Durbin Speaks with Georgetown Law Professor & Longtime DOJ Civil Rights Attorney Christy Lopez

I’m Jen today with Christie Lopez’s professor at Georgetown Law School she specialized in policing which is the topic of the day across the United States and maybe around the world because of the tragic killing of George Florida in Minneapolis several weeks ago we’re all asking basic questions about the future of policing Christie Lopez has spent much of her professional life thinking about this and working on it and challenges with many cities Christie tell us how you happen to get into this field of law Thank You senator durbin I begin doing this work in part because of just sort of a concern I knew I wanted to do work to kind of make a little better play it’s like a lot of idealistic young people and I begin to realize that one of the things that really motivated me and really bothered me was when governments violate the rights of their own citizens so I wanted to do that kind of work and I think I moved into systems work because my father was a police officer for 20 years and I was at the Department of Justice working on institutional reform work and prisons and jails and and police departments and it was so clear to me that there were good people in policing they knew my dad I knew his friends but we were still getting some terrible outcomes from these systems and so I was really motivated to try to figure out what was it that was making these systems work so poorly you know I’m glad you started there because that’s exactly where I am – I know a lot of people in law enforcement I think so many of them are good people their civic minded people they were humane I don’t believe they’re racist and yet time and again because of two things videotapes and DNA we are finding that the system of justice fails us on the most basics for instance the whole question of racism in law enforcement it is hard to look at the numbers for instance The Washington Post came up with the incidence between 2015 and 2019 the people who were shot and killed who were unarmed well it turned out that the margin between white Hispanic and african-american was traumatic some 30% were african-american 10% Hispanic and 7% white and you think to yourself that’s not accidental you’re in you’re out those numbers are repeated what’s the explanation well I think part of the explanation is what we call institutionalized racism and what that means is that the racism from the past has been so baked into some of the systems that people now can be doing things for entirely you know neutral reasons and it will perpetuate those those old disparities and I think what we have to do is get past sort of trying to blame I mean there are some there are some circumstances where people are you know are absolutely racism they may be called out and held accountable but we need to get beyond the point of like trying to find all the raises and fix it from that angle and we need to get away from trying to explain away the disparities and just commit to ending the disparities so let’s talk a minute about the situation in Minneapolis because there’s one aspect of your research that I really want to get to today as best we know it there were four policemen on the scene when George Floyd was killed on that street at that curve said one of them had his knee on his neck the others were holding him down various parts of his body and the obvious question that’s been raised since then why didn’t the others realize that what was happening was just wrong why didn’t they speak out why didn’t they act out and I wondered you talked about peer intervention as an element in policing where another policeman will say stop this is wrong we’re gonna kill him if you don’t stop at this moment let me ask you in this context there are so many parallels between policing and the military the chain of command the fact that if you were sergeant tells you to do something you do it because that’s how things work you follow orders so how do we deal with the built in military aspect of policing the chain of command and following orders and what you have said is one of the elements we need to look at peer intervention yeah it’s a great question and it really was brought home to us when we all watch that video no I think one of the things that bothered everyone and it’s organs bothered me and my work most of all over the years is the bystanders who don’t intervene and don’t protect people and I think that’s what really enrages and scares communities because if you can’t trust somebody to step in that’s a really terrifying thought and I think that the I think there’s two ways to get at this one is we need to structurally move our police departments from a more warrior approach to home Guardian approach super or in Washington state has been doing a lot of work on that people that cross the country are really starting to catch on to that idea and

secondly we need to actually train officers you know we need to train them to expect that this is going to happen and this is how you step in and prevent it you know we know even this this kind of training has been done in the airline industry because we know that even co-pilots will let the pilot fly a plane into the side of a mountain instead of speaking up and saying something and when the airline is industry realizes that what’s happening they decided they needed to train people and we need to do the same thing in policing just understand that there are these inhibitors the ones that you raised because of the hierarchy hierarchy hierarchy and other things and we need to just step in and make sure that they are able to step up when they need to and we’re actually I run it I co wanna a procurement at your channel called the innovative policing project and we’re we’re actually next week going to start a new project called active bystander fit for law enforcement to really support this kind of training across the country so there’s so many aspects to this and when you look at what a policeman runs into I don’t know if there’s a routine day for a policeman but you can find yourself in a position where you’re confronted with someone and have to make an instant assessment as to whether you’re in danger personally in danger or someone else’s in danger or whether that person can be him without any kind of threatening suppression of his conduct for example whether that person is truly acting out a mental illness or is about to cross a line where he as a threat to you your person who’s within the police force of people who are around you and I guess my first question is is that a lot to ask is it too much to ask of a person we’ve recruited into a police department I think that it’s too much to ask and police officers that I talk with all the time – they tell me they’re being asked to do too much and we need to do a better job you know funding mental health services for example so that people don’t get to that crisis point because when they get to that crisis point it’s kind of a no-win situation for a police officer and we need to figure out more systems and we need to figure out when you can send a mental health worker out there instead of a police officer again just match the job to the need and please will tell you they’re not all they’re being called out to respond to situations they are beyond their skillset and but they’re not the best people to do is bonding – so let’s start with recruiting in police I don’t know if there is a background that is usually found of those who applied to work in the police department my guess is military service is one there are a lot of veterans who serve in our Police Department yeah much is in your family there are families police families what Sun or even daughter will follow on and father or mother’s footsteps when it comes to policing but I guess my bottom line question is are we look we’re looking for the wrong talents and skills when we recruit for police departments well that’s a really excellent question and I think there’s two things that we need to be doing differently one is we need to be recruiting Guardians not warriors that need to be looking for and that’s a very different skill set and if we do that we’re gonna be better off and the other thing we need to be doing is we need to be screening in for the right skill set rather than only screening out right now we screen out for some major you know personality disorders but we don’t actually try to pick the people who will be especially good at the functions we need in policing and we need to get better at that as well so we live in a world but it’s a dangerous place and in the United States we are awash with guns in every directory more guns than people in the United States Saturday and is so easy for a teenager to get a gun in his hands in the city of Chicago we see it they had a horrible weekend nothing lasts what the previous weekend where 24 25 people were killed and 85 were shot in the course of one weekend and so when you do this warrior Guardian aspect I mean think of the scenario I know the man next door was having trouble with his wife I can hear them arguing through the wall now I hear him threatening her and threatening the children that are there could I call a social worker for that point should I even risk it wouldn’t it be smarter for me to assume that with all the guns out and about whether I know that he has been or not I’d better call a police department it may be a person with a mental illness and that may be the right person to call but isn’t the first presumption of danger the right presumption in the country that some of the guns so yeah wisdom and what you’re saying

and it point I think two things one is we need better the second is we do a better job working on domestic violence issues before they get to that point and there are programs without that we’re underfunding right now and the third is you’re absolutely right when there is a ongoing potential act of violence we need to have people that can go out to that and you need to be trained to handle that there’s no question about that the I think one of the challenges is that we need to try to get to the point where we have fewer of those so because those are very dangerous situations for police officers and for the victims of domestic violence obviously alike so that’s that could really be a big area of our investment okay so let me ask you this question when we are screening people for possibility of joining our police and we start asking some questions which may happen maybe now perhaps in the future to try to get some signals as to whether or not there’s any bigotry built-in to person who’s applied for the job whether they are tolerant and accepting of people who are different than they are or people with a historic or than controversial in you detect that perhaps you were raised in an environment of intolerance is that the sort of thing that can be trained out of a person or does that disqualify a person or is it all into the job some of those people get into law enforcement we need to keep them out but their bigger problem is that all of us have biases and you know we need to think about how that impacts policing and we need to learn to manage those and mitigate those and other ways to do that is to give ourselves more time before we act and a lot of policing reform is focused on restructuring some of some police actions so the police have more time to think about what they’re doing so they can make sure they’re doing it for the right reason good point we all come with a bias we all come with a background we were all raised and maybe some of the things that we in our heads we didn’t even know too much later in life when we reflected on it so I I’m one of those believes that a person can learn in life and change in life but I know some cannot drawing that line and making that decision is a tough one but I think it’s important you’ve been called in time and again and cities around the United States to take a look not at policemen but police forces and so when you talk about reform you’re dealing it in a collective setting a group set which is different than sitting down face to face with a police officer and trying to determine whether they’re the right person for the job and doing the right thing you’re talking about some group changes collective changes isn’t it a little different challenge it’s a big challenge you were talking about literally transforming police culture and that takes time and it takes a lot of work and you have to address it from many different fronts at the same time you do have to address it through hiring you have to try to make sure you’re hiring the right people you know as you were saying you know the people who can learn you can change and who you know who want to serve their communities let me also have to do it through training and you have to do it through a lot of reinforcement of that through supervision and accountability so talking about accountability one of the things that was said about the officer who was charged with murder in the death of judge Floyd that he had had maybe off a little bit the numbers but in 19 years on the force he had 17 or 18 complaints filed against him I was listening to a radio show on Chicago’s WGN the other day with John Williams and a person called in and said wait a minute that’s about one a year and when he considered the police in contact with so many people every day and so many of them think wire it pick on me I didn’t do anything wrong this officer must have some prejudice against me I’m going to file a complaint so tell me put it in context for me for a minute 17 or 18 complaints against you in the course of 19 years does it get down to what kind of complaints there are the number of complaints how do you make sure that it’s a really great question and it reminds me that in some of our case our consent decree cases we after we would in implementing assistance complaints would go up and people would be concerned so one of other things you need to look at is how easy is it for people to make complaints are they accepting complaints are they counting things as complaints in a lot of places if you just call the police department and say you want to complain about an officer they’ll say you know okay but you know I’ll take that that down but it doesn’t count as a complaint unless you come in and fill out a form so that’s part of it any of it partners just think about it most people are going to complain about mistreatment by an officer so you don’t really know what I would want to look at what we used to look at is how does the number of complaints that that officer got compared to other complaints so you do that peer comparison and then what you also do is you exactly as you noted you look at the type of complaints you look for trends in the complaints what are

the problems this officer is having over the years so let me talk to you for a minute about the issue of guns and law enforcement and the actual challenge that a police officer faces I’m told that most police officers rarely draw the firearms they even go through a police career without ever firing their guns and others seem to be more frequent I talked to a fella who was head of the FBI agency in Springfield Illinois and he said you know there’s a lot of talk about that and we asked legislators who are interested in the subject to come down to the FBI shooting range where we have a video and in that video we tell them here’s the circumstance you’ve never come here in your hand we’re going to show you a video of someone doing something and you’ve got to decide at which point you have to defend yourself by shooting that person and if you guess wrong you’re dead and if you guess wrong as well and you may be killing an innocent person watch how quickly you have to make that decision and let’s see how frequently the right is that a cell phone he’s picked up or is that a gun is he reaching his pocket to pull out his driver’s license or a weapon and this FBI ons had said it’s amazing how many legislators go through this and mess it up from the start the first instincts are wrong they shoot too soon they don’t shoot when they should so when it comes to guns and policing is there some guideline and using a gun drawing a gun firing a gun that is part of reform I mean one we need to think of activities police do and see whether they whether people who are not armed can do some of those but the the issue for the people who need to be armed it one of the major reforms is de-escalation and what that refers to is trying to train officers how to slow things down and how to create space so that they have more time and have more options and again it also just goes with that having more of a guardian you know if you commit the sanctity of life I am going to do everything I can not to have to fire my weapon and then you teach the officer here’s some tools to help you do that you could have a very different outcome in your departments and we’ve seen departments have far fewer shootings that do that I heard about Seattle I don’t know really but they they went through this whole revision of their procedures and they started training officers to recognize mental illness and how to de-escalate a situation and there was a dramatic decline in drawing weapons on people when they finally realize that that person’s wasn’t threatening to them physically threatening to them but meaning to be handled in a different way have you seen that in the cities that you’ve worked at oh yeah that is something that training is something that we provide in that we would require in nearly every consent decree the training on recognizing and trying to respond to people who may be a mental health crisis I mean in a lot of places they’ve done some very innovative things like teaming up with people who are mental health professionals to respond and they can do a lot of mediation for the officer there’s but the problem is that just takes one inpatient office coming on the scene to file everything up and you know that’s a real challenge for police departments one of the issues that comes up often and consent decrees is racial profiling and certainly if you just look at the hard numbers the number of people who sell drugs the number of people who use drugs the number of people who are arrested for drugs of african-american background and those are prosecuted and those who are convicted and those who are incarcerated the numbers just went off the chart they don’t reflect that starting point where they may have a 50/50 breakdown in terms of the use of drugs but when it comes to incarceration dramatically it’s the minorities who are ultimately going to be incarcerated how do you deal with racial profiling when the evidence is so obvious that it’s happened over the years yeah you’re absolutely right what all the data shows is that the disparities get worse and worse as you go through each of those sets that you just laid out and I think one of the issues that we need to be thinking about well obviously one of the things that you’ve been so helpful on in your time in the Senate is just gathering data and analyzing it we really need to require that in a national level it’s really uncomfortable we don’t already have that because that would help us understand not only the extent of the problem we know it’s a problem we know it’s a problem everywhere but it will help us understand the why in the how which is one of the first steps to combating it but the other thing we can do is just recognize that we’ve never come up with ways to just eliminate those disparities and so you really may be thinking about you know every time you take an

enforcement action every time you a prosecutor decides to charge just know that you know because of these systemic issues you’re going to be perpetuating that so be really mindful before you take that enforcement action before you decide to prosecute this week we introduced the bail justice and Gleason supported by the Black Caucus in both the House and the Senate Booker and Harris the lead senators I’m a co-sponsor I think they’re 35 Democrats so far who are on the bail when you look at this bill and something in it that you are troubled by is there something in it or something missing we should have included in it based on your background so there’s a lot in the bill of course the parts that interest me the most are the ones that go to the enforcement authority of the Civil Rights Division where I used to work I really like that it includes the ability for state attorney general’s to bring enforcement actions to help improve the police departments in their states because it was really hard at the Department of Justice we never had more than 20 attorneys doing this work and now I think it’s about half that and there are 18,000 police departments and so it’s really hard to even get a grasp of where you should be going and so if you allow this that kind of enforcement authority it’ll allow people to work about the at the state level which I think a lot of people will appreciate as well so I think that’s a really great great part of the statute over missing anything that seems obvious to you I’d like to see some some some provisions in this statute that are really creatively looking at how the Congress can use the power of the purse to encourage the right kind of policing to sort of redirect policing and Public Safety to the right resources and that either the federal or state level and I’m just I’m not sure right there yet and I think we need to I’m not sure anyone’s there yet to be fair but I think that we need to really be thinking creatively about how we do that at the federal level I like that and I think it also gets to another point which I won’t dwell on but funding the police in the right way incentivizing the right recruitment the right training the right people on the job is just first it’s he made and it makes common sense when we’re talking about peace in the neighborhoods and safety for your families but it also can spare you those lawsuits that go on forever and ever and cost millions and millions of dollars once there’s been an something John that clearly is not defensible so I like what you said there I think the funding incentives could be a move in the right direction Christie Lopez Georgetown Law School are you known as Professor Lopez some people call me of that you can call me Christie well I’ll call you before professor Christie Lopez thank you for joining us today and your insight on this issue that is very telling thank you so much senator