Justice Reform Convening Inspires Infinite Hope


In 2021, the Foundation launched a new grant-making strategy for all of its programs. For the Gun Violence Prevention and Justice Reform Program (GVPJR), that meant a revamped focus incorporating community violence intervention and justice reform to its long-standing focus on gun violence prevention. The Joyce Foundation’s approach to criminal justice system reform includes among other priorities, building police-community trust and legitimacy, reducing the use of force by police officers, and increasing police accountability.

With that ethos in mind, and amid unrelenting gun violence and incidents of police misconduct nationwide, GVPJR Program Officer Dr. Quintin Williams believed a gathering of grantees was in order. In September, in partnership with the NYU Policing Project, The Joyce Foundation hosted a first-of-its-kind convening of policing and public safety grantees. Williams, a native of Chicago’s West Side, said the two-day convening of more than 30 grantees represented an evolution in the Foundation’s justice reform strategy and a critical opportunity for some of the nation’s foremost experts on policing reform to discuss their current work.

Dr. Williams joined the Foundation in 2020 with more than a decade of experience as a criminal justice reform policy advocate, researcher, coalition builder, manager of reform campaigns, and community organizer. He shared his thoughts about the gathering and why, despite so many challenges in creating safer communities, he still has hope.

Joyce Foundation (JF): What was the goal of the convening?

Quintin Williams (QW): The goal of this convening was to reflect on the state of policing and public safety following the events of 2020, identify challenges and opportunities to increase trust and legitimacy between law enforcement and communities, present some of the latest research relating to increasing accountability and reducing the use of force, and to foster new partnerships and collaborations. The attendees represented a range of perspectives, including research institutions, advocacy organizations, grassroots community organizers, think tanks, and law enforcement. We wanted to create space for peer exchange of ideas, surface opportunities and challenges in the field, and support the dissemination of new Joyce-supported research.

JF: What were the most pressing policy priorities discussed? Have there been any significant policy wins or changes?

QW: Many advocates have been unsatisfied with the pace of reform, and rightfully so. Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, many thought that tragedy would spur significant progress on policing reform, at the federal and state level, but that never happened. However, there have been several significant reforms made over the last year that have the potential to change policing and public safety. Among the policies discussed were how to effectively implement certification and decertification processes; (as included in the Illinois SAFE-T Act), and how states and jurisdictions can leverage new federal funds designated by the De-Escalation and Training Act to implement more effective and robust training of law enforcement. Attendees also discussed new opportunities to accelerate compliance with consent decrees in both Minneapolis and Chicago. All these policies add increased accountability, resources, and commitments to fundamentally change policing and public safety.

JF: What is some of the most innovative work happening in policing right now?

QW: I would say the development of co- and alternative-responder models. Three of our grantee partners—University of Chicago Health Lab, Council of State Government Justice Center, and the Law Enforcement Action Partnership—have been deeply involved in developing the research on these models, providing technical assistance to jurisdictions nationwide, and helping the field better understand the role of 911 dispatch. All of these models and pilot programs are testing the idea of adding other professionals like clinicians, social workers, and other medical professionals into the public safety ecosystem instead of, or alongside, police officers. There has never been a widespread effort to adopt these models at scale, but many places, including Chicago, are moving in that direction. These widespread efforts are happening at a time when recent polling data suggests that voters nationwide support the exploration and adoption of these models.

JF: What did the group identify as some of the ongoing challenges in policing/police reform work?

QW: Law enforcement is still challenged by the lack of trust and legitimacy by community members, who see low clearance rates and slow progress of enacted reforms (like the consent decree and the SAFE-T Act here in Illinois), as demonstrations of a lack of commitment toward improving policing. Added to this dynamic are ongoing high-profile incidents of police use of lethal force, emerging research further demonstrating racial discrimination and bias, and high rates of gun violence. At the same time, these factors present other less obvious challenges to those committed to reform within law enforcement, including dramatically reduced morale of the police, at the very moment we need their engagement to implement these important reforms. Many law enforcement officials have grown weary of the twofold challenge of negative public sentiment and the daily realities of trying to address crime and public safety.

JF: How important is it to include law enforcement in discussions around policy implementation and culture change?

QW: I think it is very important. Law enforcement personnel were well represented at the convening. These reformed-minded law enforcement leaders are responsible for carrying out the change communities have been calling for. If they are not at the table with advocates, researchers, community-based organizations, and people with lived experience, their ability to advance reform and improve public safety is severely hampered. Our program has a different perspective. I, and many in the room, believe all voices should be included in discussions about public safety.

JF: The City of Chicago recently named a new Superintendent – were there any takeaways from the group that you thought were useful as he begins a tenure during a challenging time in Chicago?

QW: Yes. A recent forum hosted by the Foundation in partnership with Crain’s Chicago highlighted the fractured relationship between communities and police, and the reforms needed to advance meaningful and lasting policing reform. It has been encouraging to hear Superintendent Snelling repeatedly emphasize the importance of the relationship between police and communities. Trust in the institution of policing is arguably at an all-time low. One remedy that attendees felt could solve some of this distrust is greater accountability. Accountability to implement the aforementioned reforms will take strong leadership from Snelling. The group also stressed the need for more accountability for police misconduct. Too often the community feels like there is little to no accountability, and this further erodes trust. Finally, there was also a collective understanding that comprehensive policing reform is one of the best available public safety strategies available.

JF: What is next following the convening?

QW: One of our goals was to foster new collaborations and highlight some of the latest research and we accomplished that. I’m excited about forthcoming research from Dr. Kathryn Bocanegra and Dr. Julian Thompsonfrom UIC examining the challenges associated with homicide clearance rates in Chicago. We also look forward to the next steps following a recently released report on traffic stops in Chicago authored by Impact for Equity, revealing an alarming increase in traffic stops for minor violations that do not result in citations. There is much to be hopeful for in policing and public safety despite the ongoing challenges. Leaders are stepping up to focus on the hard work of implementation, including law enforcement leaders. There’s a famous quote by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” I believe this. The work of our grantees and the ongoing engagement to make communities safer through reimagining public safety is proof of this. Our work takes time and there are disappointments along the way but there is always infinite hope.

Reclaiming Reform: Policing, Public Safety & Public Trust Convening at the Joyce Foundation in September 2023. Photo by Monique Etienne.
Reclaiming Reform: Policing, Public Safety & Public Trust Convening at the Joyce Foundation in September 2023. Photo by Monique Etienne.
Reclaiming Reform: Policing, Public Safety & Public Trust Convening at the Joyce Foundation in September 2023. Photo by Monique Etienne.

About The Joyce Foundation

Joyce is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in evidence-informed public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region.

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