Professor of Criminal Justice, University of Texas at San Antonio
- Policing in the United States is at an inflection point not before seen in the nation’s history in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death by Minneapolis police in the spring of 2020.
- Almost half of all states have passed new laws on police oversight or reform and legislation is pending in many other states.
- Public opinion has changed significantly since Floyd’s murder, with more Americans, especially White adults, considering police violence an extremely or very serious problem.
- Since 2000, there has been a significant growth in the field of organizational theory and what it can teach law enforcement agencies about how to manage risk associated with the use of force.
- Use of force policymaking, recent reviews of the policy landscape, and studies on training point to ways to improve police decision making, reduce reliance on force, and produce better outcomes when force must be used.
- Police organizations must recalibrate how they view use of force and how those views are translated to police recruits and reinforced throughout officers’ careers.
- Law enforcement leaders and policymakers must leverage momentum from Floyd’s death to fundamentally change how police in America think about, train for, use, and manage coercive force in society.
- With approximately 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies in the United States, there is ample room for experimenting with different approaches.
In the article, “Reimagining the Use of Force by Police in a Post-Floyd Nation,” Michael R. Smith encourages law enforcement leaders and scholars to reconceptualize police use of force. With nearly half of all states passing new laws on police oversight or reform, other states considering legislation on these issues, and public expectations about the limits of police power evolving, now is the time to consider how law enforcement agencies and policymakers at the state and federal levels might reconceptualize use of force. Smith outlines changes in policing over the past decades, touching on U.S. Supreme Court rulings and presidential task force reports. He describes how the policy landscape and public opinion about police use of force have changed since George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in the spring of 2020. Drawing on seminal works on policing and police use of force, Smith outlines changes needed in police culture and how police view their mandate to use force in society. He also addresses use of force policymaking and synthesizes reviews of the policy landscape. In a section on training, he reviews the literature and what the current state of the science suggests are ways that better training can improve decision making, reduce the reliance on force, and produce better outcomes when force must be used. Amid a shifting landscape, police organizations must recalibrate how they view the use of force and how those views are translated to police recruits in the academy and reinforced throughout an officer’s career. Communities, particularly communities of color, no longer accept the use of force by police as normative, and police legitimacy is further damaged with every video of seemingly excessive use of force. Smith concludes with a challenge to law enforcement leaders and policymakers to leverage momentum from Floyd’s death to fundamentally change how U.S. police think about, train for, use, and manage coercive force in society. With approximately 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies in the United States, there is ample room for trying different approaches and carefully evaluating the results.