Police departments say they won’t bow to demands by social justice warriors for sweeping changes to policing protocols that govern the use of force, traffic stops, serving warrants and dealing with people who resist arrest.
A Washington Times survey of police departments across the country and national law enforcement organizations found most opted for slight adjustments to standard operating procedures rather than major overhauls.
Gina V. Hawkins, the police chief in Fayetteville, North Carolina, said her department has implemented at least 30 changes since Memorial Day, when George Floyd died while in the custody of Minneapolis police.
She described the adjustments as “minor tweaks.”
Chief Hawkins, who is a board member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, counted among the changes clarification to existing policies on officers’ duty to render aid to a suspect or intervene if they see wrongdoing by another officer. She also reviewed her department’s oath of office.
“We are accredited because all of our policies are best practices,” she said. “But the importance is reviewing them to check on any legal updates or if anything is out of order.”
Chief Hawkins’ department is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) a national organization that vets police departments to ensure they are complying with accepted best practices for use of force, training and transparency. Less than 5 percent of police departments nationwide are accredited by CALEA.
The deaths of Floyd and a handful of other Black people have put new pressure on departments to scale back the use of force, increase transparency, and require training on implicit bias and de-escalation.
Joseph Lukaszek, the police chief in Hillside, Illinois, said his department implemented most of the reformers’ demands years ago.
“We are receiving pressure for more body cameras, but we were one of the very first departments in Illinois to use cameras,” he said. “We’ve been doing de-escalation training for 25 years, all the way back to when it was called verbal judo.”
A review of recent announcements of police department policy changes showed mostly revisions of protocols.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in Florida announced last week a ban on no-knock search warrants, but that was merely the formalization of a policy the department adopted eight years ago.
The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners last week proposed 18 policy revisions to reduce officers’ use of force and emphasize de-escalation tactics. Of the 18 proposals, the Detroit police said, seven were related to existing protocols and three already had been addressed in the department’s established policies.
Advocates for changes to policing have aggressively pushed for the elimination of chokeholds nationwide, but most police departments banned chokeholds years ago.
The Los Angeles Police Department banned chokeholds in 1982, and the New York Police Department followed in 1993. Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia police have also banned the practice.
Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer whose use of chokehold contributed to the death of Eric Garner in 2014, was fired last year because the department had banned the technique.
“Nobody is doing anything wrong,” said James Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police. “When someone is doing something wrong, they are stepping outside the directives of the department.”
Chief Hawkins said part of the reason policies are overlooked is the lack of a national system of police standards. She said a uniform set of policies would be critical to ensuring all 18,000 policing forces nationwide know best practices.
“We can’t make the assumption that law enforcement is the same because there is no national standard,” she said. “That should be an absolute in this field.”
Lorenzo Boyd, director of the Center for Advanced Policing at the University of New Haven, said police departments cannot be expected to change from within and that overhauls must come from local legislators.
“We need broad, sweeping, wholesale changes, and the problem is we are looking at the police to make the changes,” he said. “We’ve been policing the same way for the past 150 years, and it hasn’t changed through Jim Crow or stop-and-frisk. It is not realistic for us to expect the police to change internally.”
Any changes to police department policy will be either subject to lax enforcement or outright ignored, he said, because of systemic racism that has defined policing for more than 100 years.
“Culture eats policy for breakfast,” he said. “It is one thing to say chokeholds are against policy, and police officers are still using chokeholds and people are dying. But it is very different to say chokeholds are against the law and we are going to prosecute you for using them.”
In the aftermath of Floyd’s death, some local mayors and city councils have taken action.
Philadelphia has placed a moratorium on the use of tear gas, and the Seattle City Council has banned it altogether. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, signed an executive order in June banning state police from using chokeholds and prohibiting police from buying surplus military-grade equipment from the federal government.
Legislators in more than 25 states have introduced scores of police overhaul bills, yet only a handful have been signed into law.
Since Floyd’s death, at least 450 police overhaul measures have been introduced in 31 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Yet only a handful of the measures have been signed into law.
In Minnesota, dozens of policing bills were introduced within a month of Floyd’s death, but none passed before lawmakers ended their legislative session.
With federal legislation on policing caught in a standoff between the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled House and more than half the country’s state legislatures adjourned until next year, the next option for quick action fell to counties and cities.
Mr. Boyd said he doesn’t expect any action on any level until next year, when the heated rhetoric of the presidential election has passed.
Charles P. Wilson, chairman of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, said departments don’t need to change their policies but rather need to force officers to rethink how they interact with others. He said such overhauls can be done only through implicit bias training and improved community relations.
“Police need better methodologies on de-escalation,” he said. “It starts with knowing how to talk to people. It is often what you say and how you say it that creates your problem.”
Mr. Wilson and Mr. Boyd said such changes must begin with recruitment and improved training at police academies on communication and de-escalation.
“It starts with who you hire,” Mr. Wilson said. “If you are hiring people who have no concept of social interaction or conflict management, you’ve already started your problems. It goes to who and how you train.”