Police reforms that are under consideration or have been enacted in several progressive cities could become a blueprint for national police policy, as lawmakers refocus their attention on reform in the wake of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction.
Liberal activists coalesced over the summer around the idea of defunding police departments, and several cities have taken steps to do just that while a conversation unfolds on Capitol Hill about how to encourage police reform on a national level.
House Democrats passed a bill in March, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, that would withhold federal funding from state and local police departments that failed to adopt new standards for the use of force and other aspects of policing, such as using no-knock warrants. The Democratic proposal would also end qualified immunity — a legal doctrine that shields police officers from facing civil liability if they make a mistake in the line of duty.
Qualified immunity does not, however, protect police from facing criminal charges for violations of the law, and Republican proposals have left qualified immunity intact for individual officers. Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, who has led the GOP charge on police reform, has floated allowing police departments to face civil liability without the protection of qualified immunity, but not officers themselves.
Some cities aren’t waiting for Washington to hand down orders, however.
In Minneapolis, where Chauvin killed George Floyd last year during an attempted arrest, the City Council has repeatedly considered a measure to get rid of the police force altogether and replace it with a Department of Public Safety.
Within that new department, law enforcement would make up one division — to be carried out by “peace officers,” according to local news reports.
City officials have hoped to put the change on the ballot for voters in November.
In Portland, city commissioners slashed nearly $16 million from its police budget in June — even as protests raged through the city.
The cuts took away school resource officers, which are law enforcement officers assigned to protect schools, as well as transit police and a gun violence reduction unit, even though reducing gun violence remains a priority on the Left.
But the city defeated a second push to gut the Portland police budget in November after a liberal city commissioner proposed cutting another $18 million from the budget in a way that would have required layoffs.
In Los Angeles, the police department moved to create a Community Safety Partnership Bureau in July.
The new program aimed to strengthen ties to the community and introduce civilian oversight to the police department in an effort that the LAPD said “meets the moment” amid a summer of protest.
“Rather than defining an officer’s productivity by stops, citations, and arrests, the measure of their work is demonstrated by increased community capacity and feelings of overall safety and security,” the LAPD said in a press release.
The reforms, in part, involve plans to place officers in specific neighborhoods for years at a time so they can form relationships with the community they’re protecting.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms enacted use-of-force policy changes for the city’s police department in August amid unrest over police brutality.
Now, Bottoms faces a political challenge for her seat from Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore, who has made the city’s rising crime rate a focal point of her campaign against the mayor. Bottoms has faced criticism for restricting what police can do while homicides spike.
In Seattle, the police department lost 20% of its budget in December when the city moved to redirect roughly $6.5 million elsewhere.
The money was diverted to “community groups,” according to local news reports, but the City Council did not lay out a specific vision for how the funding would be spent after responding to pressure from activists to defund parts of the police department.