Transparency in Policing: a good first step

by Jonathan Krall

The death of George Floyd has ignited yet another round of protests. Because the last round of protests seems to have accomplished nothing, the new protests are bigger and the messaging is more direct. Many protesters are asking us to defund the police and are calling for system-wide reforms. Here in Alexandria, Grassroots Alexandria is joining with community leaders to ask for transparency and accountability in policing. As part of an effort led by former school board member Chris Lewis’ initiative Just NOVA, we are asking for both a data transparency ordinance and a substantive community review board. If enough Alexandrians speak out and write to city council, we can accomplish these small steps.

Data Transparency

With your support, Alexandria can enact an ordinance requiring quarterly reporting on Alexandria Police Department data broken down by race, ethnicity, and other factors related to:
1. investigative stops, frisks, and searches
2. traffic stops
3. use of force incidents
4. civilian complaints
5. arrests

On February 27, 2018, the APD presented a Data Refinement and Transparency Plan. As presented, the plan would “capture information on stops, information and assist contacts, community outreach efforts and other activities not currently collected. It will also include subject demographic data related the activity performed by the officer as suggested in the 21 st Century Policing report.” Unfortunately, City Council accepted the new policy without passing an ordinance. The promised reports were not required and have not been delivered.

Alexandria City government takes pride in utilizing “best practices.” Best practices tell us that communities of color should lead the way in identifying and proposing solutions for issues in their communities. The modest cost of data reporting would be an investment in police-community relations, engagement and respect.

Community Review Board

According to the Center for American Progress, “Civilian oversight promises more equitable policing because it is a process by which non-police community members can regularly provide input into police department operations.” However, such boards can be undermined if they are not sufficiently independent of the police. At their best, such boards have the power and the institutional memory to identify and respond to patterns of misconduct, such as a problem police officer or a problem department that is chronic generator of citizens complaints.

Defund the Police

Recent calls for cities to hand police functions over to government or community-based institutions provide context for our modest local effort.

The scope of policing has been expanding greatly in recent years, driven by the military industrial complex. Central to one campaign to reduce police power are community oversight of police, limitations on use of force, ending for-profit policing and demilitarization. As an example of reducing use of force, Campaign Zero calls for the establishment of “Mental Health Response Teams to respond to crisis situations” instead of police. Our call for transparency and accountability has some of the elements of this campaign.

Locally, Tenants and Workers United and the Advancement Project, two organizations that helped secure the promise of data transparency in 2017, are calling for defunding. TWU is calling for removal of police from Alexandria schools. The Advancement Project is calling “for the diversion of money currently spent on police, courts, and jails to address needs identified by the community to create genuine public safety.” Genuine public safety sounds pretty good to us. Transparency, community oversight, and removal of police from schools would be good first steps.

2 Replies to “Transparency in Policing: a good first step”

  1. I agree with data transparency and community review board, limitations on use of force, demilitarization and eliminating for profit policing.

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