Some Local Police Departments Are Understaffed. These Volunteers Are Helping Fill the Ranks

Funded in part by the U.S. Department of Justice, VIPS pairs interested applicants with their local police stations, who “hire” them for help on evenings and weekends. Tasks can vary, but volunteers often assist officers with tasks like gathering data and vacation-home monitoring, as well as with staffing desks and kiosks.
Glenn Lasater, 71, volunteers twice a week with the Traffic Investigations Unit of the Denver Police Department. “I provide direct support to the detectives in handling their cases,” Lasater says. “I handle calls, and go out on accident scenes, and that takes that off the back of the detectives.”
Support from people like Lasater can be critical in cities and towns that desperately need it: According to the National Police Support Fund, some local police departments nationwide are losing funding, meaning that support from volunteers may ultimately prove mission critical.
To learn more about Lasater and VIPS, watch the video above.
More: One on One With the Police

The Cops Standing With, and for, the Gay Communities They Serve

Not long after New York City police Detective Brian Downey slides into a corner seat at Philip Marie, a restaurant serving American comfort classics in Manhattan’s West Village, the owner drops by. He’s all smiles as he shakes Downey’s hand, welcoming him back for the umpteenth time.
“This place, it’s been good to us. They support us,” Downey says. “I want to support people who support us.”
Support is something of a loaded word for Downey. As a member of the NYPD, his job is to help and protect the public at large. But as the president of the force’s only LGBTQ fraternal organization — the Gay Officers Action League, or GOAL — his other role is to serve and support his brothers and sisters dressed in blue … and rainbows.
Gay police officers straddle two worlds: Outside the force, they are sometimes viewed with suspicion by their own kind. As part of the force, they’re navigating the very institution largely responsible for the violence that led to the modern gay rights movement. It can be a dizzying experience, knowing that the policies and practices of the NYPD haven’t historically aligned with their activism.
But Downey and others credit GOAL, a 36-year-old organization started at a time when many cops stayed in the closet, with bringing them wider recognition and respect among their fellow officers.
“Even in the short time I’ve been here, things have changed dramatically from [former Commissioner] Bill Bratton’s last term and now with [Commissioner James P.] O’Neill. We’re respected, and we are looked to for guidance,” Downey says. “And, believe it or not, we’re considered the cool kids — the queer kids are the cool kids.”

Gay officers 2
Members of GOAL at the group’s 2018 NYPD Pride Celebration.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, the gay rights movement was born out of a riot against the police. In 1969, New York City officers raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village, sparking violent protests and clashes that lasted six days.
And back then, as now, the struggle between being both a cop and a gay activist wasn’t easily reconciled.
In 1981, NYPD Sgt. Charles Cochrane stood up at a city council meeting and outed himself. “I’m very proud of being a New York City policeman, and I’m equally proud of being gay,” he said to a stunned audience. He was testifying in support of a bill that would ban discriminatory hiring practices based on sexual orientation. Cochrane recognized the need for a sea change and, with the Stonewall riots still fresh on the city’s mind, started GOAL the next year.
Today, GOAL has more than 2,000 members from police agencies across the tri-state area and chapters in Philadelphia, Chicago and greater New England. The groups attend AIDS vigils, host meet-and-greets for neighbors to connect with LGBTQ officers, sometimes over coffee, and march in pride parades to show their visibility among a community still raw over the history of past tangles with police.  
“Bridging the gap between the community and the NYPD is one of the most important things we have been able to accomplish,” says Sgt. Ana Arboleda, vice president of the NYPD’s GOAL. “It’s an ongoing process, yes, but it’s important for the [gay community] — which has this mentality based on history that you can’t be both gay and a police officer — to see that there are gay cops out there. And it’s important for the police department to see that we are part of their workforce.”
That message resonates with Carl Locke, an NYPD detective and a member of GOAL. Before he joined the force 17 years ago, Locke was a social worker and director at the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, where he investigated cases of police violence against the gay community.
“When I came into the police department, I came in because there’s only so much change you can [enact] on the outside,” he says. “Sometimes you have to to fix from within.”
And that change has, indeed, been noticeable — especially where optics are concerned. The NYPD is one of the most diverse police forces in the nation and has a handful of openly transgender administrators and uniformed officials.  
On June 12, a few weeks before this year’s Pride Parade, Downey stood at the front of an auditorium in New York’s police headquarters for an annual event to honor the city’s gay officers. Hundreds of gay cops and their straight allies were standing as the national anthem played. But the focus wasn’t on the U.S. flag; instead, the crowd was gazing at the transgender flag and the LGBTQ rainbow flag hoisted up, side by side.
“That was a historic moment,” Downey says the next day at Philip Marie. “The transgender flag — flying in police headquarters — is something I don’t think I would’ve ever imagined seeing five, 10 years ago.”
Gay officers 3
“The transgender flag — flying in police headquarters — is something I don’t think I would’ve ever imagined seeing five, 10 years ago,” says NYPD Detective Brian Downey.

Members of GOAL see themselves as activists within a police department that has been historically slow to change. Even as recently as a few years ago, GOAL wasn’t allowed to hold Pride Month events, like the one this month to recognize their gay colleagues, at police headquarters.
But the tide has changed, in part because of GOAL’s work and the state inspector general’s mandate to make the NYPD more inclusive of transgender and gender-nonconforming citizens. Since 2012, the department has provided inclusivity training, led by members of GOAL, to talk about implicit biases and has directed every officer to take an inclusivity refresher course, which cadets are required to initially complete while at the academy.
And for other GOAL members outside of the NYPD, such as Lt. James Tracy of the Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, police department, the ability to be openly gay while in the police force is important to make those meaningful changes.
Before coming out at work, Tracy kept his boyfriend a secret from coworkers. His boss made disparaging remarks about his sexuality, which resulted in a series of legal suits. But overall, he says, his presence on the force has had an impact on his small police department.
“They see me as a good cop because I do my job, and they haven’t changed the way they treat me,” Tracy tells NationSwell. “And that was super-important for me, that they didn’t act differently.”
Despite progress made at their workplaces, members of GOAL say that same acceptance is harder to come by within their own community.
“There are a lot of people who don’t like police officers,” says Locke. “There have been plenty of times when people are just not happy you’re there. But it’s a little different getting it from your own community, because they of all people should know you’re doing something to make a change.”
Police officers taking part in pride parades have gotten pushback the past few years, as more awareness and media presence has focused on unfair treatment of black citizens and the unsolved murders of transgender people.
“I do feel that we have to constantly remember that we’ve come so far, but also how easily things can get taken away,” says Locke, adding that it’s important to remember the police’s part in the history of the Stonewall uprising. “But it’s also a time that we celebrate who we are. Pride is much more complicated than just a protest.”

5 Virtual Reality Projects That Will Change How You View the World

In 1915, two decades after the first commercial film premiered, American audiences packed cinemas to see “The Birth of a Nation,” a three-hour, silent epic directed by D.W. Griffith. The story of racial tensions during Reconstruction demonized intermarriage and championed the Ku Klux Klan as guardians of white women’s chastity. The nation’s first blockbuster, the movie gained popularity for reflecting contemporary fears of racial inclusivity; it possibly even exacerbated prejudices.

If one of the first major experiments in the new medium of film ended up with such a retrograde product, what should we expect from this century’s emerging medium, virtual reality? By immersing viewers in another world, as opposed to the passive experience of watching a movie, virtual reality’s storytelling has the potential to change our moral point of view. If Griffith’s century-old film mythologized men in white sheets, could VR help us see beyond our skin color?

That, essentially, is the goal. But as with most mediums, especially one that removes us from our surroundings, there’s always the danger of escapism in to fantasy. NationSwell examined five recent works (sometimes called “sims” or “experiences”) to see if filmmakers have found a new way to generate empathy.

A still from Nonny de la Peña’s “Project Syria Demo,” a VR sim about the life of refugees.

1. Embracing Our Differences

Nonny de la Peña is sometimes referred to as the “godmother of virtual reality.” At Emblematic Group, the VR company she founded a decade ago in Santa Monica, Calif., de la Peña brought the genre of “immersive journalism” (often pairing real sound with low-budget digital animations) to the mainstream with her short project “Hunger in Los Angeles,” which recreated the experience of waiting on line at a Skid Row food bank. Later films took viewers to a Syrian refugee camp and the Mexican border. This year, at the Sundance Film Festival, she debuted her most recent, “Out of Exile: Daniel’s Story,” about an LGBT youth coming out to his disapproving family. De la Peña, a former Newsweek correspondent, believes that VR can make viewers feel in a way no other artistic medium can. “If you feel like you’re there, then you feel like it could happen to you, too,” she recently told Los Angeles Magazine.

The “Perspective” series includes a story about sexual assault at a college party.

2. Adopting Another Perspective

For the last two years, Specular Theory’sPerspective” series, which premiered at Sundance in 2015, has been showing how social cues can be misinterpreted very quickly. Playing two sides back-to-back, the narratives by Rose Troche and Morris May show varying perspectives on a crime. In the first chapter, “The Party,” about sexual assault, a man and woman meet at an alcohol-soaked college kegger. Gina, the girl, passes out, too intoxicated; Brian, the boy, has sex with her anyway. This year, “The Misdemeanor” doubled the number of perspectives around a fictional officer-involved shooting in Brooklyn to four: a teenager who’s shot, his brother and two cops. “Who will approach the piece and only watch one thing and think that they have the story?” Troche said to Wired. “That’s pretty much what we have in real life. The piece demonstrates the fact that just because you’re there, doesn’t mean you see everything. Through the four strings, you get to see the full picture.”

Director Janicza Bravo was inspired from events in her own life when making “Hard World For Small Things.”

3. Contemplating the Bigger Picture

The Wevr-produced film “Hard World for Small Things,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016, likewise tackles police brutality. In the five-minute story, director Janicza Bravo, a black woman, retells a deeply personal story from her own life. In 1999, while on vacation from her native Panama, a cousin had been killed in Brooklyn while holding a bag of coke. After looking up the event, all Bravo could find were short write-ups in local newspapers. Bravo’s film goes beyond that brevity to capture a whole life, leading up to its final moments. “What if their lives were more than a couple of paragraphs; what if it was their friends, where they were going, what they had read, what they had desired, etc. I wanted to make a short piece that was emotionally longer than a paragraph, and that you got a slice of his life before he died. So when he died, it’s not about the event and what he did to have died; it becomes about who he was, his humor, his laugh,” Bravo has said. For her new sim, she transposed the story to a mini-mart in South Los Angeles, where police mistake someone’s identity and fire at him with questionable cause.

A Stanford University VR project puts a chainsaw in the hands of the viewer.

4. Respecting Animals and Nature

Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab is bringing the rigors of academia to VR. At the university’s campus in Palo Alto, Calif., professor Jeremy Bailenson, the lab’s director, tests whether virtual reality can improve all life by making viewers more empathetic, more aware of the need for environmental conservation and more communicative. Essentially, he wonders, can visualizing the effects of our behavior change our actions? In one sim, a headset-equipped viewer grabs a chainsaw and cuts down a tree in a forest. In another film, after a person gets down on all fours and straps on the VR goggles, they become a cow grazing in a pasture before being driven to a slaughterhouse. It might just be enough for you to think twice about loading paper into a printer or ordering beef for dinner.

“It Can Wait” shows the dangers of texting while driving.

5. Putting Personal Responsibility in the Driver’s Seat

Even the lowly PSA is going virtual, too. Reel FX and AT&T’s recent commercial simulates the consequences of distracted driving. In “It Can Wait,” a person places her hand on a wheel before the simulation starts. She motors around a neighborhood while texting, barely avoiding bikers, swerving cars and schoolchildren in the crosswalk. As you can guess, the experience ends in tragedy. “Although people admit that such behavior is terrible and that they do it, they don’t necessarily see themselves as part of the problem. What people are doing is rationalizing that there is a safe way to do it,” Michelle Kuckelman, executive director of brand management at AT&T, told USA Today. By experiencing the film, participants get to see the danger from afar, while still catching a glimpse of disaster up close.

Continue reading “5 Virtual Reality Projects That Will Change How You View the World”

How Dallas Became a Role Model for Community Policing, The Secret Streams That Keep Hawaii Pristine and More

A Different Beat, Texas Monthly
The sniper attack that killed five Dallas cops this summer shocked locals: “Why here?” they wondered. Unlike other racially diverse urban areas, police relations in this Texan metropolis were quite strong. Since 2010, Police Chief David Brown harped on the need for community policing — even after his own patrol cops called for his resignation — saying a team of 80 neighborhood specialists are the city’s best crime-fighting tool.

Uncovering the Potential of Honolulu’s Hidden Streams, Next City
Open a manhole cover on Oahu, and one might find a stream of crystal-clear freshwater, dotted with fish wriggling upstream — just one of the many auwai, or canals, that native Hawaiians dug, then paved over centuries later. In Honolulu, a city well known for its sandy beaches, architects are reclaiming the rest of the tropical island’s buried waterways to accent public parks, buffer against flooding and repair coral reefs damaged by impure runoff.

America’s First Offshore Wind Farm May Power Up a New Industry, The New York Times
Several miles from New England’s shore, a brand-new energy project could have massive environmental ramifications. No, not oil drilling (with its hazardous spills), but the first-ever offshore wind farm. When three massive turbines near Block Island, R.I., begin twirling this October in the unobstructed Atlantic Ocean breezes (likely at faster, more consistent speeds than those on land), they could turbocharge  the already booming renewable energy sector.

MORE: 5 Ways To Strengthen Ties Between Cops and Citizens

This Is Possibly America’s Most Immigrant-Friendly City, Using Burgers to Bring Police and Community Activists Together and More

How an Ohio Town Became a Model for Resettling Syrian Refugees, Vice
Many politicians don’t believe that the U.S. can properly screen refugees from the Middle East. Yet one city in Ohio is welcoming them with open arms. In Toledo, multiple organizations provide Syrian immigrants with much-needed assistance, helping them locate housing, receive English language lessons and more.
Diverse Wichitans Gather for Barbecue with Police, Wichita Eagle
Across the nation, Black Lives Matter protesters and police officers face off against each other in the streets. But in Wichita, Kan., these two groups came together over hamburgers and hot dogs to discuss the importance of community policing, how poverty and lack of education cause racial disparity and why racial bias still exists.
Meet the Dangling Goddess of Street Art at Ozy Fest, Ozy
Low-income students who receive a strong arts education are more successful at challenging coursework than kids whose schooling is light on the arts. Which is why street artist Alice Mizrachi is teaching urban youth how creative expression can fight poverty and racial inequality.
MORE: Why Sleeping in a Former Slave’s Home Will Make You Rethink Race Relations in America

A Better Way to Register New Voters, A Talking Cure for Homicide and More


Here’s What Happened When Oregon Automatically Registered Its New Voters, Washington Post

When you apply for a drivers license in Oregon, you’re now automatically registered to vote. State officials say the DMV program — the nation’s first opt-out law — is the simplest way to bolster voter rolls and keep addresses up-to-date — important in a state that votes by mail. So far, in the first week, four times as many new voters signed up as the Beaver State used to register in a month. It remains to be seen whether they actually cast a ballot.

This Police Department Stops Disputes Before They Turn Deadly, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

It’s a rule of thumb for criminologists that crime spikes in the summer: not only are more people outside, but heated arguments also sometimes lead to violence. In Rochester, N.Y., beat cops now track tiffs across the city and send a summary of the dispute to a central database, where analysts can predict which are most likely to escalate. While this predictive policing may sound like a real-life “Minority Report,” law enforcement’s seven-month-old strategy appears promising and is being looked at by other departments nationally, including Milwaukee.

After Rehab, This Valuable App Keeps Drinkers and Drug Abusers Sober, New York Times

A former addict walks out of rehab and is suddenly bombarded by temptations: old drinking buddies, familiar haunts, relief from stress and anxiety. A mobile app, A-Chess, checks in throughout the day to help alcoholics avoid the bottle. It’s pre-loaded with high-risk locations like bars and liquor stores the person frequented. When nearby, the app automatically sends a message, “Are you sure you want to be here?” and alerts other contacts the patient has pre-programmed, like his sponsor or a family member. Along with virtual counseling and other smartphone apps, these modern tools are helping with the hardest part of getting clean: staying that way.

To Reduce Drug Abuse, These Members of the Criminal Justice Community Advocate for Legalization, Not Criminalization

A former undercover narc who busted drug dealers in Baltimore, Maj. Neill Franklin is an unlikely advocate for loosening America’s drug laws. Even more unexpected is the fact that he probably holds the most liberal views of all those lobbying Congress for reform. But Franklin, more than anyone, also has the credentials to back up his talking points. He says his 23 years with the Maryland State Police Department — spent confronting addicts, hauling in dealers, training cops to search and seize narcotics — convinced him that the War on Drugs has failed. He believes substance abuse must be treated as a public health issue, not a law enforcement operation.
“In simple terms, the War on Drugs is the criminalization of people who use and sell drugs,” says Franklin, now the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an educational nonprofit that has swelled to 160,000 members since its founding. “It is the policy we have chosen in managing this use of drugs which has become more problematic than drug use itself.”
Franklin got a first-hand look as one of the war’s foot soldiers trying to stop the flow of marijuana and heroin into Baltimore. “Initially, I thought they deserved [jail time],” Franklin says. “We used the lingo: We called them dirt-balls, anything you can think of — junkies, degenerates.” Franklin saw young kids, barely 10 years old, acting as lookouts for crews involved in the drug trade, and he saw bodies of rival gang members, killed in shootouts and drive-bys. Upset, he initially responded to the violence with crackdowns. After each arrest, “all we did was create job openings that others fought for,” he soon realized.

Neill Franklin (right) in 1979, when he worked as a trooper.

He lost all hope in waging a punitive battle against narcotics in 2000, when his good friend Ed Toatley, a 37-year-old trooper with the Maryland State Police Department, was killed in an undercover drug buy. Sitting in an SUV, Toatley handed a 23-year-old dealer $3,000 in cash. Instead of delivering the drugs, the dealer shot the decorated officer in the head. Investigators say Toatley’s cover wasn’t blown; the dealer just planned to rip off his competitor.
Research, combined with some heavy thinking, convinced him to alter his views. Able to spout off statistics like he’s reading them from a book, Franklin points out that since the War on Drugs began, more than 39 million have been arrested for nonviolent drug offenses — many of them black and Hispanic — quadrupling the prison population and costing us a trillion-and-a-half dollars in criminal justice-related costs (cops, courts, prison cells). Community relations with police throughout the country are strained, Franklin speculates, because of negative interactions from drug searches and arrests. The drugs themselves, he adds, are cheaper, more available and stronger than four decades ago. To him, that appears to be a losing strategy.
Franklin, who is African-American, didn’t immediately know what to do with his change of heart. He discovered LEAP’s website in 2003, a couple years after it developed out of a conversation between two cops. One was Jack Cole, a retired detective with the New Jersey State Police who spent 14 of his 26-year career arresting users. (He came to believe that serving time turned these individuals into criminals.) The other was Peter Christ, a retired police captain from upstate New York who took a libertarian slant on the issue: thinking that people should have the freedom to choose what substances they wanted to use. Hearing from other officers who shared their views, they created LEAP and expanded its ranks to include representatives from every aspect of law enforcement that deals with drugs — cops, sheriff deputies, DEA and FBI agents, prosecutors, judges, prison wardens and probation officers — to share a unified message with voters. Franklin signed up in 2008.
Converted, Franklin advocates full legalization of drugs (from marijuana to heroin). This seems to mark a major shift from his work as a cop, where he would make an arrest for even a trace amount of an illegal substance. But in a way, Franklin’s position hasn’t changed that much. He doesn’t want it to be a free-for-all for hard drugs (which is pretty much what we have now, he believes), but he thinks they should be regulated so that their use can be monitored. That oversight reduces the likelihood of an overdose and gives professionals an opening to provide education and possibly, medical treatment for addiction. In essence, it’s the same as existing regulations for alcohol and cigarettes.
Franklin doesn’t expect an overnight shift in policy, but he does hope that the legalization of marijuana in some states will be an impetus for further change. “The linchpin is marijuana,” he says. “I think if we could take one drug — and marijuana is good because it’s so prevalent — and change the policy to legalize it, regulate and control it, people will see a number of things. Number one: they see, wow, the sky didn’t fall,” he says.
Nor does he believe there will be an uptick in abuse of pot or a rise in fatal car accidents in the four states and in the District of Columbia where marijuana is legal for recreational use; instead, he predicts, fewer costs in law enforcement resources in both time and tax dollars, more sales tax revenue, a boon for sluggish job markets, a decrease in alcohol abuse and a drop in painkiller overdoses. If he’s right, and legalization in Colorado, Washington and other early adopters is a success, Franklin says it will be much easier to broach the more radical topics of legalization, such as treatment centers where a person could receive methadone or heroin, changes in the law to require all cops to carry naloxone (which reverses opioid poisoning) and giving amnesty to good samaritans who report ODs.
These are far more radical proposals than most you’ll hear on Capitol Hill. Several groups — National Organizational for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Americans for Safe Access, the Marijuana Policy Project and Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access — focus explicitly on legalizing marijuana (not other illegal substances), sometimes only for medical purposes. Even the Drug Policy Alliance, perhaps the highest-profile advocacy group for reform, has limited its message to legalizing marijuana and a select group of psychedelics like MDMA (commonly known as Ecstasy or Molly), LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. The group is pushing to pilot supervised injection facilities in San Francisco and New York, but it largely pushes off which other drugs should be legalized as an unsolved question, according to a platform on the group’s website.
Neill Franklin at a Students for Sensible Drug Policy Conference, where he was a keynote speaker and panelist.

Although it’s become the face of some legalization campaigns, LEAP primarily operates as “a speakers bureau,” Franklin says. At first, they took their message to anyone that would listen: Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, college campuses. Today, they win audiences in the halls of Congress. Their persuasive power comes from their knowledge of the black market, similar to the way that Vietnam Veterans Against the War once spun their firsthand experience into a pacifist message. Notably, this allows LEAP to go toe-to-toe with other law enforcement groups, even as it delivers a stronger message than most drug advocacy groups, who are fearful of using the “L-word.” “We have always used the word [legalization]. We tend to be a few steps ahead of everyone else. We can do that. We’re cops, we’re judges. We can push the envelope.”
Still, the work is a constant uphill battle. Retired captains, for instance, are willing to be vocal, but it’s tough for LEAP to recruit active-duty cops as speakers. “Many who have signed on as members — not speakers — do it covertly because they face retribution,” Franklin says, listing several highly publicized examples of firings because those individuals shared LEAP’s views. One arose at the Mexican-American border in Deming, N.M., where a young Border Patrol agent, Bryan Gonzalez, expressed his frustration with how pot’s criminalization supported violent cartels across the fence to another agent. He mentioned LEAP and was soon fired for holding “personal views that were contrary to core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication and espirit de corps.” Another, Joe Miller, was removed from his position as a probation officer in Mohave County in Arizona after signing a LEAP petition supporting California’s failed ballot measure to legalize weed in 2010. (Both went to court to appeal their cases.)
For too many years, police chiefs pressured their officers to handcuff and lock up nonviolent drug offenders; now, Franklin believes that education will eventually prompt those same departments into rethinking their response — prioritizing compassion and care over incarceration.
LEAP’s education work prompts Franklin to recall the lesson learned a century ago when this country placed a federal ban on alcohol. To overturn the 18th Amendment, reformers battled state-by-state until the movement could not be ignored. In a political process that took nearly 14 years, the law was repealed, taking back control from the Mob’s underground smugglers and instating strict government regulations on liquor. Now that several states have taken the first steps toward legalization, Franklin figures that another big change in drug policy will occur before 2026.
He can’t wait.

Homepage photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

This City’s Police Want to Protect Your Right to Privacy

What did the Seattle Police Department do when an activist requested their entire archive of patrol car videos — all 1.6 million videos? For the hometown of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, the answer was easy: Seattle’s cops went to the computer nerds.

Law enforcement agencies are promising body cameras will bring a new era of accountability by capturing cops’ every interaction on film in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York and other cities encouraged by Obama’s promise of $263 million in funding. But all that video presents a technical problem: how can a department possibly sort and release so many hours of footage? Stepping up its commitment to transparency and collaboration, Seattle’s police asked 80 local tech wizards from Amazon, Microsoft and to streamline the disclosure process at its first department-sponsored hackathon earlier this month.

“We’re having a conversation about transparency and privacy. How do the two intersect?” Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a spokesperson, tells the The Seattle Times. “How can the Seattle Police Department share terabytes of information we’re storing?”

Citizens only feel cameras increase accountability if they trust the devices are used properly, if they cannot be switched off at critical moments or if the video won’t be buried by scandal-averse commanders. But police departments cannot simply post raw video of every arrest to YouTube. To protect individuals’ privacy, state law prevents police from releasing details like the faces of juveniles or sexual assault victims as well medical details or mental health history, explains Mary Perry, the police department’s counsel.

But currently, removing a simple cut from a one-minute video “can take specialists upward of half an hour, whereas more complicated edits — like blurring multiple faces or pieces of audio — can take much, much longer,” an S.P.D. statement says. That’s a problem when the police are already burning an average of 7,000 DVDs every month and will have even more as body cams are rolled out for the entire force.

Technologies like image-recognition seem to be the police’s best bet for a quicker, cheaper way to systematically redact sensitive information. “Government agencies don’t jump out to me to be at the forefront of technology research,” says Simon Winder, head of Impressive Machines, a tech company focused on robotics, machine learning and recognition software. But with such huge tasks, cities are primed to adopt cutting-edge solutions. “There are so many ways we can yet use technology,” Seattle’s mayor Ed Murray responds. “We want to be the number one digital city.”

One of the recurring topics the hackers discussed was what to do when an algorithm makes an error in identifying a person or a frame of video, particularly because so many are shot in the dark of night or in the blur of pursuing a suspect. “The problem is you can’t just say ‘oops’ when you violate someone’s right to privacy,” says Brandon Arp, a software developer at Groupon who attended the hackathon. He proposed a “very conservative” system that hides more information from a clip than required by law but allows for a person to request a manual secondary review of individual redactions.

Ideas like this emerged over the five-hour brainstorming session (and free lunch) in the basement of police headquarters, prompting officials to predict they will become a national model. Officer Patrick Michaud says he was “blown away” by the hackathon. “Options came out of it, which is what we look for,” he tells The Seattle Times. “A different way to look for problems always works for us.”

DON’T MISS: This Is What Community Oriented Policing Looks Like

Minorities Should Want To Be Police Officers

One of the first facts people noticed after a white police officer killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., was that only three of the 53 cops on the local force were black. That’s nowhere near the city’s racial composition, where two-thirds of residents are African-American.
Though the number of minority cops has grown over the past two decades, this lack of diversity is the norm in hundreds of departments across the country, while the key to recruiting and retaining minority officers remains elusive for most departments. As demands for reform echo across the country, we examined the latest research and contacted experts to find the best methods for hiring police forces that better reflect the neighborhoods they serve.
DON’T MISS: This Is What Community Oriented Policing Looks Like

5 Ways to Strengthen Ties Between Cops and Citizens

During a tense confrontation between white police and a black man, officers drew their guns and fired, leaving a mourning mother and an enraged community.
Sounds familiar, right? But it’s not the story you’re thinking of.
In this case, the year was 1987; the place was Memphis, Tenn. And the man killed by cops? Joseph Dewayne Robinson.
His death has a lot in common with that of Michael Brown’s, the black teenager who was killed by an officer in Ferguson, Mo., last month. But while Brown’s passing was followed by the deployment of armored vehicles, rubber bullets and riot gear, Robinson’s led to community dialogue, partnership and, ultimately, a new national model of how police can de-escalate crisis situations. It’s one example of terrible tragedy leading to positive change.
It remains to be seen what will come out of the disastrous events in Ferguson. Brown’s death — and its turbulent aftermath — exposed a deep disconnect between the local police force and the community it serves. As the tear gas clears in the Missouri town and analysts consider how things went so horribly wrong there, here’s a look at five instances where police and communities have worked together successfully, building trust and making neighborhoods safer for both cops and the people they’re supposed to protect.
1) Memphis calms things down
Robinson, mentioned above, had struggled with mental illness and was just 27 years old when he was killed. On the day of his death, his mother had called the cops because her son — high on cocaine — was cutting himself with a large knife and threatening people around him.
The Memphis police arrived and, after a confrontation, shot Robinson 10 times.
The community was deeply disturbed, and people started coming together to look for solutions. “Family members meeting in the kitchen said there’s got to be a better way to deal with these things,” says Veronique Black, a family and consumer advocate at the Memphis chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a nonprofit mental-health advocacy group.
Two members of Memphis NAMI approached the police department with a plan: Let’s train cops to safely defuse tense situations involving people with mental illness.
In response, the city’s mayor formed a task force and police met with families and mental health professionals. Together they came up with the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT): a 40-hour training program that teaches police to respond to mental illness emergencies in a calm, safe, caring fashion.
“The CIT officer is working very, very hard to slow things down,” says Maj. Sam Cochran, a former member of the Memphis Police Department who oversaw the city’s CIT program for 20 years. CIT members are trained to respond coolly and carefully in all situations — talking down agitated people using a clear, slow voice, defusing conflicts that might otherwise end in injury or death, and finding ways to reduce anxiety while avoiding the use of force.
They’re also specialists in controlling fear, whether it’s the person in crisis, others who happen to be around or even the officers, Cochran says. People who are afraid can be dangerous: “If you don’t get a handle on that fear, it can cause some very difficult challenges,” he says.
The training gives cops a safer way to respond not only to mental health emergencies, but also high-pressure situations of all kinds, like domestic disputes or confrontations between police and a suspect.
The program has worked well in Memphis. “We had something like a 40 to 50 percent decrease in officer injuries on call events related to mental illness,” Cochran says. And although the department didn’t keep statistics on civilian injuries stemming from those kinds of calls, he says, “we felt very confident that if officers weren’t getting hurt, people with mental illness weren’t getting hurt.”
Based on its success in Memphis, CIT has since become a national standard, adopted by about 2,800 police departments nationwide.
2) California cops chat over coffee
While police departments have been arming themselves in recent years with surplus military equipment from the federal government, there might be a much simpler way to make communities safer: over a cup of coffee.
Hawthorne, Calif., police detective John Dixon tried that tactic back in 2011. He convinced his department to set aside a single morning for Coffee With a Cop, an event where officers would sit in a local McDonald’s and talk with anyone who had a question or concern. The event was so popular that the department started holding it in a different area of the city every six weeks.
These coffee talks allowed Hawthorne police to connect with their neighbors on a more personal level. The idea, Dixon says, is to reclaim “the small-town feel of knowing a cop on the corner.” They are also a way to break through the barriers that can separate cops and civilians (like the bulletproof glass at the front desk in the police station), Dixon says. “It opened up a lot of lines of communication.”
Previously, cops might only interact with civilians during calls for service, Dixon explains. “Officers tend to go to the call, handle the call and then leave.” But Coffee With a Cop lets officers and neighbors relate as people, to see each other as more than just a robbery victim or a law enforcer.
After the program’s initial success, Hawthorne police Sgt. Chris Cognac wrote about it in a federal newsletter on community policing, and the idea caught fire. The department received a grant and started training other police departments how to commune over a cup of joe.
Some 680 departments in the United States as well as forces in Canada, Australia and Nigeria have held Coffee With a Cop events, Dixon says.
Dixon says police departments often ask what kind of return, in numbers, they’ll get from holding a Coffee With a Cop event — How many arrests will it lead to? How many guns will be seized? But the effect of the events isn’t quantifiable in that way, Dixon says. It’s about relationship-building, not crime stats.
At the events, people often talk about problems that they wouldn’t think to call 911 about, but that add up to diminishing a neighborhood’s safety, Dixon says. One neighbor, for instance, complained to a cop about an abandoned couch in an alleyway, where people were hanging out and doing drugs, he says. The officer immediately pulled out his phone and called the city to have public works haul away the sofa.
3) Boston makes a miracle
Cops and neighbors can bond over a hot beverage — or they can come together to confront violent gang members and convince them to put down their guns.
That’s what the work of David Kennedy, criminologist and author of two books on crime prevention, has shown.
Kennedy is the mastermind behind the so-called “Boston Miracle,” which drastically reduced youth homicides in the city in the 1990s. The method is one of the most high-profile models of police and neighborhood leaders working together to end street violence.
Kennedy’s approach is based on the understanding that most urban violence is caused by a small number of people. Therefore, police shouldn’t treat whole communities as problematic simply because some members are violent, and residents should work with cops who are willing to focus on tackling the troublemakers.
Under Kennedy’s model, cops, probation officers and others identify the people responsible for most of the shootings. These people are invited to a call-in, where they’re given straight talk by neighbors, police, prosecutors, street-outreach workers and clergy. The message: Keep doing what you’re doing and we’ll come down on you hard, prosecuting you in federal court if possible. Or, put the guns down, and we’ll help you secure jobs, find housing and access other social services.
At a call-in, gang members learn that the cops and the community already know who they are and what they’re up to — and most important — that they want to help them make a change.
This tactic, which has since spread to dozens of other communities, isn’t a silver bullet. Boston’s homicide rates crept back up in the 2000s, but Kennedy argues that his approach needs to be an ongoing process with continued investment on both sides.
4) New Haven welcomes newcomers
Almost 10 years ago, leaders in the city of New Haven, Conn., noticed a problem. Undocumented immigrants, who can be among the most vulnerable to crime, were afraid to talk to police.
The solution? A new ID card for all city residents — regardless of their citizenship status.
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“Prior to it coming out, undocumented immigrants were often afraid to report violations for fear of deportation,” says Luiz Casanova, New Haven’s assistant police chief. “We had a number of crimes go unreported. Witnesses of crimes did not come forward. Horrific crimes — sexual assaults, rapes, home invasions.”
And while immigrants were avoiding police by not reporting crimes they witnessed or experienced, they were often the ones most in need of police protection. Why? Many undocumented immigrants couldn’t open bank accounts, so they carried around large amounts of cash, leading to a reputation among muggers that they were “walking ATMs.”
In 2007, New Haven addressed these problems when, under the leadership of former Mayor John DeStefano Jr., the city council voted to create the Elm City Resident Card. Additionally, New Haven issued a general order prohibiting police from asking victims or witnesses of crimes about their immigration status.
The ID card helps people open bank accounts and access public services. It also imparts to immigrants a sense of belonging, leading to a new feeling of trust with the police. After the card was introduced, Casanova says, crime went down in immigrant neighborhoods by about 20 percent — despite the fact that more people were reporting crimes.
Other cities, including San Francisco and Trenton, N.J., have since followed New Haven’s lead, rolling out their own municipal identification cards.
5) Detroit tries to bring cops home
Sometimes cops and communities feel disconnected because they actually are, geographically speaking, far away from one another. Many police officers don’t live in the cities they serve, but commute from other towns.
In an effort to encourage members of the force to live in the communities in which they work, Detroit began offering tax-foreclosed homes to cops for $1,000 and grants of up to $150,000 for renovations in 2011.
Programs like this stem from the theory that cops may be more invested in a community if they see it as their home not just their workplace. They also increase the likelihood that community members develop stronger relationships with officers who also happen to be their neighbors.
It’s difficult, however, for a city to force cops to live in town. Courts across the country have struck down lots of residency requirements. And police officers argue that, in an already dangerous job, it’s safer for them to live away from the people they arrest.
That hasn’t stopped cities like Detroit from trying, though. Atlanta offers discounted apartment rentals to cops, plus incentives to buy homes and bonuses for those that relocate. And Baltimore also offers cash to police officers who buy homes.
The latest town to consider such incentives? Ferguson, Mo.
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