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Public Law & Legal Theory


There is a policing emergency in the United States. Police across the country cause massive, widespread, and unpredictable physical harm—killings, beatings; psychological harm—negative stress-related birth and educational outcomes, general worsened mental health; and sociological harm—advancing the racial, gender, and economic hierarchies that undermine our work towards an equal society. Even after the largest protest movement in U.S. history in summer 2020, the traditional political process has failed to make significant inroads against this emergency.

This Article begins to explore in depth the legal ramifications of recognizing the policing emergency. It suggests that among the most important ramifications is unlocking a previously unappreciated tool for reform: emergency managers.

As defined here, emergency managers are individuals or small groups empowered by state or local governments to exercise the powers of the government in response to an emergency when traditional political systems cannot or will not respond adequately or quickly enough. The current state of policing constitutes just such an emergency demanding immediate action.

Emergency managers—thus far limited to the fiscal and educational realms— can be a powerful tool for addressing this policing emergency. To achieve their goals, emergency managers have been imbued with a range of powers—from providing oversight to usurping all of the powers of local elected officials. The broad emergency powers and unitary nature of this position subvert the piecemeal nature of both local politics generally and of the police reform project specifically and can allow the emergency manager to break through procedural and political barriers that have previously served to uphold the status quo.



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