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Policing Reforms Post-George Floyd: A Slow March Towards Change

The murder of George Floyd in 2020 sparked a global outcry for police reform and racial justice. Three years on, the journey towards substantial change is proving to be a slow and complex process. A recent article from The Marshall Project delves into the ongoing efforts to reform police practices, highlighting the challenges in implementing these reforms and the resistance from various quarters.

The Troubled State of Paterson Police Department: A Microcosm of a Larger Issue

The Paterson Police Department in New Jersey serves as a stark example of the urgent need for police reform. Since 2019, the department has been involved in the shooting deaths of four people. A group of officers admitted in federal court to forming a rogue squad that robbed and assaulted people in the city. Another officer admitted to selling drugs out of his police car while on duty. These incidents paint a grim picture of a police department in dire need of reform and accountability.

These revelations about the Paterson Police Department are not isolated incidents. They are indicative of a larger issue plaguing police departments across the country. The lack of accountability, the abuse of power, and the systemic racism inherent in many of these institutions underscore the urgent need for comprehensive police reform.

The Takeover: A Step Towards Reform or a Band-Aid Solution?

In response to the escalating crisis, New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin launched a takeover of the Paterson Police Department. Unlike other recent efforts by conservative lawmakers to seize control of local police departments tied to concerns about crime, Platkin, a Democrat, argues that his takeover is intended to curb civil rights abuses.

However, the changes implemented by Platkin have been more modest than revolutionary. These include retraining officers, hiring new leadership, and holding community meetings. While these steps are important, they fall short of the radical changes demanded by activists in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

The question that arises is whether these changes are enough. Can a few modest reforms truly address the systemic issues plaguing the police department? Or are these changes merely a Band-Aid solution, providing temporary relief without addressing the root causes of the problem?

The State of Police Reforms Across the Country: A Slow March Towards Change

Three years after George Floyd’s murder, the progress in police reform across the country has been slow and inconsistent. States have passed hundreds of reform bills, and a number of cities have rolled out alternative response programs for mental health calls that would historically have been handled by police alone. However, the overall footprint and funding of police remain roughly unchanged.

Moreover, Congress has failed to pass comprehensive police reform, and elements of the Biden Administration’s policing executive order are long overdue. This slow pace of change underscores the resistance and challenges faced in implementing substantial police reforms.

The lack of substantial progress in police reform is a testament to the complexity of the issue. It underscores the need for a multi-faceted approach that addresses not only the symptoms but also the root causes of police misconduct.

Skepticism and Resistance: The Roadblocks to Reform

The state takeover of the Paterson Police Department has been met with skepticism from some quarters. The local Black Lives Matter organization is seeking an independent federal monitor for the police department, convinced that the problems there require the intervention of someone outside the state.

This skepticism is not unfounded. New Jersey is the only state where a takeover like the one in Paterson is currently possible, thanks to a state law that grants a unique amount of control over local policing to its attorney general. However, the effectiveness of such takeovers in bringing about substantial change remains to be seen.

The resistance to police reform is not limited to skepticism about state takeovers. It extends to various aspects of the reform process, from the implementation of new policies to the enforcement of accountability measures. This resistance often stems from a lack of political will, entrenched interests, and systemic barriers that hinder the process of change.

The Need for Consistency in Police Discipline: A Call for Uniform Standards

One of the new requirements under the state reforms in New Jersey is an annual publication on the discipline officers receive for misconduct. The report for 2022 revealed extreme inconsistency in the discipline that officers face, even for similar conduct. It also revealed that Black officers face harsher sanctions than White officers.

This inconsistency in police discipline underscores the systemic issues within the policing system. It highlights the need for uniform standards and practices in dealing with police misconduct. Without such standards, the process of discipline becomes arbitrary and subjective, leading to disparities and injustices.

The call for uniform standards in police discipline is not just about fairness. It is also about accountability and trust. By ensuring that all officers are held to the same standards, we can foster a culture of accountability within the police force and build trust with the communities they serve.

The Debate on Police Diversity: A Solution or a Distraction?

One of the proposed solutions to address racial disparities in policing outcomes is to increase racial diversity in police forces. However, this solution has been met with skepticism. A recent sampling of more than 100 departments found that in the vast majority, people of color were underrepresented by 10 percentage points or more, compared with their rate in the local population.

Moreover, the effectiveness of this reform is further questioned by the January 2023 police killing of Tyre Nichols by five Black members of the Memphis police, who were later arrested and charged with murder. This incident serves as a stark reminder that increasing diversity within police forces is not a panacea for the systemic issues plaguing the policing system.

While increasing diversity within police forces is an important step towards creating a more representative and inclusive institution, it should not distract from the need for more substantial reforms. These include changes in policing practices, accountability measures, and efforts to address the root causes of police misconduct.

The Path Forward: Learning from the Past, Building for the Future

As we reflect on the progress made in police reform since George Floyd’s murder, it is clear that the journey towards substantial change is a slow and complex process. It is a journey fraught with challenges, resistance, and setbacks. However, it is also a journey marked by resilience, determination, and the unwavering demand for justice and accountability.

The lessons from the past three years are clear. Modest changes and half-measures are not enough to address the systemic issues within the policing system. What is needed is a radical rethink of policing practices, a commitment to accountability, and a concerted effort to address the root causes of police misconduct.

The story of police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s murder is far from over. It is a story that is still being written, shaped by the actions we take today and the choices we make for the future. As we continue on this journey, let us remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Let us strive to bend that arc a little faster, a little further, towards justice. The journey towards substantial police reform is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires patience, persistence, and a steadfast commitment to justice and accountability.