Though New Haven was not officially represented on the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, many of the strategies the city has implemented over the last few years are reflected in that group’s final report.
The city’s top police officers got to hear how their efforts at community policing have influenced the task force’s recommendations to President Obama and his successor at the beginning of Thursday’s weekly Compstat data-sharing meeting at 1 Union Ave.
They also got to hear about how the task force’s recommendations might impact how they do their work in the future as the federal government uses them to incentivize the adoption of new strategies through things like law enforcement grants.
“If you look through the report there are places where I think you will find things that are not only familiar, but actually pointing out New Haven in particular,” said Tracey L. Meares (pictured). Meares, who currently is the Walton Hale Hamilton Professor of Law at Yale Law School, was one of the 11 members of the presidential task force that was established at the end of last year. The group issued its final report in May.
Meares, who has been talking about the report nationally and in France and the United Kingdom, pointed out that it cites New Haven’s requirement that rookies walk a beat for a year as an example of what others suggested to the task force as a possible national strategy for changing how policing happens in the U.S.
The final report covered six areas: building trust and legitimacy; policy and oversight; technology and social media; community policing and crime reduction; training and education; and officer wellness and safety.
Meares said when it comes to building trust and legitimacy, the task force’s recommendations don’t deal with just how law enforcement interacts with the public, but also how officers are treated by the agency for which they work.
She said one of the things that the task force heard in the 150 testimonies it received was that officer are expected to be respectful and polite in public, but aren’t always treated that way in their agency. One of the recommendations from the task force is that “law enforcement agencies should promote legitimacy internally within the organization by applying the principles of procedural justice.”
But she said that officers must understand that though crime across the nation is down significantly, public confidence in police has remained flat for the last 30 years. She said research indicates that people care less about the effectiveness of police action, and more about how they’re treated by police officers.
“It is not to say that there aren’t people doing a great job, every single day,” Meares said. “They are doing the kind of things they should be doing, and they’re doing a wonderful job. But the reality is that what some of your colleagues have done in the past, and not even in this city, will impact how your job is carried out on a day to day basis. That’s a reality that we all have to acknowledge.
“It’s not enough to say, ‘I wasn’t the one who did it,’ but instead acknowledge that that happened and say, ‘I see how that makes it difficult for you to trust me and move forward; lets figure out what we need to do make it so that we can collaborate in producing public safety for our neighborhoods.’”
Officer safety and wellness: stuff thats happening that people are seeing in the news on youtube everyday, makes it hard for police officers to do their jobs. It’s stressful the job was stressful anyway and its that much more stressful, and we have to acknowledge that reality too.
The report also focuses on recommendations aimed at addressing the stressful nature of the job of law enforcement, which she said is made all the more stressful every time another officer is shown on television or YouTube.
“Campaign Zero, which is the policy arm of the Black Lives Matters movement, has 10 policy recommendations for law enforcement, one of which is making sure that the workers, police officers, are treated fairly, have fair contracts, and that attention is paid to officer safety and wellness because as it turns out, when people are stressed out, when people are hurt—hurt people hurt people,” Meares said. “They just do, and that’s a reality we need to acknowledge too. We need to make sure that we are adopting policies and strategies so that people who are overwhelmed can get the support and services that they need.”
She said police officers often tell her that the most important thing is that they get home safe every day. And she said, that is important.
“But here’s the thing,” she said. “Getting home safe is not just about getting home safe in terms of your physical body. Getting home safe is getting home safely in terms of your mental health and your emotional health as well. Your families need you to be emotionally, mentally and physically healthy. Your neighbors need you to be that way, your kids need you to be that way.”