What does police reform look like? For some it looks like accountability mechanisms such as criminal liability for excessive use of force and inappropriate use of deadly force by law enforcement. For others it looks like transparency mechanisms such as the increased use of law enforcement surveillance devices such as body-worn cameras and dash cameras. Although both approaches are part of the solution, police reform can only be achieved when it is grounded in community engagement. Community engagement involves law enforcement and members of the community proactively interacting and establishing a relationship with each other for the purpose of creating and maintaining a safe community. This can appear as community policing, independent civil complaint review boards, town hall meetings focused on community and law enforcement engagement, etc. Regardless of the method of approach, community engagement is focused on relationship building.
This relationship building approach was wonderfully demonstrated during the 3-day racial profiling teach in workshop held in Moorestown, Trenton, and Irvington, New Jersey. The workshops were hosted by the NAACP NJ State conference and the NAACP local branches for each location. The purpose of these racial profiling workshops was to generate discussion between community members and law enforcement about police reform in relation to racial profiling and law enforcement accountability; with a specific focus on preventative measures. The roster of speakers during the 3-day workshop included NAACP criminal justice representatives, a New Jersey lobbyist, a representative from a New Jersey criminal justice reform think tank, an independent film maker focusing on criminal justice issues, and representatives from New Jersey state law enforcement.
Each speaker addressed a different aspect of community engagement. I spoke of achieving community engagement by using the NAACP Born Suspect: Racial Profiling Report to advocate for local and state legislative reform and to initiate meetings with local and state police departments and police chiefs. Likewise, the NAACP NJ state criminal justice chair discussed the NAACP NJ State Conference’s efforts to enhance community engagement with law enforcement.
Each day of the workshop, a different representative from New Jersey’s state law enforcement spoke to the audience about how the NJ state law enforcement is encouraging community engagement. These efforts include increasing recruitment of minorities into the New Jersey’s state law enforcement department, engaging youth in impoverished communities of color through ride alongs and a law enforcement-based mentoring program, and conducting town hall meetings with community members and law enforcement to discuss their perspectives on how to achieve police reform. Likewise, the law enforcement representatives invited members of the community to participate in a state law enforcement simulated training, where community members will go through the same training state law enforcement have to pass for their performance review.
The information presented on racial profiling, law enforcement accountability, and police reform is just as imperative for New Jersay as it is for Missouri, New York, and Ohio. On November, 11, 2013, an unarmed young African-American male named Abdul Wakil Kamal was shot 13 times with 15 rounds fired by several officers of the Irvington Police Department. The announcement of the officers’ non-indictments occurred in February this year.
Abdul Kamal’s mother was present and actively engaged in the audience for the third day of the workshop in Irvington, New Jersey. The NAACP Irvington branch and the NJ State Conference have been and will continue to support Abdul’s mother in finding justice for his death. With the information and materials from the racial profiling teach in workshop, the NJ State Conference is well equipped to prevent more unjustified deaths by New Jersey law enforcement through police reform focused on community engagement.