Evidence-based Police Reform

When I first read about defunding the police, I thought it referred to eliminating police budgets completely. There is certainly evidence from the United States and elsewhere in the world that more police cause more problems. Maybe no police at all would be an improvement. But I wasn’t sure. Upon further reading, I realized that the call to defund the police covered a spectrum of ideas from complete abolition to small (and inadequate) reductions and reallocations of resources.

I’ll leave aside the question of whether the rallying cry to defund the police will mostly alienate people who misunderstand its meaning or mostly shift the debate in ways that allow greater reform of police than would have otherwise been possible. What I want to know is what will actually work to put an end to the problems caused by the police in the United States.


The best answers I’ve found were in a recent FiveThirtyEight interview with Samuel Sinyangwe of Campaign Zero, a data-informed project to find evidence for what measures actually reduce police violence, with the goal of eliminating it.

One of the most surprising things I learned was that police violence has been decreasing in U.S. cities over the past several years, but increasing in suburban and rural areas. Police reforms in cities have been working, but change has been slow and, as can be seen in recent rampant police riots, inadequate.

Campaign Zero’s website has comprehensive statistical analyses of use-of-force policies in different jurisdictions and the effects of police union contracts, body cameras, and other measures. Their takeaway, succinctly, is this: Limit police interventions, improve community interactions, and make police accountable for misconduct. You have to do all three. And no amount of training will solve the problem without holding police accountable for their misconduct. The solutions to this problem are complex, and can’t be reduced to one simple idea about community policing, implicit bias training, or defunding the police alone. But change is absolutely possible, and we have already taken some limited steps to make it happen. Now we must do much, much more.

Here is the interview:

And here is Campaign Zero’s overview of necessary measures to reform the police:




~ by lolarusa on June 9, 2020.

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