Police Reform Efforts

Our police reform projects have been very good for us.

Our doctoral students and myself worked with the City of Houston on the Mayor's Police Reform Task Force

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Impact Story

In addition to our police reform research and evidence-informed recommendations, we have engaged in countless strategic dissemination efforts (research-based advocacy), including news appearances, lectures, and op-eds. In a recent Brookings Institution article, we outlined the need for non-punitive responses to gun violence, including a renewed focus on the underlying issues that can only be addressed through community resources and support services.

In sum, we will continue to work tirelessly toward police reform as a key component of an overall reimagining of the criminal justice system. For many, contact with a police officer is their first contact with the criminal justice system, and it should never be lethal or unnecessarily adversarial. Police officers work for the community and must be held accountable to the very citizens they are designed to serve.

While police misconduct has received heightened national attention in recent years with assistance from civilian videos, dash cams, and body cameras, it has continued to plague low-income communities and communities of color. From slave patrols to enforcers of Black Codes and Jim Crow and participating in or turning a blind eye to Ku Klux Klan lynchings, police in America have participated in a cruel history. While modern-day policing seeks to set itself apart from its beginnnings, some would argue the current state of policing is similarly cruel, particularly in light of the numerous murders of unarmed citizens (overall, over 1,000 people have been shot and killed in the United States by police in the last year), who are disproportionately Black individuals. The Center for Justice Research, understanding this context, aims to work with the police to improve public safety but also to introduce reform measures that ensure the police truly serve communities, holding wayward officers accountable when necessary.1,000 people have been shot and killed in the United States by police in the last year), who are disproportionately Black individuals. The Center for Justice Research, understanding this context, aims to work with the police to improve public safety but also to introduce reform measures that ensure the police truly serve communities, holding wayward officers accountable when necessary.

In 2020, our founding director, Howard Henderson, alongside a group of doctoral students, worked with the City of Houston on the mayor’s Police Reform Task Force. The final police reform report, created by a task force of 45 people, included 104 reform proposals in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, a Houston native. Some of the adopted reforms included an improved Independent Police Oversight Board, a ban on no-knock warrants, new body camera procedures and regulations, and an increase in community input.

We have also put together our own series of police reform action briefs based on CJR research in several areas. The first is a ban on chokeholds. CJR recommends banning chokeholds and similar restraints, as well as emphasizing training on appropriate forms of restraint and de-escalation skills. The second is an officer’s duty to intervene, particularly relevant in the case of George Floyd’s murder. CJR recommends a clear Supreme Court opinion on an officer’s duty to intervene, as well as a national standard set for all police departments to follow. In conjunction with federal-level standards, we advocate for matching state and local legislation and police department procedures that reflect these standards and outline effective disciplinary action for an officer’s failure to intervene. Like many cities and activists across the country, we also recommend a full ban on no-knock warrants and more effective training on the harmful effects of these types of procedures.

In addition to reforms that affect police actions, we need to address what happens after misconduct takes place. CJR recommends redefining qualified immunity by having set national standards, proactive local and state policy on limited qualified immunity, and more accountability through independent investigations and prosecutions of police misconduct. We also join many others in furthering the discussion around the reallocation of police funds toward community support services that can help reduce crime, poverty, and mental health crises, in addition to setting an education standard for officers, bolstering training, and partnering with community organizations that provide support services.

Given the importance of data in forming solutions to criminal justice problems and the lack of transparency regarding police misconduct, CJR recommends the creation of a national police misconduct database that reports specific complaints and disciplinary actions taken. Lastly, we recommend increasing the presence of civilian review boards across the country while also giving them greater power and influence in the legal process through direct policy changes.

In addition to our police reform research and evidence-informed recommendations, we have engaged in countless strategic dissemination efforts (research-based advocacy), including news appearances, lectures, and op-eds. In a recent Brookings Institution article, we outlined the need for non-punitive responses to gun violence, including a renewed focus on the underlying issues that can only be addressed through community resources and support services.

In sum, we will continue to work tirelessly toward police reform as a key component of an overall reimagining of the criminal justice system. For many, contact with a police officer is their first contact with the criminal justice system, and it should never be lethal or unnecessarily adversarial. Police officers work for the community and must be held accountable to the very citizens they are designed to serve.

Our doctoral students and myself worked with the City of Houston on the Mayor's Police Reform Task Force. From this report, the Houston mayor and Chief of Houston Police Department have implemented several of the recommendations. For example, the use of mental health providers to deal with mental health calls and the timely released of body worn camera footage.

Our police reform action briefs that have been used by numerous police departments and local, state and federal legislators

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