APOA - Op Ed Ryan Meyer

Make Police Chiefs Accountable to Voters

With the current climate of civil unrest across America and the demand of mass demonstrators for the defunding of police departments, or in the instance of the city of Minneapolis, the outright dismantling of the police department, let’s consider a different perspective in regards to police reform. How about the direct election of the chief of police for all local police municipalities throughout the country? At first glance, this may appear as a pie in the sky concept, but is it really? We already hold elections for our county sheriffs across the nation and voters get to decide the individuals who run these departments based on their campaign and track records. 

Why not attempt to take a different approach and have the chief of police of each department run for elected office just as we have the mayor, city council, and other such leaders in these municipalities across the country? Oftentimes, big cities in America have a form of dissociative identity disorder in which on the one hand, they have a desire for progressive liberal policies, while at the same time having the desire for a strong sense of community safety by having a well-run law enforcement department. By having the chief of police be directly elected by the citizens, the cities are able to satisfy both desires by letting the city have both the beautification and eco-friendly green spaces they want from the mayor and city council as well as the ability to have a tough on crime leader at the head of the police department. 

By letting the chief of police be elected by the people, they are able to determine the level and use of force needed to keep the community safe from repeat offenders. The chief will answer to the public alone and the public will be able to give their approval or disapproval of the department’s performance by casting a ballot in the same way that they vote for whom they want to lead their city through various other positions. Ultimately, voters will hold the chief of police accountable based upon how well they are doing to keep the community safe. The chief will be able to create a more community approach and build goodwill with the citizenry by having an officer learn his beat and thus giving a greater sense of the neighborhood and sense of belonging as a whole while at the same time being able to keep the community safe.

One of the biggest obstacles to having a police chief elected is fact that politicians do not like to give up power. If a mayor or city council has the power to hire and fire the police chiefs, it will most likely not want to five up that power. It is very hard to take power away from government officials when they have that power. The other big obstacle to having elected police chiefs is police oversight boards. Earlier this year, the Oakland Police oversight board fired its police chief without cause. Boards like Oaklands have the power and believe that they are responsible for helping the community. These boards might also not want to give up power that they have in firing and hiring police chiefs.

Electing Police chiefs is a novel idea with the potential to make policing better for the community. The biggest obstacles to having an elected police chief are government officials and police oversight boards. The way to start this movement is by starting with grassroot voter initiatives. By starting these types of movements, people can demand government action and change the rules to have the voters of a city elect the police chief. 

Some major cities have been taking steps to defund their police departments. This is a vast knee jerk reaction to events that have been unanimously agreed on as an example of bad policing. Two of the leading states on this movement are New York  and California. These two states are starting to set policies in motion to start defunding the police. Read more here.

American Police Officers Alliance