October 30, 2015

Symposium to discuss policing task force report

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A symposium next month in Springfield will look at public health and mental health issues and their relationship to community policing initiatives. 

Sponsored by the SIU Law Journal, SIU School of Law, and SIU School of Medicine, speakers will examine recent recommendations in “The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing: Justice, Policing, and Public Health.” The symposium is Nov. 13 at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, 112 N. Sixth St. A videoconference simulcast will be available at the SIU School of Law in Carbondale.

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and news crews are welcome to cover the symposium. To make arrangements and for more information, contact Alicia Ruiz, the law school’s director of communications and outreach, at 618/453-8700 or aruiz@law.siu.edu.

In Springfield, registration is $75; $50 for government employees, and includes materials and lunch. Registration for the videoconference at the SIU School of Law is $50 and does not include lunch. Five hours of continuing legal education credit are available. Additional symposium and registration information is available at http://www.law.siu.edu/academics/journals/law-journal/21st-century-policing.html. 

Speakers will include four of 11 task force members: Sean Smoot, director and chief counsel, Police Benevolent & Protective Labor Committee of Illinois; Tracey Meares, Walton Hale Hamilton Professor of Law, Yale Law School, and Bryan Stevenson, executive director, Equal Justice Initiative and author of the New York Times’ best-seller, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.” Ronald L. Davis, director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and task force executive director, will open the symposium. 

Smoot earned his law degree from the SIU School of Law in 1995. He is a member of the Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. 

The idea for the symposium came after Smoot met with law school faculty and students in April to discuss his work on the task force, Ed Dawson, assistant professor, SIU School of Law, said. The symposium will have four panels. The morning panels will focus on discussing the task force’s recommendations for improving procedural justice, perceptions of legitimacy in policing, and officer training and wellness. The afternoon panels will consider public health implications of the task force’s recommendations, including the impacts of violence on community health, particularly on youth, as well as the intersection between criminal justice and mental health treatment, such as the use of special purpose courts that deal with mental health issues, Dawson said. 

The symposium, the first since the report’s release, looks to expand upon the task force’s work, Smoot said. This week, President Obama announced a new guidebook designed to help communities, police and local government implement the task force report recommendations finalized a few months ago. 

After the initial report was finished in March, Smoot said he and several colleagues “identified several factors that not only seem to facilitate crime in many communities, but also, create or exacerbate barriers to positive police and community relationships. One of the things we identified is community health.” 

“This topic, and the interplay between community policing and community health, is one very important aspect to study and discuss, but, it is one of many issues that warrant further discussion,” he said. 

“I am hopeful that this symposium will be replicated in other areas including education, economic, and housing opportunities and their impacts on communities and crime,” Smoot said. “The justice system and the police cannot solve all of these problems but it is essential that we work toward affecting every issue that impacts public safety.” 

Obama directed all federal law enforcement agencies to implement the recommendations immediately, and the Department of Justice has several million dollars in grant money available for agencies and programs, Smoot said. The National Sheriff’s Association and International Association of Chiefs of Police, along with other organizations, are “making significant efforts to promote the recommendations in every law enforcement agency in the United States.” 

In Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed “the most comprehensive police reform legislation in the country,” and the state is the first in the nation to implement several recommendations included in the task force report, Smoot said. 

Other speakers include: Robette Dias, co-director, Crossroads Antiracism Organizing & Training; Sixth Judicial Circuit Judge Jeffrey B. Ford, who is also president of Illinois Association of Problem-Solving Courts; Vanita Gupta, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; Ted. R. Miller, senior research specialist, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation; Dr. Richard J. Dudley, executive session member of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Session on Policing and Public Safety; Jennifer Brobst, director of SIU School of Law Center for Health Law and Policy, Dr. Stephen Soltys, professor and chair of the SIU School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry, Charlene L. Moe, coordinator, Center for Public Safety and Justice, University of Illinois Springfield, and Howard Spivak, deputy director and chief of staff, National Institute of Justice.