Recapping “Beyond Thoughts and Prayers” Panel Discussion

On Thursday, June 25, 2020, the UConn Department of Public Policy partnered with Professor Brandi Blessett, Associate Professor and Director of the Masters of Public Administration Program at the University of Cincinnati, to present a conversation discussing solutions to the police violence against black people in our country. UConn Professor Thomas Craemer moderated a panel of six experts in law enforcement to discuss topics such as defunding police departments, building relationships between local police and their black communities, and offering a more diverse police force to mirror the communities they represent.

Ivonne Roman, Relationship Manager at the Center for Policing Equity, provided findings from her research on recruitment of women into law enforcement and what women bring to the position.  Studies show that there is less use of excessive force when women police officers are on the call. She also provided insight into the current system for officer accountability. Everyone agreed that police officers have to be held accountable for their actions and that incidents where someone is killed or excessive force is used need to be reviewed by an unbiased investigator.

Jack Mewhirter, Assistant Professor of Political Science at University of Cincinnati, was asked about the militarization of some police forces.  This is a federal program that offers military equipment to local police departments which is disproportionately deployed into communities of color. This deployment is left to the decision of state officials and it is up to citizen outcry to restrict the use of this equipment.

The other panelists, including Frank Adderley, Chief of Police, West Palm Beach Police Department, Rob Kenter, Director of Law Enforcement Field Engagement at the Center for Policing Equity, and Brandi Blessett, offered their thoughts on the impact that defunding police departments would have and the idea of creating positions for mental health professionals in the department to offer their expertise when there is a case of mental distress or homelessness in the field. This often diffuses the situation and leads to less arrests. The police are left to handle the more violent issues.

Brian Williams, Associate Professor of Public Policy at Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, University of Virginia, suggested that we need to deconstruct and then reconstruct.  We need to reimagine the types of communities that we want and then invest in their change.  These means the community must have input into the policies and procedures.

The panel agreed that change has to start at a grassroots level and that the community has to be involved. There also has to be accountability. Whether it be policy or training, the affects have to be followed up on and evaluated.  Is it working?  Are we getting the results we want? Change is going to take time, but change is necessary.