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Reimagining public safety: What police reform could look like after Chauvin trial

To discuss what the process of bringing reform to policing could look like, Judy Woodruff is joined by Alexis Karteron, an associate professor of law and Director of the Constitutional Rights Clinic at Rutgers University, and Tracie Keesee, a 25-year Denver Police veteran and co-founder of the Center for Policing equity.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, just how difficult is it to bring meaningful long-term reform to the way policing is done, especially in exchanges with African Americans? And why are some of the challenges so persistent?

    We turn to Alexis Karteron, associate producer of law and director of the Constitutional Rights Clinic at Rutgers University, and Tracie Keesee, a 25-year Denver police veteran and co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity.

    And we welcome both of you to the "NewsHour."

    Tracie Keesee, I'm going to begin with you.

    Do you think that, by themselves, the George Floyd case, the trial of Derek Chauvin are going to bring changes in policing in this country?

  • Tracie Keesee:

    It will bring some change, but I also have to be honest that change is on the way and currently going.

    And so one of the things that I want to make sure that we lift up is that this is, again, not new. This is just something that we know has not been historically consistent. And yet all the work that is happening now on the ground since his homicide is work that has been going on for decades.

    And so it will have some effect, but there's still a lot of work to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Alexis Karteron, how do you see any changes coming from what we have just witnessed in this last year and this trial, or do you?

  • Alexis Karteron:

    Well, it's really hard to say right now.

    In the United States, we have over 16,000 police departments, and changes really are mostly made at the local level. So it's going to be a decision that's made community by community, how they want to respond to this horrific murder that we all saw, thanks to Darnella Frazier.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And referring to the young woman who had a video, taking a video of everything that she saw.

    But staying with you, Alexis Karteron, what — where do we see — where do you see change coming initially? You say it's got to come department by department.

    Can federal law make a difference?

  • Alexis Karteron:

    Well, time will tell.

    Right now the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is pending in Congress. It's been passed by the House of Representatives. And that act attempts to incentivize reform at the local level, tying federal grant money to changes in use of force policy, data collection. It eliminates qualified immunity, which is a protection that extends to police officers when they are sued for misconduct, and a host of other reform measures.

    So, we will see if that passes Congress. If it does, we certainly can expect some reform measures, but there's a real question activists are raising now about whether that's enough.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tracie Keesee, how do you see that with this federal law? Of course, it isn't passed yet. Do you see it making a difference if it were to become law?

  • Tracie Keesee:

    Well, I will share Alexis' comment in the fact that policing is local.

    And, federally, there is only so much the federal government is going to be able to do. It is going to be up to local communities, Black and brown communities, to determine what type of public safety they want and whether or not that public safety is armed.

    And so we see this work already going on. We know that it's happening in the background. But, again, it is going to be something that is going to be local. You feel it closer to home than you do from the federal government. There are some things they will be able to do. But other than that, a lot of this is going to have to happen locally.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Alexis Karteron, we didn't hear race come up a great deal during the trial of Derek Chauvin. But it's certainly in practically every conversation that takes place around policing right now.

    How do you see changes taking place in attitudes around race? I mean, how is that something that's addressed?

  • Alexis Karteron:

    Yes, it was really striking that race was something that basically went unmentioned at Derek Chauvin's trial.

    But, of course, it's been on everyone's minds. I mean, over a million people, millions of people took to the streets last summer in response to George Floyd's murder. And it was because they knew that race was part of the equation.

    It's virtually impossible to imagine the treatment that was meted out to George Floyd happening to somebody who were white, for example. So, going forward, to build on what Tracie said, local communities are going to have to get really real about why policing occurs the way it does, and make changes accordingly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And how do you see that making a difference, Tracie Keesee?

    Do you — I mean, what kind of conversations need to take place? Are we talking about laws changing or what?

  • Tracie Keesee:

    We're talking about all of that, right?

    And we see some of this happening already on the ground, where community is absolutely demanding, for example, that money be moved and made more efficient about the services they really need on the ground. We see this with mental health. So, you're going to see a lot more of this.

    We also see, when it comes to how do you hold police officers accountable, community has often voiced frustration that that does not happen, not just on a consistent basis, but persistently. And so you're going to have conversations and laws passed on the ground that have to do with collective bargaining, and what types of protections do officers get even in that particular vehicle?

    So there's a lot of things already happening on the ground. There's a lot of things we have to pay attention to. But I think what's going to be important through all of this, and however this ends, is that we have got to make sure that we collect the information, the data, so what we know works, we can share and replicate where appropriate.

    And we also have to pay attention to what's already been done on the ground historically by communities. We often overlook the fact that a lot of communities of color, Black and brown communities, have been doing intervention work, have been doing focused deterrent work, have been doing it without getting the funds they need to do this.

    So, a lot of this work is already happening. It's going to be a lot of us making sure we pay attention and that we lift up those things and those people who are doing the work.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I think many people look at this, Alexis Karteron, and say a lot of these small steps sound like they could make a difference, but we also know that, at the far end of those who are, frankly, so disillusioned with policing right now, are saying, we need to get — do away with policing or defund the police.

    How do you look on that argument?

  • Alexis Karteron:

    Well, the activists who are calling to defund the police are really calling for us to reimagine public safety.

    So, it's not just about taking away money or funding from the police. It's thinking about what it really takes to make community safe, and if there are things we can do, if there are programs we can fund, if there are hospitals we can build, if there are schools we can build that will make a difference and bring true public safety.

    You know, it's not an easy task. It's not something that could possibly happen overnight. But it's really a vision for what public safety in the United States can mean. You know, that old saying when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail really applies here. We're so used to rely on the police for all manner of things where maybe we don't have to.

    We know there are places like Berkeley that have now said they want to get police out of traffic enforcement, because we know that traffic stops all too often lead to violence. We obviously just saw Daunte Wright killed outside Minneapolis last week.

    So, there are really creative approaches that are taking hold all around the country. And I'm excited to see some positive change.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tracie Keesee, how do you see this question of defund the police, which by — some have interpreted to mean essentially doing away with police?

  • Tracie Keesee:

    Well, in some cases, that is really what it means.

    And so, really, I think a big part of that conversation is, what does the community want to have happen? And if it means that we have unarmed police responding to certain situations, then that's what we do.

    And if we look at it, the work that's happening in Ithaca and Tompkins County, it's the same thing. It's like, how do we reimagine a service that does not involve armed people for people who have social needs that are not being met?

    And I agree with Alexis. This is not just about how do we get this done and the innovation that is happening now, but it's the funding. And, often, what we find, for those communities who truly want something different, they are fighting bureaucratic hurdles just to get funds in to do the work that they want to do.

    And so a lot of this will have to do with who's paying attention. This is a lot about government. This is about budgets. And this is also about who's a priority. And this has been a number one question for decades. And so folks are going to have to have a lot of patience, and making sure that they understand that what may not work will have to be reenvisioned and redone, but it's doesn't mean we're going to give up and we're going to roll backwards.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it is an enormous conversation, as we say, taking place across this country right now. And we are beginning it yet again. It's been taking place for a long time, and it will continue.

    And we thank both of you. Tracie Keesee, Alexis Karteron, thank you so much.

  • Alexis Karteron:

    Thanks for having me.

  • Tracie Keesee:

    Thank you.

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