Over the last decade there has been an increased public focus on creating civilian oversight of jails and civilian-led policies to improve the treatment of people who are detained awaiting trials. Similarly, how and when police officers can use force remains one of the most pressing public policy debates in American society today. Despite the immense public importance of corrections and policing practices, decisions about these issues are often not made by elected officials or public servants.
To broaden the reach and relevance of our legislative advocacy efforts, the National Police Accountability Project has produced white papers on issue areas we are focusing on each legislative session. These papers are intended for both policy makers and the public to provide a robust contextualization of both why we think these issue areas are critical in defending against police violence, and how to implement legislation that is effective and impactful. A selection of these papers are available below.
Use the fields below to filter by date published and/or legislative issue area.
Officers currently lack guidance about when force is necessary as well as what tactics and maneuvers are appropriate. The Supreme Court’s interpretations of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution provide the only national standard for police officer use of force. The standard loosely authorizes force that is “reasonable under the totality of circumstances.” Most states have enacted use of force standards but few provide more guidance than the Supreme Court rule and an increasing number of state courts have incorporated the federal framework into state jurisprudence.
Access to police misconduct records is necessary to protect the public and ensure accountability in a range of contexts. The contents of disciplinary records provide insight into an individual officer’s suitability to serve in law enforcement. Similarly, these records shed light on patterns of police misconduct and help ensure communities can evaluate whether law enforcement agencies are conducting fair investigations into citizen complaints. Unfortunately, confidentiality laws in many states prohibit disclosure of this valuable information.
The prevalence of hate group affiliations in police departments has been well-documented by research organizations and governmental agencies for years. Despite knowledge of this persistent threat growing within their ranks, police departments continue to hire officers without conducting thorough checks for ties to hate groups, fail to create policies that prohibit officers from affiliating with hate groups, and only discipline or terminate officers if their affiliation with a hate group becomes public.
Law enforcement bill of rights (LEOBR) laws provide officers with a robust set of procedural and substantive protections that undermine effective investigations and block meaningful discipline. LEOBR laws also interfere with attempts to hold police officers accountable through civil rights lawsuits and public pressure. Twenty-two states have LEOBR laws on the books. These protections were created by state lawmakers and can be repealed through the state legislative process.
In federal litigation, the judge-made doctrine of qualified immunity shields officers from liability in lawsuits alleging constitutional violations because courts often require a plaintiff to point to a factually identical prior case.While there are many police accountability mechanisms in need of change, ensuring officers at least face civil liability for misconduct is critical to any reform effort. Lawsuits alone cannot end problematic policing tactics, eliminate racial bias in law enforcement agencies, or bring peace to the grieving families who lost a loved one to police violence.