A Baltimore circuit judge has acquitted on all charges one of six officers involved in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray. Officer Edward Nero was among those who initially chased Gray, and prosecutors argued that Nero assaulted him by physically detaining him without having first questioned and searched him. The judge disagreed, raising concerns about whether any of the officers charged in Gray’s death will be held accountable.
But in Baltimore and elsewhere there’s another, equally important question that is too often overlooked: How can such awful encounters between police and residents be avoided in the first place? Mayors and police leaders are increasingly under pressure to reform law-enforcement agencies. But how likely are leaders to succeed in that task if they can see only fumbles, fouls, and double faults? That is the situation in which many find themselves.
In April, the task force that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed to evaluate the police department published its report and recommendations for reform. The task force emphasized the urgency of “restoring the trust between the Chicago police and the communities they serve.” It urged Emanuel to hold officers accountable for “shots fired, legal actions naming police officers” and making arrests for “disorderly conduct or resisting arrest”—several of the things that officers have been doing to violate the public’s trust. Yet it did not propose a single measure to track how well officers provide the public services we want from them.
In March 2015, the Department of Justice’s report to Ferguson Mayor James Knowles similarly found that local law-enforcement practices had undermined community trust, especially among African Americans. Its recommendations went beyond itemizing the negatives to encouraging partnership with the community and the use of de-escalation tactics. But as in Chicago, monitors offered few measures for assessing how well and how often these suggestions are implemented.
The same thing has happened in New York City. In 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio had high hopes for reforming NYPD after reaching agreement in a landmark stop-and-frisk lawsuit. So did his police commissioner, William Bratton, who said, “I need to…be in a position to say to my officers: ‘This is how you police constitutionally,…respectfully, [and]…compassionately.’” Stops have already declined dramatically, from 45,787 in 2014 to approximately 24,000 in 2015. But has respectful and compassionate service increased in their place? With no relevant measure of these aspirations, neither de Blasio nor Bratton can know.
The adage “we treasure what we measure” offers a way forward for law enforcement reform. Imagine performance measures quantifying how effectively, lawfully, and ethically police perform. Further imagine having body camera evidence. What would these measures look like? Well, here are six examples of positive performance measures any mayor could use.