DC Training On Alternatives To Calling The Police

On Monday in Petworth, an as-of-yet not-totally-gentrified DC neighborhood, a group of people interested in police reform reserved a library meeting room to discuss alternatives to calling the police. This focus on removing law enforcement from resolving disputes is a response to a theory of criminal justice referred to as broken windows policing. According to this theory crime can be reduced by cracking down on small infractions such as vandalism and public intoxication. Broken windows policing justified discriminatory policies like stop-and-frisk, a practice which police overwhelmingly use on non-white people.

The resources we will discuss here can be found at this link.

The coordinators began their presentation by asking the meeting attendees about situations where they would not feel comfortable calling the police. The forty-or-so attendees called out situations such as shoplifting, smelling weed, and if illegal immigrants or youth are involved. Violent crimes were mentioned a few times in the list but the purpose of the training was not to encourage the attendees to abandon their safety. The trainers provided everyone with a set of rules to help someone decide whether they need to call the police. The first question is, “Is this merely an inconvenience to me?” To reach the fifth step and call the police means that you have no idea how, or capacity to handle the situation.

The second topic was about how being arrested affects a person. The attendees discussed financial and social repercussions, with several members of the group discussing their personal experiences with the legal system. Once arrested you can lose your income, lose standing within your community, and incur massive debt for you and your family.

The final topic was discussing different scenarios. While discussing other option to calling the police Hilary Malson, one of the trainers, made a statement which I think explains the importance of this training. She said, “Are you concerned about the transaction on your stoop or are you concerned about something more than that?” Her statement referenced a scenario in which drugs were being sold from in front of your house but the sentiment I took from it is that our shared humanity is important. If somebody is selling drugs in front of your house or passing out on your porch then there is a deeper problem than your discomfort. Calling the police will only make their problems worse and briefly remove your inconvenience. But helping the person or finding help for the person holds more potential to benefit society.      

The main takeaway I got from the event was access to DC-based community hotlines. Community Mediation DC, (240) 766-5311, and the DC Victim Hotline, (844) 443-5732, are two of the many varied services available to people in the area who wish to resolve a possible crime without getting the police involved. Read more about policeless community policing at the link below.

Check out the resource at this link.

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