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Wednesday, December 22, 2021 - 6:52am


The momentum toward greater police accountability that began after the death of George Floyd has stalled, report the Gateway Journalism Review and the Pulitzer Center. In a review of developments this year, the publication says that most police reform bills have failed and the problem remains of "wandering" cops who are abusive in one department, but keep their badges and get jobs in another department, where they often reoffend.

Among other ongoing problems in policing:

--Closed police misconduct records in 31 states plus Washington, D.C., that make it hard to keep
officers with records of misconduct from getting police jobs.

--The failure of reforms in St. Louis arising from the police killing of Michael Brown in the city's Ferguson suburb. Race lies at the core of the problem.

--The lax police disciplinary process in Chicago, where officers who lost their badges were accused of an average of 21 prior offenses. Illinois passed a police reform bill earlier, but a loophole closed the statewide registry of police misconduct.

--Union-required arbitration in Chicago and Philadelphia blocked the firing of officers with long records of misconduct and expunges old records.

--Abusive police practices have played a prominent role in unjust convictions that have locked up innocent men for decades . Police misconduct led to about 1,000 of the wrongful convictions unearthed since 1989.

--Poor police training fails to prepare officers for responding to mentally and emotionally unstable people. About 200 of the 1,000 citizens killed by police each year fall into this category.

There are mixed signals about how much progress the nation has made as a result of the
uprising that followed the deaths of Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.

Derek Chauvin's murder conviction in the Floyd Case and Louisville's ban of chokeholds were steps
toward accountability.

A few states passed laws opening police misconduct records, licensing police officers and knocking down some roadblocks to accountability.

Most legal roadblocks remain standing in most states. The George Floyd Justice
in Policing Act died in Congress. Calls to "defund" or "abolish" police backfired on

A look at police accountability nationwide shows that little has changed.

In most places, the long-standing legal roadblocks to police accountability remain unaltered. In the past 18 months, 35 states have defeated bills to eliminate or weaken qualified immunity — a big legal roadblock — and 33 states still allow no-knock raids like the one that led to Taylor’s killing.

Some states, such as Missouri, erected new legal roadblocks to accountability. “Defunding the police” became the political poison that hurt Democrats in the 2020 election and resulted in the big defeat of a Minneapolis ballot measure to replace the police department.

“There has been change since Ferguson but some of the fundamentals remain stuck,” says David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and expert on law enforcement.

Among other legal experts who contributed to the analysis are Wayne Beyer, who has been lead counsel in more than 300 police misconduct cases, Trevor Gardner II, a Washington University law professor specializing on race and police confrontations, Roger Goldman, emeritus professor at Saint Louis University Law School who has written and spoken extensively on licensing police and Emanuel Powell, a attorney for ArchCity Defenders in St. Louis. 

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