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COLUMNS

GUEST COLUMN: Adopt minimum national police use-of-force standards and train cops for interaction

Charles Ramsey and Laurie O. Robinson | Opinion Contributors
The News Herald

The May 25 death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man pinned to the ground by a police officer applying a knee to his neck, underscores a disturbing reality: Many Americans believe such fatal outcomes are inevitable when confrontations occur between people of color and law enforcement.

More than five years ago, as the nation wrestled with the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama asked us to lead a task force on policing in the 21st century. Our work produced 59 recommendations addressing the use of force, officer accountability and training on fair and impartial policing, among other things. But while we’ve seen promising changes in law enforcement since then, it’s painfully clear that we still have far to go.

One priority is the establishment of national norms for policing. Although policing in our country is fundamentally local — there are 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies in the U.S. — we need consistent guidelines to set thresholds for what constitutes professional and acceptable conduct for police officers.

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We do see some reasons for hope in the response to Floyd’s death; Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo immediately condemned the police conduct and fired the four officers involved. On Friday, Derek Chauvin, the former officer who kept his knee on Floyd's neck, was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

Also encouraging was the prompt condemnation of the incident by leaders of organizations like the International Association of Chiefs of Police and Major Cities Chiefs Association, groups that often are cautious in responding to highly publicized officer-involved deaths.

The neck restraint used on Floyd is a form of chokehold that was eliminated by many police agencies years ago, in part because of its potential to cause asphyxia and death. But the Minneapolis Police Department sanctions the neck restraint as a “non-deadly force option” if used “against a subject who is actively resisting.”

In a videotape of the incident, Floyd can be seen handcuffed, face down on the ground, unable to move. Resisting is not the word that comes to mind.

Equally compelling was the failure of the three other officers to step in as Floyd said he could not breathe and pleaded for help. It is the policy in many departments — and it should be the norm — that officers have a duty to intervene if a colleague is using excessive force.

More broadly, this case reminds us of what has long been lacking in policing — research-backed training and tools that can help agencies improve practices to build trust, defuse situations and reduce use of force. While de-escalation training and body cameras have been widely adopted, evidence documenting how well these and other new interventions work, and how best to use them, is slim at best.

Charles Ramsey, an expert on evidence-based policing, was police chief in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia and is a member of the Council on Criminal Justice Board of Trustees. Laurie O. Robinson twice served as a U.S. Department of Justice assistant attorney general and is chair of the Board of Directors of the Council on Criminal Justice.

Charles Ramsey, an expert on evidence-based policing, was police chief in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia and is a member of the Council on Criminal Justice Board of Trustees. Laurie O. Robinson twice served as a U.S. Department of Justice assistant attorney general and is chair of the Board of Directors of the Council on Criminal Justice.