The 3 Largest Police Forces: What Training and Oversight Look Like Today
Status Quo Under Fire
Street protests against police brutality have roiled the nation since late May, when George Floyd, an unarmed African-American, was slowly asphyxiated by a white police officer in Minneapolis as horrified bystanders filmed and three other officers did nothing. Since then, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has swelled across the country—part of a long history of similar actions to stop racist policing.
But the push for change goes far beyond holding individual officers accountable for misconduct—protesters want to fundamentally change a system that results in about 1,000 civilian deaths at the hands of U.S. police officers each year, according to a recent Nature article detailing the latest data about police brutality and racial bias.
There have already been notable responses by elected officials with respect to the country’s three largest local police departments. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti has announced plans to cut as much as $150 million from the LAPD’s budget and reallocate resources to social services that support black communities. In New York City, the City Council has banned chokeholds and created a training system to deal with officers deemed “problematic,” among other measures. In Chicago, where the police department is under a consent decree to ensure reforms, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has called for procedural justice training, an officer licensing system and transparency around misconduct so bad cops don’t just move to other departments. That’s far short of what activists want.
“The mandate that the people have put forward is that the status quo has to change, and we refuse the slow incremental steps of so-called reform,” Aislinn Pulley, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Chicago, told The Chicago Tribune earlier this month.
What does the status quo look like right now, in terms of officer training to prevent misconduct and civilian oversight to punish officers? With more than 12,000 local police departments operating in the U.S., the short answer is: It depends on where you are. There’s no standardized training or oversight approach.
Here’s a summary of where things stand now inside the country’s three largest police forces: New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles.
During the last two years all members of New York Police Department have been required to take an eight-hour implicit bias seminar titled “Fair and Impartial Training.” The training, a core part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s past police reform efforts, is the result of a two-year $4.5 million contract with a Florida firm called Fair and Impartial Policing, which had previously trained members of the Minneapolis Police Department.
“We are not the answer to bias in policing,” Lorie Fridell, a founder of the company, told Slate. “We are a necessary component. … Culture is really important.”
Last year, the NYPD began “CITADELS” training—short for “Critical Incident Tactics and Developing Effective Leadership Skills.” According to the NYC Department of Investigation, this training directly addresses its recommendation to the department to place a stronger emphasis on training officers in de-escalation tactics.
Beyond these special trainings, all recruits in the New York City Police Academy take courses in procedural justice and policing democracy.
The Education and Training Division of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) aims to provide “progressive and comprehensive” training to “promote a solid ethical foundation to all department members. The division’s website notes that all recruits receive extra training in “ethics” and “diversity”.
The CPD also has a procedural justice training program, which includes implicit bias training that aims to reduce racist police violence. The trainings came in the wake of the 2014 police killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald—which ultimately led to the current federal consent decree. But last year The Intercept reported that 16 of the 17 officers that had provided training to officers had themselves been the subject of scores of misconduct complaints—including for excessive use of force. “One officer who provided training has faced seven accusations of mistreating black people since 2011,” the article noted.
A recent Northwestern University evaluation of the procedural justice training program, however, found that trainings reduced complaints by about 10% and reduced the use of force by 6% in the two years following officers’ training.
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) re-evaluated its training approaches in 2015, in part to de-emphasize the use of force. De-escalation concepts and tactics are now part of a mandatory 40-hour training course all officers must take during their first year in the field. (This training specifically pertains to how they handle individuals with mental health issues.)
In terms of reducing the impact of racial biases, every Los Angeles Police Academy class takes eight hours of training on “principled policing,” including material on implicit bias awareness and procedural justice, the LAPD’s website notes. Additionally, all LAPD officers are given four hours of implicit bias training, a spokesperson told Business Insider in June.
In Los Angeles, civilians do hold various oversight roles—but ultimate authority to discipline LAPD officers rests primarily with officers themselves.
Officially, the LA Board of Police Commissioners, comprised of five mayor-appointed civilians (who are part-time volunteers), leads the LAPD—not the police chief. Within the Police Commission, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which is also chaired and staffed by civilians, “has oversight over the Department’s internal disciplinary process.” The OIG “audits selected investigations and conducts systemic reviews of the disciplinary system to ensure fairness and equity,” according to its website.
But the OIG and police commissioners do not have direct disciplinary authority of their own—they can recommend that action be taken, but the decision to punish falls to the police chief. And even if serious disciplinary action occurs, officers can appeal to the LAPD Board of Rights, a three-person board that includes two high-ranking officers. It effectively has the final say in punishments, and has come under fire for being too lenient.
Chicago has two civilian oversight bodies. True to its name, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) is run by non-police staff, who have legal and investigatory backgrounds. (It replaced the Independent Police Review Authority as the lead civilian investigative body in 2016.) A primary concern of COPA is the investigation of officer-involved deaths.
The other oversight body is the Chicago Police Board (CPB). The independent entity votes on disciplinary cases involving CPD officers—and resolves cases in which the head of COPA and the police superintendent disagree on how to discipline an officer.
CPB is a nine-member board of private citizens appointed by the mayor with City Council’s consent. The CPB essentially serves as a court of judges regarding misconduct, receiving information and cases from COPA and CPD.
In New York City, civilian oversight of the police department rests with the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB). The independent agency receives complaints against NYPD officers, and its 142 civilian investigators look into alleged use of excessive or unnecessary force and abuse of authority, among misdeeds. If the 13-member board approves charges recommended by investigators, the case goes to an administrative judge within the NYPD.
Last November, nearly 75% of voters approved a ballot measure to strengthen the watchdog agency by tying its budget to NYPD headcount and giving it more power to investigate officers the Board believes lied about misconduct. Not long after, New York City’s largest police union sued the CCRB, calling the changes an “illegal power grab.”
New Leadership at Chicago Police Department
Chicago has the country’s second largest police department and recently hired David Brown as their new superintendent. Coming from Dallas, Brown was hired for his reform initiatives and his focus on transparency and officer training. Gov. Pritzker, at a press conference on June 25th stated, “We have to address police accountability, we need to address criminal justice reform,” reiterating his previous comments on policing issues.
Wagner Acerbi Horta, Brendan Rigney & Benjamin Polony also contributed.
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