Executive Summary

The Principles of Policing and Recommendations to Achieve Them

On June 30, 2020, we issued a Statement of Principles for reform. The Principles we adopted build upon the core modern policing principles first articulated in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel to address the concerns that the people of London had about standing up a police force in their community.[1]  Peel’s Principles stand for the ideas that the police exist to prevent crime and that the legitimacy of the police to keep the public safe derives from public consent and trust. We have refreshed Peel’s Principles here and used them to frame our recommendations so that our American cities can meet this moment.

There is widespread consensus about what needs to be done to reform policing in America. In issuing this Report, we build on previous efforts to address police reform, including the May 2015 report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing,[2] our own reports on police-community relations in 2015 and 2016,[3] and years of research and reports from the Police Executive Research Forum, including the Guiding Principles on Use of Force.[4]

What follows is a summary of our recommendations—organized around the Principles of policing that the Conference has already adopted—to give our cities a blueprint for the implementation of real and lasting change. These recommendations are discussed in greater detail in the sections that follow.

Trust and Legitimacy

Animating all of our recommendations is the fundamental principle of Trust and Legitimacy: that the public must have a reason to trust the police, as public approval and acceptance are the basis of effective policing. The police serve the public interest and must earn public trust and legitimacy by acting as faithful guardians of the community who work to prevent crime and promote safety.

Redefining the Role of Local Police and Public Safety

We ask police officers to protect our communities from crime and violence and to promote public safety. They play an essential role in our cities. But we are often asking police to be first responders on every scene. Although our police play a vital role, they are not always the best response. They should not be the only public response to every need in our communities. Mental health, homelessness, and domestic violence are just a few examples of challenges for which we need to rethink our response.

We make the following recommendations:

  1. We must continue to fund policing. But we must do so strategically, providing funding in the areas of core policing, and consider our allocations to other social services that complement the police’s public safety mission.
  2. Cities should analyze all of the available data, including their residents’ requests for help, to determine what their needs are and which resources should be deployed to best respond.
  3. Understanding the social services that communities need most, mayors should assess their city budgets, including those for the police department, and determine how to best allocate funding to build the requisite resources.
  4. Cities should advocate at the state and national levels, as well, for adequate funding for personnel trained and equipped to handle social services that are currently police officers’ responsibility.

Sanctity of Life

At the core of a police officer’s responsibilities is the duty to protect human life and physical safety. Department policies, training, operations, and priorities must start from that premise.

To ground that principle in our approach to policing, we recommend:

    1. Departments should have a use-of-force policy that provides officers will:
      • Use only the minimal amount of force necessary to respond, if any force is necessary at all;
      • Continually reassess the situation to calibrate the appropriate response;
      • Not use chokeholds, strangleholds, or any other carotid restraints, unless deadly force is necessary;
      • Not shoot at or from moving vehicles, except when under extreme, life-threatening circumstances that are not avoidable; and
      • Not use deadly force against a fleeing individual, unless the individual poses an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury to another person.
    2. Departments should have a clearly stated de-escalation policy.
    3. Departments should establish a duty to intervene when a fellow officer is using excessive force or otherwise contravening law or department policy. Departments should train on peer intervention, recognize officers who do intervene, and protect them from retaliation.
    4. Departments should offer first aid training to officers and require officers to provide first aid, commensurate with that training, following the use of force, as appropriate.
    5. Departments should require officers to report all uses of force.
    6. Departments should train officers on crisis intervention.

Equality and Due Process

Every person is entitled to equal treatment, respect for his or her constitutional rights, and due process of law, regardless of race, religion, national origin, immigration status, age, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or other status. The Conference recognizes that this has not always been the case. The history of racism in America, in many places and especially our communities of color, has been a barrier to effective and long-lasting police-community relations. This has negatively affected public perceptions of the fairness and legitimacy of law enforcement and undermined the crime-fighting mission of police by sowing distrust and discouraging members of the community from engaging and cooperating with the police.

To address actual or potential bias in policing and ensure that all people are treated fairly and equally, we recommend:

  1. Departments should have policies and training curricula for recruits, veteran officers, and supervisors that make clear that police interactions with individuals should be impartial and free from bias.
  2. Departments should assess their records of stops, searches, and arrests to determine whether there are disparities in enforcement.
  3. Departments should consider assigning liaison officers to communities to provide a dedicated channel for communications between police and residents.
  4. Departments should have policies and infrastructure to investigate all allegations of bias; prohibit retaliation for filing a bias compliant; and hold officers and supervisors accountable, as appropriate.
  5. Departments should consider whether, based on the size of the departments and makeup of their community, it would be beneficial to assign a chief diversity officer to focus on advancing the department’s diversity and inclusion efforts.
  6. Departments should have recruitment and outreach plans and goals so that departments have officers who are part of the community and reflect the diversity of the community they are sworn to protect.
  7. Departments should consider leadership in promoting diversity as a factor in promotion decisions.


Respectful engagement with the community is critical both in everyday policing and in responding to mass gatherings.

Relationships Between Law Enforcement and Members of the Community

Fostering community trust begins with the individual officer on the street. Police officers should create ties with residents in the communities they serve and treat them with respect. This relationship-building should begin as soon as officers are assigned to a new district with an orientation period allowing officers to introduce themselves to community members. Building positive relationships with residents helps build a community’s trust which, in turn, helps to improve public safety.

With an eye toward building lasting, positive relationships between the police and the communities they serve, we recommend:

  1. Departments should work with community leaders, including leaders of schools, unions, community centers, and religious groups, to identify common goals and the challenges their communities are facing.
  2. Departments should consider Resident Officer Programs or other incentives for officers to live in the communities they serve.
  3. Departments should have community policing programs, appropriate to the particular circumstances of the community, such as youth engagement, immigration and refugee outreach, and homelessness programs.
  4. Departments should train officers on community-specific cultural literacy, the history of policing, and procedural justice.
  5. Departments should consider requiring officers and supervisors to regularly participate in community service efforts.

Addressing Protests

When members of a community exercise their right to be heard on important social and political issues, the police should protect their constitutional right to do so and ensure those exercising their rights remain safe from harm. It is imperative that officers understand, value, and defend our constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and that they are trained to recognize the difference between peaceful protest and civil unrest. Public and officer safety are important concerns that must also be addressed in these situations.

We make the following recommendations for protecting First Amendment rights and policing mass gatherings:

  1. Departments should provide training on the First Amendment to officers and supervisors, explaining the broad parameters of protected speech and providing scenario-based training.
  2. Departments should, ahead of any mass gatherings, emphasize the importance of de-escalation and open communication, including developing relationships with advocacy groups and protest leaders where possible.
  3. Departments should have designated command staff and officers who are trained to respond to mass gatherings, including incident command training.
  4. Departments should have policies to minimize the use of provocative and unnecessarily aggressive tactics and equipment, such as riot gear and armored vehicles.
  5. Departments should plan for the possibility that peaceful protests may turn into unlawful assemblies, including by having crowd management plans for increasing the level of response if necessary; instructing officers to remove individuals who are committing wrongful acts, contemporaneously documenting their alleged conduct, and when possible, allowing others to continue to peacefully demonstrate; and planning for the possibility of mass arrests.
  6. A department that enters into a mutual aid agreement to manage a particularly large or complex gathering should have guidelines for those assisting and should never relinquish primary control of an incident. A department should set the policies that will be followed, including as to incident response and when force may be used.

Transparency and Accountability

Superb policies are of little use if they are not enforced. Public trust rests, in large part, on whether the public sees that their public servants are acting in accordance with those policies and are held accountable when they do not.

Through elections, the public holds mayors, and by extension police chiefs they select, accountable for the conduct of those who serve in police departments. But the chiefs’ authority to hold officers accountable is frequently undermined by unnecessary procedural obstacles imposed by collective bargaining agreements and state statutes. We should not complain when a reform-minded chief is unable to produce the results that we want if we do not remove these obstacles and provide that chief with authority to carry out that mission. Cities and police departments must adopt policies that strengthen transparency and accountability to better achieve the appropriate balance between the public’s interests and legitimate officer due process concerns.

Addressing these issues requires a comprehensive approach with attention to departmental policies, collective bargaining agreements, and state law.

Department Policies

Police departments should have policies that increase transparency and standards of accountability. Departments should also put their policies online and make them available to the public. With regard to specific policies and procedures to help departments achieve robust transparency and accountability, we recommend the following:

  1. Departments should assign final disciplinary authority to the police chief.
  2. Departments should have public complaint processes that make filing a complaint open to all.
  3. Departments should have policies on officer investigations that clearly define the procedures for carrying out the investigations and seeing them through to completion, even if an officer separates from the department.
  4. Departments should regularly release to the public, in accordance with relevant state laws, data on disciplinary actions and decisions, including those made by arbitrators.
  5. Departments should have policies that require supervisors to conduct ongoing reviews of stops, searches, arrests, and uses of force.
  6. Departments should require body-worn cameras and develop policies for the review, release, and preservation of footage.
  7. Departments should implement an early-intervention system to identify at-risk officers to help support their wellbeing.

Collective Bargaining and State Law

Collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with police unions often set the ground rules for officer investigations and disciplinary proceedings. Officers must have due process, but  CBAs often contain provisions that go far beyond necessary protections and impede a department’s ability to investigate misconduct allegations and, in a timely fashion, hold officers accountable. So too, some state law provisions hinder accountability by mandating procedures, similar to those in the CBAs, that impede investigations.

Cities should stop the practice of bargaining away management rights as a trade-off for raises sought by police unions. At the very least, CBAs must vest in the chiefs authority to hold officers accountable for following applicable law and policy.

To improve that alignment of responsibility and authority, we recommend:

  1. Cities should negotiate CBAs that have fair and efficient procedures for officer investigation and discipline.
  2. Cities should negotiate CBAs that require officer cooperation in investigations.
  3. Cities should vest authority for final disciplinary decisions in the leadership of the department.
  4. Cities should advocate for the reform of state laws that are inconsistent with these recommendations.

State Certification Boards

State-level officer certification provides a mechanism for ensuring that police officers meet appropriate standards of background qualification and conduct. The sanction of decertification can complement departmental discipline. To ensure effective state-level certification systems, we recommend:

  1. Establishing such systems in the few places where they do not exist;
  2. Requiring officer background checks to include checks for prior decertification;
  3. Authorizing decertification when an officer is terminated or receives serious discipline for acts that show a reckless disregard for public safety or involve dishonesty;
  4. Establishing state decertification databases and requiring reporting to national officer decertification databases; and
  5. Including civilians on certification boards.

The Path Forward

The release of this Report is not the last step in this process. The Conference commits to providing ongoing support and resources to mayors across the country. It will maintain a resource center of sample policies and best practices and will offer continuing advice and counsel to our members so they can implement these Recommendations.

[1]       Peel’s Principles of Policing are available at https://lawenforcementactionpartnership.org/peel-policing-principles/.

[2]       President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (2015), https://cops.usdoj.gov/RIC/Publications/cops-p311-pub.pdf.

[3]       U.S. Conference of Mayors, Strengthening Police-Community Relations in America’s Cities (2015); U.S. Conference of Mayors, Community Conversations and Other Efforts to Strengthen Police-Community Relations in 49 Cities (2016), http://www.usmayors.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/0810-policecommunity-report.pdf.

[4]       Police Executive Research Forum, Guiding Principles on Use of Force (2016), https://www.policeforum.org/assets/guidingprinciples1.pdf.