US needs its own version of Britain's policing watchdog to deal with Ferguson-type incidents, White House to be told

Cambridge professor of criminology will say that US States should consider adopting British policing structures

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American policing should take its lead from Britain and set up its own version of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) if it is to win back public trust after incidents such as the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, a White House committee will be told.

Lawrence Sherman, a professor of criminology at Cambridge University, will say that US States should consider adopting British policing structures dating back to 1856 to prevent irreparably damaging public faith in US police officers.

The Director of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology will call for measures including a chief inspector of constabulary, an independent watchdog akin to the IPCC and larger minimum staffing sizes for police forces.

The American people have “the first opportunity in a generation” to rethink fundamental approaches to policing in the US, he will say, adding that English and Welsh system is the “best… we have for the 21st century”.

Mr Sherman, who was born in New York state, will be testifying in front of a committee charged with finding ways to improve trust after last year’s deadly police-related shooting incidents enflamed tensions between officers and local communities.

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The IPCC in the UK carries out its own investigations into less than 1 per cent of all complaints

In July, black New York City resident Eric Garner died after he was put into a chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo. In August, Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot black teenager Michael Brown during an altercation. Both officers were white.

Grand juries decided not to indict either officer, setting off large protests in cities across the country and galvanised critics of the treatment by police and the American criminal justice system of blacks and other minority groups.

It prompted President Obama to launch the so-called “Task Force on 21st Century Policing”, charged with interviewing police and community leaders across the country.

Testifying in Washington today, Mr Sherman will say: “Few if any nations have achieved more public safety with less police use of force or deadly force than England and Wales. American policing in the 21st century has achieved enough to look across the world and consider some other systems might yield better results. The English system has produced by far the best results.” 

 

In 2013, at least 461 people were killed by US police in ‘justifiable’ homicides according to official FBI reports, although Mr Sherman will argue that estimates from news media reports would suggest that number was over 1,000. In the same year, the number of people in England and Wales killed by police was zero.

But his argument is likely to encounter criticism that comparisons of the two countries are effectively pointless not just by scale but because of the gun laws in the US, which would automatically intensify encounters between officers and members of the public. Mr Sherman is expected to depict a picture of London where he will argue that in 2012, police sent authorised firearms officers to 2,451 incidents, including 634 direct threats to life, and seized 416 firearms.

“The reason London’s police killed no one in these events is the result of an infrastructure of institutions and policies that is completely lacking in US policing,” he will say. He is expected advocate sweeping changes to US policing systems on three levels: federal, state and local – all based on UK policing models.

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Protesters demanding justice for Eric Garner, following his death at the hands of a New York police officer (Getty)

Each state should also establish its own version of the IPCC to investigate complaints against officers or agencies, Mr Sherman will argue. Such bodies should have even greater power than its British counterpart, and would be able to dismiss a police officer from the profession on grounds of an ethical breach, even without prosecution or conviction of a crime.  

Other recommendations will include a Presidential executive order requiring all federal law enforcement agencies to sign up to a British-style proportionality standard for the use of deadly force. “This standard would not replace statutory or case law, but hold in situations where there is a clear risk that deadly force might become necessary, but would be disproportionally severe in relation to the reason for engagement.”

Mr Sherman will argue that no recommendations will completely eradicate the controversies over policing a free society, and there are also deep transatlantic cultural differences. But recent events in the US over the past year, and the public outrage that has ensued, run the risk of irreparably damaging public trust in US policing institutions. 

“As both a criminologist and a US citizen, it is clear to me that fundamental changes in our structures of policing are needed – so the question is, what changes to try?,” he will say. “In terms of policing with public safety, the English system is the best bet we have for the 21st century.”

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