The Steps to Better Policing: Start Locally, Get Support Nationally

States need federal help to track and prevent police misconduct

Ever notice how sometimes the answer to a pressing problem is right in front of you?

Aside from the COVID pandemic, one of the most urgent issues the country has faced in 2020 is the fallout from fatal incidents involving the police.

These incidents unleashed a tsunami of protests with a devastating undertow: billions of dollars in destruction, ruined livelihoods, and an expanding abyss of trust between police and the communities they serve.

Ideally, smart policing is about helping communities to function safely and well—police maintain the rules and policies they are charged with enforcing, which leads to voluntary compliance, community cooperation, and respect for the rule of law. Today’s reality is that hundreds of police departments are at a crucial intersection where public compliance and trust collide with scrutiny and suspicion in the communities they serve. Some cities and states have lain down many “don’ts” for police departments. These include a ban on neck restraints and chokeholds, prohibiting the use of tear gas, chemical irritants, rubber bullets, and military-grade equipment to quell rioting.

That’s one step toward rethinking the role of police, but what “do’s” and constructive actions should be considered to improve the performance and image of police in communities across America?

What Police Departments Can Do

One significant but underutilized solution is already front and center. The National Decertification Index (NDI) is a helpful tool developed a decade ago through a partnership between the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training and Envisage Technologies.

The NDI lists officers who have lost their certification due to misconduct. It is a free online tool already available to every police department in the country. It helps departments screen applicants during the hiring process, keeping police officers with blemished records from getting work with police departments in other states or counties.

The good news is the NDI is currently used in 45 states that have decertification powers to report officers terminated for cause. The bad news is many police departments don’t utilize this helpful tool when screening and hiring new officers, or they only use it minimally. Requiring more complete use of the NDI in every state would be a huge step in reimagining the police force of the future.

What States Can Do

In rethinking the role of police today, states should require that every police officer be regularly tested for qualifications, competency, temperament, and judgment. They can also improve the current assessment techniques used for hiring and promotions to emphasize consistency and transparency. This would enhance the chemistry and cohesiveness inside a police department and project a positive public image to the community.

Every state should also develop legislation that mandates detailed reporting to a centralized system, including the decertification records of every police officer who has been terminated for misconduct. This database should be accessible by every police department in the state.

Once that state-level information is collected, the NDI data can easily be disseminated on a national level to prevent the rehiring of police officers who don’t belong in law enforcement.

What the Feds Can Do

To make such state legislation possible, the federal government must mandate all states to report to the NDI. A mandate would be necessary because without a national decertification registry, officers could still be hired in neighboring states.

Such legislation would be a win-win-win: It would protect states’ rights in mandating what offenses they want to report, protect police departments from many types of litigation, and improve the hiring process and reputation of those doing the hiring.

A federal mandate requiring states to share decertifications and involuntary terminations would benefit America in the long term. A nationwide decertification database would also fulfill the Justice Department’s call for a massive overhaul of law enforcement and a 2020 presidential executive order to increase transparency, accountability, and the removal of abusive officers from police departments nationwide.

Establishing national standards and protocols for hiring and firing law enforcement officers shouldn’t be a controversial idea. Both political parties have supported greater transparency and more consistent standards for police nationwide, and there’s no better time than the present to begin making that change.

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