When President Trump signed his executive order dealing with police reform yesterday there was an immediate dogpile of Democrats denouncing the effort. Chuck Schumer described it as “modest and inadequate,” while Nancy Pelosi said that it “falls sadly and seriously short of what is required.” A representative for Amnesty International called it “a Band-Aid for a bullet wound.” But when you look into the details, the President has managed to offer some potentially useful improvements while not abolishing, defunding or otherwise gutting our system of law enforcement as most of his opponents are hoping to do.
Schumer and company are getting plenty of help from the mainstream media in their efforts. Even the normally pragmatic Associated Press couldn’t resist scoffing at the EO in their own way. The number of phrases being put in scare quotes in this article could form the script for a Bela Lugosi film. They include entries such as “trustworthy” police ranks, “law and order” line, and “radical and dangerous.” They also jump all over the fact that Trump doesn’t invoke racism in his order. But as I said, the order includes some quite solid plans that should make things better without going too far.
Following weeks of national protests since the death of George Floyd, President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that he said would encourage better police practices. But he made no mention of the roiling national debate over racism spawned by police killings of black men and women…
Trump’s executive order would establish a database that tracks police officers with excessive use-of-force complaints in their records. Many officers who wind up involved in fatal incidents have long complaint histories, including Derek Chauvin, the white Minneapolis police officer who has been charged with murder in the death of Floyd. Those records are often not made public, making it difficult to know if an officer has such a history.
The order would also give police departments a financial incentive to adopt best practices and encourage co-responder programs, in which social workers join police when they respond to nonviolent calls involving mental health, addiction and homeless issues.
I’m not sure why the media expected Trump to turn this EO into some sort of 21st century treatise on racism in America when that completely fails to encompass the full scope of the issues under discussion. Though you’d never guess it from the media coverage you see on CNN and MSNBC of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, police in the United States regularly shoot and kill far more white people than any other race. In fact, in 2017, police killed 457 white suspects, a figure that was more than the total number of Black and Hispanic suspects combined (223 and 179 respectively). Granted, the per capita death rate for Black suspects is generally higher based on the percentage of the total population they represent. But that fact also reflects the reality that crime rates tend to be higher in underserved and impoverished neighborhoods that typically have higher percentages of minority residents.
As to what the order actually does, the major highlights are promising. Establishing a national database of officers facing accusations of excessive force will provide the sort of transparency that many critics have been calling for. It should, however, also reflect the number of times officers are cleared of such accusations after a thorough investigation. Federal financial incentives for programs allowing social workers to go with police officers on calls involving nonviolent situations including mental health, addiction or homelessness issues is a good compromise. It’s far better than trying to “replace” the police with social workers who would be totally unprepared and in danger if a situation suddenly turned violent.
Trump’s move to ban chokeholds “except if an officer’s life is at risk” probably doesn’t change things all that much, but it provides clarity as police departments seek to standardize departmental policies. A chokehold is rarely a cop’s first go-to method for bringing a defiant suspect under control. And the officer’s life is rarely at risk in an up-close situation unless the suspect is armed with a knife or blunt weapon of some sort.
The point is that these policies will help to weed out the authentically bad cops who make it onto the force. In reality, an overall reform of all police wasn’t required to begin with. Keep in mind that figure I cited above about the number of suspects shot and killed by police in 2017. The total was 903. And the vast majority of those were deemed to be completely justified, most often applying to situations where suspects were actively trying to kill or injure either members of the public or the police officers themselves. And those 903 incidents were out of literally 10,554,985 arrests made that year. That doesn’t even count the larger number of interactions officers have with the public that end without an arrest, but instead, the issuing of a warning or ticket, etc. But when a rogue officer is identified, the immediate removal of grossly incompetent or racist/sadistic individuals who somehow obtain a badge is the objective.
I think the President sold his reform efforts pretty well when he said, “reducing crime and raising standards are not opposite goals.” I probably would have gone with “mutually exclusive” instead of “opposite,” but you get the point.
There is clearly room for improvement on police interactions with the public in general and the specific instances where truly bad cops are identified. But overall, I remain convinced that the vast majority of people are happy with the service and protection provided by the men and women who pursue a career in law enforcement. And that includes plenty of Black and Hispanic citizens as well. For more on that, do yourself a favor and read Jason Riley’s WSJ article on “a pro-police, silent majority in Black America.”