posted May 05, 2017

How We Police in America

On May 4, the University of Washington School of Law hosted a public event that explored current policing practices and the need for reform. It featured Barry Friedman, author of Unwarranted: Policing without Permission; Sue Rahr, former King County sheriff; Trevor Gardner, associate professor of law at UW; and Ian Warner ’11, legal counsel to the mayor of Seattle. Mark Wright, KING 5 News anchor and two-time Emmy winner moderated.

Here are a few highlights from the event:

Barry Friedman, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Professor of Law and Director of the Policing Project at NYU

Friedman got the idea to write Unwarranted: Policing without Permission around 9-11, after watching the twin towers fall and then hearing a lot of discussion about the need to clamp down on civil liberties, especially those around policing practices. 

“It’s so weird that the rules we use to govern policing bear very little relationship to all the rest of government. When you think about accountability in a democratic society, we have front-end accountability: there are rules, written down. We all know what the rules are, and the republic participates. And we have a back-end system – judges who make sure the front-end system goes the way it should. That’s just not the story around policing, where the accountability has been focused on the back-end, after something’s happened. We look into what went wrong and who’s at fault. What we don’t do is involve the public on the front-end to determine what the rules should be. That’s the insight that I’m trying to bring into this.”

Sue Rahr, Executive Director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission and the Former King County Sheriff

People care more about how they’re treated than they do about the outcome, which Rahr has fleshed out to a training program called LEED – Listen, Explain, Equity, and Dignity.

“A common misconception about what police are doing is that you have to choose between the roles of warrior and guardian. And that’s not the case at all. You have to have warrior skills to be an effective police officer to protect the community and yourself. It’s the blending of the mindset as a guardian with the skillset of a warrior – they’re not mutually exclusive.”

Trevor Gardner, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Washington

His time as a trial attorney for the Public Defender Service in DC inspired Gardner to train the next generation of lawyers as a law professor and devote his research to criminal justice.

“Coming out of law school with no experience with the criminal justice system, I was struck by the public attitudes toward my clients. The judge, the jury reduced my client to a single moment. That really stuck with me. As a public defender you get to know your client on a personal level. Their personality, their dimensions, their sense of humor – and no one else gets to see that. The juxtaposition of my view against that of the public perception, over and over again, really fueled me and pushed me to study criminal justice.”

Ian Warner’11, Legal Counsel to the Mayor of Seattle:

Seattle is uniquely situated because of the community expectation for transparency. It’s embedded in culture.

“The release, for example, of dash camera footage days after, hours after an incident – that kind of transparency goes a long way in earning the trust of the community. If the community cannot see into the process, you’re not going to have trust, even if the outcome is what they wanted in the end.”

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