The core problem with policing in the United States is that the police have developed their own internal culture and a very strong bunker mentality.
They really do view the rest of us as an unruly mob that could become dangerous at any moment.
And they see themselves as the “thin blue line”: standing alone, holding back the forces of chaos from sweeping over the frail and weak society that cowers under their protection.
(Seriously; do an Internet search on “Warrior Cop” sometime.
That is … not healthy.
This cultural problem is allowed full rein, since the heads of all law enforcement organizations (even the elected ones) are generally required to have significant career experience in law enforcement to be eligible.
Most law enforcement organization heads are appointed by politicians, who are unlikely to choose a reformer from outside the profession even when they’re allowed to, and even elected sheriffs (at least here in California) are required to have several years of active duty to be eligible.
So you don’t get to be in charge without spending years steeped in that nonsense, and anyone who’d want to make any significant changes is weeded out before they could do the time required to get on the ballot.
So it has become a self-reinforcing delusion.
And now no one who’s eligible should be allowed anywhere near leadership of a law enforcement organization.
This cycle can’t be broken with a single small change (hence the title of this post); it needs several interconnected changes:
- require the head of all law enforcement organizations to be elected
- remove the law enforcement career requirements on elected positions
- establish term limits for elected officers
This takes leadership of these organizations back to the citizenry where it belongs and, if the term limits are short enough, keeps the senior officers from being in place long enough to adopt the more dysfunctional elements of “cop culture”.
And in the long-run that might be enough, but we also have to deal with the problem now.
To do that, we have to also bring police oversight back into citizen control:
- move oversight of each law enforcement organization to a parallel, fully-empowered, organization
- have the oversight organization headed by whoever came second in the election to head the public-facing organization
(In addition, it would be optimal to forbid staff moving between these two bodies.)
This part may look familiar to anyone, since the basic structural concept is from one of the first posts here: Failed Constitution Check: Executive Oversight.
These should probably be constitutional amendments.
Most of these changes could be done without constitutional amendments, though some states may not be able to change the role or powers of the sheriff in legislation, but putting them in the constitutions would prevent legislative backsliding,