The issue of police brutality is rampant in most parts of the USA. There have been many deliberations on how the problem could be handled. However, the social and political challenges have posed significant barriers toward finding a long-lasting solution. This paper takes the case of police brutality in the City of Minneapolis and tries to identify workable solutions. The paper argues that proper solutions need to start from the low structures in the society to the uppermost structures, especially given the inflexibilities surrounding structural reforms within the criminal justice system. Already several civilian bodies have been established in the city that seeks to work with the criminal justice systems to support the reorganization of the system. One such body that has been vocal is the Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB) that has been in existence for the last 14 years. Such bodies can play a significant role in bridging the gap in expectations between the criminal justice system at the City of Minneapolis and the community. In particular, police brutality in the City of Minneapolis can be addressed using locally available solutions in the face of inflexible external legal and governmental structures.
Apparently, police brutality is on the rise all over. Hirsi, an authoritative journalist in the News Paper The Truth Out, reports that Nekima Levy-Pounds “watched the scenes of law enforcers slaying unarmed Black men replayed, one after another, in major cities of the US including New York and Minneapolis” (Hirsi). In November 2016, hundreds of protesters marching in solidarity with Clark Jamar found themselves on their knees on a cold night with their hands raised in the air facing scores of state troopers on one of Minneapolis busiest highways (Hirsi). Jamal was a 24-year old unarmed Black man who had passed away a day after law enforcers shot him outside his sister’s apartment. The brutal shooting of Jamal is yet another incident in a list of unarmed Black men who have been shot and killed by law enforcers. The issue is not limited to Minneapolis but also notable in other areas of the nation. According to nation-wide research conducted by NORC on the perception of Black and White Americans regarding law enforcers and violence, respondents agreed across the board that there was a problem.
Empowering the nation-wide criminal justice system to take care of the matter is arguably the most sustainable approach to addressing the matter. Nonetheless, the matter has often faced the challenge of passing the parliament for approval into legal statutes, mostly for political reasons given the significant political divide that defines America. Gabrielle reports that despite the increased demands by the Justice Department and the President, the rush to reforms has largely bypassed legislators on Capitol Hill, who appear powerless to address the matter. The conduct by lawmakers is unlike the case of the 1990s’ epidemic of drug-fueled violence in the major US. Cities prompted legislators to rush and stiffen jail sentences, construct more prisons, and increase funding to police departments. Having looked at the severity of the matter and the unwillingness of legislators to commit fully to police reforms, the best way forward will be to use the rather locally available resources and community participation to address the matter. The approach mentioned above can bypass the need for sweeping reforms as a prerequisite for mending the differences in expectations between the community and the law enforcers. The following are some of the recommendations.
First, the authorities should scrap the offices that attempt to replace the influence of the people in the police department. In particular, the Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR), which is the official hybrid civilian/police agency in the Civil Rights Department, ought to be replaced by the Civilian Review Authority (CRA), which was the original body in place. According to Randy Furst, a writer with The Star Tribune, there is a deep-seated disagreement between the residents and the OPCR. Apparently, the residents blame the agency for gross laxity after failing to make any prosecution even after 439 cases were filed involving Minneapolis police conduct (Furst). The problem is that this agency was developed in secrecy, limiting public participation. Consequently, the failure to include public participation constrained the ability for locals to make contributions that can support appropriate reforms.
Secondly, the mayor should delegate some of his authority to the civilian bodies. The City Charter grants the mayor complete authority for police discipline, making him the right official in ensuring public participation in revamping police discipline. Traditionally, the mayor is the one who delegates the authority of overseeing the police force to the police chief. Nonetheless, it is still practical to delegate some of the responsibilities and powers to a civilian-run body, or the mayor can retain some of the powers, taking a more significant part in controlling the chief’s discretion and overruling the chief’s decision when necessary. If such a move is handled correctly, the city can see the community have substantial control and say over what the policy engages in.
Thirdly, a more serious approach is essential in handling cases of police killings that involve police killings or other serious misconducts. On this matter, investigations should be treated in the same way as other suspects unless or until their actions are proved to be justified. The usual favoritism is counterproductive in ensuring proper investigations are done and a judgment executed. The police officers should be detained, interrogated immediately, and sequestered from other officers as opposed to taking days on end waiting for the committee to look into the matter. The elongated time that such cases take to be concluded is an impediment to the execution of timely justice, which is an injustice to the victims. In fact, the matter can be termed as one of the greatest motivations behind increased bitterness amongst the locals regarding the actions of police officers, which anyway can be interpreted as extrajudicial operation. The faster the cases involving police brutality are handled, the higher the chances of redeeming the trust of the community in the police.
Fourthly, there is a need to revamp the police supervisory structure to avoid laxity. Unlike the conventional practice in almost all workplaces, officers at Minneapolis do not have regular supervisors responsible for tracking their performance. The usual practice is the use of a single supervisor who officers on duty report to every day. Because of the familiarity between the parties involved in the supervisory structure, it is possible for accountability to be disregarded in exchange for personal interests. For instance, to evade justice, an officer on duty in a given street that experiences an incident can deny an involvement that night by altering the duty roster to reflect a presence in a different place.
Fifthly, there is a need for more transparency within the unit. Transparency limits malicious incidents and keeps officials in check. In particular, the Internal Affairs Unit, which is mandated with the responsibility of communicating with the people of Minneapolis on the internal affairs of the unit, has not issued a single report for five years (Hirsi). The laxity points to a break in communication between the police department and the community, which limits the ability of the two groups to work toward common objectives. Revamping the IAU and demanding that it meets the ends of its obligations can go a long way toward ensuring accountability and professionalism.
Also, restoring community trust in law enforcers ought to be a priority for the local politicians. An effective approach should involve the public evaluating the suitability of leaders based on their policies and pledges. Some of the demands can come in the form of increased engagement between police officers and the community to create the necessary rapport and goodwill to combat police brutalism. On the matter above, Wurzer writes that “if we are really going to talk about engagement in the community, then the officers should be getting out of the car and doing it”. Such views emanate from the Theory of Citizen Participation that places the citizen as the most important stakeholder in public decision-making. Getting to understand the needs of the people is the first significant step toward knowing how to respond to public needs.
Finally, there is a need for training and conflict de-escalation to lessen the bitterness and disagreement between the two groups. One way can be through conscripting more officers who live in the communities they serve. The bitter truth is that 9 out 10 officers in the Minneapolis Police Department do not live in Minneapolis (Wurzer). The circumstance creates a situation where the officers on patrol simply do not care whether force is used or not. The consequence is a detachment between the interests of society and those of the officers.
The measures are rational in the face of limited outside support. The listed solutions are specific and practical recommendations that could be implemented quickly by the City Council and Mayor in conjunction with local groups such as the CUAPB. Specifically, the measures require no external authorization, no change in the social or economic system, and no federal or state action. Traditionally, the mayor and the city council are responsible for overseeing the police department, all city ordinances, the Civil Rights Department, and, through the City Attorney’s Office, the prosecution of misconducts. Consequently, I find the measures discussed in this essay to be the most effective within the conditions given. More of the same actions can be derived from the level of public participation increases.
Overall, cities such as Minneapolis can take the matter of reforming the police force in their hands to the extent to which the matter falls in their area of jurisdiction. The solutions provided are specific to the City of Minneapolis but can be replicated in the other affected cities bearing similar police oversight structures and experiencing enhanced police brutality. The case of the Minneapolis case can be extrapolated to reflect the case in the rest of the USA and probably help address the rampant police brutality incidences across the nation. Nonetheless, the role of the Federal and state government should not be underestimated, as it is still the ultimate approach to creating sustainable police reforms with the US Constitution.
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