One of the most surprising aspects of the last few months is how much city leaders, regardless of size or region, have been focused on the same issues at the same time. This is not normal.
Driven almost solely by the Covid-19 pandemic, cities across the country in recent months were dealing with the same key issues—when to lock down, masking policies, how to respond to budget shortfalls and the tricky reopening process. Now, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, along with other fatal shootings of Black Americans by police, have once again positioned cities across the country to collectively focus on what public safety and policing should look in the 21st century.
About six months ago, I conducted an analysis of approximately 50 mayors’ state of the city speeches and budget addresses. Public safety wasn’t a significant priority, as only a handful of leaders mentioned it. Interestingly, police-community relations was a top priority for the mayors of both Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. The sustained protests and discussions around policing mean that the leaders of any city in the country will likely need to join them in making this issue a major focus going forward.
Nevertheless, some of the most impactful and important reforms to policing likely would have to come at the state and federal level. State governments, for example, could revise and strengthen training standards and qualifications for becoming a commissioned police officer. At the federal level, reforms might include limiting the qualified immunity currently given to police officers, establishing stricter national standards for use of force and developing a national database for police misconduct.
These changes may or may not come about, but local governments aren’t waiting. Some municipalities are embracing reform measures developed by the advocacy group Campaign Zero. Called “#8CANTWAIT,” the set of eight harm-reduction policies include banning officers from using chokeholds and firing at moving vehicles, requiring a verbal warning before shooting and making it officers’ duty to intervene when they see a fellow officer violating. While the effectiveness of these policies designed to curb use of force is under debate, cities are also exploring more meaningful actions as well.