In the wake of the conviction of Derek Chauvin, let’s forget about him, and let’s forget about race for a moment. Let’s focus on system changes that can help police do their difficult jobs and that can help protect everyone—regardless of race—from abusive cops. Here are my four suggestions.
First, legalize or seriously decriminalize drugs. The war on drugs is a demonstrable failure. It was anti-minority and anti-poverty from the outset, and it’s become an expensive investment that provides inadequate returns. In short, every taxpayer is losing money on the bargain. Much more effective would be a robust system of treatment and regulation of substances. Cops wouldn’t have to worry so much about suspects who might be dangerous because they’re high, and they’d be freed up to go after truly dangerous people, like assaulters, murderers, rapists, burglars, and so forth. Who would you rather keep off the street? The addict and the dealer who supplies him, or the guy who might kill you?
Second, get rid of the guns, at least the ones cops are worried about. One reason police react so aggressively, and demand blind obedience by anyone they stop, is that they have a justifiable fear that suspects are armed. We are a gun-rich society, and cops respond to that. And sadly, many cops are, in many cases, actually threatened with deadly weapons. So, let’s lower the temperature of officer-civilian encounters by taking guns out of the equation. Support serious gun control and save a cop!
Third, we ought to fund robust mental health treatment for people in society. Although people with mental health issues are overwhelmingly nonviolent (certainly compared to those on certain drugs, and some people in possession of guns), mental health issues are often correlated with drug use. And when they’re not, officers may not know how to react to the unpredictable conduct of someone with mental health issues. Cops may respond violently and, given what they see in a mentally ill suspect, may even do so reasonably.
Fourth, cops ought to be paid, let’s say, three times what they’re paid now. In exchange for that, they ought to be, at least, emergency medical technicians, and their job requirements should also include the ability to deal with mentally ill people by using psychological de-escalation techniques. We demand a lot from our police. It’s about time we paid them what we claim they’re worth, and demand that they get the education we claim we expect them to have.
Steven R. Morrison is an associate professor at the University of North Dakota School of Law, where he teaches criminal law and related subjects. The views expressed in this op-ed are his alone.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.