Police Reform


Labor Mobility and the Problems of Modern Policing

Jonathan S. Masur, Aurélie Ouss, John Rappaport

We document and discuss the implications of a striking feature of modern American policing: the stasis of police labor forces. Using an original employment dataset assembled through public records requests, we show that, after the first few years on a job, officers rarely change employers, and intermediate officer ranks are filled almost exclusively through promotion rather than lateral hiring. Policing is like a sports league, if you removed trades and free agency and left only the draft in place.

We identify both nonlegal and legal causes of this phenomenon—ranging from geographic monopolies to statutory and collectively bargained rules about pensions, rank, and seniority—and discuss its normative implications. On the one hand, job stability may encourage investment in training and expertise by agencies and officers alike; it may also attract some high-quality candidates, including candidates from underrepresented backgrounds, to the profession. On the other hand, low labor mobility can foster sclerosis in police departments, entrenching old ways of policing. Limited outside options may lead officers to stay in positions that suit them poorly, decreasing morale and productivity and potentially contributing to the scale of policing harms. In turn, the lack of labor mobility makes it all the more important to police officers to retain the jobs they have. This encourages them to insist on extensive labor protections and to enforce norms like the “blue wall of silence,” which exacerbate the problem of police misconduct. We suggest reforms designed to confer the advantages of labor mobility while ameliorating its costs.

The Small Agency Problem in American Policing

Maria Ponomarenko

Although legal scholars have over the years developed an increasingly sophisticated account of policing in the largest cities, they have largely overlooked the thousands of small departments that serve rural areas and small towns. As this Article makes clear, small departments are hardly immune from the various problems that plague modern policing. But their sheer number—and relative obscurity—has made it difficult to get a handle on the magnitude of the difficulties they present, or the ways in which familiar reform proposals might need to look different in America’s small towns.

This Article begins to fill this gap. It does so by blending together empirical analysis of various dimensions of small-agency policing, with in-depth case studies that add much-needed texture to the patterns that the data reveal. It argues that the problems of small-town and rural policing differ in important ways from those that plague big-city police, and that there are predictable patterns that explain when and why small agencies are likely to go astray. In particular, it shows that small agencies are susceptible to two types of systemic failures—those that reflect the inherent limitations of small-town political processes and those that are driven by the capacity constraints that some small governments face. It then draws on the data and case studies to provide a preliminary sense of how prevalent these problems are likely to be.

This Article concludes with the policy implications that follow from this richer and more nuanced account of small-town and rural police. It begins with the oft- made suggestion that small agencies be made to “consolidate” with one another or simply dissolve, and it explains why consolidation is not only highly unlikely, but also potentially counter-productive. It argues that states should instead pursue two parallel sets of reforms, the first aimed at equalizing the dramatic disparities in police funding across municipalities, and the second focused on a set of regulatory measures designed to address specific small agency harms.

“The Air Was Blue with Perjury”: Police Lies and the Case For Abolition

Samuel Dunkle

Police officers lie. About nearly every aspect of their work and at every stage of the criminal legal process—in arrest paperwork, warrant affidavits, courtroom testimony, and disciplinary proceedings. The primary scholarly account of police perjury frames the problem as one that emerged largely after the Supreme Court decided Mapp v. Ohio, which made the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule applicable in state criminal proceedings. But a gap exists in the literature, one this Note seeks to fill: Scholars have neglected to consider whether, and to what extent, police lied before Mapp. By reaching into the historical record, this Note uncovers a rich tradition of rank perjury dating back to the origins of modern policing.

Building on the insight that police have lied for as long as police have existed, this Note sketches an abolitionist framework for police perjury. A structural understanding better accounts for the fact that police lies legitimate police power and figure prominently in two other features of modern policing—racialization and violence. In offering a new framework to understand the perjury problem, this Note joins the growing chorus of scholars, organizers, and activists calling for defunding and dismantling the police.

Lessons from the Military on Reforming Police Discipline

Julia E. Paranyuk

In recent years, there has been significant public debate concerning policing in the United States. Current events and recurring instances of police brutality have drawn attention to police misconduct and reinvigorated calls for systemic reforms to policing and police discipline. While there is a growing consensus in the United States among citizens, politicians, and even officers, that policing—and, in particular, police discipline procedure—requires reform, there is far less agreement as to what changes are necessary and feasible. In the U.S. military context, Congress enacted the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which created a separate military law system that imposes punishment for various administrative and criminal offenses. Some police reform advocates have proposed enacting a UCMJ equivalent—a Uniform Code of Police Justice (UCPJ)—for the nation’s police forces. This Note argues in favor of adopting a UCPJ and proposes a recommended Code structure, while acknowledging that a UCPJ would not be a cure-all for our nation’s policing troubles; further systemic reforms would still be required.