June 1, 2020 5:00PM

A Quarter Century of Cato Research on Police Accountability

You’ve probably seen some of Cato’s recent work on police misconduct and accountability, notably writings on the Supreme Court’s qualified immunity doctrine by Clark Neily and Jay Schweikert (more) and Aaron Yelowitz’s post on the high cost of police‐​community mistrust. If you’re new here, though, you may not realize that Cato has for decades made itself a center for principled, empirically oriented research on police misconduct and how best to bring accountability to the public use of force.

A sampling of work Cato has sponsored, published, or supported:

* Radley Balko’s 2013 book The Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces has become the standard work on its subject. Since then we’ve stayed on the topic of police militarization: check out Trevor Burrus‘s chapter on the subject in the 2017 Cato Handbook for Policymakers.

* Policing in America, led by Emily Ekins, was our 2016 survey probing deep into public opinion on the subject.

* Two institutional barriers to identifying and removing police officers responsible for the unjustified use of force are police union contracts and the state laws known as Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, both of which tie investigators’ hands in various ways. Police unions have been a recurring topic at my long‐​running Cato blog Overlawyered, which discussed or mentioned them in more than 100 posts. (Overlawyered ended its posting run yesterday after nearly 21 years.) I wrote here about LEOBR/LEOBOR laws, which are on the books in at least 14 states. States with such laws include Minnesota, where George Floyd was asphyxiated in police custody May 25, and Kentucky, where Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by Louisville police May 13, as well as Maryland, where the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in police custody sparked days of unrest.

* In recent years Cato has covered too many other aspects of the problem to count, including the public’s right to record police activity in public places; racial disparities in policing; efforts to collect data on police shootings; why civilian review boards get subverted; sexual misconduct against persons in police custody; pretextual stops; and much, much more.

* Nor is our interest in over‐​policing recent. Here’s then‐​Cato chairman Bill Niskanen way back in 1994 calling for repeal of the then‐​new federal crime bill.

Around the country, people of good will are searching with new urgency for practical, Constitutional ways of protecting civilians from exposure to needless death and injury at the hands of law enforcement. There is no better place to begin that search than here at Cato.