October 30, 2015 by

Welcome to the Policing Project

We’re happy to greet you here, on the new website for the Policing Project. This site is the collective endeavor of a lot of people who believe that policing can be strengthened through the ordinary tools of democratic governance.

What does that mean?

That rules, regulations and policies—created with public input—can go a long way towards mending many of the difficulties we associate with policing today. Here’s the thing: At present, principles of democratic governance apply differently to policing agencies than all the other agencies and officials in the executive branch of government. This is true at every level of our federal system, from local police forces to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

There are a number of reasons for this “police exceptionalism,” including historical ones, but far more important is what it means on the ground.

We want to ask a simple but important question: What if we changed the way we think about policing entirely? What if we started to see policing as one more executive function, governed by the same sorts of rules and procedures as all the rest of them?

Most of executive government is governed by laws and regulations that are formulated both before action is taken and with public input. Whether through legislative enactments, public rulemaking, or just the simple procedures used by the local school board, the American way of doing things is to invite the public in and set the rules of the road out in advance.

When it comes to policing, on the other hand, we do things differently. We give the vague instruction “enforce the law,” and then try to fix what goes wrong on the back end, often to no avail. That’s why policing today is beset by civilian review boards, inspectors general, court-appointed monitors, and judicial review. It’s all an attempt, after the fact, to correct problems.

But what if, instead of relying solely on after-the-fact review, we moved accountability for policing to where it ordinarily rests in executive government: the front end? What if the public worked with the police to write sensible rules we could all understand? What if we engaged the familiar tasks of cost-benefit analysis, to make sure we have policing practices that work the best to keep us safe, while minimizing the intrusions on people’s liberty?

Don’t get us wrong: Policing is unique in its own way, and will require some special rules. But every agency of government is unique. That’s why rules and procedures are tailored to fit special needs.

This is an experiment we firmly believe should happen. We think it will result in better policing. We believe it will help restore lost trust between policing agencies and the communities they serve. We hope and believe it will eliminate some of what goes wrong with policing today, that it will result in greater equity for all Americans. We believe both the police and the people they serve will be happier and safer with the end result.

We’re excited at the prospect, and we’re not alone. We’ve been talking with law enforcement personnel, with activists, with academics, and they are all interested in—at the least—exchanging ideas about how we can give this a try.

We hope you’ll follow along. Whether you like what you see or you don’t, feel free to drop us a line and tell us what you think at info@policingproject.org or sign up for our periodic email alerts.