whether they are primarily motivated by ginning up future business or by the fear of putting forth a concrete action item that might be second-guessed.

  6. Did the report contain even one sentence recommending that all police shootings be investigated by a body independent of the local police or d.a.? Certainly not a panacea but better than what we have now.

    1. As a matter of fact it did! Shit, I meant to include that in the paragraph on good things. I blame it on having to wade through so much crap.

      1. Two departments with powers to prosecute each other is what we want. Bureaucratic Law dictates that they will immediately institute total war on each other. So the Censor’s office has the power to investigate and prosecute sworn law enforcement officials (which in most states includes prosecutors as well) and Censor employees are citizens subject to investigation and prosecution by traditional police.

      2. New article! Because we want to know what YOU think. Fuck the Millenials.

        1. I added a little note in the section on good things in the report.

    2. What? Are you suggesting that people in power hold those with power accountable? Are you crazy!

  7. but lacks introspection on the state of our laws.

    Also lacks introspection on the NUMBER of our laws.

    But from the mind of a lawyer, every law and regulation passed is another reason a lawyer needs to be hired. The more numerous and confusing the laws, the more powerful attorneys become.

    Every time a law is passed, another lawyer gets his wings.

  8. “This American Life” did a pretty good two part series called “Cops See It Differently” One of the segments focused on the Las Vegas PD. And, how they had a lot of problematic shootings. But, then they invited the DOJ to audit their department and make recommendations. The DOJ came up with 75 suggestions. And, the department implemented a lot of them. Most of them where things that might not be a bad idea. You need a policy here, training for that over there, you know, the usual. But, one change really jumped out at me and And, I thought to myself. You probably could have stopped with that one.

    “These days in Las Vegas, each and every officer involved shooting is investigated by no fewer than five committees. Assistant Sheriff Primas told us that on one of the committees the civilian members– that is, people like you and me– can actually outvote four to three the police members on what direction an investigation should go in. And as a result of all of this, officers who are involved in unjustified shootings are punished more than they were before. And by more than before, I mean they weren’t before.”

    So, we obviously know, or should know, the major problem is accountability. When you add just a little outside scrutiny, problems seem to go away. I know that there are all kind of problems with our criminal justice system. But, the first thing needed to fix any problems is accountability. Without that, no policy, procedure, or recommendation will work.

    1. The greasy euphemisms just won’t quit.

      “Officer-involved shooting” is just such a euphemism.

      Proper English would be more like:

      officers who are involved in unjustified shootings shoot people illegally are punished more than they were before.

      1. officers who are involved in unjustified shootings shoot people illegally are punished more than they were before.

      2. Either way, I’m just happy to see police brass acknowledge their officers where not punished before. Admitting you have a problem is always the first step.

  9. my neighbor’s step-mother makes $79 an hour on the computer . She has been out of work for 7 months but last month her income was $16877 just working on the computer for a few hours. pop over to this site……

    ????? http://www.netcash50.com

  10. my classmate’s ex-wife makes $87 /hr on the laptop . She has been fired for ten months but last month her check was $20437 just working on the laptop for a few hours. check this http://www.post-report.com

    1. Hard to believe someone willing and able to work 60 hours a week was unemployed for 10 months.

  11. My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do,

  12. My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do,

  13. If they quit taking our money at the federal level, leaving it at the state/municipality to use as needed as the constitution intended, there wouldn’t be an issue.

    If it’s just free stuff or extra money of course they use it to buy or be gifted the latest bazookas. Local government run by local citizens aren’t going to be so free with money as a federal government handing out gifts. Give me a million dollars and some military hardware and say use it or lose it and I’ll figure out a way to keep it.

  14. Actually, what has driven the often-violent responses to Ferguson is the paranoia-stoking lie that the police (and others) have declared open season on young black men. Given that most murders of blacks are committed by black non-policemen, this claim is obviously false. The exact nature and dimension of the problem of police violence is a worthy topic of investigation, provided it’s done by people who want to find the truth regardless of what it is. Is there in fact excessive police violence? Is there a racial bias in police violence? Or is the problem that large numbers of black men have been encouraged to attack the police, thereby leading to the police killings of many of those young fools? We don’t know, and Obama has no intention of finding out anything that doesn’t support his racial grievance agenda.

    1. Is there in fact excessive police violence? YES. Is there a racial bias in police violence? YES. Just because the gov’t doesnt keep public records of the violence and the MSM fails at accurately reporting it doesnt mean these questions havent been answered through extensive independent research. For fatalities I recommend the Fatal Encounters project out of Nevada. Conversely, we also know that police are not being attacked en masse, by black men or anyone else for that matter. We know this because despite rates of “resisting arrest”, rates of death and debilitating injuries among police are low. Lower than roofers and garbage men.

      1. We could FIX that by empowering roofers and garbage men to shoot our dogs when they feel threatened… All the shrinks will tell us that a sense of “empowerment” will improve our health outcomes…

  15. We see so often that the answer to so many problems is freedom, just plain freedom. It’s highly self-regulating, doesn’t concentrate power, fully transparent, and low cost. How do we get others to see it as we do? How did the others lose sight of it to begin with?

    1. Good, even excellent, questions… To somehow get the pepples to ditch their smugly superior self-righteousness? All those who “know better” than we (the rest of us) do? I highly suspect that yes, that is what is much involved… But in turn, HOW does one do that? Ya got me, sorry! Self-righteous morons (voters included) need to suffer that which they dish out… May take another 800 years, I just dunno any moah….

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