Can Politics Handle Police Reform in 2020? An Expert Roundtable
…and Arthur Rizer, a former police officer and federal prosecutor who now directs the criminal justice and civil liberties program at the free-market R Street Institute.
Arthur Rizer: Well, even on the federal side, we had some pretty robust reforms that were being proffered by both sides, and they kind of fell apart. I mean, if people actually even read the executive order from President Trump, it actually had some good stuff in there. It’s not going to be funded, but there was some good stuff.
Something that disappointed me: If you look at the 2016 Democratic platform on policing, and then compare that to Senator Tim Scott’s bill, they’re exactly the same thing. But for some reason, we couldn’t get anybody to support the Scott bill, and good reasons, bad reasons, whatever, but that was kind of a smash in my face politically. And then you know, even Indiana Senator Mike Braun’s bill on qualified immunity was pretty good. But it fell apart after he went on Tucker Carlson and got just obliterated.
But at the end of the day, going back to your first question, it’s really hard. It seems schizophrenic because we haven’t gotten our hands really around that first question yet. And so everybody is kind of running around trying to do something, but we haven’t defined what are we reprioritizing. And I think that right there is hard, until we actually say what do we want police to be, how do we reimagine what police should be, it is really difficult to try to come up with some solutions.
Dixon: So much of this conversation on police reform is coming from liberal cities. Is there a Republican-controlled city that has really shown some progress on police reform?
Rizer: Arlington, Texas, actually has a Republican mayor. They have been very forward-learning on police stuff. And even from the data perspective. And they’re always willing to be involved in studies. I mean, Vera Institute of Justice has been in there forever doing research and study after study after study.
Dixon: And Attorney General Raoul, obviously, there’s Chicago, but outside of Cook County you start getting more and more conservative.
Rizer: I think it really highlights this disturbing transformation that has happened, from law enforcement as a means to an end into an end in and of itself. And that right there comes down to a thing that—I keep saying this—it’s all about culture. Because police culture is rotten and until you can fix it, we can’t fix these problems.
One of my questions I asked officers in my research was: “Do you want your kid to be a cop?” And Dr. Keesee, I think that when you were a cop, I bet if people asked you that you might have said “no,” but you would have said, “Because it’s dangerous. Because of the high divorce rate. Because yadda-yadda-yadda.” You know what they say now? “The public hates us.” That was like 80-something percent of my interviews said that. “The public hates us and I don’t want my kid to be faced with that.”
Another really quick piece of data, and this I think highlights everything that I have found. This is a series of questions. I asked officers, “Do you have a problem with militarization? Do you have a problem with officers dressing like soldiers, carrying military-grade equipment?” And they said—the vast majority of the officers—86 percent said, “No. I have no problem with that.”
Okay. The second question was, “Do you think it changes their perception of themselves?” The vast majority of officers said, “Yes. It makes them more aggressive. It makes them more assertive,” which is just code for more aggressive. It makes them look like they’re harder targets.
Then a third question, which I think pulls everything together, “Do you think it changes the perception the public has about your officers?” and they almost all said, “Yes. It scares them.” So, smush those three questions together: “We don’t care. We know it makes them more aggressive. And we know that it scares the public.” That is a cultural issue—and until you fix that, everything that we talk about, it’s really hard.