A 3-point plan to help reduce police brutality and make cops better: OPINION

Emphasis has to be placed on training officers to work with their communities.

The definition of "good cop" has changed.

Instead of being someone who makes a lot of arrests, a good cop is one who wants to make the community they serve safer and better for the people who live there. It is not someone who aspires to "kick ass and take names," as the expression goes.

Hiring and retaining cops who can easily discern a situation that can be de-escalated from one that requires force will require major changes to police departments. It will also require taking on the law enforcement belief that no one understands the challenges they face.

Testing to hire and retain the right cops

First, departments should test applicants for bias.

Second, written, video and in-person tests should be used to determine the level of threat that triggers an applicant's aggression.

Third, applicants should be assessed for empathy, impulse control, paranoia and independent thinking.

Departments in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. have begun to focus on interpersonal skills that help officers develop empathy and impulse control but it is not clear that they are using any specific test to assess these traits in applicants or veteran officers.

To make sure nothing was missed in testing, background investigations can help surface any risk an applicant presents that may not be revealed by testing.

Officers necessarily change after time on the streets, and not all cope well with the stresses of police work. The changes they undergo can be highly negative and create risks to communities and departments that were not present at the beginning of their tenures.

For example, the Minnesota police officer accused of killing George Floyd, Derek Chauvin, was on the beat for 19 years.

Because changes will happen, officers need to be tested regularly in a way that encourages them to provide candid answers and helps them understand biases they may have developed against the community they serve.

Routine testing of officers can also serve to alert departments to cops who may have changed in ways that might now threaten the community.

Training officers to serve their communities

Police academy training must go beyond firearms and defensive tactics. Instead, it should emphasize communication skills and methods for recognizing and de-escalating potentially violent situations. Some academies do teach officers how to de-escalate confrontation, but not to the extent necessary and not as often as they should after the officer is sworn.

A critical part of this training is to teach officers how to avoid escalating encounters in the first place.

Teaching recruits how to develop relationships with the community will help them solve crime and create a safer environment for them to patrol.

Experienced officers also need to be subject to regular training.

Most departments require officers to reassess firearms proficiency and administer tests for firearms skills. However, police departments fail to challenge police officers to constantly develop new skills to discern non-threatening situations, and to de-escalate situations that could lead to violence.

Training programs will have to address the widely held police officers' view that no outsider understands their daily challenges, and no outsider has any credibility. Training will work if police departments identify officers with empathy and de-escalation skills and enlist those officers to serve as peer trainers.


Holding officers accountable for all unnecessary uses of force will require taking on increasingly powerful police unions.

Police unions carry considerable political authority in most jurisdictions and have established collective bargaining agreements in some cases that serve to protect violent officers as much, if not more than good cops.

Police departments need to have the discretion to transfer, demote, suspend, and, in some instances, terminate officers who have ceased to serve their communities.

State and federal criminal codes should include charges for excessive police force and charges for officers who stand by and watch the incident unfold. Minnesota's law, for instance, requiring other officers to intervene if a colleague is using excessive force was never ratified.

Making sure that police unions' power does not dictate departments' policies will require fortitude on the part of both political parties.

At present, police officers are incentivized to fight for their jobs, even when they are accused of the most serious and well-documented acts of violence.

The reason for this is money.

Most police officers are permitted to retire at a relatively early age and to receive a significant pension, creating a situation sometimes called "the golden handcuffs."

This early retirement model may need to be reconsidered if it works against efforts to reform police departments.

These reforms should not seek only to punish bad cops, but instead to reward good ones. Consequences must also include rewards and incentives to officers who de-escalate violent confrontations. Like any other program of reform, good cops should be encouraged to rise in the ranks, selected to be training officers, and recognized as models by their departments.

Challenges for outside reformers

In a number of cases, police reforms have been drafted by people who have not faced the same challenges as cops on the beat. This is why reformers are often viewed as outsiders.

Police departments found to have systemic abuses have been placed under receivership, meaning they are basically on probation and under the scrutiny of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Police officials in departments under receivership have told me that they are biding their time until these authorities are gone.

The implication is that police departments will go back to business as usual when the receivers leave, and the scrutiny of their department ends.

But receivership is not a long-term solution to the problem.

Absent clear legislation that can take funding from police departments for non-compliance, reforms cannot happen.

Brad Garrett, a retired FBI profiler and hostage negotiator, is an ABC News contributor. Garrett spent most of his career investigating homicides and sexual assaults in the U.S. and internationally. Opinions expressed in this story do not necessarily reflect those of ABC News and its parent company, Disney.