Police Reforms Make Progress Against Entrenched Opposition

Every time cops denounce reform efforts it is evidence of a win.


This past weekend, a package of modest police reform measures went into effect in Washington state a year after high-profile incidents of police misconduct, including the killing of George Floyd, sparked protests across the country and reinvigorated efforts to transform how law enforcement does its job. But months after the new rules regarding police tactics, oversight, hiring, and discipline gained the governor's signature, opposition continues—especially among law enforcement ranks. It's a reminder that those working in the new environment aren't especially happy with change, and they may continue their opposition long after reformers and the public move on to other concerns.

"The governor signed legislation that will create an Office of Independent Investigations that reports to the governor, prohibit certain uses of force and will require more thorough oversight requirements for hiring and for reporting misconduct," Democrat Gov. Jay Inslee's office boasted in May.

Not included in the package was a much-debated proposal to trim qualified immunity protections against civil liability for police misconduct. Laws of varying degrees of effectiveness in addressing that court-created doctrine have passed in Colorado, Connecticut, and New Mexico, always in the face of stiff opposition from police and their allies.

Lawmakers also failed to pass "a measure to authorize the state attorney general to prosecute cases of police deadly force, a bill to increase the minimum age of police recruits and a requirement that police departments with at least 15 officers to have a community oversight board," according to NPR.

So, the measures that became law were modest ones intended to ban the use of chokeholds and other dangerous restraints, limit the use of tear gas, and restrict the acquisition of surplus military equipment. The measures also seek to assure independent investigations of allegations of excessive force, strengthen civilian oversight of police, emphasize de-escalation, and require officers to intervene when colleagues use excessive force.

The new rules also address the training and certification of police officers. In the language of recent months, this is very much police reform and not police de-funding. Not that those working in the targeted profession are happy about the situation.

Last week, at a press conference called by law enforcement leaders from across eastern Washington, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich claimed chaos among the ranks of his deputies.

"The reason that we are in chaos, the reason that no particular legal advisor in this state actually agrees with each other right now is that the legislature of the state of Washington chose to craft laws and did not invite the law enforcement leaders to the table to even discuss these issues," Knezovich insisted. "And now we hear from legislators that we are overreacting, that we don't understand the laws, that we don't understand the intent, and you're right. We don't."

"Nor do we understand the 'why' behind all these changes other than the emotion behind certain high-profile instances involving police which are the minority instances that happen in this community across the United States," he added.

But "high-profile instances" including the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor didn't happen in isolation. They came after years of abusive behavior, minimal accountability, militarized policing, and perceptions of disparate treatment of people based on race—and racially biased enforcement simmered long before the events of 2020.

"About seven-in-ten whites (71%) expressed a great deal or fair amount of confidence in local police to treat blacks and whites equally, compared with just 36% of blacks," Pew Research reported in 2015.

Amid last year's protests (which were at least partially brought to a head by the social and economic pressures of COVID-19 lockdowns) and wide publicity about police misconduct, public confidence in law enforcement dropped to a record low level. The conditions seemed better than ever for finally reforming the way police go about their business.

But, as the reaction of Washington law enforcement illustrates, resistance runs deep in the ranks of law enforcement. Far from Spokane, Philadelphia's police union threw its weight against a district attorney it saw as insufficiently pro-cop. Despite losing that battle, the union keeps reform bottled up in its contract negotiations with the city. In California, police unions openly grease the pockets of state lawmakers as the legislature approaches a vote on a proposal to make it easier to discipline bad cops. In Kansas City, Mo., it's the Board of Police Commissioners suing to block the mayor's plan to distribute some of the department's responsibilities to other agencies.

Nationally, police organizations lean hard on members of Congress to prevent consideration of reforms to qualified immunity and even to codify the doctrine into law, further reducing police accountability for misconduct.

Opposition to change is entrenched among those directly affected: police and their supporters. Meanwhile, the constituency for reform is less organized and has competing concerns. With violent crime rising around the country after a year of lockdown-induced economic pain and social disruption, a survey of Detroit residents finds a greater emphasis on public safety than on reforming how police do their jobs. Likewise, Gallup finds rising confidence in police among African-Americans, though it remains very low at 27 percent (last year it had plummeted to 19 percent). Concerns about crime can make people more tolerant of flawed anti-crime efforts in a world in which risks must be balanced. 

Obviously, though, there is still support for transforming law enforcement. The passage of reform measures in Washington and elsewhere demonstrates that it's still possible to make positive changes. That window will remain open so long as something like 60 percent of Americans favor doing more to hold police accountable, as found in an April ABC News/Washington Post poll. A June survey of residents of Milwaukee found distrust of police and majority support for transferring some of their responsibilities to social services agencies.

Uphill battle it may be, but the new rules for police in Washington and reforms elsewhere in the country (some moderate, others more serious) show that change remains not just necessary, but achievable. There's no question that it's frustrating to have to fight public employees to get them to offer better treatment to the taxpayers who fund their paychecks. But every press conference where police union bosses, sheriffs, and police chiefs denounce reformist efforts is evidence of a win.

NEXT: Brickbat: Bus Tragedy

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. These civilian advisory boards are a joke. They formed a group of the most diverse, progressive, racist, poorly educated bastards that they could find. It looks like one of George Floyd’s funerals or looting parties.

    1. They are way underselling the Washington police reforms here.

      They prevent police from stopping people on the “reasonable suspicion” standard and elevate that requirement instead to “probable cause”. I’m not a lawyer, but from what I’ve read, that makes common police tasks, like stopping a suspected shoplifter basically impossible unless the criminal feels like giving themselves up. And from what I and everyone else around here has seen at the remaining retail locations, theft is rampant and brazen. I have personally seen mass — I won’t even call it shoplifting since they make no attempt to conceal their crime, stealing at a Dick’s sporting goods and at a Target. Just a bunch of teens in sunglasses and masks taking shit and walking out. At least I hope they are teens.

      And look at what they are doing in Tacoma. Charging 3 cops for murder over a guy who attacked them then died in the ambulance after the fight. It’s like the George Floyd case, but instead of one guy kneeling on someone’s neck/back while onlookers tell him he’s killing the man, 3 cops get pretty roughed up in the tussle as well, the guy lives, then dies in an ambulance, full of meth. Of course, the “victim” is a black career criminal who loves puppies and his momma. The cops include an ex ranger with a bunch of combat deployments and a clean military and police service record. They tried to set the cops’ bonds at $1 million each. Fucking disgusting.

      The article states that witnesses claim that the “victim” never fought back, but that part of town is the blackest place in Washington and overtly hostile to cops and decent people.

      I have jury duty today, and I’m thinking of actually doing it instead of getting excused. So sick of this.


      1. Since their “victory” in qualified immunity here in Colorado, crime has gone way up, but only in the areas that already had high crime. Qualified immunity means that the cops toned down policing in all areas. My area needs little policing, but the areas near the military bases have always needed more policing. They aggressively policed those areas before, there are many young military families living there that can’t afford to live anywhere else. Now that the police have toned it down they have daily gunfire in that area. Is that progress? The mall that I used to frequent has had three shootings this year inside, and probably a half dozen outside. I lived in that area for eight years, it was a great place to raise a family.

        1. Colorado Springs? If so then I’m gonna guess Citadel. Malls are all kinda shit now. Not multiple shootings shit, but they have taken a very noticeable step or two down in quality of shoppers there. One of the mass thievings I witnessed was at a sporting goods store that is one of the local mall’s major department stores, now that all the real department stores are closing up.

          I think ending QI is reasonable, or at least changing the interpretation so that clearly criminal things are treated as such even if there hasn’t been an exact 1:1 case previously. I think some of what we are seeing is “blue flu”. Police are dragging their feet in protest. Not surprised, that is the flavor du jour for any group.

          Can’t we have decent policing without also excusing blatant criminality among public servants? No? Ok, time to go to Switzerland.

          1. I lived near the Citadel for eight years in the 90s and early 2000s. It was idyllic. The area was all military retirees, young military families, and low-income families. Very low crime. It was the nicest, safest place that I had ever lived. I would take my family to that mall, they would shop, I would sit on a bench with a coffee and people watch. It is painful to watch the decline of that area because there are so many nice people. They are just poor and don’t have many options. They are the ones that suffer when the area starts going to hell.

            1. Fantastic work-from-home opportunity for everyone… Work for three to eight a day and start getting paid inSd the range of 17,000-19,000 dollars a m0nth… Weekly payments Learn More details Good luck…

              See……………VISIT HERE

      2. DOL is racist now. Go figure.

        1. SJW or racist, there is no middle ground in any arena.

    2. I just bought a brand new BMW after having made $6375 this past one month and just over 12k last 4 week. This is the best and most financially rewarding job I’ve ever had. I actually started this few Weeks ago and almost immediately started to bring home minimum 74BUCKS p/h… Read More

    3. Back in the ’80s they had these in Philly for officer-involved shootings. Stacked with cop haters, and the cops never showed up for the hearings.

    4. How many funerals did George Floyd have?

    5. Fantastic work-from-home opportunity for everyone… Work for three to eight a day and start getting paid inSd the Hac range of 17,000-19,000 dollars a m0nth… Weekly payments Learn More details Good luck…

      See…………Visit Here

  2. The police just want to maintain their position wherein the public answers to them, rather than vice versa. Not particularly surprising.

    Of course, I suspect that a lot of the issues we see could be mitigated by making fewer things illegal. But the cops all seem to hate that idea as well.

    1. After police reform, take on the really hard stuff – public employee reform.

    2. No, the evidence I see is that police abuse problems have been getting worse in the USA over a period in which many things people commonly did changed from illegal to legal. And I think there may even be a causal connection there, running the opposite way from what you think.

      I’m 67, and during my lifetime many of the things, over the entire USA or much of it, a great many people used to break the law to do, they no longer have to break any law to do. Common pornography used to be illegal practically everywhere, and now almost all porn is legal. More recently we’ve had widespread legalization of firearm, cannabis, and firework possession. Dog licensing has become voluntary in many places it used to be required. Homosexual intercourse and appearance has been legalized.

      The common thread to this trend is that these were widespread behaviors that used to be treated as street crimes, i.e. for common cops to police, not the IRS or some agency without beat cops. But what we see is an increase of an “us vs. them” mentality in policing. I think this is a connected development.

      The idea used to be widespread that the difference between the person getting the ticket and yourself is that the other one got caught for something you didn’t get caught for doing. But now if someone gets, say, a pornography charge, it’s not for the wholesome type of porn you read or see, it’s for something really perverted like kiddie porn; that person is not like you. If it’s a dog licensing rap, it’s not for a common breed like yours, but exotica like pit bulls. It’s not just regular homosexual behavior, it’s something you’d consider very nasty. It’s not pot smoking, it’s narcotics. And so on.

      So now there’s more of a sense that the police are targeting the “others”, not someone like you committing a technical violation. So there’s greater license by the police to rough suspects up, etc.

  3. “”The reason that we are in chaos, the reason that no particular legal advisor in this state actually agrees with each other right now is that the legislature of the state of Washington chose to craft laws and did not invite the law enforcement leaders to the table to even discuss these issues,” Knezovich insisted.”

    We don’t generally invite the fox to the henhouse security meeting. They’ve shown they can’t police themselves so screw em- maybe legislators will finally do their job with laws like this to rein in their behavior. Don’t like it? Quit.

    1. Quit? They are. They are also not getting recruits. In the 90s, the Chicago Police Department had 30,000 applicants in a hiring year. Last year, it was 3000 or so. Only 700 of those were qualified, only 80 of them passed the test. They had 250+ retirements last year.
      Do you people actually think that people’s lives will be improved by this? How?
      Reason is selling fear porn to you people and you are lapping it up. They don’t report crimes by criminals or politicians, they just scour the news for any negative cop story and parrot the story as if it is something important. I’ll bet you a dollar that anyone that had their business burned and looted last year doesn’t think like you people. They understand the reality of looters and arsonists.

      1. Police agencies should probably relax their standards on past weed use/citations. The FBI is practically all mormon now because of their life style requirements.

        1. You misspelled “moron”

        2. That is why HRT is recruiting guys straight out of the academy if they have had prior service in a special operations unit. They did not require them to have agent time.

        3. No they shouldn’t. The citizens or the legislature should change the laws. Legalize/decriminalize. The cops are just enforcing the laws the people give to them.

      2. But aren’t the negative cop stories important? The burners and looters are doing bad things, but not doing them while wearing government uniforms.

        1. And what “bad things” are they doing? Trying to arrest George Floyd? Were the cops burning black businesses and killing people that worked there? You are a child.

          1. Are all the police in the world involved in the Floyd case?

            1. No. Sting never performed with Roger Waters or David Gilmore.

      3. I’ll bet you a dollar that anyone that had their business burned and looted last year doesn’t think like you people.

        How many of those people did the cops help? My guess would be zero.

        1. And what could they do to help, shoot into the crowd? They were rendered powerless by the politicians and BLM’s false premise. If they harmed a looter they would have the mob at their house.

          1. I’ve been mugged, robbed, burglarized, assaulted, and whenever I went to the cops for help they offered to search me and my abode for contraband so they could arrest me. But help me? They thought that was funny. They literally laughed.

            That’s why so many people don’t call the cops when they are the victim of a crime. Because they know the cops will treat them like a criminal.

            I truly believe that if you show me someone who trusts and respects the police, I’ll show you someone who’s never been a victim of a crime and asked the cops for help.

            Fuck the police. They’re supposed to be the good guys.

          2. And by “fuck the police” I mean “shame on you.”

      4. So that’s the choice? Crime or maniacs as police? If that’s the case, then back to the night watch and the hue and cry. I’ve got time, most people I know would too.

      5. How will peoples lives be improved by this? Maybe you commies will decide to pay for your security instead of expecting the free marketers to pay for your stuff.
        You don’t have to “scour” very hard to find negative cop stories.

  4. “But every press conference where police union bosses, sheriffs, and police chiefs denounce reformist efforts is evidence of a win.”

    Who wins? The public? The people in crime-ridden neighborhoods? They started this oversight crap in Chicago a few years ago with COPA. The Cops just stopped policing and street crime and murder numbers increased, especially in the worst neighborhoods. You are now paying cops to “Take the call, point and laugh, and drive away.” They aren’t going to risk running afoul of the new, ridiculous rules. Did you notice that they stopped airing live police shows? You can’t have reality sneaking in on the progressive Democrat narrative that every criminal in the ghetto is a victim that is just trying to get some bread.

    1. Whenever I watched those live police shows it made me feel sick. I seriously have no idea how cops thought that those shows portrayed them as anything other than arrogant bullies.

      1. Admit it you cried when Bambi’s mom died too, didn’t you, screetch.

    2. My longtime Usenet ally, Christopher Charles Morton, made this point about Chicago.


      The truth is that the rank and file of the Chicago Police Department has operated beyond the rule of law for so long that they simply will not tolerate ANYONE who even hints at reining them in. This is an institutional problem of long standing… such long standing that it was an old story when my late grandmother was a trainee ambulance driver for WWI.

      Will this ever change? It’s doubtful. Who were the victims of Jon Burge’s torture ring? Blacks. Who elected and reelected for 20+ years as mayor, the man who was Cook County State’s Attorney during the height of the reign of terror? Blacks. It’s like French Jews voting for Klaus Barbie as Mayor of Lyon.

      As far as I can see, Chicago is the way it is because the people are content to have it so. And that includes having a police department inside of which a home invasion and kidnapping ring could operate for YEARS without anybody seeing ANYTHING.

      1. The truth is that the rank and file of the Chicago Police Department has operated beyond the rule of law for so long that they simply will not tolerate ANYONE who even hints at reining them in.

        That’s not unique to Chicago.

  5. Gee, if only every person was accountable for their actions, and could expect to earn the consequences, good and bad.

    And if only my beagle could mix a proper martini and poop out solid gold turds.

    1. Beagles are notorious for underpouring.

      1. Beagles are pretty stupid. My border collie is the best bartender I know.

        1. Boston Dynamic robot dog for the win. It also makes the AI-phobes freak out, so, bonus.

    2. Accountable for their actions?!? Sounds dangerous. I’ll wait to hear the union’s take on this before I know what to think.

    3. Get a Cocktail Spaniel.

  6. “About seven-in-ten whites (71%) expressed a great deal or fair amount of confidence in local police to treat blacks and whites equally, compared with just 36% of blacks,” Pew Research reported in 2015

    Is this where we overlay this on the poll that showed that people on the left vastly overestimated the number of unarmed black people killed by police every year?

    1. Don’t forget the breakdown of reported race by crime victims, we all know they’re the worst racists of the bunch.

  7. Where are we with abolishing the police? Or are there still Jan 6 attackers and Whitmer kidnappers that need rounded up?

  8. The CPD has had issues. They are led by progressive, affirmative action (they call it “merit”) emplaced, fools. But the “reign of terror ” you speak of is black on black murder and violent crime, by a very large margin.
    So far this year, 448 murders, 2461 shot. 80% black shooters and black victims. The cops have killed 4 and wounded 8.
    But keep telling us about the bad cops that were there, that will keep your mind off the reality of innocent kids and teenagers getting shot daily.
    I didn’t wander into Englewood and Austin when I was a kid in Chicago, it wasn’t because I was scared of the police.

  9. It’s revealing the most important reform, ending unionization, wasn’t included or even considered. This is why left wing governance is useless. In the rare instances when they accurately diagnose the problem their ideology prevents them from developing effective solutions. Instead we get community oversight boards full of political grandstanders because that’s what the left cares about even though they’re completely ineffective.

    1. Agreed, the elephant in the room is the public sector union and its lack of ethics.

      1. All public sector unions have the same issue. They are fundamentally a way for the government to lobby itself. Police unions and teachers unions are just the most obvious because of the way they interface with the broader community, but make no mistake that all the others like the AFSCME block bureaucratic reforms and firing bad employees just the same.

  10. >>The governor signed legislation that will create an Office

    taxes and a new Office = reform.

  11. CHAZ coming soon to a neighborhood near you (sponsored by Reason and the local Democrats).

  12. Let JD Tuccille masturbate with his quill pen as cities decay into anarchy. Anything goes and cops are giving up. The great thing is, it’s scum like him who suffer the most eventually at the hands of those oh so noble “victims”.

    1. “Anarchists did not try to carry out genocide against the Armenians in Turkey; they did not deliberately starve millions of Ukrainians; they did not create a system of death camps to kill Jews, gypsies, and Slavs in Europe; they did not fire-bomb scores of large German and Japanese cities and drop nuclear bombs on two of them; they did not carry out a Great Leap Forward that killed scores of millions of Chinese; they did not attempt to kill everybody with any appreciable education in Cambodia; they did not launch one aggressive war after another; they did not implement trade sanctions that killed perhaps 500,000 Iraqi children. In debates between anarchists and statists, the burden of proof clearly should rest on those who place their trust in the state. Anarchy’s mayhem is wholly conjectural; the state’s mayhem is undeniably, factually horrendous.” ~Robert Higgs
      “The measure of the state’s success is that the word anarchy frightens people, while the word state does not.” – Joseph Sobran

    2. OMG, you guys, if police actually have to follow the law it’s INSTANT ANARCHY!

      -Reason commenters, apparently

  13. “Nor do we understand the ‘why’…
    When did those thugs ever concern themselves with the why of the so called “laws” they were enforcing.
    “The whole good cop/bad cop question can be disposed of much more decisively. We need not enumerate what proportion of cops appears to be good or listen to someone’s anecdote about his Uncle Charlie, an allegedly good cop. We need only consider the following: (1) a cop’s job is to enforce the laws, all of them; (2) many of the laws are manifestly unjust, and some are even cruel and wicked; (3) therefore every cop has agreed to act as an enforcer for laws that are manifestly unjust or even cruel and wicked. There are no good cops.” ~Robert Higgs

    1. You voted for and elected the politicians that made those laws which the police are then hired to enforce. Ultimately it is you that is cruel and wicked.

  14. One of the most robust aspects of conservative sociopolitical theory is deterrence penology. While it can be taken too far, even liberal sociologists have to admit that all carrot and no stick just doesn’t work in medium to large populations. Another robust aspect to conservative theory is that government “progress” is largely focused on enhancing the power and scope of the government itself, and this is because government actors wish to gain power and shed accountability. Liberal sociologists won’t agree with that, but history shows it to be true.

    You’d think then, that robust and aggressive accountability for a set of government agents who broadly police themselves, unionize to lobby the government to give them further protections, have literally managed to pass laws in many states that grant them special rights impeding prosecution, and have been granted even further extra immunities by courts in direct contravention of statutory law would be a conservative priority. After all, but conservative philosophy, such a population must inevitably run amok. But of course it isn’t a priority, even though that population is running amok. In fact, preventing it seems to be a priority. Listening to modern conservatives, it would appear that this is the case because some liberals take the issue too far, and, naturally, that means the issue cannot exist at all. But as a conservative-leaning person myself, I have more respect for the conservative position than conservative commenters on this site seem to.

    A deeper study into the issue shows that this is about social hierarchy. Specifically, the ideo-attribution effect reverses when applied to authority figures along left-right lines for the majority of conservatives (liberals, too, but n the other direction and less strongly). The authors of studies about this are, I think, wrong on one point, however. It is not about “authority” specifically, but about “legitimate authority,” or more acutely whomever is “protecting society.” The sad part is, however, that because this inversion is not symmetric between conservatives and liberals, it leaves society with a lack of people who actively fight encroaching government power among the justice system. This in turn leads to the erosion of all rights, eventually (for example, look how Gonzoles v Raich was immediately used in California to claim merely having guns could be regulated under the commerce clause).

    Most conservatives, unfortunately, will never even examine their own beliefs on this. Police good, so anything police no like bad. They’ll talk about “punish the bad ones” and then look past tons of data pointing to rampant unpunished perjury, de facto quotas, statutorily impermissible use of force, steroid use, flawed complaint systems, unnecessary proliferation of dynamic entries, complete lack of excuses for civil asset forfeiture, enforcement of blatantly unconstitutional laws and edicts, and a massive culture of silence over misconduct in order to point out that police don’t kill people for no reason all THAT often. The left’s ridiculous over-focus on race doesn’t help, as it hands conservatives an easy strawman to beat up.

    And in the end, the government grows… as always.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.