It’s a time of big changes and exciting growth for the Policing Project, and we are thrilled to welcome our new deputy director Allie Meizlish to the team. As Allie comes on board, we also wish a fond farewell to our co-founder and departing deputy director Maria Ponomarenko, who is leaving NYU Law for a professorship at the University of Minnesota Law School (but will continue to work with us at the Policing Project from her new home in the Midwest).
Allie joins the Policing Project from the New York City Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, bringing her vast and innovative experience in criminal justice and public safety to help guide our organization into our next phase. We chatted with Allie about her previous work, what drew her to the Policing Project and what comes next.
Tell us more about your work at the New York City Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice and the New York County District Attorney's office. What were some of your key responsibilities or projects?
At the NYC Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), as Senior Counsel for Crime and Justice Policy, my work primarily centered on reducing crime, lightening the touch of low-level enforcement, and increasing fairness in New York City's criminal justice system. I advised on a number of criminal justice issues while also building innovative initiatives from the ground up. I developed and managed the office’s portfolio for enforcement of low level crimes, policing and prosecution of gun violence, and drug diversion efforts. I regularly worked with all parts of the criminal justice system, including the District Attorneys of all five boroughs, judges, the police department, public defenders, legislators, advocates, and others, to garner support and participation around policies and initiatives.
Before joining MOCJ, I was an Assistant District Attorney in the New York County District Attorney's Office, where I learned firsthand the intricacies of the City's criminal justice system, including the injustices, the challenges, and the essential role of every criminal justice player in creating a fair system. My years at the New York County DA's Office inform every policy decision I make and have given me on-the-ground knowledge of the system's inner workings.
What is your biggest professional achievement to date?
While at MOCJ, I led the development, negotiation, and implementation of the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2016 (CJRA). The CJRA was a package of eight bills aimed at lightening the touch of low-level enforcement and reducing collateral consequences. It created the presumption that law enforcement would issue civil summonses instead of criminal summonses for a group of common low level offenses. Moving enforcement into the civil system rather than the criminal justice system avoids many potential repercussions beyond the summons itself.
The offenses impacted by the CJRA previously accounted for approximately 50% of criminal summonses issued in New York City. In the first year of implementation, criminal summonses and warrants for CJRA-eligible offenses were down 89% and 94%, respectively. This project was incredibly rewarding, and I am extremely proud to have had the opportunity to develop and implement it.
What drew you to the Policing Project? Are there any projects or focus areas you are especially excited to work on?
The Policing Project has zeroed in on some of the most salient and critical criminal justice issues that society is facing and is working proactively with jurisdictions across the country. After spending many years focused on criminal justice within New York City, I was excited by the possibility of broader experiences and impact. Plus, I am an NYU Law Alum, and I was looking forward to being back on my old stomping ground!
I am particularly excited to get to work on Re-imagining Public Safety. This focus area feeds off of the expertise I developed at MOCJ and is a great opportunity to really think through what policing agencies of the future can look like. I would like to build out the portfolio for the project so that jurisdictions across the country can rely on us to help them re-imagine their own policing structures and think through what public safety should look like in the 21st century.
As one of your first tasks at the Policing Project, you facilitated a small group discussion at our convening on community engagement earlier this month. What were some of your key takeaways from the convening, and how do you define "real" engagement in police-community relations?
One of my big takeaways from the community engagement convening was just how essential it is to build the structures and relationships for real community engagement well before a crisis hits. Once the police and a community are in crisis mode, it is infinitely harder to build genuine engagement. Real community engagement means that communities need to be able to define how they are policed. Police and communities must work together to decide what public safety means to them.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
When I am not working, I most enjoy chasing my toddler and dog around the house (or watching them chase each other)!