As we continue to hear about police misconduct, we need to ask ourselves if implementing police reforms is enough to solve the problem. It has been three years since we saw the initial global protest to change our police system following the murder of George Floyd nothing has really changed. There is another ground swell of protesting growing following the death of Tyre Nichols. Clearly this shows that the current reforms that were put in place didn’t solve any problems, and one could logically conclude that additional reforms would not solve the problem either. Most major incidents that sparked these pushes for police reform occurring in the United States. Canada has its own fair share of poor police incidents, such as Winnipeg police who refused to do their job when it came to investigating the death of Indigenous women in mid-December last year.
One of the main reasons why these police reforms have not worked is they are failing to address some of the root causes of police misconduct. One of these things is the safety nets police have to protect themselves when they do actually violate the law. We understand that the job that police do requires them to make split-second decisions that could end disastrously when trying to protect the community, but checks and balances still need to exist. Police officers like anyone should not be automatically exempt from violating the law even in stressful situations.
If they are we will continue to run into situations similar to those that we have seen when we first tried to implement police reforms. One of the key items that was part of the 2020 reforms was a ban on chokeholds, a factor that led to the death of George Floyd. However, chokeholds were already banned and yet some police officers continue to use them due to a lack of punishment. This of course leads to the question of what other policies are police supposed to follow but don’t?
If we want to have proper police reforms, we are at the point where in many cases we need to pull the roots out of these organizations and restructure them from the ground up. Many Canadians primarily feel like a lot of police organizations are an old boys club, and anyone who wants to bring in new, progressive ideas will get eventually kicked out.
This results in a culture where bad actors are protected, because either people agree with their actions, or nobody wishes to rock the boat in fear of being kicked out due to upsetting the status quo.
One solution to this problem that could be implemented in other communities would be an enhanced civilian oversight board, similar to what the Taber Police Service has in the Taber Municipal Police Commission.
With an oversight board like this, police officers lose a degree of red tape when it comes to the bureaucracy of trying to protect problematic officers since they are now directly accountable to the community that they protect.