The Reimagining Policing Pledge process created a space for city leaders to learn more about best practices for policing reform. The MBK Alliance, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Cities United worked collaboratively to expose city leaders to best practices and expert perspectives on engaging the public in meaningful public safety reform. The five-part Reimagining Policing Workshop Series was the main channel for supporting city leaders. These sessions were designed to bring city leaders, researchers, program leaders from the private and non-profit sectors, members of the law enforcement community, educators, activists, and community organizers together to speak honestly and candidly about the challenges and opportunities ahead of us. Each session discussed pillars of reimagining public safety: taking accountability for the history of policing, getting in direct touch with the community’s needs, and getting specific with best practices for reform. The Leadership Conference and Cities United also provided one-on-one sessions for city leaders looking for deeper engagement.
“You have to have a community-driven, community-created plan that says what happens next, says how those funds will be allocated, that has real teeth with the community.”
— Changa Higgins, Leadership Conference Education Fund Campaign Manager
“Make sure that in responding to the passions of your community, that you understand that the community deserves a plan.”
— Phillip Atiba Goff, Ph.D., Professor of African American Studies and Psychology, Yale University
Police Accountability and Reform
The first workshop—Police Accountability and Reform—drove home the connection between policy change and culture change. One cultural change American cities can make is untangling the almost “single track reliance” on police to provide public safety. A best practice that emerged from the workshop is using city budgets to build additional public safety capacities in police departments. Hiring civilian employees, creating new units to deal with non-emergency responses, and changing the expectations cities have of police officers to use arrests to address community issues are all policy innovations that budgeting makes possible.
In addition to recommending policy changes, the Accountability and Reform panel reminded leaders that the public is calling for accountability for the fear, pain, loss of life, and damage that over-policing causes. Residents expect, and deserve, to see city leaders consider their voices as new policy is made. These leaders can better support residents and set successful municipal investments in police departments, social services, and communities by creating long term plans for changing the status quo.
Do not be defensive about reckoning with the size of policing budgets. The public is also reckoning with this and trying to understand how policing connects to social systems, services, and making communities safer.
Find and engage with community members who have been working on reinvestment, oversight, and reallocation for a while. They are stakeholders and partners in the process.
Remember that police officers are employees of city leaders. Do not focus on police reform at the expense of policing reform that can be collaborative and change the dynamic with employees in law enforcement. Engage law enforcement officers in addressing racism as a systemic problem and not only an individual one.
Work backwards from the outcomes you want to see and find what law enforcement can and cannot address. Law enforcement personnel cannot address the violence caused by poverty, but other approaches to city governing can.
Allow for local elected officials to look at budgets and really get to a place where they're saying, what is it that really keeps our young people and our families and Black families safe, healthy, and hopeful? And how do we allocate resources for that? And how do we move quickly to get to that place? Because that's the demand that's on the streets, and that's the call that people are asking for.
— Anthony Smith, CEO, Cities United
We have to be able to invest and scale up a community response network that can respond when the residents of these cities are requesting some type of resolution to their issue.
— David Muhammad, Director, National Institute of Criminal Justice Reform
“What we do know is that the same kind of data that we know about what happens to Black people outside of school, happens in the school...There have been lots of incidents of excessive use of force in schools, and so we've got to be thinking about something different.”
— Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director, Advancement Project
Community-Centered Innovations in Public Safety
The thread of breaking new ground continued into the second workshop—Community-Centered Innovations in Public Safety—“Safety” is not just about the absence of crime. Safety means having access to education, nutrition, health care, mental health services, and more. In this session, panelists encouraged city leaders to reframe safety in these terms, given the reality that these essential pieces of well-being are exactly what Black, Indigenous, and other marginalized communities are continually blocked from.
Panelists discussed strategic and impactful ways cities can reduce the footprint of policing. For example, changing policy to prohibit school resources officers (SROs) from enforcing disciplinary actions in schools is a shift in culture and tone that also reduces students’ involvement with the justice system. The Community-Centered Innovations in Public Safety session also covered strategic and impactful ways cities can reduce the footprint of policing as they equitably acknowledge communities’ needs. Overwhelmingly, panelists showed that innovations in public safety are innovations in culture. As panelist David Mohammed pointed out, police departments may have more calls involving a wider range of social services than they can respond to. Reducing policings’ footprint creates space for innovating how communities approach social services.
“Defund the police” is a plank of the movement to reform public safety. Defunding is a call to thoughtfully divest funds from police departments so that they can be reinvested in other institutions. Cities are continually investing and reinvesting in policing as a solution to public safety and excluding alternative approaches.
Invest in new ways. Fund multiple types of public safety initiatives that do not involve law enforcement officers, like mentoring programs, alternative emergency response units, restorative justice policies, or violence reduction interventions.
Remove police from enforcing school discipline, reduce policing’s footprint and build community trust.
“Don't let fear win. I keep hearing and seeing messages and conversations that are rooted in fear and we can never move forward—and be bold in our solutions—if people are operating from a space of us against them, or if we do shift investment that somebody's going to lose. We have to keep the community at the center and heart of our work and move with courage. We also have to understand that it's not just the absence of violence that we should be working towards. It has to be the presence of justice and opportunity and understanding that speed moves at the speed of trust.”
— Reggie Moore, Director, City of Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention
How to Create a Representative and Open Public Review Process
There is power in examples, and the third workshop in the series—How to Create a Representative and Open Public Review Process—offered a range of examples of how city leaders can build trust through openness. The panel drove home the truism that community work is about trust and the courage to try something new. Panelists drew on their experiences working in the community and setting up channels for reform to help the participants envision how to move their communities forward.
Remember that police departments are also asking for public safety alternatives. Policymakers, activists, advocates, and law enforcement are all aligned in knowing that policing and public safety cannot solve persistent social issues like homelessness or substance use.
Don’t stop at reviewing policies. Engage the community in policy review and in planning the response to the findings from any review.
Be courageous; operating from fear does not create change and keeps the country stuck in a status quo that does not work
If you want to be an ally or an alliance, don't designate yourself as that—let someone else designate you as an ally. You need to step back and allow those voices who need to be heard to be elevated to the forefront… I say become an alliance. An ally is somebody who's connected. An alliance means, ‘I'm willing to even be behind you and leverage every resource, every privilege I have in order to move forward and I don't need to be in the spotlight to do that.
— Dr. RaShall M. Brackney, Chief of Police, Charlottesville, Virginia
We have to work on changing the nature of the relationship [between Black men and police], not in times where there’s a crisis. I hear all the time, ‘Something happened. Now let's go out and reach out to the community. Let's have a forum. Let's talk.’ No. That time has passed… We have to engage the community and our young folks deliberately, thoughtfully and do it in times where we're not in crisis.
— Jerry Clayton, Sheriff, Watenshaw County, Michigan
Insights from Black Law Enforcement Leaders on the Future of Policing
Black law enforcement officers have a unique perspective on police reform, culture change within law enforcement, and in addressing racism while increasing public safety. The fourth workshop in the series—Insights from Black Law Enforcement Leaders on the Future of Policing—brought together a panel of Black leaders in law enforcement to offer their perspective on policing reform. Panelists Sheriff Jerry Clayton and Chief Dr. RaShall Brackney emphasized that white supremacy is not a relic of the past; it structures systems to this day. Reckoning with the often unspoken history of American police forces is a step toward true partnership and builds common ground for the type of hard work that can only move at the speed of trust. Panelists also advised leaders to set aside the desire to be seen as an ally; acting as a “savior” to communities is not a strategy for partnership and lasting change.
The panelists also built on themes of building trust within the community, the need for courage and long-term strategy to build a path forward, and the importance of shrinking the policing and law enforcement footprint. Besides offering specific examples of how they have made positive reforms in departments and engage the community, the panel directed attendees to policy guides like the 21st Century Policing Task Force report Opens in a new tab . This document provides a roadmap for reimagining, using policing funding to create other community supports, and engaging the private sector to act as a good citizen in support of community health. The panelists also advised city leaders to be specific about what problems they want to solve and to communicate a specific vision, detailed strategy, and evaluation plan.
Acknowledge that law enforcement in the United States was designed to maintain oppression and white supremacy.
Be present and engage the community outside of times of crisis.
Make yourself available, even when the community questions whether you are really there to help.
Support new hires in leadership roles with the tools, autonomy, and partnerships needed to create their vision for reform.
“The data that we currently have reflects the policies that have been implemented in the last 10, 20, 30 years. And we are missing entire gaps of knowledge and information because we've overpoliced certain communities and dramatically under-policed others.”
— Lynn Overmann, Senior Data Strategist, Opportunity Insights
“[The] people who need to hold their government accountable have the hardest time getting access to that data. And so, I think it is fundamentally important that we democratize data… that we collectively find ways to ensure that data gets into the hands of the people whose lives are most directly affected.” — Roseanna Ander, Founding Executive Directors, University of Chicago Crime Lab
Community-Centered Innovations in Public Safety
The final workshop in the series—Data in Policing: Transparency, Collection, and Civil Liberties—leveraged the knowledge and experience of researchers and advocates to provide city leaders with best practices in collecting, sharing data responsibly, and using data as a tool for policy evaluation and creation. Analyzed data tells stories about real people’s experiences, everyday lives, and interactions with law enforcement. City leaders and their partners in reform will see the “habits” of policing, and over-policing, that residents experience every day reflected in the data they collect.
While data is a powerful tool, there is also a risk that data collection can become a bottleneck for reform. Panelists advised cities to keep their processes moving by building data-sharing strategies into their plans. Data collection is an opportunity to democratize information and empower residents who should be able to hold their representatives and public servants accountable. Cities can create data-informed tools (e.g., dashboards, infographics, toolkits, social media tiles) and make them accessible to activists, advocates, and community members.
The panelists also offered advice on collecting the best incident data (e.g., how to operationalize “use of force” or contact), key considerations in sharing data responsibly, ideas on generating insights from data, and perspectives on how to publicize data. Media and community groups can use data to make reform cases, but they can also publicize the data itself. Consider external partners in your data sharing strategy.
The recordings of these sessions and additional resources are available on the Reimagining Policing Pledge website.
Partner with technologists, researchers, local organizations, and public and private partnerships to collect and analyze data
Don’t overlook qualitative data; it can give you insight into communities’ experiences and capture the impact of the current policing system.
Share data responsibly and consider how data flows between agencies.
"Everybody wants the same thing, that was clear through our series of six conversations: to be safe. In the John Jay and NOBLE report, we outlined the necessity of police working hand-in-hand with community leaders and healthcare clinical professionals and others involved in the provision of social services both public and private."
— Karol Mason, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice
"It is vital, if we are going to truly address and transform and create this more equitable and prosperous future, to bring together all of these sectors to the table: That's public safety, law enforcement, public health, healthcare, the nonprofit sector, education, transportation, and housing. All have a role to play in this."
— Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Trust for America’s Health
“You're seeing throughout our society, and it's not just specific to this conversation, an increasing lack of trust in institutions. Unless we engage and move into communities and really listen, each of us as system leaders contribute to that distrust, so we really have to do some work to repair that harm. Concretely, I think that we can make sure we have investments that naturally engage that voice."
— Candice Jones, president and chief executive officer of the Public Welfare Foundation
“We in law enforcement leadership—and it has to push all the way down to the line level—we have to be willing to listen, and we have to be willing to acknowledge that sometimes these conversations aren't going to be comfortable. We're not going to hear what we want to hear. We're not going to always walk out feeling warm and fuzzy because we do have a role in this, but it's not all bad because we're all working towards the same goal. We're not adversaries. We're partners at the table."
—Danielle Outlaw, police commissioner of Philadelphia
The Future of Public Safety
In December, outside of this reporting period, we held a sixth workshop where John Jay College of Criminal Justice President Karol Mason led a discussion lifting up findings and recommendations from their new publication with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), the Future of Public Safety Opens in a new tab . The workshop provided participants an opportunity to learn about new approaches and resources to create policing practices that ensure equal justice for everyone, along with examples of action from some of the nation’s most highly regarded policing and public safety officials. President Mason was joined by Trust for America’s Health Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Dr. Nadine Gracia, Public Welfare Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Candice Jones, and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.
The recordings of these sessions and additional resources are available on the Reimagining Policing Pledge website.