Moving from Policies to Performance: Complexities and Evidence

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Police use of violence against civilians is one of the most significant sociolegal problems of our time. The rule of law is rendered meaningless if civilians cannot trust the police to respect their rights. For many, especially poor people and members of minority communities, the threat of violence at the hands of police is almost as significant as concern about ordinary crime. In recent years, the public’s attention has become increasingly focused on police killings of civilians in the United States and around the world. To address this issue, countries across the globe have passed statutes, regulations, and voluntary codes of conduct that regulate when law enforcement agents are permitted to use violence. But those policies are meaningless of the police do not follow them.
In an important new article, Claudia Flores and her co-authors have analyzed a sample of laws and policies regarding police use of lethal force to assess whether they comport with relevant international human rights standards. Flores and her team found that most of the policies studied were inadequate on one or more important dimensions. The Flores study is a significant step forward in the struggle to prohibit the abuse of civilians at the hands of law enforcement. Such policies are the foundation of reasonable limits on police violence. Without adequate policies, civilians—especially the poor and members of disfavored minority groups—are left to rely on little more than hope to ensure that police will not abuse them. But as the authors acknowledge, policies are not themselves sufficient to ensure law enforcement agents respect the rights of all citizens. In this short article, I describe how to move from policies to praxis. Even if all states took the authors’ advice and modified their policies to comply with international human rights standards, civilians would still need to rely on law enforcement agents to actually follow those rules.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-350
JournalGeorgia Journal of International and Comparative Law
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


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