Radical ways to reform policing

December 11, 2014

I WAS listening to the news the other day and heard that former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani--who I prefer to call something that is unprintable in a family newspaper--see the documentary Giuliani Time if you want to know why--advocated the implementation of body cameras for police officers.

I distinctly recall being called a "bleeding-heart liberal" by my law school professor for advocating the same thing. Had Rudy become a progressive, or just lost his mind?

My initial instinct was to say that "anything Giuliani is for, I'm against." But not so fast. This seemingly progressive talk is coming from many quarters, in an effort to placate the budding movement for fundamental reform of the criminal injustice system.

Many politicians are calling for "retraining," "community policing" and "racial sensitivity programs" for police officers. While implementing such reforms would certainly be something (along the lines of slightly better than nothing), they're akin to polishing a turd, putting lipstick on a pig or applying make-up to Rudolph Giuliani.

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The criminal system of injustice is rotten to the core, and like rotten food, one shouldn't stick it back in the fridge hoping it gets better, or trim off the edges of mold thinking it's still good enough to eat. One should just chuck the system in the trash, and start anew.

SHORT OF revolutionary socialism, however, there are fundamental radical reforms our movement should think about advocating. The following is not an exhaustive list--I'm positive there are others who may have better ideas out there, but this is intended to "get it started."

Cut the budgets for law enforcement in half--immediately. Transfer those funds to creating jobs at living wages along with state and municipal universal health care plans.

Create state and local community-based "criminal justice" reform boards, which include not just lawyers and politicians, but primarily community members, especially those previously affected by the criminal injustice system. The boards should reflect the racial and ethnic make-up of the communities they are in and have the powers to discipline individual officers and supervisors, and to appoint and remove the local precinct police commander.

Reform eyewitness identification procedures, including the videotaping of all such procedures.

Videotape all interrogations, with the presumption that any interrogation not recorded is invalid. Audiotape all other interactions police have with anyone while "on the job." Discipline, including firing and criminal prosecution, for officers who violate this rule.

All states must have easy access to DNA testing when it is relevant to the case, even for those who pled guilty. Law enforcement agencies that violate this rule or fail to preserve tissue or blood samples will be subject to discipline and/or criminal prosecution.

Compensation for the wrongfully convicted, arrested or detained. Discipline and/or criminal prosecutions, initiated by the community boards, for cops who are found negligent, reckless or willful in conducting an investigation leading to a person's wrongful detention, arrest or conviction.

Exonerees should receive compensation of at least $1 million for every year of wrongful incarceration. Extra compensation also given to family members deprived of their family member who was wrongfully incarcerated. Consideration of compensation to the community deprived of an otherwise productive member of its community.

End solitary confinement. End the death penalty.

Humane prison conditions. The right to vote restored to all prisoners as well as those released from prison or jail. The right to quality education and health care for all those incarcerated. Living-wage jobs guaranteed to those released and those who work while in prison.

Police officers and their supervisors should be subject to discipline, up to and including firing, if they violate these new regulations. Police should also be subject to criminal prosecution, with independent prosecutors appointed by the attorney general's office--on the same level as ordinary citizens.

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Finally, the criminal system of injustice--and its reform--cannot be removed from the larger unjust society in which it exists. Thus, we need to reinvigorate Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Second Bill of Rights, invoked during his 1944 State of the Union speech to Congress, which called for the right to jobs at a living wage, restraints on big corporations and monopolies, guarantee of decent housing, and universal health care and quality education for all.

If Giuliani is in favor of all this, I may even (gulp!) call him my friend and comrade. But that's about as likely as seeing him in the streets marching for real change. And speaking of marching, that's the only way we're going to get most of these items passed. They won't get bestowed upon us by our overlords, whether they be de Blasio or Giuliani. See you on the barricades!
David Bliven, Bronx, N.Y.

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