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Fall 2021 Speakers


Deborah RamirezOctober 20—Deborah Ramirez on Police AccountabilityOne of the central concerns about how to produce more equitable and just outcomes has been how to make the police accountable for their misconduct. Deborah Ramirez, professor for criminal justice at Northeastern University School of Law joins us to discuss her four-part solution, which includes restricting police union’s collective bargaining and narrowing qualified immunity by using professional liability insurance, efforts that should save lives by detecting, preventing, and deterring police misconduct. 

Nikuyah WalkerRaShall BrackneyNovember 3—Nikuyah Walker and Rashall Brackney on the Challenges of Reform: Charlottesville, Virginia reckoned with its own history of systemic racism by electing Nikuyah Walker as its mayor and appointing Dr. RaShall Brackney as its Chief of Police, both Black women committed to transformative change that might lead to racial equity. For her efforts, Chief Brackney has been dismissed. Frustrated by efforts to block her initiatives, Mayor Walker has decided against running for reelection. Both women joined us to discuss the promise of transformation and the challenges faced by those promoting policy changes that have the potential to bring about safe, just, and healing communities for all.  

Sarah SeoNovember 17—Sarah Seo on Reducing Racial Disparities by Removing Police from Traffic Enforcement: Last month, citing strong racial disparities in traffic stops and arrests, Philadelphia’s city council voted to bar police officers from conducting pretextual stops and searches for low-level motor vehicle infractions. It is the first city in the nation to do so, but Philadelphia is hardly alone. Measures to decriminalize driving-while-Black are spreading, slowly but surely, and have major implications not only for racial disparities in traffic stops, but also for disparities in police use of force. To better understand this complex issue and its rich history,  we spoke with Sarah Seo, Professor of Law at Columbia University, author of Policing the Open Road: How Cars Transformed American Freedom.


Michelle PhelpsDecember 1—Michelle Phelps on Why did voters reject plans to replace the Minneapolis Police Department? Across the country, grassroots efforts are underway to try to replace police departments with departments of public safety. Although the changes being considered differ across contexts, they have in common an interest in moving away from armed officers who focus on crime to civilian forces that take a holistic approach by focusing on the root causes that bring about concerning and harmful behaviors. In Minneapolis, considerable support seemed to exist for such a change, but a recent ballot initiative fell short of achieving this goal. Why did Minneapolis voters decide against replacing their police department with a new Department of Public Safety? And what does this defeat tell us about the hurdles that exist not only to potentially transformative police reform, but also to our understanding of what public safety is and how best it is achieved?  Michelle Phelps, Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, joined us to share her unique insights about how dynamics rooted in race, class, and space converged to produce unexpected patterns of voting on this important and potentially game-changing issue.



Following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, protesters across the nation and the globe have marched to end police brutality. For some this has meant reimagining policing, with an eye toward achieving racial equity in police treatment and in penal system outcomes. For others this has meant reimagining public safety, i.e., considering the various ways that society might achieve safe and secure neighborhoods with police as merely one of a number of institutions engaged in this broader project. For yet another group, community safety is the object of reimaginings. Here the effort is to center the needs and wants of residents of specific communities in efforts to reduce crime and the harms that come with it, to make wrongdoers accountable, and to bring about healing so that the community and its members can be made whole. 

To varying degrees, each of these has captured the imagination of the broader public. It is unclear, however, how each set of reimaginings might be realized, especially in low-income communities of color where police and policing practices are arguably as much the source of deep and long standing harms as the source of protection and support.

To gain traction on this most urgent of issues, the Program in Criminal Justice organized a speaker series on this theme. Reimagining Community Safety: A Program in Criminal Justice Speaker Series is an effort to better understand from the perspective of practitioners, policymakers, community leaders and activists, and academics 1) the long-standing nature and roots of this seemingly intractable problem, 2) why reforms have generally failed to achieve desired results, 3) what a different approach to community safety looks like, 4) what ongoing efforts in communities across the country hold promise for real and sustained change, and 5) what considerations should guide our evaluations of these efforts. Taken together, the speakers’ contributions represent a kind of narrative arc, ending primarily with community leaders and activists pointing the way to real and sustained change. 


Sandra Susan SmithSandra Susan Smith, Daniel & Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice and Faculty Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management at Harvard Kennedy School and Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute.

The recordings of the fall 2020 and spring 2021 Reimagining Community Safety: A Program in Criminal Justice Speaker Series can be found on our Past Events page or our YouTube channel.