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Civilian Engagement, Politics and Police: SFJ’s Conscious Law Enforcement and Inclusive Practices

The topic of today is Civilian Engagement, Politics, and Police!

We will be discussing topics regarding civilian engagement, politics, civilian and police encounters, public protests towards police abuse and excessive force, as well as the lack of police services in some communities. We are also going to look at Civilian Review Boards and Accountability. We will also look at how lobbying politicians for change might happen, as well as public safety, and what the citizen's role is in that area.

View recording of the session

Guest Speakers

Kalfani Turè, Ph.D.

Dr. Turè is a former police officer and Assistant Professor in Criminal Justice at Quinnipiac and a senior fellow in the Urban Ethnography Project at Yale University. A practicing urban ethnographer, Dr. Turè earned a Bachelor’s degree in African American Studies and a Criminal Justice from Rutgers University in Camden, a Master’s Degree in Applied Anthropology from George State University, and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from American University. He did a Postdoctoral Certificate in Sociology at Yale. In addition, he worked as a police officer in the Metropolitan Atlanta area. His main interests are policing, race, public safety, and space along with exploring the ethnographic encounters of law enforcement toward stigmatized and urban African Americans, and is in the process of writing several books and publications involved in implicit bias training.

Kayla Preito-Hodge, Ph.D.

Dr. Preito-Hodge is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice at Rutgers University in Camden. Her research explores the intersection of race, policing, and the larger criminal justice system. Dr. Preito-Hodge received her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from Boston College, and her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is an avid supporter of criminal and juvenile justice reform.

The Forum

The importance of civilian engagement and policing are not only in how we see police officers, or how citizens view policing and their issues, but how the community is served by the police departments. One example of how citizens can engage is through the use of Civilian Review Boards. These review boards can form different types of relationships and interactions with the police. Review boards have always and will continue to be a part of the criminal justice reform process in terms of civilian engagement. They are responsible for the ground-making decisions made within police departments and collaborate with police officers as well as police administrators and politicians on police reform in certain communities. Civilian Review Boards have representatives from communities which promote civilian interaction in making decisions on behalf of their citizens.

Another important example of civilian engagement is rallying behind politicians who have criminal justice reform agendas and holding them accountable for these reform efforts. Clearly, there is a disconnect between politicians and civilians, and in order to bridge the gap, there must be conversations on how politicians and police can best serve these communities. Politicians can lobby around criminal procedures, qualified immunity, state policies, and criminal offenses by police officers. Moving forward, the local people should hold their elected officials accountable; examine their political agendas, and question whether they are driving change, or are they only interested in their own political agendas? Discussions need to take place in communities regarding elected officials and also who is providing their funding.

Civilian Review Boards are also so-referred to as Civilian Oversight Boards, which is an umbrella term used by some communities. There are four models of Civilian Oversight Boards, one, in particular, is the Focus Model, a review board that looks at police departments when there is a problem. The second model is referred to as the Investigative Focus Model which is proactive and reactive working mainly on investigations. This model is considered an exclusive proactive structure of a Civilian Oversight Board which is considered the monitoring and auditing model; a Focus Model which is used to look for or anticipate problems prior to them happening. The fourth model is what they call a Hybrid Model where monitoring, auditing, and a small amount of investigating are done. There are no identical Civilian Review Boards in the country.

The discussion continued with a small section on Public Safety, Public Sector Unions (aka Police Unions), and Blue Fragility, which is a “proactive strategy or set of protective strategies used by police officers against any challenges to their legitimacy and authority.” One section in particular that was felt to be of importance and relevance to the actual training of police officers when using discretion was, 1) police encounters, 2) formal training, and 3) the informal culture of the police. The differences between the informal culture and formal training sometimes invalidate each other with systemic racist behavior within a society. This behavior basically determines where they grew up and how they were socialized be it within a predominately white space, i.e., or a cosmopolitan area, and their exposure to diversity and inclusion. These factors are significant in a police officer’s decision-making when encountering African American and Latinx males in urban public spaces. “When police go into the society with a certain socialization around race, then race itself becomes the primary organizing principle….”

Nearing the close of the discussion, Terry Watson, Founder of Strategies for Justice, asked the question, “What do you think holds people back from engaging? I’ve heard you talk like voting is one piece, but there is so much more. So can you guys both speak to what holds people back and how can we overcome those barriers?” Dr. Turè explained that, “One of the things that hold people back is information and knowledge. There are a number of citizens who are not familiar with the political process and therefore cannot engage in the process. The resources or the tools are not available to talk to people with language barriers.” Understanding the political process and making sure that resources are provided is necessary in order to hold these people accountable. He also mentioned “listening sessions” which a number of them were hosted by the Task Force on 21st Century Policing where transparency and accountability were recommended and is essential to positive police-community relationships. The question was, “Why would you want to then engage in the political process if no one is actually listening? And how can we hold these people accountable for things that they are so disconnected from?”

Emphasis was not only placed on listening, but how important it is to be heard. Dr. Turè stated, “We should listen to the young folks who are often in the crosshairs of law enforcement.” We should become familiar with the discursive strategies police and their unions use in order for us to create effective interventions. In order for there to be systemic changes in American policing important conversations need to take place. Our fight must be our efforts not only just dealing with police officers, but getting to the root of social inequities in our society. If racial equity is not attached to your identity and your person as a whole, then how can you go into a community that believes in and practices racial equality?

The Goal

Each panelist was sent the following points that we were asking them to address during this forum.

· Learn how civilians can engage in the criminal justice reform process.

· Develop strategies that break down barriers impacting citizens reentering our communities.

· Explore inclusive practices for engaging under-represented and marginalized communities in constructive political discourse.

Learn more about our symposium

Get involved with Strategies for Justice


About the author

Elinor A. McNeel, currently retired after a lengthy career as a Legal Assistant, decided to return to school and is presently attending Penn State University completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Law and Society. She enjoys reading a good book, writing, editing, and anything involving technology. Elinor is a published author of Understanding Rhetoric: A Student Guide with Samples and Analysis. Originally from Chicago, Ill, her family relocated to Los Angeles, California where she presently resides.

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