Where Is the Police Reform Two Years After Ferguson?

© Mike Blake/Reuters Riot police on Sunday stand near a protest as demonstrators gather by the police station to protest the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte.
© Mike Blake/Reuters Riot police on Sunday stand near a protest as demonstrators gather by the police station to protest the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte.

Things would change, city officials vowed three years ago, after a white police officer shot and killed a black man seeking help after he was injured in a car accident. There would be new training and community outreach designed to prevent encounters from escalating into police gunfire.

But change has been slow to come here and across the nation, since Jonathan Ferrell died in 2013. Last week, a black police officer shot and killed another black man, Keith Lamont Scott, triggering massive, sometimes violent protests. Police officials acknowledged that the officer had recently been trained on ways to de-escalate tense encounters with citizens, but he had not yet received mandatory training aimed at rooting out racial, gender and religious bias.

Protesters who thronged the streets of downtown Charlotte for five straight nights after Scott’s shooting said the lack of progress is palpable. Charlotte police, they say, continue to single out minorities and ignite rather than reduce tensions.

“Here we are again. This man is dead, and the police haven’t changed a bit,” said Lonnie White, 32, an accountant who joined about a hundred people demonstrating outside police headquarters late Friday for the release of police video, which was made public Saturday evening but does not show whether Scott was holding a gun.

“I am here because nothing has been fixed,” White said. “I am here because nothing has changed since they killed Jonathan Ferrell.”

Intense nationwide scrutiny on whether police wield fatal force too quickly and too often, particularly against black Americans, has prompted many departments to step up training, but the pace of deadly shootings has not changed. So far this year, 708 people have been killed by police; nearly 1,000 civilians were killed in 2015, according to a Washington Post database. In North Carolina’s largest city, five have been fatally shot this year, compared with two in 2015.

The grim toll illustrates the challenges of reforming a police force and animates the fatigue and anger of communities demanding change over the two years since protests erupted in Ferguson, Mo., when a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown.

The reforms are rolling out in a slow, scattershot fashion. There are about 18,000 police departments in the nation, many with their own training academies and unions, making it impossible for them to move in unison.

Designing new programs also takes time. Often, as it was with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, community leaders, outside training experts and police unions work for months to reach agreement. And then it can take years to get officers through the new training, particularly in large departments such as Charlotte’s, which has about 1,850 sworn officers.

Local politics often gets in the way, said Sam Walker, who has written and consulted extensively on police accountability. Half of U.S. mayors serve for two years or fewer; police chiefs three years or fewer. When the new guard comes in, they often dismantle reform programs from the old guard when they are still in their infancy, opting for new ones they can publicly tout as their own.

“It’s like Hollywood,” Walker said. “You don’t want to be in the middle of producing a movie when the head of the studio gets fired because the new head won’t want to make it.”

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Source: The Washington Post | Kimberly Kindy, Renae Merle