Black mayors are leading the charge to reform the police

OPINION: The African American Mayors Association created the PEACE Pact to bring the police and the people they serve closer together

Our nation is poised for major police reform.  

In the wake of the riot at the Capitol, the election of a new president, and a year that centered the movement to protect Black lives from police violence, there is enormous potential for federal action to change law enforcement. 

My Black mayor colleagues and I at the African American Mayors Association are keenly aware of the need to revamp our policing system. That’s why we created a PEACE Pact, with proven, practical solutions to foster community-centered policing that will keep all Americans safe — and have started implementing these reforms in our communities. 

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These solutions work because they bring the police and the people they serve closer together. Now, it’s up to federal policymakers to help make these policies standard practice across the nation. 

The “P” in our pact’s acronym stands for provide transparency. The foundation of community-centered policing is built upon trust, and trust is fostered by providing ongoing transparency to the community. Transparency in policing can be enhanced by establishing a dedicated website or hotline for the public to report misconduct. We also recommend cities establish a joint protocol between the mayor’s office and the police department to address public inquiries concerning police-involved incidents resulting in death or injury, provide consistent community updates on police activity, and publish incidences of misconduct and disciplinary actions online.

Members of the Metropolitan Police Department stand guard as they separate counter-protesters from supporters of President Trump near Black Lives Matter Plaza, on December 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Al Drago/Getty Images)

The first “E” in our PEACE pact represents evaluate all policing related contracts, policies, and cultural norms. Reforming policing on the ground requires reform and revision of the multi-layers of laws, contracts and cultural norms that regulate local policing. Among other things, we recommend evaluation, revision, or renegotiation of collective bargaining agreements, codes of conduct, law enforcement officers’ bills of rights, and non-crime related policing functions such as social work and mental health assistance.

Black mayors are putting this into practice. Last year, in June, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued executive orders requiring officers to use de-escalation techniques before they use fatal force. Officers must also intervene if fellow officers use excessive force. 

City of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks during the Super Bowl LIII Atlanta Host Committee Press Conference on January 28, 2019 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In Newport News, VA, the community I serve, we work constantly with our police department to review and improve standard practices. We have enacted stricter hiring guidelines for officers and require our police chief to review all acts of force. Our police chief also announced that officers who see other officers breaking rules of conduct must intervene.

The “A” in our pact is for advocacy. Local leaders must advocate for federal action, and work with federal representatives to enact laws to provide a national baseline for policing. AAMA supports the immediate adoption of the Justice in Policing Act (2020), which seeks to end racial and religious profiling, ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, limit military equipment on American streets, and require body cameras, among many other important policy changes.

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Policing in America will not be just until we — “C” — create robust community engagement. Members of the community should have ongoing, healthy engagement with the local police department, including positive opportunities for dialogue and community input about department operations. Communities can consider creating a citizens advisory board with diverse stakeholders, as well as soliciting input from community-based and advocacy organizations on police-community relations.

For instance, Mayor Bottoms recently announced an effort to conduct a “top to bottom” review of the Atlanta Police Department that includes insight from the community. Meanwhile, in Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner — 1st vice president of AAMA — established a 45-member Task Force on Policing Reform to identify ways to build bonds between the police and communities. In September, the task force released an extensive report with recommendations — which will guide Mayor Turner’s efforts going forward. 

The final “E” in our pact is focused on resource allocation. Local leaders can enact budgets that reflect community values, to the extent there is local authority over establishing policing budgets. Often, spending on police departments outpaces funding for vital community resources. Instead, budgets should reflect locally informed priorities and values, with special attention on mental health resources, pensions, prevention and reentry resources, training resources including de-escalation and unconscious bias, and salary expenses.

Atlanta police officer J. Coleman, left, and protester Elijah Raffington fist bump while officers kneel down with protesters in a symbolic gesture of solidarity outside the CNN Center, Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in Atlanta during a protest sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)

Research shows that investing in the community can go a long way. One study of a violence-prevention youth program in Chicago found that the hundreds of boys who participated were less likely to be arrested for violent crimes and were more likely to be engaged at school. Not only were these young men’s lives positively impacted, this initiative also saved money in the long-term. Another national analysis revealed that improved access to substance-abuse facilities can reduce both violent and financially-motivated crimes. 

The disproportionate systemic police violence against Black and Brown people in America has a long history dating back to the founding of our country. Accordingly, we expect sustainable change to take considerable work and time. We are hopeful, however, that our PEACE Pact will spur local-level policies that will begin righting systemic wrongs and create nationwide community-centered public safety models.

Mayor McKinley L. Price, DDS, (Newport News, VA) is president of the African American Mayors Association.

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