Criminal justice expert Chris Slobogin joins coalition to propose first steps toward policing reform

Professor Christopher SloboginVanderbilt Criminal Justice Program Director Christopher Slobogin joined with seven colleagues at other American law schools to release a list of urgently needed reforms to address enduring problems in American policing.

The coalition published their recommendations in a report, Changing the Law to Change Policing: First Steps, that provides concrete actions for officials at the federal, state and local levels to advance immediately the process of transforming policing in all levels of government.

“Unfortunately, the law is an accomplice to the mess that is policing in America,” Slobogin said. “The law has facilitated police use of force, and we recommend a set of reforms that can be implemented immediately to transform policing.”

All eight authors are criminal justice scholars whose work has focused on the daily practice of policing. They include the Reporters for the American Law Institute’s Principles of the Law: Policing, which works with advisers from across the ideological spectrum to draft high-level principles to govern policing.

The recommendations in their report go beyond the scope of the ALI project. They offer a brief outline of why it is time to rethink the structure and governance of policing and engage in a deeper conversation about the meaning of public safety and the appropriate role of police to achieve it.

The report provides clear guidance on enforcing constitutional rights at the federal level, including regulating police practices, promoting uniform standards regarding the use of force and other police practices, standardizing data collection and information-sharing, regulating federal policing agencies, and supporting institutional reform.

State-level reforms they propose include promoting substantive legislation on police policies and practices, improving data and transparency, regulating the use of surveillance, supporting state-level institutional reform, and reviewing criminal codes and enforcement discretion.

Local guidance addresses building robust accountability systems, assessing budgets, reviewing municipal and county codes, and exploring consolidation across local agencies.

In addition to Slobogin, the report’s contributors include Barry Friedman and Maria Ponomarenko of the Policing Project at New York University Law School, Brandon L. Garrett of the Center for Justice and Science at Duke University School of Law, Rachel Harmon of the Center for Criminal Justice at the University of Virginia Law School, Christy Lopez of the Innovative Policing Program at Georgetown Law Center, and Tracey Meares and Tom Tyler of the Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School.

“This document provides a much-needed framework to understand not only which reforms are critical, but also which level of government is best suited to enact them,” said Friedman of NYU’s Policing Project, who taught at Vanderbilt Law School from 1991 to 2000. “Achieving the transformation of policing that this country needs and deserves is contingent on a coordinated effort at the federal, state, and local level.”

Slobogin has authored more than 100 articles, books and chapters on topic relating to criminal law and procedure, mental health law and evidence. His works focusing on policing include “Policing as Administration” (University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 2016) and a casebook, Regulation of Police Investigation: Legal, Historical, Empirical and Comparative Materials, now in its 5th edition. He holds the Milton R. Underwood Chair in Law and is an affiliate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University Medical School.

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