– Executive Summary –

The recent events involving law enforcement agencies in Ferguson, Chicago, New York, Baltimore, North Charleston, and other cities across the United States have prompted widespread efforts to reform policing and address the longstanding issues that have plagued minority communities and their relationship with law enforcement. Specifically, these reforms have focused on establishing trust and legitimacy between police and the communities they serve along with insuring that police agencies adopt procedural justice as a guiding principle for their interactions with citizens and internally within their departments.[1] The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing was established in 2014 to identify best practices for law enforcement agencies going into the future. The Task Force, consisting of stakeholders from law enforcement, government, higher education, and community groups, convened in a series of meetings where discussions were held with other experts and stakeholders to address the many issues involving policing in the United States. These discussions culminated in the publication of the Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, hereafter referred to as the Final Report, in 2015, which included over 150 recommendations and action items for law enforcement agencies, institutions of higher education, state certifying boards, communities, and the federal government. In the following year, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) published the Guiding Principles on the Use of Force, hereafter referred to as the Guiding Principles, which called for significant reforms in the manner in which law enforcement agencies handled potential force encounters with individuals.[2] The Final Report and Guiding Principles have become the road map to police reform in the United States, and many agencies are adopting them whole or in part as a means of reforming their agencies and building trust with communities.

As these reforms are in the process of being adopted by law enforcement agencies nationwide, a number of challenges have emerged that have been problematic for these agencies. One of these challenges is the apparent disengagement of officers from the proactive or self-initiated activities that are critical in crime reduction strategies. This thesis researched the issue of police reform and police disengagement to determine whether a correlation or causal relationship exists between the two. Specifically, are the police reforms in the Final Report and Guiding Principles causing some level of police disengagement or de-policing? Since the reforms are relatively new and in various stages of implementation, it will take months if not years to determine how they will affect officer activity.

This thesis examined a number of case studies of law enforcement agencies under federally mandated reform to determine how these reforms affected the activity of their officers. The departments selected were the Chicago Police Department (CPD) under Department of Justice (DOJ) review, the New York Police Department (NYPD) under federal court supervision, and the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) under DOJ consent decree. In all three studies, a significant and sustained reduction in arrest and stop activity occurred based on the actions of their officers. These declines commenced as the reform process went forward in their agencies. An evaluation was then made of the specific mandated reforms each agency was subject to, and a comparison was made to the specific recommendations, action items, and principles in the Final Report and Guiding Principles. This analysis showed that the mandated reforms were very similar to and, in many respects, mirrored those in the Final Report and the Guiding Principles. It was also shown that the mandated reforms placed enhanced scrutiny on police officers and additional burdens on them in areas such as investigative stops and the use of force. These agencies experienced sustained decreases in the level of proactive or self-initiated officer activity during this reform process. The extent of police disengagement or de-policing attributed to the mandated reforms is difficult to quantify since many other factors were present, but this work concluded that in the context of these case studies, the available research, and officer surveys, a correlation in fact does exist between the reforms and the decrease in officer activity.

As law enforcement agencies go forward in the implementation of the recommendations in the Final Report and Guiding Principles, they may experience or should anticipate some level of police disengagement. The level depends on many factors unique to both the agency and the involved community. However, measures can be taken by law enforcement executives to mitigate this disengagement or de-policing, and they are included as recommendations in this thesis. These recommendations include insuring organizational justice within agencies, having an objective process free of political agendas, having officer representation throughout the reform process, and collaborating with a well-informed community in reform implementation.

[1] President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2015), 1, https://

[2] Police Executive Research Forum Critical Issues in Policing Series, Guiding Principles on Use of Force (Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum, 2016), 29, http://www.policeforum.org/

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