The Case Before Us, Interlude:We Can Stop Police Misconduct By Rewarding Fidelity to Law.
The Trial of State of Minnesota v. Derek Chauvin is in Easter Weekend recess — having recessed early Good Friday and scheduled to. reconvene this Monday morning.
The local newspaper now reports the next prosecution. witness will likely be the Minneapolis Chief of Police, Medaria Arradondo.
Nicknamed “Rondo,” the Chief is Minneapolis’s first African American Chief and a more than thirty-year veteran of the force.
He has been around long enough to witness the low points of the MPD — its worst instances of alleged and proven misconduct — especially as carried out against communities of color in the City.
He also knows about scandals like the Minnesota Gang Strike Force, including the Minneapolis officers alleged to have participated in its overreach and abuse.
But most of all, Chief Arradondo has watched those officers who have scrambled for overtime and off-duty pay to supplement their admittedly modest salaries.
And, as we in Minnesota and across the Nation search for meaningful and longterm policing reforms, one solution that has not been heard seems so simple that it has likely eluded most of the analysts and reformers.
The solution in simplest terms is this: incentivize police officers to act with fidelity to their duty — pay them more to refrain from misconduct — and to learn to avoid the use of excessive force. Promote those who seek to extirpate the culture of abuse and racism that has pervaded so many departments for decades.
Most of us who have spent the bulk of our professional careers in litigating and seeking to end police excesses know that contrary to expectations, police officers who engage in using excessive force are rarely sanctioned by their department.
We know from public pretrial disclosures that Derek Chauvin is alleged to have been the subject of at least 18 complaints; only two of those may be offered at trial — yet, neither was the subject of departmental “final discipline.”
In most police agencies, it is only final discipline that becomes public and has a real impact on an officer’s career.
It is this tacit or explicit willingness of departmental leadership which may indeed encourage police violence by reinforcing its repetition — by creating a culture of misconduct that is largely concealed from the public — until it simply can no longer hide; until a case like the one we are witnessing now.
But, if instead of reinforcing this culture — one that pervades not only on-duty conduct, but off-duty actions as well — suppose that police agencies and their leadership found reward structures for officers who insist on using the minimal force in each arrest?
What if we began to reinforce and reward a culture whereby officers who undertake additional training to deal with mentally-ill suspects or those in crisis are placed upon a higher scale of pay — simply because they sought the training to avoid excessive force and to de-escalate a conflict?
And, what if businesses and private entities encouraged this training by giving preference and priority to officers who obtained such skills in off-duty employment opportunities? Any civil rights lawyer can readily tell you how off-duty officers who commit misconduct generally bring liability to both their public and their private employers.
No doubt, the concept of rewarding officers who are faithful to their duty may strike some as a redundancy — or as a moral hazard — the oath of office they will say should be enough. Perhaps it should. But until we see a marked change in the level of excessive force and an increase in the needed training to deal with the myriad crises modern police must face, we need to examine with honesty how we change the incentives in policing.
It is unlikely that local prosecutors, most of whom invariably rely upon police as their witnesses and investigators, can bring about the necessary sea change in policing by only prosecuting “bad apples.” And, only the most egregious cases will ever become the subject of a federal indictment.
We know we need to ask police to do more to end excessive force in our policing. Yet, we should also ask ourselves if we must and should offer them more incentives for bringing that change to pass.
-Albert Turner Goins
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