Keynote Speech of Chief (Ret.) Nicholas A. Sensley at the 2021 CAAJE Summit
Speech of Chief (Ret.) Nicholas A. Sensley, BSc., MBA, PhD (Candidate) CEO & President of the Institute for American Police Reform To the California Association of Administration of Justice Educators.Friday, May 21, 2021 Via Zoom Conference.
In June of 2020, I launched the Institute for American Police Reform both in response to what I believe was a resounding public outcry for police reform AND for the reform that I believe history has long beckoned in this crucial service.
While the murder of George Floyd was not in itself a rare event in the history of policing, specifically not so in the interactions of police with people of color in America, especially black men, it was a catalyzing and particularly impressionable event. Among other obvious reasons related to the use of force AND the abuse of authority, I believe that the countenance, the demeanor, and arrogant uniform presence of Derek Chauvin in the real-time act of the slow murder of Mr. Floyd struck a universal chord of disdain for those he misrepresented and for those who are sworn to honor human dignity and life through their service of protection and care. In a powerful and tragic way Chauvin reminded the world that it is well past time that POLICE, the most powerful agents of government authority personally familiar to the average person everywhere, must submit to a comprehensive reassessment and revision of practices and of authority. The resulting outcry reached my understanding as a cry for reform.
II am very happy and exceptionally honored to tell you that the response to launch this Institute was affirmed with a level of solidarity and support that I could not have imagined. Today, less than one year from inception, the Institute for American PoliceReform is a nonpartisan and nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with 37 of the most outstanding persons I have ever known from the broadest spectrum of society that I never could have predicted. We are now building out the framework of American police reform through comprehensive research and organizational development with current and former:
Police officials, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, civil law attorneys, a US Inspector General, a US Ambassador, doctors, university & college professors, schoolteachers, researchers, labor & union executives, clergy, community advocates, corporate executives, students, partnerships with 3 of the world’s largest law firms, tech companies, and partnerships with leading justice system reform organizations in this country. ALL WHO BELIEVE THAT POLICE ARE ESSENTIAL. SO IS REFORM.
Reform. Now, that has become quite the word of the century. On a very basic level it usually means “to amend or improve by changing the form of something or to remove the faults or abuses of something.” In the context of contemporary concerns and responses to American policing and American Police Reform, I think it might be useful for us to discuss what we believe – is not police reform. It seems quite necessary to approach in this manner precisely because of the outcries for reform in our contemporary environment of  support for police,  disdain for police,  good officers,  bad officers, and an array of propositions and stances about what reform means and how it should occur.
Of course, in the measures of it all, I too will be offering you our Institute’s proposition and stance on what we believe defines police reform. And yet, it is my
sincere hope that I will reason sufficiently to gain your consensus. Before I offer my thoughts on what police reform IS NOT, I want to offer only one qualifier: that societally whatever police reform is, it must be comprehensive and, in some measures, it may need to be sweeping.
A. police reform is not achieved merely through legislative measures – especially those measures that result in laws that are reactionary and limited in scope and lacking any evidence that such laws or measures will lead to impactful turning points in the nature of policing. Notwithstanding that some laws prohibiting or directing the banning of certain police practices, while they may be warranted and justified, the passage of such laws in and of itself is not police reform.
B. police reform is not new programs in community policing and crime reduction strategies aimed at reducing conditions of crime, social disorder, and addressing the
conditions that give rise to concerns of other public safety issues. Effective community policing and the collaborative and integrated community relationships are the outcome of policing grounded in community-centric service with the trust and approbation of the people. Community-oriented policing is not a program nor is it reform, it is the very manifestation of policing itself.
C. police reform is not “DEFUNDING THE POLICE”. Defunding the police may, in fact, be useful if it is an outcome of a systematic evaluation of the services and functions of
policing that has identified funded police responsibilities that are not well served through a clear mandate and appropriate standards for police roles in the community. I dare say, you would be hard pressed to find a Chief of Police who would argue against removing duties and responsibility, and the funding attached to it, – if the repercussions of failing to address the needed service do not blowback on the community, on the police department, on the confidence in civic leadership, or “Defunding the police” is not police reform, at best it is budget and practices analysis; but it is pretty confusing as it is most often referred.
D. police reform is not bribing or incentivizing the police to acquiesce to certain behaviors and practices with additional funding or promises of weaponry and militarized vehicles and equipment. We know how well that has not worked with the infamous 1997 National Defense Authorization Act, including what is known as “the 1033 program,” that allows the Department of Defense to get rid of excess equipment and firepower by passing it off to local authorities. It has resulted in the rapid growth of the militarization of police officials in the US to the degree that a police officers in many cities is 2 times more equipped to kill than the average soldier in Vietnam. The “warrior” mentality has permeated the training and officer safety constructs of basic police training. In cities and counties in America, if the police are warriors, then they are at war with members of the community. That is a frightening and dangerous posture, and it has been deadly.
E. police reform is not achieved exclusively through the choices and efforts of the police. Police officials do not have the right nor the privilege to declare that they will reform themselves. Police service is an authority granted to, not an authority owned by police officials. Police serve with the consent of the people and they should not be allowed to serve without it. Now then, we have seen how this reality has been shockingly interpreted and horrifyingly experimented upon in certain cities where police where forced to abdicate responsibilities to engage in and to prevent complete chaos and rampant public destruction and disorder. That is not the means by which police are reformed. That is a demonstration of why good policing is so essential.
F. police reformis not merely an issue of the identification and removal of “a few bad” apples who are ruining it for everyone else. The culture of American policing is tainted at its core. The only thing perfectly uniform and standardized in practice within policing in the United States is the fervor and solidarity with which police are willing to defend each other, rally under a common flag, and claim that policing is a necessary and indispensable service that no one outside of those who have served in this role could possibly understand if they have not done the job itself; therefore, stop picking on us, just comply with what we tell you to do and nobody will get hurt.
G. finally police reform is not easy nor is it a mandate for some departments and not for all. The reform of American policing is not a one-off event. It is not a do it and done project or program to fix the most intrenched and diversely performed public service in the country. Are you aware that up until December of 2020, there were 7 states in that had no laws to govern police use of force? There were 17 states that had no laws to govern police deadly use of force. Remember, the federal government has no authority to say that police in America shall look like this or that, serve in this way or that way, and shall be uniformly guided by this or that set of standards and practices. There is not an opportunity for the federalization of nearly 18,000 state, county, and local policing entities. Nor should there be. It is possible, however, for the 50 states and all United States territories to adopt and to adhere to uniformly predictable and standardized practices, to adopt standardized ethics, canons & codes of conduct, to implement uniform standards of education, training, discipline, and accountability, to pass uniform laws and policies, and to adopt uniform standards for entry into and certification and de-certification as a professional peace officer.
Yes, it is possible to actually make policing in the United States a professional service which I purport that it is not today nor has it ever been in the history of policing in America.
WHY THEN, DO WE NEED POLICE REFORM?
Is it because police are heavily oriented toward a militarized stance in communities? Is it because of an ongoing pattern of disproportionate killings of Black Americans? Is it only because police have been the default criminal and civil societal responder when no other social systems and structures have been implemented or supported? Is it because policing has extended too far into authoritative management of civil crises?
Is it because policing has extended too far into authoritative management of civil crises?
Is it because police need more training and education?
Is it because there is over policing of America that disproportionately focuses on the poor and vulnerable, the marginalized, the socio-economically challenged, and the communities of color?
Well, actually, yes! But not only for these and more reasons, but also because:
1. Overwhelming public opinion is that policing must be reformed.
2. Police reform has never really been done before. Police have only adapted.
3. Policing in America is a disparate and unpredictable service.
4. Policing in America is non-professionalized critical public service.
5. Among the most powerful interventionalists nations in the world, the United
States is the only nation with no uniform standard of policing.
6. Reform must occur in America because it is time!
My colleagues, the Institute for American police reform is a non-partisan organization providing guidance on policing laws and policies, police accountability and partnerships
in community, leadership development, and police standards and training development. In our services to communities and governments, our goal is to help ensure immutable regard for human dignity, inculcate servant leadership, and fortify citizens’ trust in police service across the United States.
Our work is help form a national consensus on standardized policing practices and enact the reforms necessary to implement that consensus.
As we see it, policing systems reform is directed towards ensuring all forms of policing that manifest at local levels effectively and sustainably protect and serve with absolute regard for all persons through laws, polices, practices, customs, cultures, behaviors, and attitudes that reflect no biases toward any person under any circumstances. IAPR has adopted reform policies that propose comprehensive strategies and practices for making public policing systems work for all and uniformly across the United States. Our guidepost, Five Pillars of Police Reform©, are:
A. Policing Laws and Policies. We believe that uniformity in laws and policies on police conduct will add to consistent and generally accepted adjudication of all police conduct.
B. Police Accountability. Accountability is the core of earning and sustaining trust. Police accountability must be reflected in transparency, honesty, competency, fairness, respectfulness, unbiased and impartial application of the law, and submission to the law by those who enforce it.
C. Policing Standards, Education and Training. Reform leading to adherence to the best standards and training, and to instinctive and customary peer-to-peer level adherence to the most promising practices possible is crucial to preventing police misconduct.
D. Police Leadership Development. Police service must be led by persons who are determinedly committed to the highest regard for human dignity and for public care and safety. Police officers must be led and held accountable by persons who inspire a steadfast practice of great and unbiased care for all human beings.
E. Community Education and Engagement to Support Police Reform. Police reform must be developed through citizen participation in a change process that is compassionate, mindful of history, sensitive to racial and gender identities, ethnicity, and cultural diversities of communities and of the country. Reform must be strategically exhaustive and without regard to sustaining systems simply because they have historically existed.
These pillars are a continuum of reform each on being equally as important as the other and all interrelated and interdependent.
Milestones Achieved to Date
We have completed comprehensive national research on Police Use of Force and on Police Qualified Immunity to answer two fundamental questions that American citizens have asked:
--> "How can American police officers use deadly force in the manners that have so often led to outrage in communities and in the nation?"
--> "Why does the system of justice in the United States of America most often appear to fail in holding municipalities and police officers accountable for killings of citizens?"
Public release of the findings of the IAPR research is coming soon but you can visit our website at www.americanpolicereform.org and see who some of us are and explore our newly released map on the deadly use of force in every state.
Standardized, trustworthy and human dignified policing services in all American states and territories.