by: Trevor Miles, LPNC
Criminal justice, and related reform, has been a divisive, hot-button topic in the United States for more than a century. From corrupt cops getting rich with tyrannical prohibition enforcement, to racially disparate law enforcement, into Rodney King through Georg Floyd, and so many others who have suffered under the crushing yoke of qualified immunity and prosecutorial discretion, the conversation about restricting violations of life, Liberty, and property by the police has always been subject to the balance of a populace that wants to live in a safe environment, free from violent crime. I believe the conversation would be aided by the opinion of someone who has both worn the badge, like myself, who also believes that the system is in need of substantial improvement. I intend to provide that opinion in this article.
First, to understand the heart of the issue, one needs to understand the beginnings of policing in the United States. In colonial America, up to the 1800s, policing was placed in the hands of magistrates, sheriff, and citizens, in the form of temporary deputization, night watchman, and slave patrols (and sometimes angry mobs). The first professional police force was the Boston Police, formed in 1838, followed shortly thereafter by New York and Philadelphia. From the very beginning, policing in the United States was used to harass the minorities of this country, from African Americans to poor people to Eastern European and Catholic immigrants. I only point this out because, unfortunately, the state has seen fit to continue this tradition into the 21st century. To be clear, that isn’t to say that all police are discriminatory, nor that all police actions are unnecessary. I would wager that most police don’t even realize the laws they enforce have the consequence of targeting both the poor and ethnic minorities of this country, or that they’re unconstitutional.
However, in order for there to be any substantive change in the way policing is done in this country, we must enact several key reforms to the criminal justice system overall. The first reform is stated above. We need to repeal all unconstitutional laws. This includes immigration laws, gun laws, and all laws which create victimless crimes, including drug laws. This will have the instant effect of reducing negative police contact with the public, which will in turn reduce police uses of force and consequently, excessive force. It will also keep more cops safe. Secondly, we need to end this concept of qualified immunity for all levels of law enforcement. It has no no legitimate legal basis in either statutory law or common law, and is actually in contradiction with both Section 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 and Section 1983 of 42 U.S.C, as it effectively prevents citizens from exercising their legal right to bring a civil action against a government agent who violates their rights. By removing this legal protection, and forcing law enforcement to carry liability insurance, we would essentially render uninsurable all cops who continue to violate rights unconstitutionally, which would force them out of the law enforcement field entirely.
We also need to end the militarization of the police, which would require ending the war on drugs, the original impetus for the militarization of police, as well as ending the 1033 Program, which permits the transfer of supplies and material from the DOD to civilian law enforcement agencies. We also need to restrict the involvement of police in non-law enforcement issues. The reality is that police should exist to enforce laws, not serve as counselors and social workers. Other, non-law enforcement, community-run programs could easily supplement this.
Now, to inspire more trust from the public, it would behoove law enforcement to do three things immediately. One, provide better access to police records to the public, including body camera footage and disciplinary records, which would enable everyone to observe the enforcement patterns by law enforcement agencies. Two, require all officers to use body-worn cameras anytime they interact with the public, and make it a crime to fail to do so for any reason. Three, transition all unelected law enforcement leadership positions into elected positions. The leaders of all law enforcement agencies in this country need to be accountable to the general public, not a gaggle of bureaucrats and politicians.
Finally, we fundamentally need to change the way police are trained. When I was trained, an “Us vs. Them” mentality was taught, with them being anyone who isn’t a police officer. This is unacceptable. The police are not a standing army. As a matter of fact, the legal precedent in the United States firmly places the military and law enforcement in two distinctly separate camps, as they should be.
Having explained the reforms that I feel are necessary, I now want to take a moment and clear the air. I don’t hate the police, I do consider their job as necessary, and I don’t regret my time wearing the badge. I also appreciate the knowledge that was bestowed to me by my FTOs and instructors, and the friends that I made through that season of my life. It is this appreciation of law enforcement that makes me want to advocate for reforms in the way policing is done, and I won’t stop until I draw my last breath.