SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Policing in the United States has received a lot of attention following the death of George Floyd. Both assistant professor of criminal justice Tom Mrozla and law school dean Neil Fulton at the University of South Dakota agree that police are critical.
“Police are the gatekeepers to the criminal justice system, so anything that the police do on the street is going to affect the later stages of the criminal justice system: courts and corrections,” Mrozla said.
“The police are the front-line contact, so the policy you set for policing in terms of the volume of interventions, how police intervene, really tells you a lot about who is coming into the criminal justice system and how,” Fulton said.
Fulton says attempts at innovation work well at the local level.
“Here in South Dakota for example Pennington County and the Unified Judicial System have worked with the Helmsley Foundation on a grant to try and get some opportunities to get more mental health resources available, training for law enforcement on how to respond to mental health issues, to maybe get folks off-ramped when criminal behavior is actually a sign or a symptom of something different than actual criminal conduct or intention,” Fulton said.
“Policing is more than just strictly law enforcement,” Mrozla said. “And moving forward it’s important for police to sort of re-envision their role and move away from sort of the warrior mentality that kind of has led to this us-versus-them mentality, and we’ve seen this before with the police crisis in the 1960s and move towards more of a guardian mindset and work with people to solve problems within their communities.”
Mrozla says the criminal justice system does not do a good job of gathering what he calls “good data.” He also says that there is no national police misconduct database.
“That might be another way we can kind of improve policing and reform it, actually require states to report police misconduct to the Department of Justice,” Mrozla said.
“In instances where you have police misconduct that we have boards, whether they be only police or whether they include lay members who are able to respond and impose appropriate discipline on police when there’s misconduct, is appropriate,” Fulton said.
“As far as improving police accountability for police misconduct, police should look at their policies and have policies with teeth,” Mrozla said. “If an officer doesn’t follow policy, that officer should be disciplined fairly.”
Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin stood accused of wrongdoing on 17 occasions before he was accused of murdering George Floyd.
“You certainly heard that the officer involved with George Floyd in Minneapolis had a series of incidents of misconduct, and if you have a situation to make sure that those officers either get appropriate training or appropriate discipline to avoid problems down the road I think is important,” Fulton said.
“A lot of times you see an officer tried in court or terminated from their position, and they end up moving to a different agency to find a job,” Mrozla said.
As far as change he’d like to see, Fulton again uses an off-ramp analogy.
“I think if you can get more division of labor with police forces and more support for police forces to be able to off-ramp some of these issues of mental health, addiction into settings of treatment that are more appropriate interventions for them, keep police focused on keeping us safe as opposed to being the gatekeepers to resources for them,” Fulton said.
The dean stresses unity as the country can seem divided on the question of policing.
“You have communities that feel like the police coming into their community is making them unsafe,” Fulton said. “I think starting with the premise that everyone wants their community to be safe, and working forward on how we would achieve that is really important.”
KELOLAND News spoke with Selwyn Jones on Friday; you can see what he has to say here.