President Donald Trump’s appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions has led people to speculate about the fate of recent police reform efforts.
Early into his tenure, Sessions said he intended to “pull back on” the Justice Department’s investigations of police department abuses, saying they diminish effectiveness.
Americans have mobilized extensively in the past three years against police brutality, militarization and corruption through the Black Lives Matter and related movements. Government officials at the federal level have responded to these demands by creating specialized task forces to recommend best practices, and investigating troubled police departments and enforcing reforms. Courts have also worked to roll back unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policies, while city governments have created independent oversight agencies and enacted robust community policing programs.
But will it stick?
My research on police reform in Latin America shows that such reforms are highly vulnerable to political reversals. These cases reveal how they can be quickly rolled back before they can take hold and demonstrate results.
Understanding the politics of police reform in Latin America may be informative for those who hope for changes in policing in the U.S.
Police reform and politics
Leaders in Colombia and Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, overhauled their police institutions in 1993 and 1998, respectively. These reforms were a response to rising crime rates, as well as pervasive police violence, corruption and ineffectiveness in fighting crime.
Comprehensive police reform laws were crafted through broad political consensus. Lawmakers in the Colombian congress and the Buenos Aires provincial legislature enacted sweeping legislation to demilitarize, decentralize and professionalize Colombia’s National Police and the Police of Buenos Aires Province. The reforms also improved recruitment standards and training, strengthened oversight agencies and created formal spaces for…