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PPF Blog

Web Tools to Reform Police Militarization & Criminal Justice

In the wake of the most-recent terrible news from Ferguson and NYC, the criminal justice system and government oversight have failed the families of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and the public so devastatingly.

My thoughts are with the families of those affected by these incidents of police violence, and the inspiring protestors continuing to call for a trial and fair, transparent legal process. (As opposed to the ruling STL County Att’y McCullough clearly aimed for in his handling.)

Seeking, in context of the family tragedies, to look ahead towards facilitating reform and community organizing, here are some free web tools for advancing policy reform in police de-militarization – to be augmented, of course, by community groups and real-world organizers:

1. Raise the issue, demonstrate popular support, get a response and continue the conversation – on AskThem, our major PPF project, for Q&A with public figures.

  • Enter your street address and see all your elected officials, including your mayor and city council members and more.
  • Ask a question about where they stand on de-militarization of police tactics, and how your community can adopt responsible policies on this front. Or what it would take to abolish grand juries in your area, as the UK has (via Evan Greer, campaign director w/ our sibling org., Fight For the Future).
  • See also Emily Shaw’s roundup at Sunlight of open-data questions for police accountability, including equipment acquisition data and access to open police stop data – these are the types of important questions that AskThem helps raise towards an official public response.
  • AskThem isn’t just for elected officials – if your city has a verified Twitter account, or your city police department does, you can ask it questions as well on AskThem and push for an official public response, to surface the issue.

2. Adopt sample legislation and collaboratively draft it, tailoring it for your community, on Madison, a free & open-source platform from the non-profit Open Government Foundation.

  • Transparent annotation and commenting on individual sections of legislative text, so that government stakeholders are invested in the process and its introduction.
  • Track changes, note specific additions, and highlight key features over existing rules. This is one way that best-practices can actually spread through city networks.
  • More community deliberation can happen on the beautiful open-source, non-profit Loomio platform – decide which of these reform possibilities is priority to raise in your city or state, before bringing it to government allies to introduce.

3. Convince a city council member (or a county elected official, or state legislator, or government staffer) to introduce your bill, and then – in our hoped-for future – you’ll soon be able to track its status on Councilmatic. See the example app in Chicago - Councilmatic 2.0 is our major #opengov community proposal for city-level legislative transparency. (Help us secure funding to build this open-source public resource!)

  • Follow the bill from its introduction into a city council committee, to public hearing & debate, its agenda and minutes, and hopefully to a vote. See its co-sponsors and get full context of relevant issue-areas in city council.
  • Subscribe to free email alerts (or RSS feeds) of its actions, or its sponsors’ official actions, and committee actions.
  • Encourage fellow constituents to vote “aye” (or “nay” or “abstain”) on the bill, indicating popular support for the collaboratively-drafted legislation – PPF and Councilmatic can deliver analytics on public sentiment to government offices.

4. Keep the conversation going with a public “whip count”, again on AskThem, which has a page for every federal & state elected official, and city government officials in at least the top 70 U.S. cities.

  • After all, here’s where reform legislation can get bogged-down in the process – even if your collaboratively-written bill is introduced, and your community has voted ‘aye’ on it on Councilmatic, the reality is that it might not advance to a public hearing or a full floor vote, due to a myriad of circumstances & local politics.
  • AskThem allows you to ask committee chairs about their agendas and calendars, and to get an on-the-record response aye / nay / abstain from your city council members. Having the best-availably-known public schedule builds momentum, helps organizers and keeps the specific reform proposal in the press and circulating on social media.
  • City legislation can spread through policy networks, so advocates in St. Louis can point to hoped-for successes in other cities, and hopefully to statements of support from other elected officials – all moving the needle, changing the legislative culture to become more responsive, dynamic and publicly-accountable. (Again, some criminal justice reforms are a much heavier project than a single city council resolution, so the networked public sphere will work as expected to share resources & updates, peer-to-peer.)

Help us develop these new open tools and provide hooks into policy, from online platforms – we’re urgently seeking charitable funding support to continue building these websites in 2015. Support our 501(c)3 non-profit work, I’m easy to reach, email: david at ppolitics.org, @ppolitics on Twitter – we have dozens of informed ideas and concrete proposals, we’re eager to get started. Let’s build some awesome, unique, badly-needed tools with huge potential. 

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