San Francisco Attorney Magazine

Summer 2021

Reimagining Policing

By Traci Mysliwiec

"The way to prevent violence and excessive force incidents is a structural institutional one. It takes hard work, it’s a long-term issue, it’s not about a few bad apples. It’s about addressing the culture, policy, and trainings that lead to bad results." — Benjamin Wagner

In our continuing efforts to eradicate racism and racial injustice, the Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) hosted a thought-provoking discussion about Reimagining Policing on May 12. As part of BASF Board President Marvin Anderson’s initiative, these types of discussions help advance our fight against injustice, ignorance, and intolerance.

“Police reform is needed now to eradicate racist policing practices and to help prevent the unnecessary loss of life suffered by Black people during routine law enforcement interactions," said Anderson.

Marvin Anderson, BASF Board President

The foundation for the discussion was a community-based policing report and accompanying toolkit published in 2020 by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (the Report).More than two years were spent working extensively on the Report, “New Era of Public Safety: A Guide to Fair, Safe, and Effective Community Policing,” engaging in a deep dive into evidence-based best practices to reform policing in collaboration with community advocates, attorneys, academics and law enforcement experts. The panelists from Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP included attorneys Marcellus McRae, Benjamin Wagner and Frances Waldmann.

The way to prevent violence and excessive force incidents is a structural institutional one. It takes hard work. It’s a long-term issue, it’s not about a few bad apples. It’s about addressing the culture, policy, and trainings that lead to bad results." — Benjamin Wagner

New Era of Public Safety: A Guide to Fair, Safe, and Effective Community Policing

The discussion focused on five key takeaways of the Report:

  • Recommendations have to be implemented on the local level - local leadership matters
  • Community voices have to be a central focus and their expectations have to be considered by the police department
  • Data transparency and accountability need to increase
  • Deescalation training and recruitment that reflect the community voices are necessary
  • Officers’ safety and wellbeing have direct impact on the policing they provide and police officer’s healthy engagement/relationship with the community

“The way to prevent violence and excessive force incidents is a structural institutional one. It takes hard work,” said Wagner. “It’s a long-term issue, it’s not about a few bad apples. It’s about addressing the culture, policy, and trainings that lead to bad results.”

...The police department has to shift from the warrior mentality to a guardian mentality in order to be able to facilitate the co-production of safety." — Marcellus McRae

Discussing local resolutions that embrace and require community policing as a key operating principle in philosophy and how the community should have an ongoing say in police practices, the panelists dove into the necessary shift in thinking.

“You want to decrease the number of contacts, if you’re doing that, the number of unfortunate incidents where there can be an excessive use of force is going to decline,” said McRae. “The police department has to shift from the warrior mentality to a guardian mentality in order to be able to facilitate the co-production of safety.”

Both detecting mental health issues and doing something about it is a huge part of having a functional police department which is going to do a good job in policing." —  Benjamin Wagner

The Report recognized that mental health is an issue in the police department. There are under-recognized high suicidal rates of police officers because a lot of officers don’t understand they can be helped or they don’t feel comfortable doing that.

“Both detecting mental health issues and doing something about it is a huge part of having a functional police department which is going to do a good job in policing,” Wagner explained. All of this points back to the Early Intervention System — detecting problematic behaviors, whether or not officers are experiencing trauma unique to them.

The group provides a toolkit, a simpler document for people to use to implement changes, especially for those who are not lawyers and want to have an impact in the community — practical and implementable guide to be a local community activist.


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