A settlement between the family of Breonna Taylor and the city of Louisville could bring wide-ranging reforms to how police officers live and work, changes that would represent a rare outcome in a police misconduct lawsuit.
But some activists hoping for deep, lasting change fear reforms won’t be enough if not accompanied by community input and criminal charges against the officers involved in Taylor’s death. And a legal expert noted that even the most wide-ranging of reforms won’t succeed if the people entrusted with implementing them aren’t onboard.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer outlined what he described as “significant” reforms on Tuesday as part of an announcement that the city would pay $12 million to Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer.
The measures include giving officers housing credits to live in the neighborhoods they police; requiring that only high-ranking commanders approve search warrant requests; involving social workers to help resolve situations when necessary; and additional drug testing for officers.
“I’ve worked on a lot of different cases,” said Pete Kraska, a criminal justice expert and professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies. “I’ve not seen a settlement that included a set of reforms like this one did. I think it’s a good first step.”
But Shameka Parrish-Wright, a community activist, had hoped the reforms would include the involvement of a citizens police review board with subpoena power.
“You keep creating and adding on top instead of uprooting the problem from the very root,” Parrish-Wright said. “Every eye is on us all over the world because we’ve got a chance to make reforms that matter.”
One of the key factors cited in Taylor’s death on March 13 was the type of warrant officers had — and how they got it approved — before they burst into her apartment and ultimately fatally shot her after returning fire from her boyfriend.
The officers obtained a no-knock warrant that would have allowed them to enter without announcing themselves, though police have said that they knocked and announced themselves at Taylor’s door. The city of Louisville passed a new law earlier this year, named after Taylor, that bans the use of no-knock warrants.
Under the settlement’s guidelines, officers must get approval from a commander of higher rank than a sergeant before asking a judge for a warrant.
Kraska said that he has worked with police departments where the number of requests for no-knock warrants dropped by 95% when they were required to go through a chief or a captain. Those in the higher ranks are going to give the requests more scrutiny, he said, and will be more likely to say, “‘I don’t see where you’ve made the case that you need to bring a 32-person SWAT team to the door of this home.’”
Brian Dunn, a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in police misconduct, said whatever reforms are approved will only succeed if the officers’ direct commanders are onboard.
“What is written on paper, and what is trained in the academy are far less significant than the unwritten attitudes of the superiors …read more
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