for police reform are growing louder each week. While much of the focus is on
Washington DC’s answer and solutions, states, cities, and localities are in the
best position to enact meaningful reforms.
June 24, 2020, State Policy Network held a discussion on police reform in the
states. Five state-based experts shared policy solutions related to criminal
justice and police union reform, as well as just-completed polling research.
Below are key takeaways from the event’s speakers.
Davis, Libertas Institute
has adopted some of the country’s leading criminal justice reforms. Below are
some of the Libertas Institute’s state-level police reform ideas.
- More restrictions on no-knock warrants. Libertas has helped Utah pass basic restrictions on forceable entry, or no-knock warrants, but there’s more work to be done. In Louisville, Kentucky, Breonna’s law was just passed which adds restrictions on no-knock warrants. Body cameras now have to be turned on before a search is conducted, during the search, and after so we can hear some of those conversations and see the aftermath of what happened. That’s something we want to push forward here in Utah. We also believe these searches should be conducted during the daylight hours, and police should give people a sufficient amount of time to answer the door after they knock and announce themselves.
- Qualified immunity
on the state level.
We’re big fans of what Colorado recently did. If you’re not familiar, Colorado
just passed SB217, which enacts a version of Section 1983 on the state level.
Section 1983 is a federal statute that allows individuals to sue the government
for wrong-doing. Unfortunately, the courts have created this doctrine called
qualified immunity which shields government actors from lawsuits in civil
courts. Colorado’s bill essentially bars government actors from using qualified
immunity in state courts.
- A legal standard
for excessive force.
We want to create a legal standard for what excessive force means, paired with
an accountability measure for when excessive force is used.
- Decertification of officers. There’s been a lot of talk about de-escalation training or suspension, but one thing we think needs to be added to the discussion is decertification of officers when it reaches a certain level. We don’t want officers who are fired from one police department to just move to the next and get a job there.
Molly is a criminal justice policy analyst at the Libertas Institute in Utah. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Girardin, Empire Center
unions and collective bargaining agreements play a significant role in
protecting bad officers and shielding them from accountability and discipline.
States can start to address this problem by reigning in the power and influence
of these unions.
- At the end of the
day, what we’re dealing with here is a cultural problem. It’s a cultural
problem that flows from a part of the law that many police reform advocates
have never paid attention to.
bargaining agreements are negotiated in private between police
unions and our mayors, town supervisors, and other elected officials. Those
supersede a lot of state civil service law. That means police unions get to
dictate what discipline process people are held to, and all sorts of strict
rules that mayors and police commissioners have to follow if they want to
discipline someone. It creates a lot of potential for fatal flaws in
- The worst thing we
find in collective bargaining agreements is arbitration. The power of the
police commissioner to discipline their own police officers has been delegated
to unelected arbitrators. And some unions have been pretty forthright—they are
not going to agree for someone to preside over an arbitration hearing if that
arbitrator has a record of firing police officers.
- My advice to folks studying this in their state: First, you have to obtain police union contracts. Study them. Talk to practitioners. I learned a great deal about this issue by talking to the city attorneys who prosecute these cases. You learn more about the cases they failed than the cases they won. At the end of the day, the cases they lost are fueling the cultural problem we’re dealing with now.
Ken is a policy analyst from the Empire Center in New York. Contact him at email@example.com.
Crawford, Pegasus Institute
governments can encourage police departments to change their policing strategies. Intelligence-led policing can improve public
safety while also improving police community relations.
- Law enforcement is
a largely a state and local issue. The majority of the work in this space is going
to be done in the states. And especially localities in large cities.
- Move away from
Large city police departments still utilize what is referred to as suppression
style policing methods. Suppression style policing casts a wide net over
a high crime area. You flood it with law enforcement. In casting that wide net,
you catch the big fish that are committing the overwhelming majority of violent
crime in that area. The problem is, you catch a whole lot of small fish and you
catch a whole lot of things that aren’t fish at all.
- Shift to intelligence-led policing. Intelligence-led policing strategies, which got the nod from the Obama administration’s commission on 21st century policing, have been around cities since the Boston miracle in the mid-1990s. It allows us to better police neighborhoods and more quickly and with greater specificity apprehend offenders while respecting the overwhelming majority of the neighborhood that is law-abiding.
- We can reduce crime
while also improving police community relations. Research finds
there is a significant positive community relations benefit to intelligence-led
policing strategies. First and foremost because no one wants the bad actors out
of the neighborhood more than the law-abiding families in the neighborhood. But
second, and equally important, is the procedural justice component to these
strategies. The additional attention that is given to your serious offenders in
these neighborhoods is not just law enforcement attention, but also social
service attention. What the neighborhood realizes is the individual who is
targeted for this kind of enforcement is not only targeted by law enforcement,
and in many cases their probationary parole officer, but also individuals whose
sole purpose is to help individuals leave that lifestyle behind and become
productive members of society.
Josh is the executive director of the Pegasus Institute in Kentucky. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Woodlief, State Policy Network
from Washington are slow, but attorneys general have the power to oversee the
police departments in their states that need to be turned around.
- The Rodney King
riots in 1992 led to this massive federal crime bill, a small part of which
included US Code 14141—a provision that authorized the Department of Justice
(DOJ) to investigate local law enforcement departments that are alleged to have
a pattern of abuse.
- What we know is state attorneys general have more subpoena power than the DOJ, they certainly have more access, more intel, and they are accountable to voters in a way that the DOJ is not.
- Many state
constitutions have more protections for individual rights than the US
Constitution. What happens is state officials rely on the federal government to
defend our individual liberties. It’s time for attorneys general, governors,
and state legislators to start doing their jobs to protect the rights of
individuals and oversee police departments.
Tony is executive vice president at State Policy Network. Contact him at email@example.com.
Conko, State Policy Network
taking into account Americans’ feelings towards policing and equality issues,
state think tanks can help solve local problems in ways that truly meet their
- Americans are concerned about their freedom, social order, and security.
- Policing and equality issues are very real to Americans.
- 81% believe we need to continue making changes to treat blacks equally to whites.
- 74% support the protests following the death of George Floyd
- 69% feel George Floyd incident is a sign of broader problems
- 67% believe the criminal justice system favors whites
- 67% believe racism is a big problem in our society today
- 57% believe police are more likely to use force against blacks.
- State think tanks need to approach this topic carefully. We need to acknowledge there are deep pains and wounds that people are feeling in this process. It’s very personal to people. Our groups can set a vision, outline what the concerns are, and advance reforms that are well-received by Americans.
- Brett Kittredge from the Mississippi Center for Public Policy published an op-ed that personalizes, humanizes, and dramatizes the qualified immunity issue. Kittredge explains what qualified immunity is and then describes a vision for what the world looks like when that policy doesn’t exist.
is the vice president of communications at State Policy Network. Contact her at