In interviews, the leaders of the African American mayors’ group said they want to build on the momentum of the police reform movement ignited by the death of George Floyd — and they do not favor “defunding the police.”
“We don’t want to lose the focus of this moment,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, the second vice chair of the mayors’ association. “We don’t have a lot of time. People will be asking, ‘What have you done?’ ”
In Houston, Turner said he immediately took a look at police policies and signed an executive order banning the use of chokeholds, requiring verbal warnings before using deadly force when practical, and requiring officers to intervene if they see another officer doing something wrong. He also appointed a citizen task force — “no elected officials,” Turner said — to look at issues such as releasing body camera footage, diverting people in crisis from jail and “how to do a reform process without sacrificing public safety.”
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, also the head of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said he had reviewed the Peace Pact and that “Police chiefs commend the efforts and support a comprehensive approach to enacting police and societal reform.”
“We needed to come up with a national standard for community policing to go forward,” said McKinley Price, the mayor of Newport News, Va., and president of the black mayors’ group. “We think it’s a good blueprint for all of our members to start a discussion.”
Price added, “We do not call for abolishing or defunding police departments. Rather, encouraging cities to adopt budgets that are going to reflect their own values. How they can do things differently, but definitely not ‘defunding.’ ”
Every city is different, Turner noted. “In Houston, we need more police officers, not less,” he said. The fourth-largest city in the United States has far fewer officers than New York or Chicago with far more area to cover, Turner said. Statistics show Houston has about 23 officers per 10,000 population, while New York and Chicago have more than 40 officers per 10,000. Turner’s most recent budget actually increased police funding by 2 percent.
“We must respond as a city as a whole, not just the city government,” Turner said. He has been urging Houston-based corporations, as well as local nonprofit groups and endowments, to “step up to the plate now and invest in communities that have been ignored for decades. It requires a holistic response from these Fortune 500 companies, these banks who have done very well."
The Peace Pact has specific recommendations that mayors can adopt immediately, such as calling on Congress to pass the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” which bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants, limits the use of military equipment by police, provides for more training and accreditation of police, and calls for increased police accountability. The bill has already passed the House.
The pact also calls on mayors to revisit collective bargaining agreements and police bills of rights as well as local police policies on use of force, the “duty to intervene” during inappropriate acts and increased accountability. Establishing websites for citizens to report police misconduct and for police to disclose the results of those complaints are part of the pact’s transparency proposals.
“I think the cities that take the Peace Pact seriously,” said Steve Benjamin, the mayor of Columbia, S.C., and former president of the AAMA, "will be very different cities five to 10 years from now. “Cities that take it seriously will attract the best and brightest people who believe in justice and inclusion.”
The mayors said they favored finding ways to improve responses to mental-health situations, particularly with professionals who aren’t police officers, and that cities currently demand too much of their street cops to also deal with social issues such as homelessness and drug addiction. In suburban Arlington County, Va., police officers have administered the drug Narcan to save nine lives from fatal overdose since April.
“I guarantee you,” Benjamin said, “the answer to many of these questions is to never send in a stranger with a gun. We over-rely on police officers to do so many things they should not be doing.”
Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, said the pact had solid proposals on police accountability. “I would put a very high emphasis on making the police disciplinary process more transparent,” Aborn said. “It sends a significant message to the community, by the police, that complaints are being taken seriously."
Aborn, who consults with big city police departments around the country, also suggested an addition to the emphasis on the “duty to intervene” for officers who see another officer violating laws or policies. He said front-line leaders on the streets, the supervising sergeants and lieutenants of patrol officers, “are setting the values of the police officers. I think there needs to be a huge amount of emphasis on better training of front-line supervisors, there has to be absolute accountability on their duty to intervene, and it has to be enforced.”
The mayors’ full proposal is here.