JIM SHARPE

If only there was a 911 that just calls the good cops

Jun 4, 2020, 1:00 PM
A demonstrator makes a heart sign while protesting after curfew Sunday, May 31, 2020, in Minneapoli...

A demonstrator makes a heart sign while protesting after curfew Sunday, May 31, 2020, in Minneapolis.Protests continued following the death of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

It seems like an overly simple question for what must be a highly complicated, multipronged, very uncomfortable answer — but here goes: What needs to be changed?

I don’t ask this question hoping the answer will shut up the protesters because I don’t want the protesters to be quiet until we fully hear what they’re saying.

But I also know that 1,000 protesters will give 1,000 varied answers to that question — so I’m going to start with one voice: Sherrilyn Ifill.

In an article she wrote for Slate.com, Ifill, the head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, lays out some very actionable answers to the question of “what needs to be changed?”

While I don’t agree with everything she proposes, what’s very encouraging to me is that the majority of her suggestions are suggestions the majority of us can agree upon — so let’s start there.


Ms. Ifill wants a national database of police officers fired for misconduct and bar those bad cops from future employment in any law enforcement agency.

For those who don’t think the federal government should be deciding whom local departments can hire, they should reference her suggestion of withholding federal funds from local law enforcement agencies that hire bad cops or have suspicious levels of in-custody deaths.

She’d like to change police union contracts that shield officers from accountability for their misconduct and remove protections for officers who witness misconduct by their fellow officers and do nothing to stop it. 

Cops who don’t act to protect the lives of citizens from out-of-control officers also don’t deserve to wear a badge.

And Sherrilyn Ifill, a lawyer, would like to reform the legal concept of “qualified immunity.” That’s a legal defense that shields government officials from the consequences of their reasonable acts. People from across the political spectrum agree, however, that this immunity is too often extended to police officers who engage in unreasonable acts of violence.

But one action that Ms. Ifill would like to see taken is going to get a negative reaction. It’s what hundreds of people in downtown Phoenix were demanding Wednesday: a drastic reduction in police funding. 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says he wants to cut $150 million from his police department’s budget.

We might not be talking those same numbers here but, for years, there’s been talk of millions of dollars being cut from Arizona’s largest police department.

Ms. Ifill doesn’t suggest a drastic reduction in police funding because she doesn’t believe in public safety but because she has a vision of public safety that prioritizes social services, youth development, mental health, reentry support and what she calls meaningful provisions for homeless individuals. 

She says that most public safety issues and community conflicts don’t require the intervention of an armed officer. 

I wish we didn’t need armed officers and if we funded all the things that Ms. Ifill wants, maybe we could achieve a Utopian society where cops aren’t needed.

But in the meantime, I, like most Americans, want someone to show up when I call 911.

However, if we take her first (agreed-upon) suggestions to heart, maybe we can at least get to a Utopian-enough society where the cop who shows up is much more likely to be a good cop. 

Jim Sharpe

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If only there was a 911 that just calls the good cops