Cephas Archie, Chief Equity Officer, City of Rochester, NY
Timothy W. Gerken, Associate Professor of Humanities, SUNY Morrisville
Sinikka Grant, Associate Professor of English, SUNY Cobleskill
Walter E. Little, Professor of Anthropology, University at Albany, SUNY
Systemic racism and poverty are endemic in the United States. This is playing out in high relief across the country in protests against police brutality. George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was just the latest in a constant stream of police overreach and abuses that resulted in injuries and deaths. The repeated documentation of such unjustifiable behaviors has become commonplace in recent years, and as a nation we must recommit to actions that drive systemic change.Higher education is one of many institutions involved with responding to and offering suggestions for those affected by this violence. All institutions are structurally limited, so we need diverse approaches. We believe university and college Criminal Justice programs can play a significant role in developing safer and healthier policing practices.
Fatal police shootings are increasing annually, and Blacks are killed at disproportionately higher rates than Whites. Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than White men. Most concerning is that “for young men of color, police use of force is among the leading causes of death.” However, it is important to remember that all minoritized citizens have a greater chance of being injured or killed by police use of force than White citizens.
The continued police violence, particularly directed at the poor and people of color, plays out in a society of structural inequality and racism that has left these communities without adequate access to healthcare, educational systems, and other crucial public infrastructural services.
Immediate, compassionate, and measured responses by our political leaders and police forces are needed as first steps to reverse generations of injustices. However, these initial actions alone will not be enough. To remove historically engrained structures which further target the lives and wellbeing of communities of Color, we must commit to doing much more.
Documenting police brutality is a necessary and important step which is why the work of journalists is crucial.
Police forces across the country must be demilitarized and the Federal 1033 program that is arming our law enforcement offices with military grade weapons ended. Using military weapons on civilians is excessive force, as is evident from news reports and social media posts.
Another important reform is reversing “qualified immunity,” first granted by the Supreme Court in 1967. It shields violent police officers from lawsuit litigation, essentially silencing their victims and their families. Police officers must be held accountable for the harms they cause and participate in--recommitting to their oath The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics.
Documenting police abuses and violence, eliminating military weapons, and reforming the legal system that protects dangerous police officers are necessary changes if we hope to have safer communities. These political and legal challenges need to be accompanied by increasing education and training requirements. They include requiring a post-secondary degree for new officers, constant and effective training of all current law enforcement officers during onboarding processes (Police Academies), and annually and fundamentally changing the way we train and educate new officers.
Higher education has played a pivotal role in law enforcement research and education. We believe it is time to reconsider higher education’s role in this process and for a significant transformation in post secondary Criminal Justice Education Programs (CJEP’s).
Over the last 50 years higher education in the United States has been engaged in efforts to promote social justice and increase access to more citizens. It has been moderately successful. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), in 1970 college completion rates for Whites were approximately12% and for Blacks 6%. The 2018 numbers show significant increases: 39% for Whites and 26% for Blacks.
The integration of a more diverse faculty has been less successful. Many more women are full-time faculty now than in 1970 though their numbers are appallingly low in many disciplines. Black and Latinx community members have been excluded in large part out of the diversity efforts on most campuses across the country. In 2017 the NCES reported White males made up 41% of full-time faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions while 35% were White females, 6% were Asian/Pacific Islander males, 5% were Asian/Pacific Islander females, and 3% each were Black males, Black females, Hispanic males, and Hispanic females.
Seventy six percent of the full-time tenured faculty on our campuses are White. The influence tenured faculty have on campuses is significant, especially in regard to developing, structuring, and teaching the programs campuses offer. The creation of new programs is generally the purview of faculty with experience in the discipline. However, this can lead to normalizing practices that reinforce systemic biases contained both within the field, the academic discipline, and within the cultural practices of the individual faculty.
The creation of Criminal Justice Education Programs (CJEP’s) over the last 50 years has been a boon for higher education and for the policing and corrections industries. The NCES shows that degrees earned in homeland security, law enforcement, and firefighting more than doubled between 2000–01 and 2017–18 with 58,100 degrees in 2018, an increase of 131%. Masters degrees were up 309% during the same period. However, these programs provide only a small number of the over 1 million jobs needed each year.
CJEP’s have encouraged post-secondary education requirements for hiring and promotion although only around 1% of forces require a bachelor’s degree and led to innovative investigative practices. However, academic credentials also provide legitimacy, a responsibility we in academia need to take more seriously.
Approximately 30% of police officers have a bachelor’s degree and research suggests that police officers with 4-year college degrees are significantly less likely to use excessive force. Research also shows that for every college credit earned, the use of excessive force decreases and that college educated officers are more achievement oriented. However, Minnesota required a two-year degree for entry into policing agencies. Floyd’s killer had some college credits.
This research makes obvious that law enforcement agencies need to increase their educational requirements, but we also need to examine ways we can improve the education they receive in our CJEP’s.
Both academia and the criminal justice system--through their discourse and disciplinary practices--reinforce systemic and structural racisms contained within all the institutional foundations of our country. Examining the practices of other institutions requires us to examine and question our own. Both institutions have significant barriers that discourage dramatic change and encourage a naturalization of foundational beliefs and methods. Therefore, we need to engage in a conscientious process of unlearning, reflection, and revising.
We strongly encourage all University systems and independent colleges and universities to examine their relationships with the criminal justice system and law enforcement organizations. Task forces should be created to examine their role in the education and training of future officers, funding and support of training programs, and all state and federal government grants and research funding connected with these organizations.
These task forces should involve university and community members and involve faculty and staff from a variety of disciplines. They should create guidelines for how campuses interact both fiscally and academically with all criminal justice agencies within the state and federal government. And if prudent, limit or eliminate these interactions.
Every campus with a criminal justice program--from doctoral degrees to certificates--should begin a thorough review of its courses, curriculum, and practices. College presidents, provosts, CDO’s, campus governance leaders, faculty and staff (from both within and external to these programs), and community leaders should be centrally involved.
We also suggest all criminal justice degree programs require a Justice and Equity minor or equivalent taught by faculty outside of the criminal justice department. This requirement will encourage programs to rethink their current course structure and provide students a clearer understanding of community concerns that are not necessarily in sync with community policing methods.
Community policing, a common law enforcement practice, places significant responsibility upon the individual officers “to identify community problems.” However, discrepancies such as this suggest the problems these efforts face: “nearly all white officers (92%) – but only 29% of their black colleagues – said the U.S. had made the changes needed to assure equal rights for blacks.” This is now a common belief among White Americans.
We must understand how racist practices--contained within political, cultural, academic, and criminal justice structures--influence behaviors that are taken for granted and are not easily recognized as racist or biased. Therefore, we must all learn how to acknowledge and appropriately respond to our unconscious, habitual, and naturalized behaviors that allow racisms to continue in both formal and informal relationships and within the institutions they occur.
For their safety and ours, these future public servants must be taught and trained how to deftly address these structural racisms within themselves and the institutions in which they will operate.
These program reviews come at a time when many campuses are facing financial hardships, but they are nothing compared to the hardships faced by the tens of thousands of family members that have lost loved ones to police violence or the billions of dollars spent on public bonds, settlements, and liability insurance cities of all sizes must allocate to compensate the victims of police negligence and violence.
We also call on academic accrediting agencies to create new certifying guidelines for all CJEP’s that support the proposals listed above.
We believe we can focus on CJEP’s and still support others who would like to see more radical changes, defunding, or even the abolishment of state sanctioned law enforcement. We encourage some of these reviews to suggest ways to accomplish these goals.
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