During his State of the Union address President Joe Biden called on Congress to “finish the job on police reform” and provide more resources for law enforcement to reduce crime and support community intervention programs nationwide.

This comes nearly a month after the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis and recent polling reveals public confidence in police is down. Virginia Tech expert Brandy Faulkner explains that the problem the President pointed to in his speech is deeply systemic.  

“We tend to reduce it to individual behavior and simply trust that the bad apples will be discovered soon enough, but that’s not always the case,” said Faulkner. She feels that this time was no different than when George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police and Rodney King’s beating nearly 32 years ago. “Unconscious bias causes officers to see threats where they don't exist. These cannot be trained away.”  

“Several of the officers who were fired from the Memphis Police Department had disciplinary records for failing to report use of force. In many states, police misconduct reports and disciplinary records are considered personnel matters and are not available to the public,” explained Faulkner.  

“This gives them yet another layer of protection and shields them from public accountability and scrutiny. That, coupled with the fact that the percentage of police who are criminally charged and convicted following an excessive use of force is so incredibly low, indicates the problem is deeply systemic,” said Faulkner.

When it comes to addressing the problem, Faulkner said the first step is to recognize it. “Diversifying law enforcement certainly doesn't change the systemic failures of policing. Institutions create norms and expectations that people tend to follow no matter their race.”

Faulkner said public policy is the key to change and must address the following areas:

  • More accountability
  • Less militarization
  • More community-based resources
  • Fewer police interactions


photo of Brandy Faulkner
Brandy Faulkner, collegiate assistant professor of political science and the Gloria D. Smith Professor of Africana Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Photo by Leslie King for Virginia Tech.

About Faulkner

Brandy Faulkner is collegiate assistant professor of political science and the Gloria D. Smith Professor of Africana Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Her areas of specialization include constitutional and administrative law, race and public policy, and critical organization theory. She teaches courses in public administration, constitutional law, administrative law, research methods, and the politics of race, ethnicity, and gender. Faulkner’s expertise has been featured on NPR, Reuters, USA Today, and in the Atlanta Black Star.

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To schedule an interview, contact Margaret Ashburn in the media relations office at mkashburn@vt.edu or 540-529-0814.