American Police are Flawed, but Dramatic Change is Unlikely
The death of George Floyd continues to alter daily reality in the United States. Calls for change in the police force have reemerged and are omnipresent. While some cities are already acting, a significant change in policing cannot be expected any time soon.
Police Reform Now!
Two weeks after Floyd’s death, demands for police reform are intensifying. On Monday, the Democrats presented a legislative initiative in the House of Representatives in an attempt to strengthen nationwide police control.
The party is calling for greater supervision of the police, better training and adjustments in the way police apply the use of force, such as choke holds. Moreover, a simplification for the prosecution of police who used lethal force unlawfully is also part of the Democrats’ approach. However, the bill is unlikely to come into effect. In reality it is merely a symbolic gesture by House Democrats, who are cognizant that their efforts have almost no chance of passing in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Nonetheless, changes outside the federal level are currently being conducted in several cities. In Minneapolis, where Mr Floyd was killed, the city council plans to dissolve the local police department. Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City also presented proposals for reforming the police force in his city.
As noble as these gestures seem, they do not address the issues but instead depict America’s police apparatus as tremendously inept and unprepared for the challenges of the present time.
America’s police are imperfect. However, they operate in a system that leaves inadequate room for change. Non-Americans too often forget that the situation for police officers is not comparable to European countries. Hundreds of millions of weapons are in circulation throughout the country, often landing in the wrong hands. Simple traffic control can be transformed into a matter of life and death within seconds.
The latter is by now means an excuse for excessive use of force by the police the public has been witnessing. However, these circumstances need to be considered when contemplating the idea of how likely changes can be made.
Militarization of American Police Should Not Come as a Surprise
It is not the first time that the public and politicians have demanded changes to the police force. Nevertheless, no one has been able to make a lasting impact to this point. Instead, the police in many American cities have been upgraded to an extent reminiscent of an army, including, but not limited to armored vehicles, heavy weapons and sophisticated surveillance technology.
However, the latter is not merely a tribute to America’s proclivity to exhibit strength but levitates back to the aforementioned crucial point: Being a policeman in the United States is a highly dangerous profession. The calls for a scale-down of the police are thus not only inapt but irresponsible. The people who are the fine line between the public and anarchy deserve to be protected with the best equipment money can buy. To make it more candid: for as long as the Second Amendment remains alive and well, the police will continued to be as heavily equipped as they are today.
Confronting Real Problems in the US Police Force
Nonetheless, there are actual serious issues with the police. Training police officers in the United States is perhaps the most challenging aspect for those who want to reform the force. What many people do not seem to realize is that training for police officers varies from state to state. The training duration, for example, ranges from a few weeks to six months. Due to the differences, two officials who work in neighboring precincts may have received very different training and are thus not equally equipped for their job. Besides, not every precinct can afford further education. In such cases, in order for officers to receive or keep their licenses, they must take part in free lessons, which typically lack commitment and quality.
Moreover, training is primarily about the security of the officer, not, as in Western Europe, the role of friend and helper. For example, trainees spend an average of almost 60 hours on target practice and just 10 hours or even less training social interaction and psychological skills.
The Racial Divide
The fact that the majority of police officers in urban areas are white and have little or no experience in dealing with the population groups in their area of responsibility adds another layer to the situation. This gap in relatability is compounded by the fact that one in five police officers is a former member of the armed forces and thus often trained to function in combat situations. This setup is inevitable to produce some policemen who will be rather inept in their skills.
However, even if states were inclined to adjust the conditions — and the majority of Republican states are not — another essential internal factor cannot be underestimated either: police unions.
Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, is a fitting and yet appalling example. The union leader of the Minneapolis Police Department Bob Kroll has been a vehement opponent of all attempts to reform even in the aftermath of Floyd’s death. Moreover, Kroll called the deceased a “violent criminal” in an attempt to justify the actions (i.e. kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes) by by Derek Chauvin. This kind of union protection is not a novelty in the US. Police unions can often almost completely shield their members from legal and financial consequences in the event of severe offences, and those who released from their duties for wrongdoing can easily find a job in another precinct thanks to the union.