New York University School of Law today announced additional philanthropic funding for the Policing Project, an organization dedicated to promoting transparency, equity, and democratic accountability in policing. The expansion comes at a critical moment, as the death of community members at the hands of the police and discriminatory enforcement of orders related to the pandemic underscore the urgent need for this work.

Professor Barry Friedman
Barry Friedman

Founded in 2015 by Barry Friedman, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Professor of Law and Affiliated Professor of Politics at NYU Law and author of Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission, the Policing Project is dedicated to working with stakeholders from across the ideological spectrum—from police leadership and union officials, to community activists and policy thinktanks, to elected officials and the private sector—to promote public safety through transparency, equity and democratic governance.

Thanks to support from its diverse range of philanthropic partners, including Arnold Ventures, the Charles Koch Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Open Society Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and a multitude of technology companies including Amazon Web Services, Mark43, Microsoft and ShotSpotter Inc., the Policing Project has successfully completed a range of research, advisory and on-the-ground projects that have resulted in real change to policing in communities across the nation, including:

  • Launching the Chicago Neighborhood Policing Initiative, in partnership with community groups such as the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability, the Chicago Mayor’s office, and the Chicago Police Department, to bring a new model of policing to Chicago neighborhoods that promises to improve trust between communities and police.  The comprehensive community policing approach gives Chicago residents a meaningful voice in how their neighborhoods are policed and promotes accountability, problem-solving, and increased positive contact between officers and neighborhood residents.  Based on preliminary evaluation of work in a pilot district, Chicago plans to roll this initiative out throughout the city in the coming months.
  • Influencing the design of artificial-intelligence policing technologies to respond to concerns about civil rights and civil liberties. Through audits of  policing tech products, including ShotSpotter Inc’s gunshot detection system, as well as an ongoing collaboration with the independent Axon AI and Policing Technology Ethics Board, the Policing Project’s input has substantially changed several AI products, including recommendations that led to Axon Inc.’s pledge to keep face recognition off its body-worn cameras.

  • Drafting a revised used of force policy on behalf of the Camden County Police Department. Vetted by both the ACLU of New Jersey and the Camden Fraternal Order of Police, the policy places a clear emphasis on the sanctity of human life and is a national example of innovative public safety.
  • Analyzing a longstanding policing strategy in Nashville—the use of traffic stops to address crime—through a first-of-its-kind cost-benefit study. Following the Policing Project’s report—which found racially disparate impact and overall ineffectiveness—traffic stops conducted by Nashville police plummeted, as the department re-evaluated its strategy and officer deployment.

Five years after its launch, the Policing Project now enters a new phase of expansion. The Policing Project will advance its work in community-police engagement and the responsible use of policing technologies through standard-setting initiatives including:

  • Police Accountability Mechanisms: Traditionally policing has been regulated only by what the Policing Project calls “back-end accountability” – measures such as civilian review boards, criminal prosecutions, civil rights investigations, and body cameras.  Policing lacks the sort of front-end accountability that is prominent in the rest of government, which involves transparency, clear rules to govern policing agencies, and public involvement in making those rules.  The Policing Project soon will release a study of accountability mechanisms in the country’s 100 largest cities, and an expansion of its work advancing front-end accountability,
  • COVID-19 Tools for Police and Policymakers: The Policing Project recently released guidance for police and policymakers to improve community-police engagement in times of crises and address concerns about police enforcement of social distancing orders during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. These materials—drafted in response to early reports of discriminatory enforcement and disparate outcomes—provide police and local government with clear steps to foster fair, equitable enforcement, address needs of communities, particularly vulnerable populations, and improve public health outcomes.
  • Responsible Policing Technology Audits:  As part of a broader initiative to improve accountability and transparency around the use of new and emerging technologies in policing, the Policing Project will work directly with companies that supply technologies to police to conduct independent audits of their products. Using a framework that considers potential benefits, costs and operational concerns, the Policing Project will assess technologies across a variety of civil rights and civil liberties dimensions and recommend concrete changes. The Policing Project will also conduct a landscape analysis exploring the possibility of a national entity to evaluate and certify technology products that law enforcement may use to collect information and conduct surveillance.

  • Beyond the Conversation: The Policing Project will release a suite of web-based engagement tools developed through a partnership with the National Urban League, the National Police Foundation and policing agencies and community groups throughout the country. Informed by research, field interviews and observations, and an intensive workshop that brought together community activists, police chiefs, elected officials and inspectors general to talk frankly about the challenges and limitations of current engagement efforts, the Beyond the Conversation project provides a fresh and incisive method for promoting meaningful interactions that result in real partnerships and policing that is reflective of community values and priorities.
  • A Guide to Sound Policing: Through a unique practitioner-academic partnership that brings together police officials and social scientists, the Policing Project will release a set of materials to train police leadership in the use of cost-benefit analysis. The tools will include guidance on how to conduct methodic and community-inclusive decision-making processes before implementing policies and practices with the goal of reducing unforeseen negative outcomes.

“I founded the Policing Project based on a simple observation: unlike most other areas of government, policing today lacks basic elements of democratic accountability,” said Barry Friedman, founder and faculty director of the Policing Project. “Our work is varied and our partnerships are diverse, but our focus is always on improving transparency, equity and meaningful community engagement. People deserve a say in how they are policed, and our goal is to make sure that voice is heard.”

“The Policing Project is doing innovative, much-needed work to advance democratic engagement and ensure communities have a voice in how they are policed,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and co-chair of the Policing Project Advisory Board. “The values the Policing project promotes – accountability, transparency, and equity – are key to creating public safety that upholds civil rights and repairs systemic injustice.”

“Effective policing is about working together to solve our problems, because we cannot solve problems if we polarize or talk past each other,” said Jim Bueermann, former president of the National Police Foundation and member of the Axon AI and Policing Technology Ethics Board. “The work the Policing Project does around responsible technology use and cost benefit analysis is essential to creating sustainable, informed solutions to public safety problems.”

“For several years now, the Policing Project has been a valuable partner as we have worked to develop a comprehensive plan to bring citywide community oversight of policing to Chicago,” said Desmon Yancy, coordinator of the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability in Chicago. “This partnership has facilitated our efforts to make our neighborhoods safer, improve police practices and accountability, and transform the relationship between the Chicago Police Department and the communities it serves.”

About the Policing Project at NYU Law

The Policing Project at New York University School of Law is a non-profit organization that partners with communities and police to promote public safety through transparency, equity and democratic engagement.

Founded in 2015 by Barry Friedman, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Professor of Law and Affiliated Professor of Politics at NYU Law and author of Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission, the Policing Project focuses on  front-end, or democratic, accountability—ensuring the public has a voice in setting transparent, ethical, and effective policing policies and practices before the police or government act. Our work aims to achieve public safety in a manner that is equitable, non-discriminatory, and respectful of public values.

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Jade McClain
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