|Photo by Logan Weaver, Unsplash|
Words heard when a policing goes bad: "Defund. Investigate. Overhaul. Change the culture."
While some big-city police departments may need a reboot, "the agencies that have been in the spotlight recently for uses of force — fatal shootings of Black men in Brooklyn Center, Minn., pop. 34,000, and Elizabeth City, N.C., pop. 19, 000, and pepper-spraying a Black and Latino man in Windsor, Va., pop. 2,700 — are more like what American law enforcement looks like, small departments in places that rarely make the news," reports
Mark Berman of The Washington Post
. "Nearly half of all local police departments have fewer than 10 officers. . . . . Nine in 10 employ fewer than 50 sworn officers. Brooklyn Center, which has 43 officers, and Windsor, which reported a seven-member force, fit comfortably in that majority."
Part of the problem with local is that it's local. "Experts say that while smaller departments have their benefits, including being able to adapt to their communities and hire officers with local ties, these agencies also are typically able to avoid the accountability
being sought as part of the national movement to restructure and improve policing," Berman writes. "These departments' often limited resources and the decentralized structure of American law enforcement complicate efforts to mandate widespread training and policy changes, experts say."
"You want to change American policing, figure out how to get to . . . . the departments of 50 officers or less," Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum
, a Washington-based group that works with police departments, told Berman. "It's unlike any other country. In places like the United Kingdom, you have a Home Office
; you have standards. In Germany or Israel … they have a national police. Our policing is completely fragmented, decentralized, with no national standards."
In March, an example of "fragmented standards and fewer resources" was uncovered by The Chronicle
newspaper in Cottage Grove, Oregon, pop. 11,000: "Five months after the sudden resignations of former Cottage Grove Police Chief Scott Shepherd and Captain Conrad Gagner, The Chronicle obtained documents that detail the circumstances around their departure, including racism, homophobia, sexual harassment, illegal detainment, failure to support outside law enforcement agencies," reported
Ryleigh Norgrove. "After Shepherd and Gagner's resignations, city manager Richard Meyers told The Chronicle: "The investigation associated with their administrative leave has been stopped because of their resignations. It would be fiscally irresponsible to continue to pay the costs associated with an investigation regarding personal actions for people who are no longer city employees."
The issues in Cottage Grove seem less extreme than others. "Police in Windsor stopped and held Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario
at gunpoint in December for not having a permanent rear license plate," Berman reports. "In video footage, officers are heard yelling and berating Nazario and are seen striking and pepper-spraying him before handcuffing him. . . . . On April 21, sheriff's deputies in Elizabeth City shot and killed Andrew Brown Jr.
while attempting to serve a felony warrant."
There are no simple answers. "The rules of policing change depending on where you are," Dennis Kenney, a former Florida police officer and a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, at the City Universiy of New York
, told Berman. Berman notes, "Kenney pointed to community policing, a concept that involves building ties between officers and the communities they patrol, as an example. Advocates of the approach had to sell it to thousands of different agencies, he said."
Christy E. Lopez, who now teaches law at Georgetown University
in Washingotn, D.C., told Berman, "There are pros and cons [to the American system]. . . . It's a very big country with different challenges in parts of it. I like the idea of having different agencies that can experiment . . . . and respond to that particular community. I think there's value to that."