Jonathan Kozol observed in Savage Inequalities that he when he looked back, in the 1980’s, on his days as a Freedom Rider in the 1960’s South, he was struck by the feeling that he could have done just as much to address segregation and discrimination by staying home in Boston.
That’s not to say that there is no value in traveling to other places when issues spark and flare. There’s nothing wrong with taking a bus to Ferguson to honor Michael Brown or flying to Washington D.C. to protest the new administration. But if a problem exists in one corner of America, it almost always exists everywhere else, even if it reveal itself differently or in a lesser form.
So if an issue speaks to you but you are struggling to figure out how to “bring it home,” a good first step can be to create a local report card about it.
To create the report card:
- Educate yourself. I recommend using resources that can cite how the information was obtained and where the data comes from. It also helps to search for data across sources; that is, can you find other evidence-based reports that support one another (meaning, hard numbers, official statements or quotes, etc.)
- Identify local organizations that are raising the issue and advancing positive change. If there isn’t one, look further afield for examples and inspiration.
- Identify 3-4 strategies that could positively impact the issue. These might be ideas you stumble across when you are doing research.
- Find out which of these strategies are already in place in your town or city, which have been proposed, and which are missing or lack support.
Once your report card is complete, you’re in a much better position to decide what you role you can play, what your goals could/should be, and what you have to work with.
Examples & Tools
Let’s say someone was especially concerned about criminal justice reform and lived in Bloomington, Minnesota. Here’s what their completed report card might look like:
- US Department of Justice – Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office
- Community Policing Defined
- US Department of Justice: Investigation of the Chicago Police Department
- US Department of Justice: Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department
- The United Kingdom’s National Decision Model for policing
- Pew Research Center: Behind the Badge
- Sarasota Harold-Tribune: “Bias on the Bench“
- Associated Press: “Report Says Chicago Police Department Violated Civil Rights for Years“
- NYTimes: “Police Rethink Long Traditions on Using Force“
- NYTimes: “A Black Police Officer’s Fight Against the NYPD“
- NYTimes: “Cast-Out Police Officers Are Often Hired In Other Cities“
Identify local organizations that are raising the issue and advancing positive change.
- No organizations housed in Bloomington, MN
- NAACP – Minneapolis
- Black Lives Matter
- Neighborhoods Organizing for Change
- Jewish Community Action
- American Civil Liberties Untion of Minnesota
Identify 5-10 strategies that could positively impact the issue. These might be ideas you stumble across when you are doing research.
- Assign police officers to geographic regions that correspond to neighborhood boundaries
- Provide an equivalent number of training hours in de-escalation and crisis intervention/mental health interventions as are provided in firearms and defensive tactics
- Track racial and gender demographic data on all stops, arrests, and seizures
- Perform criminal background and reference checks on all new police hires
- Support the creation of a national database to track officers who have criminal convictions, have been fired or forced to resign, have had their law enforcement licenses revoked, or have been named in a judgment or settlement involving misconduct (similar to the National Practitioner Data Bank for physicians).
- Require disciplinary investigations for all police misconduct cases for which a settlement is reached
- Require an annual report to the community on funds spent to settle police misconduct lawsuits
Find out which of these strategies are already in place for the Bloomington Police Department.
- Does the Bloomington Police Department assign police officers to a geographic region? No. “Officers pick their shifts every four months and also have the ability to select their favorite area.”
- How many hours of training do officers receive on de-escalation, crisis intervention, and related topics? Some, but minimally. Bi-annual in-service training is provided on: Criminal and traffic law updates, Biohazards and hazardous materials, Dealing with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Road spikes for pursuit intervention, and Crime Free Multi-Housing. Routine training is offered on Handgun and shotgun qualification, First aid refresher, Use of force issues which include legal update, case law, practical exercises on use of chemical or impact weapons, along with defensive tactics, and DMT operation/DWI updates. Community- or problem-oriented policing is considered a specialty training area, alongside gang enforcement, driving, and SWAT, bomb, and hostage negotiations.
- Does the city perform a thorough criminal background and reference check on all new hires? Yes.
- How much did the department spend on police misconduct settlements? For the purposes of this example, I chose not to email but it could be determined.
- How many of the police misconduct cases were also addressed through disciplinary investigations? For the purposes of this example, I chose not to email but it could be determined.