Reimagining Policing: Progress to Date


Photo Credit: Michael Scott Milner/Shutterstock

Connecting Directly with City Leaders

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.

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.

Panelist Takeaways

  • 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.

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.

Panelist Takeaways

  • “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.

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.

Panelist Takeaways

  • 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

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. 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.

Panelist Takeaways

  • 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.

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.

Workshop Takeaways

  • 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.

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. 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

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