Professor Co-Authors Recommendations for Policing Reform

Rachel Harmon Collaborates on Report for New Presidential Administration
Rachel Harmon

Professor Rachel Harmon, a former federal prosecutor before joining UVA Law in 2006, directs the Center for Criminal Justice. Photo by Tom Cogill

January 8, 2021

When it comes to police reform, Professor Rachel Harmon, who directs the Center for Criminal Justice at the University of Virginia School of Law, has some recommendations for the new presidential administration.

In collaboration with Barry Friedman and the Policing Project at the New York University School of Law, Harmon is advocating for a stronger regulatory approach. Their report, “Policing Priorities for the New Administration,” urges the White House to appoint a policing czar and require that all of the more than 80 federal law enforcement agencies meet basic standards for transparency, among other “clear and actionable” measures.

Harmon, a former federal prosecutor before joining the UVA Law faculty in 2006, said the current policy is incoherent and doesn’t do enough to help counteract social harms that can occur.

“President-elect Biden’s team has already signaled a strong interest in policing reform,” Harmon said. “We are offering concrete suggestions for what to do after they turn the lights back on in Justice Department policing programs abandoned by the Trump administration.”

The report emphasizes solutions that look beyond the immediate policing agenda.

“All federal programs that provide money or equipment for policing should be assessed not only for their efficacy in promoting policing that serves specific national goals, but for the social costs they induce by promoting policing in a particular way,” the report states. “For example, if a program encourages or incentivizes particular policing tactics — such as frequent traffic stops — the social costs of those tactics must be considered in assessing the value of the program.”

Harmon and Friedman, founding director of the Policing Project and author of “Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission,” released the report in December.

The authors list a number of other priorities that could be accomplished, mainly through Department of Justice initiatives and executive orders.

Currently the Class of 1957 Research Professor of Law, Harmon spent eight years as a prosecutor in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. At the Civil Rights Division, she investigated and prosecuted civil rights crimes nationwide, including hate crimes and cases of excessive force and sexual violence by police officers and other government officials. Her forthcoming casebook, “The Law of the Police,” will be the first such resource for those seeking to understand, evaluate and reform American law governing police interactions with the public.

Harmon and other UVA Law faculty engage in criminal justice scholarship, with an eye toward making a more just society, through the Center for Criminal Justice.

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