Gov. Tim Walz and other DFL state leaders announced a package to address police reform and accountability in Minnesota on June 11. The package includes a number of proposed reforms, including but not limited to pairing of officers with a social worker (a “co-responder”), creating an independent investigation unit within the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for police-involved cases, and banning the use of all restraints or holds by law enforcement that purposely restrict a person’s airways or blood flow. According to Walz, the data show that these proposed reforms work in places around the country where they have already been in place. The package also calls for more accountability with the expansion of the Police Officers Standards and Training Board (POST) and the creation of a “Police-Community Relations Council.”
What is not included in these proposals, or at least not yet clearly specified, is the creation of a functional critical incident review board that law enforcement agencies need to establish. According to a piece written by Hamline University criminal justice professors, for example, a Critical Incident Review Board, which consists of both officers and community members, should review cases involving officer-involved sentinel events. These events could include police shootings, police pursuits with serious injury or death, “near miss” situations, and incidents that cause potential loss of public confidence in the police.
Should involve all stakeholders
A general agreement is that these review boards should involve all stakeholders, including those outside of the police department. While we recognize that this is an important consideration, it is also one of the reasons we do not see many of these review boards being created around the country. In fact, the greater the political pressure for reform and civil oversight of police activities, the more defiant police unions often are in resisting it — with few city officials, including liberal leaders, able to overcome their opposition. While we do not argue that external oversight is not an important component of a more comprehensive police reform, a more immediate, and possibly less resistance-inducing, review process in law enforcement agencies might be similar to the Morbidity & Mobility conferences that are common in Medicine.
Morbidity & Mortality conferences are a critical component of clinical governance, and they are mandatory in programs training medical doctors in the United States. These meetings have proven to be important in improving patient outcomes, quality of care, and attitudes towards patient safety. Perhaps more important, these meetings also contribute to the education of clinical staff.
Non-punitive in nature
Particularly in surgical practices, Morbidity & Mortality conferences, which are non-punitive in nature, are essential components of the surgeons’ career-long self-assessment process. This process requires honest and complete disclosure of all events that might have led to adverse outcomes in patient care. Week after week, trainees in every training program in the U.S. have to stand in front of their peers and mentors, answering questions, learning not to defend their mistakes, rather learning from errors. The system works, as the vast majority of surgeons take pride in bringing their cases to these conferences because they know that owning up to mistakes at the expense of embarrassment within the realm of this process leads to identification of areas of improvement and overall better patient outcomes.
In a recent piece in The Atlantic, Seth W. Stoughton and his colleagues wrote that “many enforcement agencies have accountability systems — so-called early-warning or early-intervention systems — that look great on paper but are neither followed nor audited. The authors noted that “since the 1980s, these systems have had the potential to identify officers before they engage in misconduct and allow supervisors to step in to prevent bad outcomes.” However, the system failed.
A new focus on police training and education with internal non-punitive reviews, similar to Morbidity and Mortality conferences, can lead to the creation of a culture that understands and values the importance of peer support and intervention. Similar to those in medicine, police officers need to understand that they must put professionalism, including peer-review and intervention, at the center of police culture.
Binnur Ozkececi-Taner is department chair and a professor of political science in Hamline University’s College of Liberal Arts. Timucin Taner is a transplant surgeon and associate professor of surgery at Mayo Clinic. The views expressed here are the authors’ personal views, and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of Hamline University or Mayo Clinic.
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