The data caution against expecting too much, and radical changes could have harmful consequences.
George Floyd’s senseless death under the knee of Officer Derek Chauvin has prompted conversations about how to reduce police use-of-force. Proposals run the gamut from abolishing qualified immunity and investing in de-escalation training, to reducing militarization and defunding the police altogether. It’s an important discussion, but one that requires tempered expectations—not because police are impervious to policy interventions, but because many popular reform proposals suffer from two practical limits.
The first is an inflated sense of how widespread police violence is. The second is that the data caution against expecting too much from reforms and warn that more-radical ones could have bad consequences.
Police use of force declined sharply over the past 50 years. In 1971 the New York City Police Department reported 810 firearms discharges by officers, which wounded 220 people and killed 93. In 2016 those numbers were down to 72 shootings, 23 wounded and nine killed. The rhetoric of protesters doesn’t acknowledge any of that progress.
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