51 U. Mich. J. L. Reform Caveat
Police reform scholarship tends to emphasize the bureaucratic nature of problems in policing, and, in turn, proposes administrative solutions, such as providing more training or critiquing specific language in a manual. This comment argues that instead of viewing policing problems as at their core administrative, we should be willing to view them, at least in part, as moral failings warranting ethical solutions. This perspective allows research on police reform to draw from a much larger corpus of existing ethical writings. This paper applies ethical theory to police reform in the specific context of U.S. v. Warren, arguing that the success of the reforms implemented in the Warren Police Department is due in large part to the department’s use of Aristotle’s theory of “ethical modeling”: ethics is best taught by providing people with moral models whose behavior they can emulate. Other police departments can apply Aristotelian ethical theory by providing positive models from which officers can learn proper policing practices. This can be accomplished in several ways, such as expanding the use of mentoring programs, using more hypothetical role-playing in training, and publicizing stories of officers who properly de-escalated tense situations.
Under the authority provided by 42 U.S.C. § 14141, the Department of Justice (DOJ) can file a lawsuit against a local police department for a “pattern or practice of conduct . . . that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” The DOJ filed a claim against the Warren Police Department (WPD) in 2012 using this statute. While the Technical Assistance Letter that the DOJ issued as a result of its investigation was largely ineffective in facilitating reform, the Settlement Agreement which the lawsuit produced led to several reforms in the following years, most of which are largely regarded as successful. This paper examines U.S. v. Warren to identify why the Settlement Agreement reforms in Warren were so successful and how those factors can be used in the future to create meaningful reform in other police departments.
I argue that the predominant factor that led to success in Warren was the implementation of the Aristotelian idea that people learn ethical behavior by watching role models; the WPD implemented this idea by providing positive models of constitutional policing for officers to emulate. This modeling took several forms, such as the examples set by the leaders in the police department and the use of a mentorship program to train officers. This paper examines the Aristotelian principles in context. Part I focuses on the specific situation in Warren, Ohio, including the incidents that led to the investigation, the provisions of the Technical Assistance Letter and the Settlement Agreement, and the current state of compliance. Part II situates the practical discussion of the use of positive models within a wider ethical framework, arguing that one should view police reform at least in part as an ethical issue and thus should draw from ethical concepts when considering how to successfully implement police reform. Part III concludes by examining how the use of positive models can be used in other police reforms going forward.