Policing 2.0: Public safety requires a reimagined landscape

If police forces are going to meet the needs of the communities they serve, they must collaborate and create a plan guided by evidence and governed by equity


By Chief Carmen Best 

2020's racial unrest, from the litany of Black deaths and allegations of police misconduct, most notably the killing of George Floyd by a now-convicted Minneapolis police officer, brought loud outcries for police reform.

As shared in my book, as a Black woman and mother, I was outraged and saddened by the brutal and senseless death of Floyd. At the same time, as a police chief, I was infuriated by the unlawful actions and blatant disregard for life shown by a fellow officer.

Carmen Best (retired) served as the Chief of Police with the Seattle Police Department (SPD) where she served for 28 years, beginning as an entry-level patrol officer and later becoming the first African American woman to be named chief, managing approximately 2,000 sworn and civilian employees before retiring in 2020.
Carmen Best (retired) served as the Chief of Police with the Seattle Police Department (SPD) where she served for 28 years, beginning as an entry-level patrol officer and later becoming the first African American woman to be named chief, managing approximately 2,000 sworn and civilian employees before retiring in 2020. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

There was a flurry of Black Lives Matter protests around the nation demanding new accountability measures in policing and law enforcement. However, Congressional bipartisan negotiations around the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 failed in the Senate.

Some people chant the slogan “defund the police” thinking that a smaller police force equates to better policing or increased budgets for alternative community programs. They are wrong. Those chants mostly serve to demoralize the very men and women who are charged with providing help and service to the public. Reducing budgets and officers makes police departments unable to support their mission to protect and serve.

However, the reality today shows a desire to increase police budgets. A Pew Research Center report shows the number of adults who say spending on policing in their area should be increased now stands at 47%, up from 31% in June 2020. Similarly, the number of Black adults who say police spending in their area should be decreased went from 42% to 23% since 2020.

So where do we go from here?

Law enforcement cannot ignore the level of mistrust that Black America has toward a force that does not seem to want to police itself. In the same study, most Black Americans, unlike their white counterparts, view cops unfavorably and disapprove of how police do their jobs. Seventy-two percent of white people say most officers can be trusted; a mere 32% of Black people concur.

We cannot effectively maintain law and order when civil unrest comes about due to the level of distrust from a significant portion of the population. As a former police chief, I believe we must re-invent a new way of policing.


Listen to Chief Best speak with Jim Dudley in this episode of Policing Matters:


To truly re-envision policing, law enforcement must do more than advise. They must lead. It is necessary to create forums to actively seek input from and collaborate with the community. They should create convenient online tools for direct outreach to the public.

Often, police officers are asked to play too many roles. They have become the default safety net for other programs necessary for community safety. Candid conversations and assessments are necessary to determine which responsibilities can be passed to other agencies or completely turned over to the community.

The mission of police departments should be to reflect humanization not criminalization. The top priority should be to build community safety, trust and legitimacy.

Authentic engagement with a force that mirrors the many faces of the public it serves is critical to achieving the desired outcome of a better and stronger police force. Diverse thoughts and ideas can only come from a diverse population. We must seek input from the community and integrate ideas shared in the earnest hopes of making all our lives safer.

Crime and policing were the centerpieces of the November elections. New York chose a former department captain and an initiative to replace the police departments was rejected by Minneapolis voters. Even in my hometown of Seattle we selected a candidate who pledges to create a reformed force. And the mayor-elect of Atlanta brings a vision for a modern and diverse police force trained to respond with a nuanced approach.

The road ahead is going to be hard. If police forces are going to successfully meet the needs of the communities they serve, they must collaborate and create a plan guided by evidence and governed by equity.

I don’t shy away from hard work. There is much work to be done to transform a criminal justice system that supports the needs of all its constituents. None of us can afford complacency or an unwillingness to seek changes with the stakes as high as they are. Law enforcement must use rules that apply equally and fairly to the community regardless of race or gender.

I lean on these words spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "The time is always right to do what is right." We all have to work to ensure police officers do what is right and just for all in the communities they have the privilege of protecting and serving.


About the author

Carmen Best (retired) served as the Chief of Police with the Seattle Police Department (SPD) where she served for 28 years, beginning as an entry-level patrol officer and later becoming the first African American woman to be named chief, managing approximately 2,000 sworn and civilian employees before retiring in 2020. Prior to becoming Chief of Police, she served as Deputy Chief, overseeing the Patrol Operations, Investigations, and Special Operations Bureaus, as well as the Community Outreach section. Among her many accomplishments as Chief of Police was her creation of the Collaborative Police Bureau, a segment of the SPD encouraging community partnerships and engagement. As Chief of Police, she and the SPD were the nation’s immediate responders to implement first responder safety protocols and practices in response to COVID-19. Best also facilitated record-breaking diversity hiring and recruitment within the department.

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