A wave of police reform in the USA

Serve And Protect Square V4According to a recently published report in Vera Institute of Justice most states have introduced legislative reforms in the field of policing.

The focus of the North American penal justice system has, to a large extent, been on the police over recent years. Questions related with the use of force by law-enforcement agencies which have frequently resulted in deaths and with disproportionate measures taken against black people centring both the real and virtual debate, making real and occasional cases viral phenomena which are incomparable with any other moment in recent history.

At the same time, “murders” of police officers committed in New York, Dallas, and Baton Rouge increased fears for the safety of officers. In response, those parties involved in the government and the communities have begun to look for measures to increase public trust in abiding by the law which is vital to public security.

There are over 18,000 police departments all over the United States which pertain to cities and counties. The underlying push for legal reform has traditionally had local jurisdictions as the main driving force.

Recent local security action has been complemented and reinforced at a state level, as demonstrated by the sharp increase in the number state legislation items which were passed in 2015 and 2016. In general, 34 states and in the District of Columbia at least 79 legislative changes were made in areas which encompass police practices.

The main objectives of these legislative changes were:

  • Improve police practice: an obligation to train in the use of force, the ability to deal with vulnerable people, with mental disorders and dementia, the ability to avoid racial profiling (with express prohibitions in several cases), restricting control techniques, etc.
  • Document police operations: 31 of the new laws regulate the use of video cameras on the police uniform; many introduced measures to protect the public who record police actions and regulate the use and storage of data by the police.
  • Increase accountability in cases where police force was used especially if these involved deaths: Independence of investigations is increased in these cases, including the obligation that these must be carried out by external agencies or special prosecutors. In some states the reforms oblige the prosecution to make resolutions public when it is decided not to pursue this type of cases. Three of the states have made reforms to the functioning of the Grand Jury to facilitate the investigation of these cases.


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