Violence and our responses to it – including our over-reliance on policing and incarceration – have severely damaged the lives of millions of people. While science points to unaddressed trauma as a contributor to a devastating cycle of violence and incarceration, policies and practices aimed at addressing and preventing violence do not reflect this knowledge. Instead of effective responses to violence that promote healing and prevention, the focus is on arrest and punishment.
The impact of this failure to properly respond to trauma is felt most profoundly in communities of color, where the cycle of violence and incarceration compounds other forms of trauma such as poverty and racism. This cycle of harm impacts education, employment, family relationships, and even future occurrences of violence.
Police are also impacted by trauma. As with other trauma survivors, trauma experienced by police often goes unaddressed and may manifest as aggression or other damaging behavior that causes more harm for everyone.
Addressing trauma in the context of police-community relationships is an essential step toward transforming the way we respond to violence. That is why EJUSA created the Police/Community Initiative on Trauma-Informed Responses to Violence.* Launched in March 2016 and piloted in Newark, New Jersey, the Police/Community Initiative uses the public health lens of trauma to create the necessary space for police and community to work together to effectively reduce violence and increase community health and wellbeing.
The Police/Community Initiative has three major phases, all led by EJUSA staff and EJUSA-trained facilitators and conducted with small groups of local police officers, community leaders, healthcare providers, violence interrupters, counselors, social workers, and justice-involved citizens.
Phase 1 – Community Engagement and Visioning: A culturally informed, community-centered framework for evaluation is used in a series of visioning sessions with law enforcement and the community. This framework allows the community to hold the planning team accountable for the results they want to see in the training.
Phase 2 – Trauma Training: The core activity of the initiative is a series of trauma trainings that provide participants with an opportunity to learn and speak openly about their own trauma, the trauma they see around them, and the historical link between the justice system, racial oppression, and slavery. This dialogue and sharing of personal experiences allows police and community members to see and appreciate the impact of trauma on all sides. The trainings also allow space to talk through persistent obstacles to trust and to begin the work of building mutual understanding.**
Phase 3 – Organizing and Advocacy: Following the trainings, teams of officers and community members participate in a visioning session designed to spark recommendations for new procedures and practices to help reduce reoccurring trauma and victimization and encourage police officers and other professionals to integrate referrals for care into their ongoing work. With continued guidance and facilitation from EJUSA, community members and police then work together to implement these recommendations and to organize for broader systems change.
EJUSA is a national organization that works to transform the justice system to one that heals and restores lives. We believe that we won’t get there solely by dismantling the parts of our justice system that are broken. We must also build the system we want in its place: one that prevents violence, heals trauma, helps people harmed by crime to rebuild their lives, creates genuine accountability instead of mass incarceration, and treats everyone fairly and equitably in the process.
Best known for our work to end the death penalty, we played major roles as lead national partner in the repeal of the death penalty in seven states, working with local partners to highlight the failure of the system for all stakeholders, and passed bills increasing services for family members of homicide victims. We began building crime survivor-led campaigns 10 years ago, and today we are among a small cadre of national leaders reframing the criminal justice debate to focus on the needs of those most impacted by crime. We also have 10 years’ experience building bridges with voices that have not played a major role in the past with criminal justice reform, such as crime survivors, law enforcement, Evangelicals, and conservatives.
For more information about EJUSA’s Police/Community Initiative, contact Fatimah Muhammad, Director of EJUSA’s Trauma Advocacy Initiative, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 908-247-2885.
* This project has been made possible through the generous support of the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey and contributions from: NJ Association of Black Psychologists, Urban Renewal Corp, Newark Anti-Violence Coalition, Safer Newark Council, Violence Intervention & Prevention Specialists, Fierro Consulting, LLC, and JR Belk Consulting.
** EJUSA’s curriculum is based on a model from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Policy Research Associates.