Strategies for Building Trust Between Law Enforcement and Communities in Oklahoma: Case Studies

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Reducing Officer-Involved Shootings and Use-of-Force: Dallas Police Department

Following several police shootings in 2012, the Dallas Police Department began reviewing its policies on use of force. Reforms by the DPD included directing officers not to pursue suspects on foot in risky circumstances, instituting new reporting requirements for use of force incidents, and putting in place a policy to ask the FBI to review police-involved shootings.1 Led by Chief David Brown, the department improved training for officers and increased the number of trainings on use of deadly force from once every two years to every other month.2 De-escalation trainings emphasized approaching situations slowly and attempting to establish a calm communication with subjects instead of having multiple officers shout commands.

These reforms were not without controversy. Organizations including the Dallas Police Association, the Dallas Fraternal Order of Police, and the Black Police Association supported the extra training time but strongly opposed the disruption in officers’ schedules.3 Some street-level officers and one City Council member said that the changes would not be sustainable.4

However, the results have been impressive: complaints of excessive force dropped by 64 percent between 2009 and 2014.5 After averaging over 20 officer-involved shootings per year between 2012 and 2014, the number dropped to 11 in 2015 and 12 in 2016.6 Officers also benefitted from greater safety after the changes, with a 30 percent decline in assaults on officers.7

Because of these results, Dallas is often cited as a model of police reform. The efforts were led by a strong leader who was willing to withstand criticism as the changes were implemented, much of it from within his own ranks. If reformers can overcome the political obstacles, the experience in Dallas suggests that measurable progress is achievable within a relatively short amount of time.

Increasing Diversity in Law Enforcement: Los Angeles Police Department

In May 2000, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would file a civil suit charging that the Los Angeles Police Department engaged “in a pattern or practice of excessive force, false arrests, and unreasonable searches and seizures”; in response, the LAPD formed a task force to coordinate, monitor and report on efforts to reform police policies and practices.8 The federal intervention followed years of controversy over the department’s practices, most notably following the beating of Rodney King in 1991 and the Rampart police corruption scandal in the late 1990s.

LAPD embarked on a massive reform effort, led by DOJ and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. An extensive, independent evaluation in 2009 by researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government found remarkable success in several areas, including the diversity of officers, use of force, and crime.9

Among the goals of the reforms was to recruit and retain a more diverse police force. In terms of racial diversity, the results are impressive: between 1990 and 2008, the share of Latinos among graduates from the Academy rose from 30 to 53 percent, and the share of Asians rose from 5 to 11 percent.10 Among all sworn officers, 42 percent were Latino in 2008, compared to 33 percent in 1999. The share of African Americans among both Academy graduates and sworn officers declined during this time, though in surveys of officers, African Americans were the most likely to believe that the LAPD was improving as an organization.11

Not all officers approved of the shift toward greater diversity. In focus groups, some officers called new recruits “thugs” and claimed they lacked English language skills. While this may represent a minority view among officers, it demonstrates the potential challenges brought about by efforts to recruit and retain more officers of color.
The increase in officer diversity occurred simultaneously with improvements in many other areas. Between 2004 and 2008, use of force among officers fell, and it fell fastest for black and Latino subjects.12 This is particularly notable considering the rise in the number of arrests during the same period. Despite more contacts and more opportunities for using force, the number of incidents declined.

The increased diversity of the LAPD force may have contributed to the gains in reducing police use-of-force, and LAPD senior officer Bruce Borihanh credits the agency’s relationships with minority community leaders and organizations in helping to make those gains possible. The agency urged its minority officers to recruit in their communities and sponsored events to help the people they identify to prepare for and pass the recruitment test.13

With the LAPD instituting a variety of changes within a short period, observers both inside and outside the agency have had difficulty pinpointing what made their efforts so effective. Researchers give much of the credit for these changes to the leadership of Chief Bill Bratton himself. They also point to various administrative and governance improvements, like giving police captains more flexibility in creating plans to reduce crime in their precincts and holding them accountable for the results. However, they also note that “everyone with whom we spoke described a panoply of changes, and every data set we analyzed showed a department performing differently than it was three, five, or ten years ago. Yet there is little agreement on the precise nature of the changes or their implications.”14

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Footnotes

  1. Tanya Eiserer, “Officer cleared in shooting that nearly led to riot in South Dallas,” Dallas News, December 2013,
    http://www.dallasnews.com/news/dallas/2013/12/19/officer-cleared-in-shooting-that-nearly-led-to-riot-in-south-dallas
  2. Ken Kalthoff, “Dallas Police Leaders Oppose Use of Force Training Plan,” NBC-5, January 13, 2014, http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Dallas-Police-Leaders-Oppose-Use-of-Force-Training-Plan-240023771.html
  3. Ibid.
  4. Tasha Tsiaperas, “Alarming violent crime increase forces massive Dallas police overhaul; some call for chief to resign,” Dallas News, March 28, 2016, http://www.dallasnews.com/news/crime/2016/03/28/rising-violent-crime-forces-massive-dallas-police-changes
  5. Naomi Martin, “Dallas police excessive-force complaints drop dramatically,” Dallas News, November 2015, http://www.dallasnews.com/news/crime/2015/11/16/dallas-police-excessive-force-complaints-drop-dramatically
  6. “Officer Involved Shootings Data,” Dallas Police Department, http://www.dallaspolice.net/ois/ois
  7. Martin
  8. “Consent Decree Overview,” Los Angeles Police Department, http://www.lapdonline.org/search_results/content_basic_view/928
  9. Christopher Stone, Todd Foglesong, and Christine M. Cole, “Policing Los Angeles Under a Consent Decree: The Dynamics of Change at the LAPD,” Program In Criminal Justice Policy and Management, Harvard Kennedy School, May 2009, http://assets.lapdonline.org/assets/pdf/Harvard-LAPD%20Study.pdf
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid., p. 34-35
  13. Batya Ungar-Sargon, “Lessons for Ferguson in Creating a Diverse Police Department,” FiveThirtyEight, January 5, 2015, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/lessons-for-ferguson-in-creating-a-diverse-police-department/
  14. Stone, Foglesong, and Cole, p. 13

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Gentzler joined OK Policy in January of 2016 as a policy analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

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