PRISON FELLOWSHIP'S POSITION
Every human being is created in God's image (Genesis 1:27), with inherent dignity and value. We strive to share the unwavering truth and grace of the Gospel with people affected by crime and incarceration, following the biblical mandate to "learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression" (Isaiah 1:17). In addition to serving prisoners and their families nationwide, we work to advance a more restorative justice system that respects the God-given worth of each person. Therefore, we care deeply both for those who police our communities and those who perpetrate or suffer from crime. Prison Fellowship's 45 years working to bring biblically based values—community, affirmation, productivity, responsibility, restoration, and integrity—and moral clarity in difficult places in and outside prisons, informs our perspective on the issue of policing. Through Prison Fellowship programming, including the Warden Exchange® and Prison Fellowship Academy®, we have experienced firsthand that treating people with human dignity and providing opportunities for transformation have a constructive impact on prison culture and correctional officer well-being. Likewise, within the context of policing, access to community programming and supports can shape a positive community culture and contribute to officer satisfaction, health, and safety.
We recognize that an effective police force plays a valuable role in maintaining the safety of the community by preventing, detecting, and investigating criminal activity. A restorative approach to policing uses proven crime-reduction practices, including violence-reduction strategies, and promotes community education and participation in solutions, all of which lead to safer communities.
The legitimacy of police authority requires both proactive prevention of misconduct and provision of meaningful accountability where community trust is broken. Where search, seizure, or force is deployed, it is imperative that such actions are limited to what is needed to promote public safety and reflect individual dignity.
While these practices serve to increase the trust that is critically important to policing in every community, their need is sharply apparent among Black and Hispanic Americans, who are more likely than white Americans to be subject to the threat or use of actual force by police.[i]
- Requirements for basic and in-field training should be statutorily set to incorporate a reasonable number of hours to adequately address topics including but not limited to mental health training, domestic violence training, de-escalation methods, and a duty to intervene where another officer engages in excessive use of force.
- Training topics should be evidence based, and curriculum should be created with input of subject matter experts and local community stakeholders.
- Curriculum and culture within departments and agencies should demonstrate a focus on officer well-being.
- Force should be used only after an officer has employed every reasonable method to de-escalate a situation, and then should be used only to a degree reasonably necessary.
- Lethal force should be limited to instances where a reasonably articulable threat to human life exists. Where neck restraints are still permissible, they should be considered lethal force, given their inherent dangerousness.
- States should statutorily enable the independent review of agency-wide trends and individual conduct in certain circumstances to ensure that force is used appropriately. Such a review should be free from political interference.
- Lawmakers should weigh the value of no-knock warrants against the potential risk posed to liberty and public safety. The use of this warrant should be limited to instances when traditional, announced warrant service will create an imminent threat of physical violence to an officer or another person.
- To foster trust, internal and external accountability measures should be clearly understood and used consistently.
- Data should be collected on public interactions with police officers and regularly reviewed to identify and address pervasive or individual misconduct.
- Certification and loss of certification should be a process that is recorded and available to other agencies and the public and should be administered externally to the agency.
- Qualified immunity and police unions should be evaluated and reformed to eliminate perverse incentives.
THE SCOPE OF POLICING
Police departments in the United States are charged with several key functions, from deterring and investigating serious crime to enforcing traffic laws and responding to quality-of-life concerns such as homelessness and public intoxication. Across the nation, there are nearly 18,000 different law agencies charged with carrying out those duties to maintain public safety.[ii]
HOW WE GOT HERE:
THE HISTORY OF POLICING IN THE UNITED STATES
The first version of policing in the U.S. came with the early settlers. "Able-bodied" men would donate their time as night watchmen to protect their towns. The early 1800s brought the introduction of day watchmen to bigger cities. Over time, these watchmen in combination provided 24-hour monitoring for their cities. Throughout the 1800s and into the early 1900s, the foundations of policing as we know it today took form.[iii] The call for professionalism of officers along with the introduction of patrol cars and telephones shifted police from watchmen walking the neighborhood to law enforcers who responded to calls.[iv] That change in patrolling created a divide between officers and the community that came to a head alongside social and political turmoil in the 1960s.[v] This period of unrest was exemplified by key events including riots in St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Detroit, and major court cases like Miranda v. Arizona decided in 1966.[vi] Each decade has brought its own unrest and accompanying wave of reforms and attempts to remedy the tension between citizens and officers. Over the last decade, incidents such as the death of Michael Brown in Missouri, George Floyd in Minnesota, and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky have sparked another call for reform. These reforms typically fall into one of three areas: training of officers, use of force, and/or the accountability of police officers.
- Basic training is broken down into four topics: operations, defensive tactics, self-improvement, and legal education.[vii]
- There are five levels of force used by police: presence, verbalization, bodily force, less-lethal methods, and lethal force.
- Overly broad qualified immunity application, union practices, and other factors can operate as perverse incentives against effective accountability.
A key part of policing that has been used to address the issues discussed in both use of force and accountability is training. All law enforcement officers are required to attend training at the outset of their careers and throughout their time on the job.
There is no national standard when it comes to police training, and it varies greatly from state to state. Typically, agencies have a set number of hours that their officers must meet which cannot fall below the required number of training hours set by the state.
Alarmingly, most states allow officers to begin on the job before they even receive basic training, sometimes up to six months before. The amount of time spent in basic training ranges anywhere from 400 to 1,000 hours, with a national average of 647 hours.[viii] The main subject areas during basic training are broken into four main topics: operations, defensive tactics, self-improvement, and legal education.[ix]
Typically, the area with the most training hours during basic is defensive tactics, particularly weapon and use of force training.[x] There is then an average of 52 hours of on-the-job training, followed by a yearly average of 21 hours in continued training.
The completion of a training segment results in the officer being awarded a certificate; misconduct can result in decertification. A large complaint regarding the decertification process is that there is not a national database recording who has lost their certifications, which leads to accountability issues and allows officers to be hired by other departments without their knowledge of prior misconduct.
Types of training and certifications range from being able to carry a firearm to crisis intervention. Crisis intervention trainings aim to better prepare law enforcement for interacting with civilians who struggle with "emotional, behavioral, and developmental challenges."[xi] Scholarly research has found that crisis training shows benefits such as increased diversions to psychiatric facilities over jails; however, it has not clearly reduced the rates of arrests, officer injury, citizen injury, or use of force.[xii]
A survey of officers found that almost half had received training in handling individuals having a mental health crisis.[xiii] Most officers believe knowing how to handle mental health situations is a key component of their role.[xiv] About half of the officers surveyed also said that they had received training in the last year regarding how to de-escalate a situation without use of force.[xv] Recent incidents between police and the public have created a call for more training and de-escalation tactics.
USE OF FORCE
A universal definition of use of force has not been adopted, so across jurisdictions the exact scope differs. However, the International Association of Chiefs of Police has defined it as "the amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject."[xvi] The amount of force used should be only enough necessary to mitigate and protect and ranges from simply an officer's presence to lethal force.
LEVELS OF FORCE AS DEFINED BY THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF JUSTICE
- Presence: An officer's mere presence works to deter crime, with the officer remaining professional and nonthreatening.[xvii]
- Verbalization: Loud, short, nonthreatening commands.[xviii]
- Bodily force: Typically includes grabbing, holding, kicking, or punching.[xix]
- Less-lethal methods: Batons, tasers, and chemical sprays.[xx]
- Lethal force: Use of officer's firearm; highest level of force and should be reserved for when a serious threat is posed.[xxi]
The issues surrounding force do not always fall within the use of force standards but rather the gap between the standards and the frontline officers’ conduct. This was brought to light particularly after a New York resident’s death in 2014. The incident involved a neck restraint that had been banned by the department for 20 years.[xxii] This was just one of many incidents in recent years that have resulted in a call for a deeper examination on use of force tactics.
A national report states that use of force, or threat of force, occurs in less than 1% of all encounters with the police.[xxiii] Unfortunately, data also shows that Black and Hispanic individuals are more likely to experience threat or use of force during their encounters with police.[xxiv] Recorded encounters with the police show that 4% of encounters between police and Black Americans and 3.5% of encounters between police and Hispanic individuals resulted in threat or use of force compared to just 1.5% percent of encounters between police and white individuals.[xxv]
In 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched a new data collection site for agencies to turn over detailed information regarding use of force incidents.[xxvi] This database is voluntary, and in 2020, 53% of all United States law enforcement agencies turned over data revealing just under 1,000 use of force incidents for the year.[xxvii] As more information becomes available regarding use of force incidents, a growing number of legislatures, and even individual department policies, have begun to emphasize de-escalation tactics, restrict the use of neck restraints, and limit the use of lethal force.[xxviii]
The increase in traditional and social media coverage surrounding policing and use of force has also put a spotlight on accountability, which comes in two forms for policing. Department or agency-level accountability means the performance of the department regarding controlling crime while providing services to the public.[xxix] Individual-level accountability encompasses the actual conduct of the officer.[xxx] The latter has been the focus of many reforms in recent years. One method used to increase accountability is body cameras worn by the officers. The number of law enforcement agencies using body cameras is estimated to have doubled since 2013, with six states adding mandates on the use of body cameras in the last year.[xxxi] Most officers favor the use of body cameras, and research has found sufficient evidence that cameras reduced civilian complaints against law enforcement but produced mixed results in reducing arrests, traffic stops, and use of force.[xxxii]
Another area of both concern and reform when it comes to accountability revolves around discipline. The disciplinary process has historically been handled by the department’s internal affairs team and faced criticism for being inconsistent and lengthy, which causes mistrust among community members and tension among officers.[xxxiii] Police unions also play a part by providing an arbitration process for officers to appeal any disciplinary action, which can result in the reinstatement of officers released for misconduct.[xxxiv]
Another factor in police accountability is immunity, which, on the department level, is referred to as municipal immunity and protects the officer's municipal employer from civil liability. The other branch of immunity and more commonly known term is qualified immunity, which protects officers from liability in lawsuits unless there has been a clear violation of the law.[xxxv] This immunity can be granted by a two-prong analysis by the court: (1) whether the facts of the case establish a constitutional violation, and (2) if so, whether the constitutional right was “clearly established” at the time of the incident.[xxxvi] Those in favor of qualified immunity believe it is essential in order for officers to do their job effectively, while those opposed believe it causes accountability issues.[xxxvii]
THE SOCIAL CONVERSATION ON POLICING
While use of force, accountability, and training are the largest areas of focus and reform right now, several others have been making news as well. There has been a large movement for "defunding" the police. The movement seeks to reallocate funds from policing to other agencies such as social services and mental health departments. Despite the heavy news coverage on it, a survey found that, while the public is dissatisfied with police currently, most of the public favors keeping police budgets the same or increasing them rather than cutting.[xxxviii] Another topic of discussion has been no knock warrants, particularly since Breonna Taylor's death, which allow officers to enter a house without any notice. The U.S. Supreme Court has previously upheld "quick-knock" warrants allowing an officer to enter after 15 to 20 seconds, but now legislation is being raised and passed to eliminate these warrants to create more accountability and trust between the officers and community.[xxxix] On the topic of building trust, one method sought to repair relationships between the public and police is community policing. This is a tactic that focuses on community partnerships to problem solve and address public safety concerns.[xl] Research has shown that community policing enhances trust and increases willingness to cooperate.
Policing is actively undergoing reform, mostly driven by concerns regarding use of force, training, and accountability. Recent legislative sessions have seen a large focus on police reform with thousands of bills introduced and passed. These legislative efforts call for the expansion of technology and training for officers and call out the need for more transparency overall. In 2020, nearly half of all states passed legislation eliminating or limiting the use of neck restraints, and 15 states called for the examination of use of force standards.[xli] These changes support research that departments with more restrictive use of force standards have fewer incidents of police use of lethal force and assault, injury, or death to officers.[xlii] Concerns about discipline have also been the center of several reforms in recent years with 11 states giving state officials the right to investigate officer misconduct claims. In addition, five states have given attorneys general the ability to investigate departmental policies and practices, and four states have limited qualified immunity.[xliii] Thousands of bills have been introduced in recent years across all 50 states focused on training, use of force, or accountability, sparking momentum that continues to grow and offer opportunities for a more restorative approach to policing.[xliv]
ADVOCATE FOR JUSTICE THAT RESTORES
With 45 years of experience helping restore men and women behind bars, Prison Fellowship advocates for federal and state criminal justice reforms that transform those responsible for crime, validate victims, and encourage communities to play a role in creating a safe, redemptive, and just society. Visit our Justice Action Center to see how you can take action for justice that restores today!
BUILDING BLOCKS OF TRUST
Everyone wants to walk down safe streets and go home in peace—but without relationships of respect and cooperation between police and the public, no community can enjoy security.
Want to learn more? Check out Building Blocks of Trust: A Report on Police Training and Recommendations for Change. Complete with illustrations and data, Prison Fellowship’s report looks at the history of police training, current training requirements, challenges of modern policing, and community-oriented solutions that promote public safety.