Police Reform

Respectful Policing, Respected Police: A Proposal for Prevention

Officers who killed George Floyd must be held fully accountable, but that will not bring him back, and it won’t be enough. The discussion here is about prevention, and tempering a total-control culture that disregards constituents’ humanity. A defiant, justice-minded generation will not rest, disgusted with racially disparate treatment and a criminal “criminal justice” system that gives a black man 20 years for two joints, while a hard-drinking prosecutor lets whites off on bail.

Given institutional hypocrisy, oppressive laws, and a police force that role models violence, prison time for police will indeed feel good. But, will it actually prevent future tragedies? Or will it deepen divisions and amplify friction?

Rather than blunt budget cuts to defund police, there are many creative reforms to consider. One reform is “collective accountability” with floating incentives that aim to prevent biased reactions in the heat of the moment.  This proposal offers a peaceful, meaningful outlet for public frustration, and an acknowledgement of police professionalism in the face of rising risks.

The proposal is as follows:

  • Offer a voting mechanism to measure public satisfaction with police performance – do people feel respected, protected, and served? At the same time, conduct independent, professional performance reviews of police conduct and desired outcomes.
  • Combine public opinion and professional reviews to rate improvements or regressions in police performance. Apply this rating annually to salaries across the board, holding the entire police force accountable by collectively adjusting salaries within discretionary limits, perhaps 5 or 10 percent above or below current salaries.

After-the-fact inquiries, reprimands, and prosecutions are too little, too late, and they obviously have not worked. Training helps, but bias exists, and tragic, perfect storms will happen. But maybe, if performance pay were collectively awarded, peer pressure within the ranks would encourage police to hold each other accountable to professional standards in real time.

Police deserve compensation for their vital services, commensurate with their professionalism and the risks and expectations of the job. And they deserve unbiased opportunities to earn back respect, including public commendations for lives saved when deadly force might be legally justified. The public deserves compassion, understanding, and an opportunity to evaluate police services.

Historic circumstances require that we explore every tool proposal, including collective incentives, to move forward toward a mutual civil regard.

Oct 5, 2020 version published in Fellowship of Reconciliation “Pacific Call,” Volume 40, Issue 5.