On November 12-13, 2015, some of the nation’s leading and most innovative police officials came to NYU Law School to discuss “democratic policing”—the central mission of the Policing Project.
The report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing begins with the following statement: “Trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential in a democracy.” This was the beginning point for the conference. How, in a democracy, does law enforcement get and keep that trust?
There were three substantive sessions.
Participants recognized that the task force had called on policing agencies to go beyond the familiar approaches to community policing, of which—generally speaking—there are two. There is police-community interaction, which takes the form of programs like Coffee with a Cop, or police-community athletic leagues. There is “problem solving policing,” in which community members identify difficulties in the community, such as buildings in need of repair or drug markets, and police work with the community to address them. The Task Force recommended added a significant third, something that is a step beyond prior efforts: police engagement with community members around actual police policies and priorities. For example, the Task Force said that not only should departments “make all departmental policies available for public review,” but also should “involve the community in the process of developing and evaluating [those] policies and procedures.” Similarly, the Task Force called for the “use of community advisory bodies, when developing a policy for the use of a new technology.” There were like recommendations around issues as diverse as training and police in schools. The challenge that the group discussed is how police can take this next essential step in “co-producing” public safety.
Over the last thirty years, policing has changed in some fundamental ways. It has moved from a reactive posture of solving crimes and apprehending suspects to a proactive strategy involving deterrence, problem-oriented policing, and community engagement. The group brainstormed about how to measure success along these new dimensions. Participants also confronted the challenges to gathering the necessary data.
Discussion on the second day revolved around the idea of “Democratic Rules.” In general in the United States, executive government operates subject to rules and polices that are public, formulated with public input, and established before officials act. There was consensus that this is a good model, yet the group recognized that policing poses special challenges to involving the public in formulating police rules.
In order to ensure a candid exchange of views, the attendees met behind closed doors, with the understanding that there would be no attribution of remarks to any individual. Conversation was lively and extremely open. A list of those who attended can be found here. Participants were eager to repeat the gathering on a regular basis.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Participants advanced ideas to continue the progress that had been made. They urged converting the discussion into tangible action points. Several departments expressed interest in working with the Policing Project in their own communities to further the goals of democratic policing. Those projects, and other action points from the convening, will motivate the agenda of the Policing Project over the coming months.