The Law Enforcement Epidemiology Project at the University of Illinois Chicago aims to utilize scientific data to inform policy decision making regarding safe policing at the municipal, county and State levels in order to eliminate non-fatal and fatal civilian injuries, improve public safety and trust in law enforcement, and help make the working conditions of law enforcement safer and healthier.
One of the primary goals of this project is to enhance the public debate about current policy, develop new policy ideas and advise on implementation and evaluation of new policies. There has been a call for a paradigm shift by researchers who understand that this is a public health issue rather than solely a criminal justice problem. In turn, these researchers have called for the collection and reporting of law enforcement related injuries and deaths by public health entities, to augment current criminal justice sources.
Law enforcement related violence has proven to be in alignment with the issues that public health strives to deal with, such as social and structural determinants of health, especially the correlation between violence, socioeconomic status and race in the United States. The persistent disparity observed in the data may be attributable to policing activities that encourages profiling, harassment, and aggressive behavior towards marginalized citizens in the United States, especially African Americans and low-income Americans. These injuries and deaths have the potential to create mental trauma in families, communities and especially among young men in urban communities (Geller, 2014).
The hope is that by implementing public health policies for active surveillance of law-enforcement-related injuries and deaths across Departments of Public Health, the data can inform policy makers on how to best reduce or eliminate unwarranted injury system-wide.
Collaboration with key stakeholders
We are working to expand our diverse advisory board. The advisory board is composed of a diverse group of stakeholders including professionals in medicine, public health, law, community advocacy, law enforcement, local and state government (State Senators and Alderman), and public policy.
A major output of this project is to generate a policy paper outlining recommendations to reduce the incidence of legal intervention injuries by focusing on root causes. The surveillance data can inform the following key policy issues:
- Mandatory reporting of use of force and resulting injuries to an independent agency
- Publish data publicly on all egregious cases of civil rights violations and repeat offenders
- Establish independent agencies to receive, investigate and adjudicate all complaints of civil rights violations with the power to discipline/fire/initiate criminal proceedings
- Extend protections from retaliation for civilians who file complaints to 10 years from the date of complaint
- Evaluate recruitment and screening strategies for new cadets
- Assess implementation of novel non-lethal tactics and evaluate existing non-lethal techniques
- Develop ongoing training programs for officers involving unconscious bias and how to interact with disabled, intoxicated and mentally ill persons.
- Assess officer burnout and PTSD, and provide rotations out of difficult positions/precincts
- Eliminate arrest/citation/summons quotas
- Extend whistleblower protections to 10 years from the date of complaint for officers (current law protects officers for 30-90 days)
- Add data on civilian complaints, suits, injuries and deaths to annual performance reviews of officers, supervisors and commanders
- Provide law enforcement personnel commensurate salaries for 40 hours of work (without having to work overtime)
- Establish a non-law enforcement emergency response unit to respond to 911 calls relating to persons with mental health conditions and non-violent complaints based on social work models (similar to Fire Department EMT response). These first responders would be called to scenes involving drug use, public disturbances, vagrancy, loitering, vandalism and other non-violent violations.