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Moving into Action

A Conversation with Barry Friedman

As the Founding Director of NYU’s Policing Project, Barry Friedman is committed to bringing data-driven best practices to policing. In this episode, Barry and Chanda discuss what a holistic view of public safety would look like, why we need to build in more front-end accountability into our policing system, and their upcoming Policing Project partnership.

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Souphak Kienitz  00:00 

Up next, we have Barry Friedman. He’s the founding director of the NYU’s policing project, and a law and politics professor at the New York University School of Law. In this episode, Barry and our host, Chanda discussed what public safety could look like, what a qualified immunity is, how bloated the warrant system is, and how there is no use of force law, it makes you wonder and want to know more about the policing project. Well, I hope you enjoy the show. 

Chanda Smith Baker  00:48 

You know, I talked to Jelani Cobb, and we were discussing sort of the implications of the viral videos of, you know, George Floyd and Philando Castile and all of the murders that have happened that go viral, and while there is, sort of, I don’t even know, if you want to call it public benefit to the movement of making policing better, we don’t know what the implications will be particularly on our young people that are witnessing this, because I know I feel it, and do you think that we’ll have to think about what mental health services mean, or what support services mean, or the implications of this, in this field that we’re working in? 

Barry Friedman  01:39 

I actually have had an unexpected front row seat on the impact that it has on younger folks. So this semester, I taught Criminal Procedure to first year law students, and I labored hard to get that course put into the first year curriculum, and I had about 25 students, and it has been a semester unlike any in this 30 years I’ve taught the course, that anger, and trauma, and frustration in those students at times made it almost difficult to focus on the legal material, because they were overwhelmed by what was going on in the world, and what wasn’t going on in response to it, and so I thought, it was a very profound taste for me, of the of how, how impactful this was for younger folks, and even thinking about what their careers should be. I mean, just to give you one example, many of them had thought to be public defenders, but they’ve worried that that’s just putting them into a system that, at some level, seems deeply corrupt, and that maybe they shouldn’t participate. So you know, I think you are right, that there’s this whole generation that is just being deeply affected by this, and I, who knows where that leads, 

Chanda Smith Baker  03:17 

I’ve had to talk to my sons in particular, but I have been saying that, you know, the narrative is always having to talk with your sons, and it really should be having a talk with your kids, because we know that there’s growing violence against our young women, and as Domani pointed out, also the sexual violence that happens against our girls, within policing, but talking with them, and having to say, and put it in perspective, like this is happening, but think about how many police encounters happen, think about how many people you know, so that they’re not making it automatically their outcome, right, and I have to do it, right? I don’t know whose comfort it’s for, mine or theirs, because we’re living trying to solve a problem that is very immediate and personal. 

Barry Friedman  04:13 

I, you know, I, during the course of my ordinary week working in the policing space, have so many conversations with black folks who tell me what you just did, as just an ordinary part of their lives, you know. I had to have a conversation yesterday and reinforce things. It’s a different kind of trauma, because, I mean, I cannot tell you how many people say to me, I worry my daughter is in Los Angeles, my son is in Atlanta, and I go to bed at night and I just worry or I talked to some friends whose kid was, you know, just scheduled to go out that night, one of the nights, one of the killings and she said, I just couldn’t let him go out. I just I just couldn’t deal with that. and, you know, that’s just unforgivable. I mean, the idea that people in the United States of America have to alter their behavior, because of a legitimate concern about the police. That’s just, it’s kind of like a showstopper, like, everybody should just sit down and think about what they just heard, and say, okay, that’s not okay. What are we doing about that, and, you know, all I can hope Chanda is, and I’ve hoped it before, so I’m ready to be disappointed as I’m sure you are, but all I can hope is that this moment, actually is an impactful moment, because, you know, as you know, I’ve been writing about this for, you know, 15 years now, and I thought maybe after Ferguson, I really thought after Philando Castile was killed, that it was going to be a turning point, because that was just horrific, but then, of course, the officers were killed in Dallas, like the next day, and that narrative flipped right away. I thought after George Floyd was killed, and it’s definitely been a tumultuous year, and there’s been progress, but you know, yet again, with the verdict and the most recent killings, I just, I keep thinking, is there going to be a moment where we actually stop and say, what fixe this, and I’m still not sure we’re there. 

Chanda Smith Baker  06:40 

Yeah, but we did call the question here in Minnesota, in a way. Yes, and our politicians, our city council, you know, went out to Powderhorn Park and just said, we need to defund the police, and I think that you can get caught up with the language, but I think the emotion, the trauma, the intent, the responsibility, I think behind it was this can’t this can’t happen again, right. That we need to actually act on on this, and I think what we have, since realized as a city is that it is incredibly political, incredibly layered and complex, and that merely wanting it to be so is not enough, but calling the question, I think has created more movement than what we’ve seen. Do You Do you agree with that? 

Barry Friedman  07:35 

I completely agree with that, and yet, I have a hesitation in which you just started collated. So the issue is clearly on the front burner. In a way, I don’t even think it was, you know, in 2014, and 2015. But as you pointed out, it is not a situation so easily solved. You know, it’s not like there’s been a truck parked in the middle of the road, and finally, it’s gotten everybody’s attention, and now we’re going to tow it out of the way and then things will be fixed. You know, there are 18,000 policing agencies, 7 to 800,000 police officers. There are good departments, there are bad departments. There are good chiefs and bad chiefs, good sheriffs, and bad sheriff’s. The field has not progressed in many ways over decades. It has new high tech, you know, devices, but that doesn’t mean there’s been progression in what happens, in fact, frankly, we backslid from the 1970s through the war on drugs and the war on terror, and the issues hugely polarized,  so we can’t even deal with it in a sane, rational way. You’re either for the police or against the police, which is ridiculous, like everybody wants to be safe. They want whatever is the vehicle to get them safe, and that we’ve polarized around an issue that really is just a social problem that needs our attention is all too endemic of the world in which we live, and so it’s an, as you know, you indicated it’s not going to be easily solved, and I really hope we can find a way to dig in and do the hard work, and if I could just say one more word, what worries me is like even I watch Congress right now, and they’re fighting over chokeholds and no knock warrants, and that is so ridiculous. The use of force far transcends chokeholds. The use of police procedures. It’s no knock warrants are such a tiny part of it, and so it’s a big complicated problem, and I’m just really worried that we’re not going to treat it as such and address it that way. 

Chanda Smith Baker  09:48 

Do you feel like some of the actions they’re taking are more performative to show movement, more than it is about movement? 

Barry Friedman  09:57 

I think that’s true, very true, hugely true, always true, you know, probably better than I in the space that, you know, the performative things are what politicians often do. But I actually think it’s a different problem as well. I was talking to somebody about this the other day, Chanda that we need a way to marry the expertise that comes from lived experience, to technical expertise. Policing is a really complicated subject, everybody thinks there’s something simple about it, and there’s nothing simple about, you know, deploying 7 to 800,000 armed men and women toward creating safety, and you and I should talk a little about what safety means, because I’m not sure that’s how I want to achieve safety generally, anyway. It misses a lot of ways in which people are unsafe. It’s a huge bureaucratic challenge. It’s a training challenge. It’s a supervision and accountability challenge. It’s an equipment challenge. It’s a mission challenge, and the, as you know, because the policing project, we’re all about this idea of front end accountability, that people who should have been in charge. Politicians have ignored the problem, you know, I think it’s not unfair to say, for 100 years, and so we don’t have the learning. at the levels of government, we needed to actually tackle the problem, as opposed to putting band aids on it, and that is what worries me. 

Chanda Smith Baker  11:27 

Barry, how did you get involved, and can you say a little bit about sort of your journey to starting the policing project at NYU? 

Barry Friedman  11:35 

Sure. It started with a book I wrote called, Unwarranted Policing Without Permission. and I, you know, I’m a Constitutional Law professor and I have taught for decades, the course about how the constitution regulates policing, and I wanted to write about policing, and was kind of at a loss of what to say, for a long time, and then a light bulb went off in my head one day, which was that, as a Constitutional Law professor, you think about accountability and government, that’s at the core of what we do, and I realized this very strange thing, which is that when we talk about accountability in policing, to this very day, what people mostly mean is that something’s gone wrong, and we want to hold somebody responsible. They want to prosecute a cop, we want to have a civil rights investigation, we want to have a federal monitor, we want to have body cameras, it’s all about fixing things after they’ve gone wrong, but in all the rest of government, which is what I deal with in the rest of constitutional law, it’s all about keeping things from going wrong, bypassing statutes and rules that we do in a transparent way we do with public input, we think about cost benefit analysis to try to do more good than harm. We mess it up all the time, but we at least try on the front end to make the world a better place, and then if something goes wrong, we try to fix it on the back end. But in policing, as incredible as this is, it’s actually worth stopping and thinking about a minute. There’s a vacuum, the whole political process doesn’t try to do anything to say, what we think public safety is and how we think we should be policed, and I realized that and I started to write a book about it, and then two, kind of big national events happened. Just at a time when I was trying to think about sort of the next stage of my life. The first was that we all learned from Edward Snowden that the government had been spying on all of us, without permission, without Congress saying, this is what we wanted to happen. Executive Branch just decided they were going to collect all of our personal information, and I thought, boy, there’s the very point of my book that you need to have this front end accountability, I should get involved in the space, and then as I was working to get involved in the space and kind of thinking about what to do, Ferguson happened, and I watched those just like everybody did those troops out in the street. I, you know, one of the pictures that’s most vivid for me is this young black man in dreads, and there’s all these, I mean, it looks like Iraq or Afghanistan or something that there are weapons in his face, and these people up on these military vehicles, and the thing was, I knew about it, Chanda, I knew from my research, but seeing it and the whole country seeing it, unfortunately, you know, everybody thought it was insane, and that just kind of launched the whole thing and since then, it just can’t pedal your bicycle fast enough, like it, there’s so much work to be done that it’s a consuming, it’s a consuming thing. 

Chanda Smith Baker  14:42 

So then, we had towards Floyd last year, when you saw that, and the response to it, did that feel different for you? 

Barry Friedman  14:55 

You know, goes in waves, you know, there’s the Michael Brown wave, right, and that goes for a while. There’s the next wave, and when we come up to the George Floyd wave, and somebody asked me today, a doctor of mine, actually when I was having a telehealth visit, and he said, could you tell me what’s going on every day, I opened the paper, and they shot and killed another black person, and I said, nothing’s changed. Nothing’s changed, except people are capturing it on video, and the media is covering it. That was happening, a year ago, two years ago, five years ago, 10 years ago. I mean, I actually haven’t seen data and we don’t even have data, so I couldn’t see it. To know whether the violence around policing is resulting in more deaths. I don’t know whether weapons are being, which weapons are being used more, and I don’t know if anybody does. But you know, this is not a new story, and what I do hope, and I do hope it started with the death of George Floyd is that so many people who haven’t been tuned into the issue, are tuning in, and like my doctor saying, Yeah, what’s going on 

Chanda Smith Baker  16:29 

And then when you saw, so then, you know, right after the verdict, or before the verdict, we had the shooting death of Daunte Wright, and then we had the police response to make sure that community was safe and acting right, and as they were protesting, did that feel familiar? Did that seem the same as Ferguson because it felt like over policing, too many people, right, sort of this, we’re going to keep you in mind during what was a very traumatic period, for so many of us that live here. 

Barry Friedman  17:12 

Yeah, I mean, I want to nod to one thing that I’d be curious to hear what you think about which is, you know, I, the right to protest is essential, and I was asked by the Attorney General of New York Letitia James to work with Loretta Lynch, the former US Attorney General, as advisors on how the NYPD handle the protests, and I’ve worked with the NYPD closely, and was, you know, I taught a class with the former commissioner, and I can’t tell you the level of my disappointment, because, you know, if we can’t go out on the streets, and we can’t protest peacefully, we really ought to just start calling it a democracy. As I tell people and told people all the time after Michael Brown was killed, the reason people are out in the streets is because we don’t have any front end accountability. There’s nowhere else to go, if you’re concerned about policing, it’s not like you can go to the school board of the zoning board, but there’s nothing, so people are out in the streets, and we got to protect that. At the same time, you know, what’s upsetting is, I hate to see people’s properties and businesses destroyed. You know, and very often these are in the impacted communities. Now, my sense, but I am living with COVID, like everybody else, and I’m not out in the street and investigating is that the degree of property damage is relatively slight, and the magnitude of the protests is very large, peaceful protest is very large, and the police, frankly, are reacting much more to the fact of protest than to the need to protect property in some situations. It’s particularly awkward, because it’s not just protesters, but they’re protesting the police. So the police particularly don’t like it, and I you know, I don’t, but, you know, like I was saying about polarization, then you got states like Florida that are passing laws, crackdown on protests, like what are they thinking, exactly? Whatever happened to the First Amendment? So, you know, this is an all, anyway, you, I will cut myself? 

Chanda Smith Baker  19:20 

I mean, you know, very, I don’t know, but I mean, I sat into, you know, a number of conversations where, you know, there were, as you said, impacted community members, that own businesses that were rebuilt after the protests and the writing happened. Post George Floyd, that we’re saying, we need you on the corners of our businesses because we can’t afford to rebuild them. We don’t know where people will go and it will give us comfort we can sleep if we know that you’re protecting our space, and so I think that it’s so complicated, I don’t even know what to say, but I saw images and I was deeply disturbed by them, and I’ve seen others, where I’m like, that’s how policing should look like when there’s protests, you know, hearings were true for me, you know. 

Barry Friedman  20:12 

I wish more people were like you, and that’s the, you know, the word that stuck in my head, I can’t remember I used it a minute ago, it was just stuck in my head was driven like were driven by politics with these things, and it’s kept us from being sane, and I find it increasingly difficult to have same conversations with people on either side of this issue, because they’re so emotionally wrought about it, that we can’t come to a middle place, which is really what I’m all about, and for better, for worse, and figure out what makes sense and how we can make progress and that’s what we need to do, and we need everybody at the table to do it, and they all got, you know, I say this, I’m in a lot of difficult rooms. I was in one with you, in which people were really quite clear that they just, I mean, somebody said this, you will remember that they just weren’t interested in hearing what anybody what any white people had to say about. Now, this issue at the moment, I spent a lot of time in those frog rooms, and sometimes when I lead conversations, I say, you know, the rule, the ground rules, we’re gonna have a civic discussion, civil discussion, and if you can’t, if you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be here. But I often then stop myself and say, actually, I don’t want to say that. I that’s, that’s true, that’s the baseline, but what I really want to say from my heart is, or ask is have you come to learn? Have you come to listen and learn, because everybody in the room has a viewpoint. But there’s no value to having a viewpoint, if the other people in the room aren’t really ready to try to hear it and learn from it, and so the conversations I want to be in, are the ones where people from different perspectives, can say, I’m here in good faith, I have my views, but I actually have come to learn and grow, and those are the conversations I want to be in, but as you know, it’s hard to be in those conversations. 

Chanda Smith Baker  22:07 

Yeah, it’s absolutely hard to be in those conversations, and then, you know, as, as a black person, it’s also very difficult to be in spaces, and when you’re in communities that aren’t as diverse, right, or if you’re, you know, the only or one of you, where the conversation is about communities of color impacted communities, and the majority of the people have no proximity to the issue, but are controlling the conversation, right? That’s where, you know, that anger just sort of erupts that says, you know, if I’m in the room, and I have the perspective, and it’s not being heard, right, because I think that lands us in the street, and a different type of protest, like my protest isn’t in the street, I have a different sort of way that I exercise my protesting, right, and how I do my work, but, you know, how do you, I think I’ve been, you know, myself trying to find that balance between all you kind of rise up and, and just say enough is enough, and then finding that space where we can come and listen, and I would say 90% of the time, I have a listening stance, 

Barry Friedman  23:15 

You said 90% of the time you have listening, what? 

Chanda Smith Baker  23:17 

A stance, I’m prepared to listen about 90% of the time, and the time that I’m not is when people aren’t prepared to listen to me. 

Barry Friedman  23:24 

Yeah, you know, you, I mean, you did me a great honor by organizing that convening and letting me be there, and our Chief of Staff, Maureen McGough, and I talked after she was there off camera, taking some notes, and she is white, and, you know, we were really struck by the nature of the conversation about how many people in that room felt like they just needed community in which they could have the conversations, their own, you know, their own affinity space, and I know you’ve stepped up to try to support some of that, and it was really, it really made a mark on me and no, I look, I’ll tell you, I, when I started this work, I’ve cared profoundly about race, in all my career. I just, I’m never gonna understand why people judge people based on something like their skin color, it’s just doesn’t really compute in my head, I understand it. I’m not naive or stupid, and we all understand racism in all its forms and xenophobia, like that’s not, you know, we get it, but it’s still hard for me, and when I started doing this worked around policing, you know, somebody told me, I should maybe get some training or try to learn more about the issues, and I, I was like, I know, but like, you don’t need to tell me I know, and boy was I stupid, and, you know, I’ve now had six or seven years of learning on the ground and working with folks in impacted communities, and what I’ve learned is that I don’t know, and not only do I know, don’t know, but I may never be able to know I can’t walk in those shoes. You saw me before this podcast get all teared up about something, I’m prone to that, and I end the frustration and rage that I feel I can’t even imagine how folks in impacted communities feel and, and I have really felt, I’m curious how you feel, but I have felt over the last few months that that those feelings of anger and frustration and hurt are much deeper in the black community than I’ve experienced them, and it just adds to the urgency with which we need to tackle these issues.  

Chanda Smith Baker  25:41 

Yeah. I would say that it’s deepened, and I think, you know, part of our pre conversation around the level of grief that people are carrying, and trauma, compounded by just personal loss, and what we’re witnessing time and time, again, with these viral videos of black death, and a different sort of movement around it, right? Like, it’s not enough to your point to kind of have front, front end accountability or upstream solutions where you have been, as communities, sort of, the canary in the mine, saying, the systems aren’t working for us, the systems aren’t working for us, and not getting the level of response until there’s these horrific, violent occurrences, and then we’re, you know, collectively still worried that it’s not going to be enough, and so I think it’s just compounding, and trying to figure out how to channel that, particularly for our young people. I think is going to be an ongoing challenge, and I’m watching it, you know, I’m having a temper, my own, my own emotions, and I’m spending more time, sort of, in that emotional work with my peers, and talking about what are we experiencing as we’re moving through this work, and how do we support each other in a much more intentional way that I’ve experienced so far in my career. 

Barry Friedman  27:11 

Now, it’s remarkable what you just said, you know, you’ve been in this space a long time and to hear you say that underscores that something’s different, and something needs to happen, and the question is how we motivate that. That change, and I, you know, I won’t lie I, I work in and around policing and public safety. I do. I would love to talk about public safety. Yeah. Well, we can. I think part of it is that we just have too limited definition, but I, you know, I despair at times, just because it’s such a huge problem. The question is can we really tackle it, and I get tired of, you know, the performative part issue says, somebody’s been killed, and there’s going to be these particular speeches by the police officials and the mayor in the black community, we’re all going to kind of play it. It’s like, no, let’s stop. Let’s actually do something to stop the incidence. 

Chanda Smith Baker  28:10 

Yeah. Let’s talk about public safety, because and then, you know, you said that you think that we all sort of understand sort of race better, and racism and all of that, and I would like to believe that’s true, but we saw Tim Scott, get up there and talk about there’s no racism in America or whatever he said, and we know that people feel this way, and we’ve seen this play out in public debate, and it shows up, I think, around policing, where people have some experience, but I do and I’ve listened to and read, read some of your work where ultimately, I think we are all talking about probably ending in the same place with maybe different language and different approaches, which is that we want police to show up and keep our community safe, right, and that if we have someone in our family suffering from mental health issues, we want to have a proper response that we might be entering this debate in a different way, but, you know, I guess the question of what is safety, and you said, you don’t know if we defined it? Have we defined what we think public safety is? 

Barry Friedman  29:15 

You know, you were asking me about my journey, it’s funny, I, were not funny, it’s but it’s profound is that I went into this as a lawyer, and I looked at the effects, the ill effects of policing, stops and frisks shootings, use of force surveillance, which is a really big problem that we’re not paying nearly enough attention to, and as a lawyer, I thought, you know, we got to, we got to tackle those, let’s call them collateral effects of policing, and then I started to work in policing, worked with impacted communities rode around and police cars spent time in headquarters, and realized that I completely misunderstood the problem. Completely misunderstood the problem at two different levels. First, as a society, we talk about safety. I mean, politicians talk about public safety all the time, and what they mean is protecting people from third party violence, but in impacted communities that’s on the list, along with food, housing, healthcare, opportunity, education, transportation jobs, and if we really want to be a safe and healthy community, we need to look 360 at all of that, and then with policing itself, I realized I misunderstood the problem, because, you know, I thought, well, please throw out there doing all this good work, but then they did some bad stuff, we got to get rid of bad stuff, and what I started to understand is, when you get what police are actually asked to do all day long, there’s a complete mismatch between that and how we train them. I mean, a complete mismatch, and I’ve looked at training curriculums tried to make pie charts about, you know, how much time is spent on what and besides the like, learning to work, the radio and how the department works, and the kind of basic, you know, here’s your new job. It’s two things, it’s force how to use force responsibly or not, and how to enforce the law. But most, you know, what cops get called for, I’ll tell you what to get called for. They get called because people are having animal problems, cats and trees, barking dogs. They get called, but because neighbors are beefing about music, they get called because there’s a domestic argument. They get called because there’s a traffic jam in front of the school, nobody’s dealing with it. They get caught, they get called because there’s somebody in mental health crisis. They get called to this litany of things, almost every single which one, one of which is not going to be solved with force in law. It’s going to be solved with dispute resolution skills. it’s going to be solved with a capability of diagnosing social services needs, it’s going to be solved with the ability to deal with people in emotional crisis. It’s going to be solved with some basic EMF skills. It’s going to be solved with forensics training. So you know, we always say, well, we need the cops for violent crime, they almost never show up when a crime is in progress, but we really need our victim services, and forensics crime scene work, and we don’t train police to do any of that. It’s, it is astonishing, to me, and if we could all just hear what I said and take it Incorporated, and think from that perspective about what to do with public safety and policing, we can start on the really hard work of rethinking how we make communities safer. 

Chanda Smith Baker  32:52 

Right, and so you’re talking about sort of a social service infrastructure, right, of services that go along with policing to create public safety, and so you know, I’ve heard you and talk about this, and I’ve thought about one of the things about Minnesota is that they talk about it’s the land of 10,000 Lakes. We often talk about, it’s also the land of 10,000 nonprofits. So you know, we’ve talked about this a little bit in our project to say, okay, there’s so many nonprofits here, there’s an infrastructure here, there’s resources here, right? We’re one of the most charitable cities in the country, with this very rich, nonprofit and philanthropic sort of community. What does this mean, for that? Does it mean that we’ve designed the ecosystem incorrectly to support the needs of community that doesn’t lead to public safety, and that, that we should be thinking about this outside of MPD? 

Barry Friedman  33:56 

Well, definitely that. I was, you know, I was on a convening that we held after George Floyd was killed, and when people were talking about defunding the police, we held one convening that you were at with advocates and activists and health, you know, public health professionals, which we tried to replicate, as in our little convening, that was, by the way, awesome, I was so glad to have been there, in Minneapolis, though I wasn’t in Minneapolis, I was on Zoom, and I travel all around the world in Zoom, and then we held on with police and talked about whether there was any common vocabulary and add that a chief of a very large agency in this country right now said, you know, we need an umbrella. We need some kind of agency for public safety and we’re just one part of that agency, and we’re kind of the forced part of the agency and some other stuff but it needs to be an under an umbrella, and I, it’s funny, I wrote this really long Law Review article because that’s what law professors do is write these articles that nobody reads, and at the end of my very long of my very long review article, I say, mayor’s need to think about their offices, they always have somebody who’s in charge of public safety, and that means the police, and what we really need are holistic agencies, governments lives in silos way too much. We need a holistic agency that looks at the needs of people from a 360 perspective and says, how do we deal with this? You know, give me an example just in, I can’t tell you how many times cops will say we get called to that address all the time. We get called to that address all the time. Why do you get called to that address all the time, because there’s a social problem with that address. Whatever it is, it’s, you know, I could name 10 things easily, and it never gets solved. The police just come they quieted down at that moment, they do something and then they leave and the problem is still there. It’s expensive to keep sending the police to that address. It’s expensive. Now, the social cost of a problem that never gets solved. So let’s solve it, and that is going to take a reconfiguration of government agencies, private, not for profits, and police, you know, in a very reimagined way, that we just, that’s going to be hard work, but if we really want to make the world a better place, that’s the work to do. 

Chanda Smith Baker  36:25 

Barry, how does data sharing factor, into our ability, to do that? 

Barry Friedman  36:32 

I mean, it’s hugely important, and I have a colleague at NYU, a remarkable woman by the name of Anne Milgram, and was the Attorney General of New Jersey for a while and had a lot to do with the transformation of the Camden, New Jersey police department. She worked in a philanthropic sphere for a while. She came back to NYU, and an amazing feat to me, and it is quite a statement about the Biden administration. She’s been nominated to be the head of the DEA, and Anne, started this work in Camden was doing it, I think, in Indianapolis, I’m not sure where they were pairing together, health services data and policing data, and what they found was that it was the same people. The same people that were ending up in emergency rooms all the time, or the same people that were ending up with calls to the police all the time. Wow, and she started to think about marrying that data together to identify the problem points that we could try to tackle, and I think that you will find that, you know, what about jobs and who’s unemployed and policing problems? What about educational failures, and were there problems with crime? And, you know, it’s some of I don’t mean to sound like a 1960s liberal, because that became a dirty word somehow, but, you know, we, there are social problems, and we are a wealthy country, and we decided to take a bunch of that wealth and stop devoting it to social problems, and we vastly increase police budgets,  and you know, I’m not saying cut the police budgets, I think we need to be thoughtful about all of it, but maybe we need to cut those budgets. What I am certain about, because I just don’t have the information. I’ll tell you, funny aside, but it makes your point, I’ve started to get to know people at the government Finance Officers Association, now, that’s a group I never thought I’d be working with, but it’s all, it’s like, this is a complicated budgetary issue in municipal government, and I have no clue how to deal with that issue. But we need to start there, now that’s the kind of work we need to do is to sort of take apart city government and understand how to reassemble it in a way that actually meets people’s needs, because if anything seems clear to me, and I bet to you is that we are not? 

Chanda Smith Baker  38:54 

Yeah, and then it’s part of what we’re talking about here, what you describe as democratic policing, or are there additional elements like how would you describe democratic policing? 

Barry Friedman  39:06 

So I think the work of the policing project is following the two buckets, and I think it’s probably useful to say that because it’s it is what I think needs to happen in the country around policing. Half of our work is about reducing the footprint of policing. What that means is what I was just talking about, how do we get social services to people that need them and stop using the police? It’s a one size fits all, you know, hammer for every social problem that we have. It’s just ridiculous, and lots of police will agree with that proposition. So let’s get that right. On the other hand, you know, the state uses coercive force. That’s what the police are, they use surveillance and force to keep the population under control. It has always been that way, and it will always be that way. Unless we can imagine a world in which we don’t need coercive force and some people want to, but so long as we have it, we got to get it under control, and that’s democratic policing. That’s front end accountability, and, you know, we have never tried what I am suggesting. So just to give you one vivid example, as we all know, one of the most important things that the police do, most consequential things the police do, is use force. So, I think you’ve been part of this quiz, and you know the answer, but how many states in the United States of America have a comprehensive use of force statute? Zero. No state has ever passed a law saying, here’s what force you can use, here are the circumstances in which you can use it, here are the weapons and tools that you’re allowed to utilize. Here’s what reporting should look like when you’ve used force, here’s what we’re going to invest do to investigate that, here’s what we’re going to tell the public, I find that head spinning and for all, particularly the young people out there who have just had it with policing, and I value their being in the streets, and I value their protesting, it has opened up space for change, but I want everybody to know is we have never seriously tried to control that part of policing, that we need to do everything else that everybody’s saying we’re working hard on an everyday the policing project. As a country, we should come together and pass the laws that regulate policing, I have to believe there would be dramatic change. 

Chanda Smith Baker  41:25 

Before we talk about the project that we’re partnering on, I know one of the other policy changes that we’ve talked about are pretextual stops. Do you want to talk about what the implications of addressing that could be? 

Barry Friedman  41:42 

Yeah, so I’m really glad you asked because I can name three laws that we either have written or are working on, that would have saved Daunte Wright slaying. First, why was there a traffic stop there at all, you know, the police, everybody’s, I mean, this is a point of common knowledge in the country, like everybody gets stopped by the police at some point, and people kind of naively assume that it’s about traffic safe, but the vast majority of policing stops, especially in urban areas, but not only in urban areas, are pretextual, which is to say, they’re using something like a taillight out, or a headlight out as an excuse to snoop around and see if they can, you know, intercept some guns and drugs, and I will tell you, Chanda, that’s part of a program that had its origins in the federal government, and all of these, well, meaning, you know, progresses in the federal government. I’ve told them, get your own house in order because you are causing this trouble, and so we should have a law that says you don’t stop people for BS stuff. Like we don’t take an armed person in the middle of the night, go up to somebody about some BS thing. That isn’t a crime, like so you’re headlight went out, it’s a bulb, they go out, in second. There’s a warrant, there are warrants out. Some were weren’t mailed to him. Some are for serious or not serious stuff. We have a bloated warrant system, and one of the reasons that the cops stop people is to see if they can get them a warrant, because then they can arrest them and search them. A lot of these warrants are for just total BS, a lot of them are out of date, a lot of them should have been cleared out of the system. A lot of them are for like, parking effect, you know, tickets you couldn’t afford to pay, and so now you’re going to go to jail. So we got to fix the warning system, we’re working on that law, and finally, under our use of force law, which is on our website right now, I don’t care whether she meant to pull out a taser or a pistol. Neither one of them would have been okay, because everybody knew who he was at that point, they’d run the tags. If he’s going to run on a misdemeanor, let him run. I mean, you know where he is, if you need to find him, it’s a fraught moment. Like, just let it come down, let’s not endanger, frankly, him, he’s dead. The officers who could have ended up dead, careers ruined, I mean, it’s three laws to prevent what I really view as insanity. Sorry, I’m a little impassioned, but no, I mean, I agree, and I’m frustrated. 

Chanda Smith Baker  44:16 

Yeah, and do you, because I’m hearing more about, it so the other one is around qualified immunity, and what are your thoughts on qualified immunity? 

Barry Friedman  44:34 

That’s a complicated issue, and everybody thinks there’s a simple solution to it, and I’m not opposed to just trying a simple solution and seeing what works, which is, you know, sure, if you want to and qualified and qualified immunity. So the way it works is, there’s a bunch of rules for how the cops are supposed to behave, many of which are in the Constitution, or our interpretations of the Constitution. If the police do something, and somebody sues them, the question you asked, well did you violate the constitution, but the Supreme Court has put a cushion around the constitution to protect cops. So even if they violated the Constitution, and this is the most, I almost can’t get these words out of my mouth and think that I’m a sane person, unless there was a federal court decision saying exactly that, you can’t do that, the cops aren’t liable. So everybody wants to end that, so the cops are like, but what you have to understand is, okay, so the cops are liable. You think that means they’re going to pay a lot of money? Well, you’re wrong, you don’t understand, because first of all, they’re usually indemnified. There’s insurance, the city indemnifies them, they don’t pay. So here we are, again, focusing all our energy on a phrase qualified immunity ticket. We’re gonna fix things, and nothing’s going to change, and, I, the other day, said to a former police chief, well, but we need a bite, you know, at least when the cops do really bad stuff that whether it’s $2000 $5000 $10,000 $20,000, there should be some cap, that’s their money, and he said, you know, what’s gonna happen, the union is gonna collect a big pot of money, and then they’re gonna pay that. So we need to stop having facile solutions and think through the problems. and the real problem at the bottom is, I mean, there should be liability, but the lot, but we should understand is that when an officer does something wrong, the department should pay, the city should pay, and the taxpayer should know that they’re paying for this bad stuff that accomplished nothing good, and is costing them big tax dollars that could be spent otherwise, and we need a system, a feedback loop to make that clear, and people aren’t talking about that. 

Chanda Smith Baker  46:36 

For the last few minutes that we have, can we talk about our project? 

Barry Friedman  46:42 

We can, and I am so happy to be working with you, I cannot even tell you. 

Chanda Smith Baker  46:46 

I am thrilled about it. You know, the circumstances have led us here, and I’m grateful that through these moments, that I have a place to kind of park my grief and my protest, in moving into action into the work that you’re doing, and so can you talk about the project and the jurisdictions that you’re hoping to be in? 

Barry Friedman  47:14 

Sure, you know, this goes back to and by the way, I should just say yes, out of horrific events and grief, come, you know, some happiness sometimes and meeting you is way up there on that list for me. You know, I feel very lucky, we all do a policing project. We were really committed to reducing the footprint of policing, to make sure that people in communities get what they need to be safe, and we don’t think that that’s always sending an armed person or even most of the time, and municipal government is not set up to tackle that problem, and so we have a project that we’re calling reimagining public safety, but I think we’re going to really change the name on it, and which we hope to launch probably in the next couple of months on our website. That’s a very, it’s gonna sound very geeky, you know, and very nerdy, because I’m a geek and a nerd, that’s what I am, but, you know, because we watched Minneapolis, like, there’s this pronouncement, we’re just going to, you know, create public safety and get rid of the police department, and turned out it was a lot harder than everybody thought to do that politically harder, logistically harder, and we realized that it’s hard, and what we want to do is try to learn from jurisdictions. We’re not working in jurisdictions to change jurisdictions, we’re going to jurisdictions to learn, to create a national model for how any jurisdiction could get on a path to giving its citizens, its residents, what they need, using their budgets in sensible ways to meet people’s problems and realize that that’s not always going to be policing, and there are a lot of steps to this process that I will spare your listeners, but Minneapolis is, thanks to the interest of many people in the city, and the generosity of the foundation. One of our chief sites where we are going to do our deepest dive of learning, listening to people, listening to the community, listening to all the communities. There is not one community as you know, talking I hope to public officials, civic officials, people that run agencies and departments, you know, a lot of this is nitty gritty stuff about how this department communicates with that department, whose budget this goes into or comes out of, and figuring out how to build, you know, the pipes in the electrical work to create a different system that is wired, and designed to help people and meet their needs rather than just throwing for some law. Thanks. 

Chanda Smith Baker  49:40 

And this will take 10 months here, 

Barry Friedman  49:47 

I mean, I’m going to give you an honest answer you don’t want to hear but then I will give a less heart stopping one. I mean, I think to actually do this in cities around this country, it’s gonna take five to 10 years. This is not the is not going to happen overnight, and that was the mistake of what I think people in Minneapolis thought, which is we’re going to decide this, and then next week, things will be different, but the part of the project that is the planning, that is the thinking through this, depending on which part will take anywhere, I think from eight to 18 months, and so the part about trying to develop the template, the model, I hope, is something that, you know, come January of next year, we’ve got at least something to show people now. 

Chanda Smith Baker  50:30 

And I think it’s important that we right size expectation that, you know, the the rate of change is slow and to properly examine an issue, and to get all the complexity is an important exercise to make sure you surface the right solutions. 

Barry Friedman  50:44 

Yeah, you know, I all of us experience some sort of trauma in our lives, health issues, divorces, deaths, and I think one of the things I’ve learned over time is you hit bottom at some point, and it’s tough, but the good news is that everything’s up from there, and I kind of want people to think about this this way, which is it is things are not going to get fixed overnight, but if we are identifying issues and coming up with solutions and making small progress and have a goal at the end, then the journey is okay. You know, we can learn on the journey, we can do better on the journey, there’ll be mistakes made, and what I don’t want people to think as well, if you know, and this is what worries me, you’ve heard me say this before, which is, this turns out to be hard, and so you know, a year from now, or two years from now, everybody’s moved on to the next thing, and we’re looking at the world just like it is now and nothing’s changed, that would be a disaster, and so what I really, really hope is that we can start to walk with people on a path that they think hasn’t an ending, a better ending, and can recognize the slow but constant progress along the way, that’s got to be the goal there. 

Chanda Smith Baker  51:57 

Is there is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you want to say? 

Barry Friedman  52:03 

I hope that the thing I intensely feel has been clear throughout this conversation, which is we have to center the find a way to center the voices of people who have lived experience, largely, you know, over policed black and brown communities, but anybody who has experienced difficulty with the system, we have to capture that expertise, and yet marry it to technical expertise, because this is the problem is neither kind of expertise wants to hear from the other. The technical expertise has no interest in hearing from the communities and people’s lived experience, right now lived experiences really frustrated, and they don’t want to hear from any experts, but the truth of the matter is, we need both of those, and we need to find a way to marry them together and get them to work together to make things better, and I that is something I don’t think I focused on nearly enough in the early years of doing this work, and I’m intensely focused on it now, and that that is, it excites me actually, you know, and all I want is for both those kinds of expertise to be open to learning from each other and understand that they don’t know everything, and everybody’s got something to teach and learn. 

Chanda Smith Baker  53:18 

That sounds like a new course at NYU, perhaps, a new summer session that we can ll be there. 

Barry Friedman  53:25 

I hope not a summer session. 

Chanda Smith Baker  53:27 

Or whatever, where you could like curate a group of us that can come together and bring the lived and the technical together.  Actually, we could do that. I’d be happy to do that over the summer,  and I actually think that, you know, I haven’t thought about a convening like that. That is an awesome idea. Like it would be really, really interesting to find a group of community folks who have just passionate views and lived experience but who are genuinely willing to come and listen to and hear learn from a group of experts who know a lot about where the ills and problems are, but themselves are open to learning and hearing from the community that, what they don’t know, and see if we could bring that together that I seems like we have a bit of a new project We might have that. I appreciate you and I appreciate you joining this conversation. It’s a you know, our podcast is meant to elevate sort of the leadership of people working on issues that are impacting our community. Now at the Minneapolis Foundation, we have many donors that have funds with us that are very interested and not just bringing their resources, but bringing their leadership to improve our community, and so this is one way in which they can learn and hear about things from a perspective that may be different than the ones that they’ve lived, and so I appreciate you being part of our journey and their journey. 

Barry Friedman  54:52 

I thank you as, you well know, I appreciate every moment I spend with you. 

Souphak Kienitz  54:58 

And that’s Barry Friedman and our host Chanda Smith Baker. To learn more about the policing project, visit If you’re interested in sponsoring this podcast, or looking for ways to do more, please contact us. You can find more information on our website at If you like this episode, you can tweet Chanda @chandasbaker and let her know or leave us a review and follow us wherever you get your podcast. Thank you to Sarah Gillund for making her artwork and copy for this episode. And thank you to Darlynn Benjamin for coordinating and making this conversation happen. This is Souphak Kienitz from the Minneapolis Foundation. Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you soon 

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About Our Guest

Barry Friedman

Barry Friedman serves as the Faculty Director of the Policing Project at New York University School of Law, where he is the Jacob D. Fuchsberg Professor of Law and Affiliated Professor of Politics. The Policing Project is dedicated to strengthening policing through ordinary democratic processes; it drafts best practices and policies for policing agencies, including on issues of technology and surveillance, assists with transparency, conducts cost-benefit analysis of policing practices, and leads engagement efforts between policing agencies and communities. Friedman has taught, litigated, and written about constitutional law, the federal courts, policing, and criminal procedure for over thirty years. He serves as the Reporter for the American Law Institute’s new Principles of the Law, Policing. Friedman is the author of “Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission,” and has written numerous articles in scholarly journals, including on democratic policing, alternatives to police responses to 911 calls, and the Fourth Amendment. He appears frequently in the popular media, including the New York Times, Slate, Huffington Post, Politico, and the New Republic. He also is the author of the critically acclaimed “The Will of the People: How Public Opinion Has Influenced the Supreme Court and Shaped the Meaning of the Constitution.” Friedman graduated with honors from the University of Chicago and received his law degree magna cum laude from Georgetown University Law Center. He clerked for Judge Phyllis A. Kravitch of the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.