Legislative Action Committee: The Legislative Action Committee (LAC) continues to gear up for the upcoming legislative session. Past meetings focused on reimagining public safety. The LAC plans to host three listening sessions geared towards NASW members on September 15, 2020, Washington social workers and social work students on September 16, 2020, and community members and activists on September 17, 2020. Click the link you wish to attend to register for free and receive the zoom link on the day of the event.
To prepare for these listening sessions, please read the following Notes on Reimagining Public Safety penned by the LAC:
Notes on Reimagining Public Safety:
August 18, 2020
First, let’s agree (I hope) that “defund police” should not be a phrase we ever use. We really need to be talking about reimagining public safety. There is a place in that for traditional policing, but a smaller place. It must also include behavioral health treatment being available, other social supports in place, and a recognition that many (most?) calls to police do not require response by someone with a badge and a gun.
The Policing Project at the New York University School of Law puts it this way:
“Public safety means ensuring communities—especially historically marginalized communities—have the resources to address critical social problems, such as access to housing, food security, transportation, and healthcare, in an effective and humane way. It means empowering those communities to participate in shaping what public safety looks like. And it means minimizing whenever possible the harms that often accompany policing—such as uses of force and arrests.[i]”
And while there needs to be interim steps between today’s police paradigm and a reimagining of public safety more broadly, there is good research and thought on how to get to the end goal.
Therapeutic courts, diversion programs such as LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) and other strategies will likely always have a place in the public safety universe, but we also need to think more broadly about what public safety really can look like.
The Justice Collaboratory[ii] (a project of Yale Law School and the Center for Policing Equity) argues for three basic principles to underlie change:
Encourage voluntary compliance through the promotion of trust and legitimacy, rather than compliance through fear of punishment.
Safety is key. Public safety and crime prevention require focusing on institutions outside of the current traditional punishment and policing paradigm. True safety and security depend upon social supports such as education, health, and housing.
Community development and reconciliation, is necessary to undo past trauma and will achieve more benefits than merely reducing the harm of existing institutions. Structural changes and reconciliatory initiatives that recognize the victimization of individuals who reside in neighborhoods as well as the harms to the whole community can prevent these harms from happening again and build capacity for communities to flourish.
It is the focus on institutions outside of the policing paradigm and connections to undoing harm where social workers can be most effective.
As the report notes, we need new measurements of “success” and of “legitimacy” that show trust and confidence in public safety alongside reductions in incarceration and reductions of people consigned to the criminal justice system.
We have some pieces of what needs to happen already on the books in Washington. Most notably, initiative 940, which NASW-WA backed, calls for more de-escalation training, outside investigation of police use of force, and more. What we don't have is an enforcement mechanism (e.g., Pierce Co. Sheriff’s office investigating a death where one of its deputies was on-scene was discovered belatedly, and the sheriff faces no repercussions for not recusing his department from the investigation).
The Governor has a task force underway to further examine use of force. However, the prime sponsor of I-940, André Taylor, recently resigned from the task force, saying it was “a waste of time.”
Legislators are looking at other reforms, although it can be argued that “reform” is not what is needed, and that the whole paradigm needs to be realigned.
Human Rights Watch[iii] notes that: “Instead of asking police to address societal problems, authorities should invest in services that directly address underlying issues such as mental health care and support, substance use disorder, and poverty. Making this shift, along with establishing effective and independent oversight bodies and the necessary legal tools to ensure accountability, is essential to limiting the police violence that has caused so much harm.”
Ultimately, we need to
Decriminalize poverty – abandoning laws that punish people for being homeless, stopping enforcement of laws against voluntary sex work, and addressing drug possession by treating substance use disorders instead of with incarceration;
Shift how we address mental health crises by assigning that work to mental health professionals instead of people with guns and badges; and
Replace police in schools with mental health professionals who can get at underlying problems instead of criminalizing the behavior those problems produce.
A good place to start examining alternatives is Eugene, Oregon, where the CAHOOTS program takes many of the calls relating to behavioral health that, in other cities, are handled by police. That is not to say this is the whole answer. Even in Eugene with its forward-thinking approach, two people were shot by police last year.
As Social Workers, NASW-WA can and should support some combination of the above (and, probably, more) in what is possible to re-imagine public safety.
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Tell Us What You Think! NASW-WA Seeks Member Feedback
Washington State Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW-WA) is a membership organization with a dual mission of enhancing the profession of social work and promoting diversity, inclusion and social justice. Over the last several months, the NASW-WA Membership Engagement Committee created a survey to gather information from our membership. Please take a few minutes to provide your Chapter leadership feedback about:
Continuing education preferences
Methods to promote connections
Support and representation in your professional life
Your feedback is important: Survey information that you provide will help inform and guide the activities and opportunities to meet Washingtonian social workers' needs during this unique time and space. Your responses are confidential and will be used by Chapter volunteer leadership and staff to develop an agenda for improving our commitment to the social work profession and our local communities.
We want to hear from you! Thank you for taking a moment to provide your input.
Jeremy Arp, MSW, ACSW
National Association of Social Workers - Washington Chapter