More Justice, More Security – Minnesota Reformer
Nearly six years to the day after beloved St. Paul’s school cafeteria worker Philando Castile was shot by a police officer during an otherwise routine traffic stop, Jayland Walker has died under a hail of bullets fired by police in Akron, Ohio. While the full picture of this shooting is still emerging as I write this, one thing is clear: six years and too many horrific killings by police after Castile’s unjustifiable killing, policymakers have yet to embrace a complete transformation of public safety that we need to make all of our communities safer and fairer.
Fortunately, a new roadmap just released to guide the way forward.
Whether the officer arrested Castile for a broken taillight or racially profiled him for what one officer called his “wide nose,” his arrest prompted the kind of deadly confrontation that never should have. occur in the first place, a confrontation that could be avoided with systemic and cultural changes that improve public safety for everyone, including officers.
How do we stop senseless police killings while making our communities safer for everyone?
First, we need to overcome the myth that police accountability is somehow an obstacle to effective crime prevention. In fact, the opposite is true. Adopting a community-focused approach to public safety is the only way to make all of our communities safer, as it allows police to focus on the serious crime-fighting work they are meant to do, while diverting low level services concerns brought before them to unarmed responders, which immediately decreases the risk of violence.
I have dedicated much of my life to fighting injustice in our broken criminal justice system. I’ve been part of hard-won successes, from abolishing the death penalty for minors in several states to ending routine racial profiling policies known as stop-and-frisk in New York. Shortly after the murder of George Floyd, I tasked a group of the best minds in criminology, law enforcement, public officials and community safety to create a comprehensive approach to ending police brutality .
The resulting plan, “Keep It Safe: Transforming Public Safety“, identifies four key areas for policy action: 1) restructure public security systems by creating a division of unarmed alternative responders; 2) holding bad officers accountable; 3) establishing reliable processes for permanently dismissing unfit officers; and 4) recruiting better officers who do not display authoritarian behaviors and values.
Detailed recommendations in each of these areas are drawn from expert interviews, empirical research and case studies.
Importantly, these policy changes would lead to changes in police culture, where a militarized “warrior” mentality encouraged a destructive and authoritarian approach to policing.
With 18,000 local police departments across the country, public safety is inherently a local responsibility, and that’s where we need to demand leadership. We offer “All Safe” as a manual to help meMayors and other local leaders are making sensible changes in policies and practices. The good news is that we are already seeing this happening in cities across the country, from Ithaca, NY, to Berkeley, CA.
At Brooklyn Center in Minnesota, which saw police shoot Daunte Wright, Mayor Mike Elliot is leading the way for a transformation that follows the report’s recommendations. After a thorough audit of the city’s 911 calls, Elliott found that only 22% of those calls were crime-related. The police were sent in to handle everything from a mental health crisis to a noise complaint to a fender that required a police report.
Why not, he asked, send those kinds of calls to unarmed responders, such as social workers and mental health specialists who are trained to support people in crisis? Brooklyn Center is one of a growing number of cities where residents are recognizing that we need more pragmatic ways to handle the myriad of nonviolent situations that land on the shoulders of armed police who are not equipped or trained to handle them.
As Minneapolis and St. Paul prepare to hire new police chiefs and review Citizen Task Force recommendations this summer, city officials and residents will benefit from considering the evidence-based recommendations in the report. .
No one should have to die from a broken taillight or an air freshener hanging from their car’s rear view mirror.
The years since the murder of Philando Castille bear witness to the challenges of building consensus for constructive change, especially in the face of heated rhetoric and powerful police unions. Amid fears of rising crime, some public officials are pushing for even more resources in a fatally flawed system.
It would be a terrible mistake. More money for more of the same police will bring us greater human tragedy without more security. It’s time to reject false choices and embrace the transformative change that will make us all safe. There is a way. We have to take it.