Three Ways the AIR Equity Initiative is Addressing Justice in Public Safety and Policing

Baltimore police officer with community members

Credit: Baltimore City Police Department

National conversations around inequities in public safety and policing are long overdue. The deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and other victims of color magnified the tremendous rifts in the relationships between law enforcement and communities disproportionately affected by contact with the police and justice system. To help explore, inform, and support real change, the AIR Equity Initiative has made public safety and policing a key area of investment. Ultimately, this work aims to help improve community-police relationships; better align policies and oversight practices with diverse communities’ values; and promote equitable and fair policing practices.

Join the AIR Equity Initiative's roundtable conversations toward cultivating peaceful, thriving communities on November 17 and December 8, 2022.

Over the next four years, the AIR Equity Initiative is committing a financial investment of $7.5 million toward reshaping policing and public safety in the United States. Our work will center around building trust and legitimacy, developing robust policies and oversight mechanisms, and ensuring community voice and perspective in policing. Partnering with organizations actively engaged in policing reform or public safety redesign, we are funding three initiatives designed to reimagine the footprint of law enforcement in communities; redeploy resources; and improve training, policies, interventions, standards, and practices for promoting equitable and fair policing practices.

Our efforts in this space leverage AIR’s expertise in both research and technical assistance, intentionally bridging the gap between research evidence and practice. The three focus areas of these grants are:

  1. Data gathering and evaluation, with an emphasis on accurate, inclusive, and sometimes overlooked data;
  2. Strategic partnerships and consultancies with community and industry leaders to diversify voices and ideas; and
  3. Examining the efficacy of community-level programming that integrates socio-historical experiences to rethink traditional policing strategies.

The intention behind these investments is to help shape solutions that reflect and respect the lived experiences of individuals in every community, including marginalized and underserved groups. AIR is both funding these grants and providing research and technical assistance around their implementation.

Data Gathering and Evaluation: An Evaluation of the Center for Policing Equity Strategic Partnerships Program

A team of researchers is evaluating the Center for Policing Equity’s technical assistance programs. Evaluations of public safety interventions are often conducted solely on the basis of law enforcement outcomes, which disregards the many other community stakeholders involved. By incorporating community feedback, accountability structures, and other measures, the Center for Policing Equity’s portfolio is designed to uncover other important data that affects how individuals experience the justice system.

The center aims to empower communities to define public safety for themselves and determine their own policing and local government systems. AIR’s evaluation is studying the center’s implementation practices and gathering data to assess how effectively they achieved their intended outcomes: reducing violent or damaging interactions between police and communities.

Strategic Partnerships and Consultancies: Evaluations and Technical Assistance of the Institute for American Police Reform’s Community Engagement and Education Pillar

The Institute for American Police Reform is a non-partisan organization working directly with law enforcement, policymakers, and community leaders to reform American policing. The institute is designing a model and intervention for community-informed policing, so that communities themselves can share power with the police who serve them.

AIR is providing technical assistance to develop that intervention, which will be implemented in nine different police departments across three states. AIR researchers are also examining whether the intervention successfully achieves its goals of improving police accountability, cooperation between communities and police, and community experiences with and perceptions about police.

Community-level Programming: An Expansion of the Evaluation of Oakland and Richmond’s Neighborhood Opportunity and Accountability Board

This project is specifically aimed at improving outcomes for young people interacting with the juvenile justice system. The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, a non-profit organization, has a youth diversion program that seeks to provide an alternative to the formal juvenile justice system. In this intervention, a young person facing arrest receives a coach instead of detention and justice system involvement. Ultimately, the coach provides the youth and their family with personalized support, connecting them with local programs, services, and opportunities. Meanwhile, the youth fulfills an individual achievement plan that has been set by the NOAB board.

AIR’s evaluation is studying the program’s costs, the efficacy of its implementation, and how the program is perceived by youth, family members, police, and community members.

The Path Forward

Ultimately, shaping a new vision of justice in public safety and policing begins with recognizing historic and contemporary effects of segregation and racism, empowering communities to co-create systemic solutions, and above all, validating and extolling the dignity of each individual. With these principles as our lodestar, the AIR Equity Initiative invites everyone to join in our roundtable conversations toward cultivating peaceful, thriving communities.

Shakira Munden
Senior Program Officer, AIR Equity Initiative