Even after questionable killings of young black men in Cleveland, Ohio, Ferguson, Mo. and most recently, Houston, Texas, states have done little to establish uniform standards of conduct guiding police interaction with youth. That's according to a new national report that was released this week by Cambridge-based Strategies for Youth. States lacking standards include Massachusetts.
The release of the report titled “Where Is The State? Creating and Implementing State Standards for Law Enforcement Interactions With Youth” comes the same week that the city of Cleveland announced the firing of Timothy Loehmann, the police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in November 2014. But his firing was the result of failing to disclose information on his application for the job, not the killing of an African-American boy who was playing with a toy gun. Strategies for Youth recommends that states require law enforcement to track racial and ethnic disparities in their encounters with young people to reduce possibilities for bias.
Strategies for Youth, which trains police in how to interact with young people, conducted a state-by-state survey of standards — including how to de-escalate potentially violent situations — and found that state government in all but five states play no role in setting standards. The five states with some degree of oversight are New Jersey, Virginia, Florida, Connecticut and Maryland. California has what Lisa Thurau, president of Strategies for Youth, says are “very, very limited state-wide governance." Thurau says California and 44 other states urgently require such standards to promote police accountability.
“We can’t put officers in these situations and not support them with policies by which they can anticipate how their own behavior is going to be evaluated.”
Thurau says Massachusetts also lacks standards for policing, which becomes even more urgent, she suggests, considering a major policy shift at the U.S. Department of Justice.
Click on the audio player above to hear more from Lisa Thurau.
“The current Attorney General is rolling back the federal oversight role," she said. "It’s time for states to step up and establish standards.”
State-wide standards are common, for example, when dealing with foster care, adoptions, department of youth services and other concerns. But Strategies For Youth says, with few exceptions, state governments do not have agency standards relative to police and youth encounters, some which have been fatal. There was the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, and the shooting death of DJ Henry of Easton in a New York suburb in 2010. Thurau says state-wide standards are critical, especially in what are clearly race-related conflicts between youth and police.
When you see huge variations in treatment for a lack of state oversight, you give rise to the perception that there’s something else at play, be it race, be it class," Thurau said.