A year after Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, the public continues to focus attention on American policing like never before. The sustained scrutiny and calls for change—fueled largely by egregious police encounters captured on video and then widely shared on social media—have already generated a series of reforms. New York will use special prosecutors to investigate some officer-involved homicides, body cameras are being adopted by agencies around the country, and the concept of “guardian policing” is gaining traction among police executives, instructors, and front-line officers. These and other reforms are expected to contribute to better police-community relations, as well as increase the public trust and police legitimacy that communities deserve and that effective law enforcement relies on.
But it won’t be enough.
Police violence is at the core of the tension between police agencies and the communities they serve, but the U.S. simply doesn’t have the information it needs to make informed policy decisions or provide officers with thorough, evidence-based training. Consider just a few of the questions that could help develop better training, equipment, and policy: How often do officers successfully deescalate tense encounters, avoiding violence? When officers resort to force, are there predictable factors that can help them properly calibrate the amount of force in any given situation? Are there common elements that increase the chances of officers shooting unarmed suspects? How often and why are tactical units, such as SWAT teams, used? Do tactical teams encounter more or less resistance when controlling for other factors? After public protests, do civilians resist more (or less) and do officers use more (or less) force? Does the reason for the protest matter? If there is some effect, how long does it last?