Changes are underway at some local U.S. law enforcement agencies that are trying to tackle long-standing policing problems such as excessive force and racial bias.
The reforms come as minority communities demand changes on how police officers do their jobs, including more accountability for their actions.
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the patterns and practices of police departments in several cities including Louisville, Kentucky, and Minneapolis, Minnesota.
A report last month by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights said there was a pattern of racial discrimination at the Minneapolis Police Department. It found the law enforcement agency illegally engaged in race-based policing, resulting in different treatment for people of color.
The report was based on a nearly two-year investigation that began days after the murder of African American George Floyd by white former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020. The incident captured on video showed officer Chauvin’s knee on Floyd's neck and back for more than nine minutes. The incident sparked months of U.S. demonstrations and worldwide protests to end police brutality.
Since the investigation was launched, the Minneapolis police department has instituted several reforms. They include stronger disciplinary action against officers who engage in misconduct, new detailed requirements for reporting use-of-force incidents and enhanced training for implicit bias.
“Former and current Minneapolis Police Department leaders all acknowledged there was a problem with MPD’s organizational culture and that they knew it was resulting in racial disparities,” said Rebecca Lucero, commissioner of the Minnesota Human Rights Department.
The report found that Minneapolis officers were almost two times more likely to search and arrest Black members of the community than whites. Officials also uncovered officers who consistently used racist, misogynistic and disrespectful language.
Minnesota’s Human Rights Department blamed the discriminatory police practices in Minneapolis on deficient training along with “insufficient and ineffective” accountability systems.
Investigators reached the conclusions after reviewing hundreds of hours of police body camera footage and interviewing thousands of people. Minneapolis officials will now draft a court-enforceable agreement to prevent future discrimination.
“There’s no place in the Minneapolis police department for bias or discrimination,” said Amelia Huffman, the city’s interim police chief. “I’m confident that there are men and women in the Minneapolis police department who have the desire to meet the challenge of today and tomorrow.”
Some analysts believe the city’s focus should be on recruiting quality officers and developing more community outreach.
“When you focus on building solid relationship(s) in communities of color, things like excessive aggressiveness and implicit bias begin to diminish,” said Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York.
“We tend not to be discriminatory against people we know well,” Aborn told VOA. “We need to encourage much greater substantive interaction between the police agency and minority communities.”
In other U.S. cities problematic policing is under a spotlight. The Justice Department is investigating whether police in Louisville, Kentucky, engaged in unconstitutional practices, including the use of unreasonable force and illegal searches.
The probe followed the death of Breonna Taylor in March 2020. The unarmed African American medical worker was shot by police inside her home during a botched drug raid. Her death also fueled nationwide demonstrations.
Since Taylor’s death, Louisville police have banned the use of so-called “no-knock” warrants such as was used to enter her apartment. The department also searched for other officer misconduct by reviewing dozens of use-of-force incidents, including officer-involved shootings from 2017 through 2021.
In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the city’s police department revised its policies to prohibit discrimination by targeting, stopping or detaining people due to their race or ethnicity. Other departments have designed new officer training programs like one adopted in Baltimore, Maryland, that emphasizes the use of impartial practices when making traffic stops and arrests.
As part of an ongoing effort to address police reforms, the Justice Department has provided more assistance to law enforcement agencies seeking to improve fair policing. The program, launched in March, will focus on officer training and building positive relationships with the community.
“This program is a voluntary opportunity for a law enforcement agency that knows it needs to make changes, and wants to make changes, to do just that,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. “We will provide technical assistance so that police departments can accomplish reforms as they are identified.”
The program comes after bipartisan negotiations to craft federal police reform legislation failed in Congress last year.
“Clearly Congress did not do what they should have done to provide support around this very challenging social issue of policing in this country,” law enforcement analyst Cedric Alexander told VOA.
Some social justice groups want lawmakers to reintroduce the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020.” It sought to increase accountability for law enforcement misconduct and eliminate policing practices such as racial profiling. The legislation was approved in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate, where Republicans can block most legislation with a filibuster.
In an effort to work around the Congressional stalemate, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is considering executive orders to address police misconduct while providing more federal resources to help city police departments fight against a rise in violent crimes.
The administration’s 2023 federal spending plan requests more than $8 billion in grants for states and localities to fund local law enforcement efforts to build trust with the communities they serve while implementing community-based strategies to prevent gun crime and gun violence.