Critiquing BLM’s Police Reform Plan

UnknownThe following is an abbreviation of Prof. Harold Pollack comments on the police reform proposal offered by #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) which appears in The New York Magazine. Pollock is a professor  of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.


“It’s been obvious for a while now that the Black Lives Matter movement would benefit from a concrete policy agenda around which it could focus its organizing, public protest, and practical negotiations with public officials. Developing such an agenda is no easy task — especially for a grassroots movement that basically came into existence a year ago…

“BLM’s Campaign Zero offers a series of policy recommendations that pursue BLM’s avowed goal to ‘end police violence in America.’

“One does not need to embrace every element to recognize that this well-crafted document provides a useful basis of discussion between grassroots activists, elected officials, law enforcement professionals, and policy analysts.

 “Overall, it’s a very useful and professional document, a very good start to the conversation. And based on my own research on urban crime and policing… several proposals in Campaign Zero struck me as particularly smart. That said, I also think the group would be wise to address certain broader concerns, as I discuss below.

“Here are the best ideas from the [BLM] proposal: 

  • “Greater racial and ethnic diversity in policing. In 2015 it is simply impossible to properly police low-income communities of color with predominantly white police forces. Police departments whose staffing is grossly out of line with the communities they serve are repeatedly enmeshed in problems of misconduct and poor performance…
  • “Curbing the abuse of fines, impoundment, and other monetary punishments for revenue purposes. Because local governments are often strapped for cash and find it easy to extract fines from politically marginalized low-income residents, they face unfortunate incentives to do just that, often filling their coffers through asset forfeiture (where property — up to and including cash, houses, and cars — can be seized on the basis of highly circumstantial evidence of their owners’ involvement in the drug trade, even when the owner isn’t charged with anything), fines, and related punishments. Available research suggests that these incentives influence police behavior. Particularly in times of budget trouble, local political economies induce police to expend greater efforts seizing money and property. The probability and dollar amount of traffic fines are similarly influenced by local-tax revenues and other fiscal measures…
  • “Better training and support for police in de-escalation skills. This past year, Americans have watched a succession of cell-phone videos that show officers killing suspects — often unarmed ones —  in situations in which lethal force might have been avoided. Much of the resulting debate focuses on officers’ split-second decisions in the moment of angry confrontation. Yet in many of these cases, the real missed opportunity was the failure to avoid or defuse a volatile situation before the cell phones were even recording. Police officers are generally trained or socialized to the view that the only sure way to protect themselves and others is to establish their dominance in ambiguous situations. This ‘warrior’ frame often provides a poor guide; officers need a broader repertoire of de-escalation skills, like responding with professionalism and restraint to a range of difficult behaviors that don’t pose a genuine public-safety risk…

“It’s clear that Campaign Zero has a lot of good stuff in it. It could have been even better had it taken a broader view. I hope BLM will consider adding some additional items to the conversation. For example: 

  • “A positive vision of urban policing. I… wish Campaign Zero would place the same emphasis on identifying good police practices that should be replicated that they place on identifying bad police practices that must be curbed…
  • A broader public-safety agenda. [R]eforming improper police practices is only one of the puzzle pieces required to advance public safety… The high violence rate in low-income communities of color may be the most painful challenge facing urban America. If we fail to identify and field humane, evidence-based policies to reduce this violence, it’s hard to see how we will address many other issues that lead to race-based gaps in health and wealth, ranging from low educational attainment to residential segregation and middle-class flight…
  • “Common ground with police on gun policy. It is ironic that low-income minority communities are presumed to be soft on crime given that, when it comes to background checks, assault-weapons bans, and other measures to curb underground gun markets… Increased support for ATF measures to curb illegal gun markets and increased infrastructure support for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System could also help chip away at the problems facing the communities where BLM is most heavily involved.

“Whatever specifics it embraces, Black Lives Matter enjoys a window of opportunity to promote more effective urban policing, and to promote evidence-based violence prevention policies. It should seize this opportunity — while the American public is still listening. And it should embrace a broad approach to complicated problems that don’t have any single root cause.”

[Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He’s on Twitter at @haroldpollack.]

[Read the full article HERE.]