The Tale of Two Cities on Police Reform: NMA E-Newsletter #441

Generally the time when most of us encounter the police is during a traffic stop, which can be one of the most stressful times for both the motorist and an officer in blue. In recent years, law enforcement has been under fire due to escalation during traffic stops and other public encounters. Many cities across the country are working on police reform and trying to come to grips with institutionalized racial profiling.

Providence, Rhode Island recently worked with community groups to make a wholesale change in police interactions with the public. The City of Chicago though seems to be in some sort of perpetual police reform chaos.

In April, the Providence City Council unanimously approved one of the most visionary set of policing reforms proposed around the country that protects both civil rights and civil liberties. The Community Safety Act (CSA) took three years of sustained community mobilization and advocacy.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the most notable facet of the CSA is its sheer breadth, addressing a wide range of issues in a single reform measure. The EFF has stated that the adoption of this milestone policy should prompt similar measures in other jurisdictions.

Here are some of the highlights:

·    Targeted surveillance must be supported by reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

·    Residents have the right to observe and record police activities.

·    Protects due process threatened by otherwise arbitrary and secretive inclusion of individuals in gang databases maintained by law enforcement.

·    Police must change the process of how they search subjects during traffic and pedestrian stops. In particular, when law enforcement seeks to search subjects without either a warrant or probable cause, CSA requires that the officer inform the subject that they have the right to decline consent to the requested search. Police can no longer use deception to induce a subject’s consent.

·    Restrictions are placed on racial profiling and intelligence collection absent reasonable suspicion of criminal activity protecting 4th and 14th Amendment rights of individuals.

In contrast, Chicago’s reform of its 12,000 member police department is now mired in a lawsuit. This month, several community groups including Black Lives Matter filed a class-action suit in a bid to challenge a draft agreement between the City and the U.S. Justice Department. The suit was filed days after Mayor Rahm Emanuel backed away from a promise to have a judge monitor reform efforts.

The draft agreement sought to reform the second largest police department in the country without federal court oversight. The suit contends that the overhaul of the Chicago PD in the aftermath of a damning civil rights report in January cannot work without the outside scrutiny of a court-appointed monitor answerable to a judge.

If a judge rules in favor of the plaintiffs, the court could then mandate reforms. Plaintiff lead attorney Craig Futterman says he hopes Mayor Emanuel will choose to work together with community groups to draw up a reform plan that the court would oversee. Futterman added, “This is the community stepping up when the government refuses to act and when it has long been clear that the city is incapable of acting on its own. “

Two cities on two very different paths toward reform.

Long term police reform is vital to set the boundaries of protection for citizens and law enforcement alike. In this era of instant information used to support preformed opinions, we should never forget how easy it is for those in power to push individual constitutional rights aside.

Not an NMA Member yet?

Join today and get these great benefits!