TURES COLUMN: Police reform is not a ‘cop out’ answer

Published 9:30 am Saturday, February 4, 2023

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You’ve probably come to recognize the names of victims of police shootings: Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Bell … Wait, who is Michael Bell? If you want to see how this affects everyone, and about police reform, please read on.

On Nov. 9, 2004, Michael Bell was shot in the head and killed outside of his home by Kenosha, Wisconsin police officers. He had been partying with friends when he was pulled over and ignored commands to stay in his car. The officers claimed that he resisted arrest and reached for one of the officers’ guns, so lethal force was justified. The family says he was kicked and choked, Tased and eventually shot in the head as he was pinned to his car.

Kenosha refused to prosecute the officers. But the city settled with Michael Bell’s father (of the same name) for $1.75 million if they would admit no wrongdoing or liability.

Bell’s father spent half of that money backing a bill requiring someone outside of the officers of the department themselves to investigate the shooting. As USA Today reported, Jim Palmer of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association noted that a majority of Wisconsin police departments do that.

Did I mention Bell is white? That’s right. That’s not a statement to deny that black lives matter, or to say “all lives matter” when preceded by the word “No” and a comma. All do. But black lives matter.

The point was to show that this isn’t a case of “someone else’s problem” or a belief that it won’t happen to you, or your child. Just ask Michael Bell’s father, who was a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel. He’s still calling for an outside investigation into his son’s death.

Is this an anti-police column? Just read any of my other articles on this subject. I am a strong supporter of the police, opposing the defund the police movement. 

Several of my students I’ve taught work for police departments or are officers and investigators. I’ve done a ride along and attended police training. I’ve had our city’s police chief Lou Dekmar (who has now retired) speak to students about police reform, even bringing in Israeli police expert Yitzhak Almog, who helped introduce our department to non-lethal policing tactics.

I also respectfully disagree with House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan, who said “I don’t know that there’s any law that can stop that evil that we saw that is just, I mean, just difficult to watch,” on NBC’s “Meet the Press” when explaining why he doesn’t support national police reform (though I agree with him that we need to boost recruitment of officers).

But my analysis shows police reform does work. When adopted, they reduce police shootings, often from cutting down on tough arrests for trivial offenses, as noted by Campaign Zero. And they are less likely to occur in urban settings than rural ones. Real statistical progress made between 2014 through 2016 ended in September of 2017 when the Justice Department significantly scaled back a program to help reform police departments, especially on police shootings.

So when leaders throw up their hands and say there’s nothing that can be done, that’s a “cop out” answer. Evidence shows police reform works, and should be brought back to America.