After George Floyd’s death fueled nationwide protests in 2020, Police Chief Cerelyn Davis of Durham, N.C., asked Congress for sweeping changes to rein in excessive force — stricter policies, mandatory de-escalation training and a database to track abusive officers. Davis, then president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, said the moment demanded nothing less than “policing reimagined.”
Nearly three years later, that comprehensive approach remains out of reach, reports the Washington Post. The policies Davis sought have not been adopted nationwide. Policing is again confronting a crisis caused by video footage of officers using brutal force — this time in Memphis, where Davis is now the chief.
Officers’ beating of Tyre Nichols on a Memphis street illustrates a stark reality: Sweeping overhauls that demonstrators, public officials and some police chiefs called for never materialized. Instead, a patchwork series of reforms — some significant and far-reaching, others incremental — are scattered across some of the thousands of local police departments.
Even police unions, long viewed by reformers as a major impediment to change, expressed frustration. Jim Pasco of the national Fraternal Order of Police, blamed an apparent lack of supervision in Memphis for creating an environment in which the officers appeared almost nonchalant about their misconduct.
“I have no idea what the damn answer is,” Pasco said. He added that his group, one of the most prominent and influential law enforcement organizations, backed legislation on police changes that failed in the Senate two years ago and remains willing to negotiate. “I always try to take a long view on these things,” he said. “But the fact is, taking that long view hasn’t really resulted in much progress.”
It's true that new laws, policies and practices have been enacted, some of them substantial. Since Floyd was killed, states have passed hundreds of bills aimed at improving policing, such as mandating body cameras and requiring that officers intervene when they see peers using excessive force. Some departments have tried to have mental health professionals, not armed police, respond to calls about people in crisis.
At the same time, since Floyd’s death, police have also shot and killed more people than they did beforehand. Fatal shootings by police have risen each year since 2020, and last year, police shot and killed nearly 1,100 people, according to a Washington Post database.
Congressional efforts to enact legislation requiring broader changes failed amid Republican opposition. With gun violence and homicides rising local authorities putting more money into their police have, in some cases, turned to specialized units like the “Scorpion” team in Memphis that employed the five officers charged in Nichols’s death.
“The spike in homicides that we saw in many cities, I think it gets difficult for politicians and for city leaders to not want to embrace policing,” said criminologist Justin Nix of the University of Nebraska Omaha. “Minneapolis being ground zero was a perfect example. Politicians came out and made bold claims about how they were going to reimagine policing. Crime went up and they got cold feet.”