Reimagine ‘peace officers’ and productive inmates, a collective quilt for a better society
A debate has begun over the merits of “defunding the police.” The sentiments behind “defund” could be expressed clearer as “reimagining community policing.”
In that regard, a simple change of a word may have a powerful impact. Imagine changing the term “police officer” to “peace officer.”
What if we can reimagine their role in our community? Are some of the duties currently assigned to police officers better suited for social workers, counselors, clergy or community leaders?
What if we can work collaboratively to help build stronger community relations? For example, community members could provide an orientation/training period for the peace officer. Peace officers could become participants in the neighborhood activities and evolve into friendly members and role models for the community.
Dynamic feedback can achieve constant improvement for peace officers − employing the manufacturing concepts of kaizen (a Japanese term meaning "change for the better" or "continuous improvement").
Peace officers need methods and tools to proactively engage with the community and gain insights into its needs, desires, and sense of wellbeing.
Additionally, a representative community relations and oversight board would be required for protection, growth and risk management, both of the neighborhood and peace officers.
These public servants should be afforded improved training, education, counseling and support systems. Their careers involve immense trauma and stress, which they need to be able to communicate and process in a routine manner.
Large cities across the country are reimagining policing, such as Minneapolis, Los Angeles and New York. Closer to home, Hartford has broached this subject.
On June 16, Gov. Ned Lamont announced plans to improve policing policies through an executive order. Inclusion of the minority caucus leaders should help garner bipartisan support. Leadership and courage are necessary to take immediate action, striking while the iron is hot.
New London County could play a role as the model for Connecticut; making citizens in our towns and cities feel comfortable and safe within and between their communities.
Other steps to “reimagine” could include:
• Increased youth and recreation funding. Allow kids to learn, fail, and grow on the sports fields, art classrooms, and theater programs, while building community.
• Provide diversity education and multicultural history within our schools and mandate it as a requirement for all elected officials.
• Assure increased and improved access to voting with no-excuse absentee voting, especially now to protect voters and encourage voter participation during a pandemic. Is opposition to this really about fear of fraudulent ballots, or is it more in line with the goal, starting with the Founding Fathers, to limit participation?
• Approve automatic voter registration.
• Implement ranked choice voting and perhaps conduct all-mail elections.
• Provide ample polling locations to avoid long lines and travel distances.
• Provide state ID’s to those without driver’s licenses or passports, so that poorer communities and communities of color are not shut out of voting by Connecticut’s voter identification laws.
The recent resignation of the Department of Corrections director provides another opportunity. A new director of corrections could focus on highlighting the shift we need inside and, hopefully, outside the correctional institutions.
Why not also reimagine correctional institutions that enable inmates to contribute in society? Inmates could help provide a cleaner environment, growing local community vegetables, and undertaking activities that improve our communities.
We could have dedicated manufacturing centers setup for personal protective equipment, produced by inmates. Re-education, training, and reimagining will allow these people to contribute towards society. It will help to grow a stronger community and nation. It will also help these individuals to make inroads toward rejoining society.
Budget shortfalls in Connecticut could be mitigated. It is estimated over $20,000 is spent annually on inmates, and the shortfall at the Department of Corrections was in the millions, as reported by news outlets throughout the state.
It is all connected. The people keeping peace, those in and hopefully soon out of jail and the fight to have better, stronger, and more resilient communities.
Cate Steel was a public-school educator for over 30 years and is the endorsed Democratic candidate for the 37th District of East Lyme and Salem. You can find out more about her at www.catesteel.com or on Facebook at Cate Steel for State Rep.
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