Law & Order: A Comparative Perspective on Policing in Society

With the tragic death of George Floyd and so many others, the question of police brutality naturally arose: Is America the only country dealing with this? The answer is no. Power abuse happens in every country all over the world, but media sensationalism and transparency does not. Even then, America does have many more police related deaths than European countries. Some thought that this was a direct result of the training that police received as well as the perception of the role of police in the different societies. European police are more conservative, and American police are more likely to be involved with problematic social situations in which they are not adequately trained to have power in. However, there are significant racial biases in both regions, usually towards minority ethnic groups, refugees, and BIPOC. This results in those groups of people more vulnerable to police brutality and incarceration. 

Differences emerged not only concerning the number of hours required for a training to be complete, but also in regards to the type of training that states and countries require and offer. In Europe, police go through several years of basic training, while in the US, training can take as little as 21 weeks. With greater amounts of hours, police can learn about de-escalation techniques, conflict-resolving, and have more experience in difficult situations, but when there are only 21 weeks, training is focused on firearms. Most people did agree that police should have guns, at least in the US, where guns are so prevalent and they need to protect themselves and others. However, there should be baseline non-violent rules to prevent escalation. 

So how exactly is justice served? The American system consists of a judge and jury of randomized citizens, which is designed to prevent biases from both the jury as a whole and from the judge. The European systems vary between countries, but they usually have a small panel of judges and no jury. In America, convicts seem to pay for their crimes even after jail time in regards to reduced job opportunities, loans, etc. They also lose their right vote in prison in all but two states, and in some states after prison, either temporarily or even permanently. In Europe, reintegration into society is of major importance. 

When asked “Should jail be structured as a place where people are punished or where they can be redeemed?” and where the line should be drawn, groups came to similar conclusions: It is reasonable to draw a line somewhere between murder and severe body harm. Convicts with lighter charges should have a chance for redemption. This benefits not only the individual convicts but also society. 

In both the US and Europe, we agreed that there needs to be reform, especially on combatting implicit discrimination–hopefully we can learn from each other on how to improve our societies and move forwards.

On July 2nd, 2020, BridgeBerkeley (USA) and BridgeMaastricht (NL) hosted a joint discussion on the role of police in society, corrections system, and societal factors surrounding justice with the goal of hearing and learning from opinions and experiences from both the US and Europe.