The underlying incentive structures for our police are broken, from unjust laws to poor trauma support. There’s no single shift that will end police brutality, but I see the federal government’s role primarily being supporting communities in implementing the changes needed in their respective jurisdictions.
The simplest thing Congress can do to bring more accountability to police is to fully fund the Department of Justice, an administration that already exists to hold police departments accountable but currently lacks the resources to do so. Additionally, qualified immunity can be outlawed nationally, helping to ensure that police are not above the law and that the checks and balances of the judicial branch are not tainted by corruption in the executive branch. For communities that want to startup emergency social services programs or additional police training, the federal government can provide matching funds to help get those programs off the ground. Of course the best preventer of crime is meeting people’s basic needs like housing and food. That’s where the Freedom Dividend comes in. Check out my policy stances on education and healthcare to see other ways we can help communities prevent crime.
Furthermore, Congress can create incentives for friendlier police. We can construct and support additional training programs by connecting them to optional certifications in areas like deescalation and anti-discrimination. When officers obtain those certifications, the federal government will add an extra $100/week onto their salaries, providing an active incentive for officers to pursue further professional development.
Many law enforcement officers are veterans, and it’s not uncommon for them to use military tactics against civilians. By reducing or eliminating the transfer of military equipment to police departments, we can help the psychological separation of local policing from war action. Even more important is the creation of a reverse boot camp, where outgoing soldiers are helped in reacclimatizing to civilian life. This would also help reduce PTSD and other psychological disabilities veterans often suffer from.
Addressing mental health is another important aspect of supporting police, soldiers, and even medical personnel. In many of these important professions in areas of public service, if an employee experiences something traumatic and asks for help, they can often lose pay, have their hours cut, get demoted, and even get fired. I would be in favor of blanket legislation that explicitly prevents this punishment in both public and private sectors. For police specifically, the inability to receive assistance without punishment leads to natural defense mechanisms kicking in, chief among them being compartmentalization. Police often mentally separate their work experiences from their personal life to protect their mental health and stability. This natural defense leads to police officers having an easier time performing immoral (and often illegal) acts while on the clock. If we support our police in getting the help they need instead of punishing them for it, we could see a massive reduction in police brutality. Policies like this will need to be married to incentives, education, training, and support for more mental health professionals.
I also want to recognize the rampant amount of domestic abuse performed by police in their own households. Survivors of this abuse are typically powerless as their abusers are often protected by their police departments and overpowered police unions. We need a national hotline, wholly independent from law enforcement, that survivors of domestic violence from police can call so they can be confident the protections and support they need won’t be blocked by their abuser’s buddies. Of course, a properly administered Freedom Dividend will also be a major help for all survivors of abuse.
Private prisons currently create a profit-motive for locking people up. While we wouldn’t be able to get rid of them overnight, an aggressive move away from private prisons would reduce the incentive to incarcerate innocent civilians. This ties in closely with unjust laws. A prime example is the criminalization of marijuana use. You can read more about my thoughts on legalizing drugs in my policy stance about ending the drug war.
While I am generally pro-union, police unions have become too powerful and now often act to work against the interests of the people at large. Police are in a precarious place as laborers because of their role as law enforcement. What police do and don’t do deeply affects the communities they’re in. Specific laws we can implement at the federal level to override accountability prevention measures in police contracts include
preventing the disqualification of police misconduct complaints because of time delays
removing exclusive restrictions for interrogating police who have been involved in incidents
restricting police from having access to information civilians do not get prior to their interrogations
limiting the costs cities can pay to and on behalf of officers for police misconduct
requiring information on past misconduct investigations to be recorded and permanently retained in officers’ personnel files
explicitly outlawing restrictions on the media to hold police accountable
As stated before, what I’ve laid out is not the full solution, in part because municipalities and states have their own roles to play. However, I believe that better policing is possible in the short term as we work toward a world in the long term that hardly needs policing at all.