In recent years, discussions surrounding criminal justice reform have gained significant momentum, leading to a reevaluation of the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the pursuit of justice. While the police play a vital role in maintaining community safety, there is growing recognition that systemic issues within the criminal justice system must be addressed. One important area that the media doesn’t show the public are the times that law enforcement officials and criminal legal advocates work together towards a common goal. As National Police Week has just passed, we’re taking the opportunity to examine the intricate relationship between police and criminal justice reform advocates.
Challenges in the Relationship
The relationship between police and criminal justice reform is often characterized by inherent challenges. Historical biases, systemic racism, and the disproportionate targeting of marginalized communities has led to a deep sense of mistrust between law enforcement agencies and the criminal legal advocates. However, this picture only reveals a part of the story.
Collaborative efforts involving law enforcement agencies, community leaders, activists, and policymakers can be instrumental in driving meaningful reform.
A prime example of this in Oklahoma is State Questions 780 and 781. SQ780 and SQ781 found large community support and opposition . But numerous police chiefs, judges, officers, and court officials supported these reforms.
Take this quote from William Citty, former police chief of OKC as a prime example; "I have witnessed how alternative sentencing, with the appropriate resources & supervision, can help someone become a productive citizen without facing incarceration. If we don't address it now we will continue to fill our jails & prisons while doing nothing to reduce the cost of incarceration, mental health, & addiction."
The truth of the matter is that when we invest in alternatives to prison and in resources for struggling Oklahomans, both law enforcement and communities benefit. Advocates have long argued that reallocating funds from more punitive approaches towards social services, mental health programs, education, and community development can address the underlying issues that contribute to crime. Many officers agree that by adopting a more holistic approach to public safety, communities can thrive, and the reliance on law enforcement for non-criminal matters can be reduced.
Police Accountability and Transparency
One crucial aspect of criminal justice reform is ensuring police accountability and transparency. Implementing measures such as body-worn cameras, independent civilian oversight boards, and standardized reporting of incidents can help increase accountability within law enforcement agencies.
Though the media does not highlight that polling shows that many proposed policing reforms are popular - even among police officers. These policies include restrictions on chokeholds, no-knock warrants and qualified immunity.
The Morning Consult polling found that 60% of officers themselves support the move to end “no-knocks,” and this surely wouldn’t be the case if the reform endangered law enforcement.
Similarly, this polling undercuts the argument in favor of preserving “qualified immunity.” Qualified immunity is a judicially invented legal doctrine. It shields police officers and other government officials from being sued in civil court if they violate citizens’ rights.
The relationship between police and criminal justice reform is complex and multifaceted. While challenges persist, it is imperative that we strive for change and work towards a more equitable and effective system. By prioritizing police accountability, transparency, and training, implementing diversion programs and alternative solutions, fostering community policing, and reallocating resources, we can make significant progress in addressing systemic issues and rebuilding trust.