Conference brings together community and police

September 22, 2016
21st Century Policing Conference

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — About 400 people attended the second annual 21st Century Policing Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville on Sept. 16 to address issues surrounding the national crisis in policing related to use of force and how to build community trust and legitimacy.

Noble Wray, office chief of policing practices and accountability initiatives for the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, and former police chief of Madison, Wisconsin, provided welcoming remarks.

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which in March released a controversial report, “Guiding Principles on Use of Force,” served as the keynote speaker. Dr. Mark Bowman, director of the Center for Excellence in Justice Administration at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, served as the featured speaker.

The impetus for last year’s conference began with President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, released in May 2015. The report outlined six pillars from which to improve policing. This year’s conference focused on use of force as part of pillar one – building trust and legitimacy.

Wexler’s PERF report offers 30 recommendations for police agency policies and training programs, focused on reducing the need for officers to use force in certain situations that occur frequently, such as incidents in which a person with a mental illness, drug addiction, or developmental disability is behaving erratically or threateningly, and the person either is unarmed, or is armed with a weapon, other than a firearm, such as a knife.

Issues discussed during presentations, panels, and breakout sessions included the importance of appropriate police force, the importance of building community trust, why it is essential for police officers to have de-escalation training, methods for rebuilding community trust, how law enforcement agencies can become more effective in fighting crime, current use of force standards and how to improve them, the intersection of policing and mental illness, restorative justice, perspectives on the new guiding principles on police use of force, and more.

“The Criminal Justice Department worked hard to provide a forum for stakeholders near and far to share ideas about police legitimacy and the use of force,” said Dr. Staci Strobl, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at UW-Platteville. “In a democratic society, policing is not an issue for just police, but for everyone. At the conference, we had a multi-constituent dialogue that wasn't always comfortable or easy, but was respectful. Participants listened to some impassioned pleas for change alongside technical discussions of police research. Overall, it was enriching and exciting.”

“This conference provided a venue that brings the police and community members together to discuss important but troubling issues,” said Dr. Patrick Solar, assistant professor of criminal justice at UW-Platteville, lifetime member of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Law Enforcement Accreditation Council as well as a member of the conference planning committee. “The police, working within the confines of the legal environment, do not generally engage with those who may not understand the nuances of the law enforcement function. Here, wise police officials listened to the legitimate concerns being voiced throughout the nation and hopefully reflect upon how they can improve. Conversely, citizens came away with a more profound perspective of what it takes to police a democratic society.”   

“What I found uniquely valuable about the conference was that panel members represented and presented multiple views for the audience to consider,” said Phil Baskerville, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Dubuque in Dubuque, Iowa. “Clearly, there was not an attempt to under-represent one side or the other regarding contemporary social issues in 21st century policing. I found it very welcoming to see college students allowed to integrate themselves with working law enforcement officers in a conference environment.”

“True to the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea and our progressive heritage, UW-Platteville was once again able to bring together law enforcement professionals, academics, community and students to discuss the relationship between the police and our communities,” said Joe Balles, chairman of the Madison Community Policing Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin.

Attendees included more than 250 university students, faculty, and staff; police agency representatives (including chiefs, captains and lieutenants) from throughout the tri-states as well as police or former police from Virginia, North Carolina, California, New York and Utah; community activists from the tri-states; restorative justice practitioners from the tri-states; a representative from the community policing foundation; a representative from the Department of Justice in the COPS office in Washington, D.C., a Wisconsin state representative; officials from several Wisconsin municipalities; social workers; advocates for the mentally ill; concerned citizens; a representative of a company that specializes in surveillance systems; friends and families of the victims of police shootings; and a professor and criminal justice club from the University of Dubuque in Dubuque, Iowa.

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191, hamerl@uwplatt.edu

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