The Yale Law School on Thursday hosted a panel of law enforcement experts who discussed the difficulties of policing in the age of Trump.
Ronal Serpas, the former police superintendent of New Orleans; Jim Johnson, a former prosecutor and Democratic candidate in the 2017 New Jersey gubernatorial election; Ron Davis, former director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services; and Dean Esserman, New Haven’s former police chief, each delivered short speeches on a range of issues, from policing reform and the prison system to the relationship between the police and the U.S. Department of Justice. The event, organized by the Yale Law School Justice Collaboratory, drew a crowd of around 30 people.
Serpas discussed how the role of the police has changed over the course of his career in law enforcement. Once a supporter of a zero-tolerance policy when it came to infractions, Serpas now champions finding alternatives to arrest that officers can use on the ground, a strategy which he said will improve community involvement and trust.
“A blunt force approach is not the answer,” he said.
Serpas was followed by Johnson. Both Serpas and Johnson are co-founders of the Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Incarceration project, which works toward “identifying and implementing solutions to simultaneously reduce crime and incarceration.” The organization, launched in 2015, recently made headlines for criticizing the Trump administration’s approach to criminal justice.
In his speech, Johnson stressed the need for effective training of officers in responding to the tense, often dangerous situations they encounter. He noted that many people living in low-income communities who have been exposed to violence suffer mental wounds similar to those of police officers. It is in these communities where the relationship between citizens and officers is most fraught, Johnson added.
Davis focused on the relationship between the federal government and police departments, saying that it is the federal government’s responsibility to standardize some aspects of the profession by investing in research and training. He added that it would be counterproductive to ignore the progress made in criminal justice in the last 30 years and return to the blunt force approach of the 1990s.
“We need to tell this attorney general to stop, stop insulting our intelligence,” Davis said at one point, referring to controversial statements by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding the filming of police officers with mobile phones.
The talk ended out with a speech from NHPD veteran Esserman, who spoke at length on the challenges of policing when there are few national guidelines, standard practices or means for structured communication between localities. Other professions, such as medicine or law, he pointed out, have standards that improve efficacy and legitimize practices.
“Could you imagine going to a hospital, and everyone in that hospital had been trained in the basement and never left the building?” Esserman said, pausing for the laughter from the audience. “And all that they knew was what they had learned in that building?”
The lunch was part of a series the Justice Collaboratory has organized on various aspects of crime and the criminal justice system, according to lecturer at the Yale Law School Megan Quattlebaum LAW ’10, one of the event’s organizers. She noted that these kinds of events expose students to the realities of policing, a world they may know very little about.
“We have, I hope, helped broadened students’ perspectives as to who police officers are and what some of their concerns are,” Quattlebaum said. “Which I hope will make them more effective advocates for police reform in the future.”
According to the FBI, the violent crime rate in the U.S. fell by 50 percent between 1993 and 2015.