Center for American Progress

RELEASE: CAP Issues Recommendations to Begin to Reform Criminal Justice System, Police-Community Relations
Press Release

RELEASE: CAP Issues Recommendations to Begin to Reform Criminal Justice System, Police-Community Relations

Washington, D.C.  The recent events following the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, and others at the hands of law-enforcement officials have brought into national focus a debate over the persistent inequalities of America’s criminal justice systemincluding police practices, the use of force and aggressive policing, arrest and prosecution policies, the severity of criminal sentences, and the disparate impact many of these policies have on communities of color. Today, the Center for American Progress issued recommendations to begin reforming the criminal justice system and police-community relations, which involve improved police training; data collection and accountability; repairing the fractured relationship between police and community; and, in instances where lives are taken, the promise of a diligent, independent, thorough investigation and prosecution, when appropriate.

“The failure to ensure that our judicial and legal systems treat all Americans equally has divided too many of our communities,” said Michele Jawando, co-author of the report and Vice President of Legal Progress, the Center for American Progress’ legal policy program. “Although the Obama administration has taken important first steps to address injustice and inequalities in our criminal justice system, more must be done to improve police accountability and reduce the degree to which the harshest aspects of criminal justice fall disproportionately on communities of color.”

CAP’s new analysis put forth the following four recommendations:

Increase the use of special prosecutors in police misconduct investigations. In recent weeks, the role of the prosecutor and the grand jury system has come under intense scrutiny, raising significant questions about the ability of local prosecutors to remain impartial in cases involving local law enforcement in the same jurisdiction. Whether by state statute requiring an out-of-jurisdiction investigator or state executive action automatically assigning fatalities cases involving police to attorney generals or special prosecutors, all states should adopt policies to ensure that all homicides involving police are conducted by a neutral prosecutor other than the office that typically works with the police department that is the subject of the investigation.

Enhance the collection of data on fatalities involving police. There are significant gaps in the collection and analysis of data related to fatalities involving officers; these gaps make it very difficult to assess the scope of the problem either nationwide or in individual states and localities. The federal government must improve the collection of these datawhich federal, state, and local police agencies currently offer on a voluntary and often inconsistent basisand require state and local law enforcement to provide detailed information about deaths caused by police.

Implement implicit bias training for all federal law-enforcement officers and state and local police involved in federal task forces. The subtle and stark differences that make up white and black experiences in America and the discrepancies in outcomes with similar circumstances between races can be interpreted through the lens of implicit bias. The federal government should require training on implicit bias in police academies and ongoing state and local departmental training as a condition of federal grants.

Increase the federal government‘s oversight of police conduct. The Department of Justice should take a more active approach in setting expectations for police conduct nationwide and ensure compliance with those standards by conditioning participation in federal task forces on the adoption of certain standards, policies, and training and through penalties in federal funding.

“As we move beyond the initial moments of outrage and frustration following these incidents, it is crucial that we seize the opportunity to take concrete steps to address many of the persistent problems with the criminal justice system that these cases have raised,” said Chelsea Parsons, co-author of the report and Director of Crime and Firearms Policy at the Center for American Progress. “We offer a few ideas for such steps, with a recognition that this is just the beginning of the larger conversation we need to have in this country about how to become smarter in the ways we approach crime and justice.”

Read the full report: 4 Ideas That Could Begin to Reform the Criminal Justice System and Police-Community Relations by Michele Jawando and Chelsea Parsons

Related resources: 

For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Chelsea Kiene at [email protected] or 202-478-5328.