As protests continue across the U.S., the country is experiencing a racial reckoning. People are beginning to learn about the racism and police brutality that have rooted themselves in our criminal justice system and other long-standing institutions. One of the largest problems, perhaps, is the continued violence of police against citizens, particularly those who are Black.
U.S. police have shot and killed 1,005 people in the past year, as of Oct. 7.
There are many issues that must be tackled within the U.S.’s broken policing practices. Officers don’t attend the academy for a long period of time nor are they trained to peacefully deescalate tense situations. Some are even told to racially profile people when making arrests.
The homicide rate in America is about five per 100,000 people — only 62% of which lead to arrests. To realize how discouraging these numbers are, one must look no further than Norway, where about 0.5 per 100,000 people are murdered. Ninety-seven percent of the murders that do occur lead to arrests.
Put simply, Norway is a much safer place to live. Why?
It could be because of Norway’s strict gun laws, where people can only obtain a weapon after filing official documentation with the police department and taking extensive training related to the intended use of the gun.
It could also be because of the way Norway sends drug offenders to rehab instead of jail. The practice has proven effective in curtailing drug misuse when paired with other prevention and law enforcement strategies.
Or, it could be Norway’s safer policing system. According to Time magazine, there are three major distinctions between American and Norwegian police that could make all the difference.
Norway is one of 19 nations that police “by consent,” meaning that officers do their jobs with the consent of citizens rather than by threat of force.
“Countries with a philosophy of policing by consent … believe that police should not gain their power by instilling fear in the population but rather should gain legitimacy and authority by maintaining the respect and approval of the public,” Mélissa Godin wrote in Time.
Norway also has a better training program for its police. There, the profession is seen as elite, and in 2015, only 14% of people who applied to police schools were accepted. Those accepted must complete a three-year degree where they learn ethics, shadow other officers and write a thesis. Even after graduation, each officer must undergo 50 hours of operational training every year.
America, by contrast, trains its police officers for a mere 21 weeks — less than six months — in a bootcamp-style academy. Paul Hirschfield, a sociology professor at Rutgers University who specializes in policing, told Time that if U.S. officers were trained as thoroughly as they are in Norway, they’d rely less on the use and threat of deadly force.
Norway often sends medical experts and psychiatric specialists with its police officers when dealing with people who are mentally ill. The Washington Post found that in a six month period in 2015, 25% of Americans shot by police showed signs of mental illness.
America has recently begun to take after Norway in regard to this method. In Eugene, Oregon, mental health professionals respond to noncriminal emergency calls rather than the police. These professionals are better equipped to deescalate tense situations, and if it’s non-criminal, there’s no real need for police.
Minneapolis’s city council, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, voted June 26 to dismantle its police department, beginning what some may see as the long, arduous process of defunding the police in the U.S. Instead of a police department, the city will create a “department of community safety and violence prevention” and reallocate funds to social services for mental health, domestic violence and homelessness, among others.
The third thing that Norway does differently is that it enforces laws on police. In America, police are often protected by qualified immunity, a judicial doctrine that shields government officials from being prosecuted, paying fines and other consequences for violating people’s constitutional rights.
Ending qualified immunity would make it easier to prosecute officers for misconduct. Citizens could hold the police — a government institution that’s supposed to work for the people — accountable.
In addition to holding its officers accountable for misconduct, Norway allows its police to shoot only when deemed absolutely necessary and after getting permission from a senior officer.
However, high levels of gun ownership in the U.S. have contributed to more police shootings. Americans hold 40% of the world’s firearms, and studies show that more lenient gun laws and restrictions can lead to police fearing that people have a gun on them. That apprehension results in police officers shooting prematurely and more often.
There are, of course, many other factors that play a part in America’s high rates of crime and police-involved deaths — the economy, criminal justice system and gun laws, to name a few. However, by implementing the practices used in Norway, America could potentially see less violence and fewer deaths at the hands of police.
While it may seem a distant dream, U.S. police could become a source of comfort and pride for their communities instead of this threatening shadow of violence and chaos.
The first and easiest step that every police department in America can do is to send mental health professionals along with police officers when responding to calls. This small addition could save lives across the country.
After that, cities must reallocate money to social services that actually prevent crime.
Finally, America must heighten its standard for policing. Training must be drastically increased and extended. Qualified immunity must end, and law enforcement officers must be held accountable for their actions.
There’s a better, brighter future for policing in America, one where citizens don’t die at the hands of police and where police can be a resource rather than a menace.
Charlotte Matherly is a junior media arts and design major. Contact Charlotte at firstname.lastname@example.org.