All Safe report offers steps to reduce police brutality and improve public safety

: A female protestor holds a sign that reads, “I Can’t Breathe” during a Black Lives Matter march. – Photo by Obi @Pixel6Propix/Un splash

 

By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner

 

The deaths of African Americans due to police brutality – such as the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Louisville and Botham Jean of Dallas – has called for a national wave of police reform.

To address public safety issues and the impact of over-policing of Black individuals, the People For the American Way hosted a seminar June 14 to discuss its new report, All Safe: Transforming Public Safety.

The online conference was open only to the Black Press. It featured Ben Jealous, president of People For the American Way and former president and CEO of the NAACP; Svante Myrick, former mayor of Ithaca, New York, and executive director of People For the American Way; and Dr. Niaz Kasravi, founder and director of the Avalan Institute and author of the All Safe published report.

The report is a comprehensive report that looks at options and a call to action for communities that want to transform their systems of public safety and the culture responsible for police violence and for the deaths of unarmed Black people, according to Kasravi.

 

The Ithaca model

Highlights from the report looked at the city of Ithaca in New York on ways to address public safety and recommendations for system restructuring, found ways to reduce over-policing in major metropolitan cities, alternative options for armed 911 emergency responses and reducing unnecessary interactions with police through decriminalization.

The report provided four steps to reduce police violence and improve public safety:

  • Restructuring public safety, by eliminating over-reliance on armed response to address a range of public safety issues
  • Holding officers who engage in misconduct accountable, by ensuring that unfit officers can be identified and disciplined
  • Removing officers who are found unfit for duty, by establishing reliable processes to permanently remove unfit officers
  • Recruiting better and more fit officers, by changing recruitment material to focus on positive traits.

“Dr. Kasravi and I worked together at Amnesty International, the NAACP and here she has in the past two decades really become the leading criminologist working with civil rights, human rights groups in the U.S. on police accountability, issues, mass incarceration,” Jealous said. Both of us are very proud to present this report today because it is the most comprehensive vision for transforming public safety in our country.”

He explained that building a criminal justice reform movement from the bottom up is what it will take in the United States to change the narrative of policing in this country.

“The United States is not France. It’s not England. It’s not Japan. We do not have a national police force,” Jealous said. “Rather, the only questions for our police departments is whether in your local area, they go back to a slave patrol or the U.S. Cavalry or the British redcoats or perhaps Spanish gendarmes, depending on what corner of the country you’re in. Which is to say that when it comes to law enforcement, the United States has always been a bit like the Wild West. Everywhere has its own law enforcement agency.”

Jealous noted that when he was president of the NAACP, 85% of Black people lived in only about 500 jurisdictions and stated that due to these statistics, only three to 5% of law enforcement agencies need to be reformed.

 

Why college towns?

The People for the American Way started working with college towns as a path to make changes and reform police departments and how they police.

“College towns have better educated city councils, lots of former professors, graduate students and the likes and so it’s easier to get traction with college towns,” Jealous said.

One such college town is Ithaca.

“As the former mayor of Ithaca, New York, I know that small cities are truly laboratories of democracy in our country,” Myrick said. “In Ithaca, we voted to replace our antique police force with a Department of Public Safety made up of both unarmed and armed responders. We believe wholeheartedly that this will make everyone safer, because so many 911 calls do not require an armed response. I’m very excited to work with other community leaders to show them how they can do the same, and I am honored that our model is featured in All Safe.”

Jealous then stated the goal of the report is to transform police departments to a public safety department.

“What’s the difference?” Jealous asked the viewers. “A difference is, a public safety department should be civilian, such as the U.S. Department of Defense is civilian way. So should our local Public Safety Department and that it will have two divisions. Half the officers in that department, the armed division, and the armed division will be typical police officers who wear a uniform or carry a gun and are better trained than most you see right now in this country, but you will recognize them as police officers. The other half of modern police work that is actually socially dealing with the homeless, dealing with the drug addicted, etc., will be handled by social workers and people who are otherwise specially trained to deal with people in traumatic such situations.

Currently, the organization is in three college towns passing legislation across the country to transform police departments. He said the report started during the summer when the George Floyd incident occurred and discussions about defunding the police came up throughout communities across America.

 

The big picture

Kasravi went over the report and her findings on transforming public safety. She said the report and recommendations are needed in today’s climate.

“We notice when we call for change it is because the traditional approach just hasn’t worked right in this country for centuries and has relied on tough on crime over policing and law and order policies,” she said. “We are in America, the number one incarcerated in the world with roughly 5% of the world’s population, but we had 25% of its prisoners because of centuries of over reliance on police and systems of incarceration.”

Additional statistics from the report concluded that police violence has disproportionately affected communities of color. For example, in 2021, Black people made up about 13% of the population but 28% of Black people were killed by police. Also, the report found that most 911 calls each year involved situations that are nonviolent before police are called. In fact, of the 240 million 911 calls made every year, 90% involve situations that were nonviolent.

A comprehensive study analyzing the recruiting materials used by the 200 largest police departments in the U.S. found:

  • 42.7% contained some display of drawn firearms.
  • 34% depicted military-style weapons.
  • 32% depicted officers in tactical vests.
  • 27.7% depicted paramilitary policing units.

The report revealed that over policing is encouraged by the emphasis on meeting quotas in evaluating officer performance, according to the report, which concluded that such police recruitment strategies attract aggressive individuals.

“It is really the most comprehensive report that we’ve been involved in or seen producing essentially a handbook for our elected officials that provides them with a really large range of policy options to address the public demand for police accountability and ending police violence,” Kasravi said.

Since every community and town is unique, Kasravi explained the approach should be adjusted to meet the needs of each city.

“We realize that this is a local fight and every jurisdiction with a police department must undertake it based on their current reality,” she said. “So, there’s no one size fits all answer for anyone, so we divide the report into four general sections.”

Those sections included:

  1. Restructuring public safety systems
  2. Finding different models and policy recommendations for those engaging in misconduct but still holding them accountable
  3. Removing officers that are unfit for duty
  4. Recruiting better and more fit officers

“The ideal in our view, is with regards to the Ithaca public safety model, which replaces the traditional police force with two co-equal teams of armed and unarmed responders and it’s civilian led. It treats their residents of the community more humanely and addresses their medical and psychological needs, reduces the stress on police officers and it builds trust with the residents and saves the community’s money and resources because it’s being spent more efficiently and effectively towards a goal that we all want, which is greater public safety for all of our communities.”

 

 

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