President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing

Following the protests and riots in Ferguson last year, President Obama created a Task Force on 21st Century Policing to examine policing problems and make recommendations.  The Task Force issued its final report last month.  In this post, I want to highlight the numerous ways in which the report would expand the role of the federal government.

By way of background, policing is supposed to be the near-exclusive province of state and local government under the U.S. Constitution.  The federal government is nevertheless constantly seeking to expand its jurisdiction.  The number of federal crimes and the number of federal law enforcement agents keeps rising.  Members of Congress also like to throw millions and millions of dollars at local police departments.  Of course, having accepted the money, local policymakers are now swamped with myriad federal conditions and mandates.  On top of that, the feds have entwined themselves with local police with the creation of hundreds of permanent joint federal-state police units that operate to enforce narcotics, guns, and immigration offenses.

President Obama’s Task Force is now recommending a host of actions to expand the role of the federal government even further.  Here is an excerpt from the final report (pdf):

The President should support and provide funding for the creation of a National Crime and Justice Task Force to review and evaluate all components of the criminal justice system for the purpose of making recommendations to the country on comprehensive criminal justice reform.

The President should promote programs that take a comprehensive and inclusive look at community-based initiatives that address the core issues of poverty, education, health, and safety.

The Federal Government should develop survey tools and instructions for use of such a model to prevent local departments from incurring the expense and to allow for consistency across jurisdictions.

The Federal Government should create a Law Enforcement Diversity Initiative designed to help communities diversify law enforcement departments to reflect the demographics of the community.

Discretionary federal funding for law enforcement programs could be influenced by that department’s efforts to improve their diversity and cultural and linguistic responsiveness.

The Federal Government should incentivize this collaboration through a variety of programs that focus on public health, education, mental health, and other programs not traditionally part of the criminal justice system.

Policies on use of force should also require agencies to collect, maintain, and report data to the Federal Government on all officer-involved shootings, whether fatal or nonfatal, as well as any in-custody death.

The Federal Government could further incentivize universities and other organizations to partner with police departments to collect data and develop knowledge about analysis and benchmarks as well as to develop tools and templates that help departments manage data collection and analysis.

The Federal Government should create a mechanism for investigating complaints and issuing sanctions regarding the inappropriate use of equipment and tactics during mass demonstrations.

The Federal Government should support the development and delivery of training to help law enforcement agencies learn, acquire, and implement technology tools and tactics that are consistent with the best practices of 21st century policing.

The Federal Government should support the development of new “less than lethal” technology to help control combative suspects.

The Federal Government should make the development and building of segregated radio and increased bandwidth by FirstNet for exclusive use by local, state, tribal, and federal public safety agencies a top priority.

The Federal Government should assess and evaluate zero tolerance strategies and examine the role of reasonable discretion when dealing with adolescents in consideration of their stages of maturation or development.

The Federal Government should support the development of partnerships with training facilities across the country to promote consistent standards for high quality training and establish training innovation hubs.

The Federal Government should encourage and support partnerships between law enforcement and academic institutions to support a culture that values ongoing education and the integration of current research into the development of training, policies, and practices.

The Federal Government, as well as state and local agencies, should encourage and incentivize higher education for law enforcement officers.

The Federal Government should create a loan repayment and forgiveness incentive program specifically for policing.

The Federal Government should support research into the development of technology that enhances scenario-based training, social interaction skills, and enables the dissemination of interactive distance learning for law enforcement.

The Federal Government should support the continuing research into the efficacy of an annual mental health check for officers, as well as fitness, resilience, and nutrition.

This litany fits right into Mr. Obama’s big government philosophy.  Congressional Republicans, for their part, seem dazed and confused.  Instead of trying to scale back the role of the federal government, they seem to focus on steering federal funds to their districts.

It is true that the report only makes recommendations, but you get the drift of it.  The next concrete legislative bill to expand the federal role will likely be federal funding for police body cameras.  It is expected to attract strong bipartisan support. 

For related Cato work, go here, here, and here.