Black Lives Matter: Principles for abolition and global examples
William Frazer,11 November 2020
Principles for abolition and global examples
After the last post in exploring the arguments for and against abolition, it became evident that there were already examples of mechanisms that led towards abolition, with some important learning embedded in them. As such, it felt necessary that the next step was to look at these examples and understand what’s behind their success.
Researching for this article, I read through a vast amount of media articles, interviews with proponents for abolition, mission statements of advocacy groups, academic literature and more. Throughout all of these different views there were common themes that I continually saw popping up; five guiding principles that speak to the heart of the argument for abolition and what is needed to make it work. This post will go through these five principles before exploring some local and global examples of how these principles have been enshrined, illuminating the important steps that have been taken towards abolition of police.
1. For community, by community
If one is defunding the police, we must remember who we are doing it for, the community. Initiatives in place need to speak to local interests and have the support of the community. Examples of this can look like investing in social endeavours with money saved from defunding police, working constructively with local interest groups or allowing the people of a city to take the lead on crime prevention.
The police force must be accountable for their actions ensuring they stay within their roles, prevent abuse of power and meet the goals of policing. This includes ongoing evaluation. This is both to ensure that standards are being followed and that any program that works in crime is still meeting the needs of the community, be it police or an alternative.
An extension of the above principles, police or its alternatives must be transparent and subject to scrutiny. Without transparency you cannot have local input or control in policing, infringing on the other guiding principle and ultimately could pose a risk to the community.
4. Competence and set roles
Police and others must have the training to do their job to be effective and meet the needs of those who they are there to serve. In many cases this will look like specialisation in areas such as conflict resolution or mental health first aid training. At the same time, this point is about rethinking police as a one size fits all model, and more thinking about a flexible range of services to serve the community.
5. Systemic change
Last, but not least, for an effective change to the nature of policing, the change needs to be system-wide. This includes changes to our legislation to create a uniform approach to our issues. It also includes changing views of communities to understand what better policing could look like and finally the change both culturally and structurally to the police force and the entire justice system that needs to take place.
Examples moving towards abolition
CARA is a community group that works in the rape and sexual abuse space, whose origins embody the principle of being for community and by community. When CARA began, they knew there was a problem with rape in their community but traditional supports such as legal advocacy and counselling already existed. As such, they began work to fill the gaps of both a lack of support for marginalized groups in the community and a disjointed method of confronting sexual violence from the community and law enforcement. Due to their grassroots nature, CARA is funded by the local Seattle government.
Showing the guiding principle of systemic change, CARA also works in advocacy, not being afraid to call out injustice and work to point out perceived shortcomings in the police force and sectors which encourage sexual violence. They are vocal advocates against the prison industrial complex, pushing for reinvestment of funds out of the prison system, and have worked to call out rape culture in the punk music scene, where police were not acting on crime.
Finally, knowing the shortcomings in other organisations that vouch to help the community CARA has a list of accountability principles. This ensures the organisation can still be successful and stick to its roots in any project it does, whilst making sure they are following the community's wishes. For these reasons, CARA is a great example of what an alternative to policing could look like.
Part of the Scotland Police, the violence reduction unit is an implementation of the idea that violence is preventable - not inevitable. In 2005 when Scotland was named the most violent country in the developed world, the community and police realized that the traditional methods of policing were not working to reduce violent crime. The SVRU was the response. Through a range of programs police began to focus on rehabilitation and prevention rather than arrests. This included working in hospitals to help patients affected by violence, giving previous offenders jobs through specialized food trucks or working in schools to educate young people about violence. Since 2005, the shocking statistics which started the program have dropped dramatically, with a 60% drop in homicides and violent crime at the lowest it’s been since 1976. London is looking at administering a similar program after seeing the gains in Scotland with police forces internationally taking note of the success of the program.
The Portland Bad Date Line started as a group of sex workers sharing information on violent clients or those with STD’s. Reports come in from sex workers anonymously and monthly updates are created. The initiative is now funded by the local public health department and has a monthly sheet that goes to over 50 agencies in the area, as well as to their Facebook page. Despite being a simple initiative, it shows how communities can step up and solve issues in crime without police intervention.
The Stockholm Mental Health Ambulance is a perfect example of using set roles and competencies to solve issues in the community. The ambulance, staffed by 2 mental health nurses and a paramedic, responds to mental health emergencies. This was traditionally done by police, but after research showed specialized psychiatric responses are needed for those in mental health crisis, a trail run of these ambulances was launched.
Despite being in its infancy the program is showing promise. In their first year the ambulances responded to 1,508 cases, with a qualitative study affirming that the ambulance was able to create a safe and welcoming environment that was able to effectively assist the patient. Other cities in Sweden are now looking at implementing similar programs as the success begins to show what the benefits of having specialized roles within law enforcement could look like.
in Australia. The Maranguka justice reinvestment project, in Bourke, sees funding from crisis response and prisons redirected into crime prevention and deterrent schemes. These include learner driver programs and connection to country sessions. The community knew they had issues with crime and the ways police were going about solving it. They felt something needed to change.
The justice reinvest program seemed to fit Bourke well, allowing the community themselves to lead the charge on what measures should be in place to reduce crime whilst building relationships with local service providers. Early success can be seen in the statistics with a 23% reduction in domestic violence, a 31% increase in year 12 retention and more. At the same time, from collective savings from the justice system, increase in productive community members and utilization of service providers are estimated at $7 million for the small town.
Despite the current talk around abolition, there is still confusion around what abolition actually looks like. The above guiding principles and the reflections of them in the examples begin to paint a picture of a new kind of policing that could keep our community safe while mitigating the many issues that our current role of law enforcement has.
Our research also shows where the abolition movement currently is. At this point in time, there is no jurisdiction that has been able to implement a full suite of examples, to truly transform policing in line with the guiding principles. A whole system change, actual abolition, is not what we are seeing at present, merely some disperse example which begin to move us along the continuum towards abolishing police. Our upcoming posts will address this point of what a movement towards a whole system reform looks like and how do we get there?
 Alisa Bierria, ‘Pursuing a radical antiviolence agenda inside/outside a non-profit structure’ in INCITE! (ed) The Revolution Will Not Be Funded (Duke University Press, 2017) 151.  CARA, ‘Making Connections’ [PDF] Available at: https://incite-national.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/9261_anti-prisonbrochure.pdf  Alisa Bierria et al, ‘Taking risks: implementing grassroots community accountability strategies’ in Ching-In Chen et al (eds) The revolution starts at home (AK Press, 2016) 64.  Justice Analytical Services, Scottish Government, ‘Recorded Crime in Scotland: Attempted Murder and Serious Assault, 2008-09 and 2017-18’ (2019) [PDF] Available at http://www.svru.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/recorded-crime-scotland-attempted-murder-serious-assault-2008-09-2017-18.pdf  Karla Adam, Glasgow was once the ‘murder capital of Europe.’ Now it’s a model for cutting crime.’, Washington Post (online, 28 October 2018) Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/glasgow-was-once-the-murder-capital-of-europe-now-its-a-model-for-cutting-crime/2018/10/27/0b167e68-6e02-4795-92f8-adb1020b7434_story.html  Olof Bouveng, Fredrik A. Bengtsson and Andreas Carlborg, ‘First-year follow-up of the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PAM) in Stockholm County, Sweden: A descriptive study’ (2017) 46(2) International Journal of Mental Health 65.  Ibid
 Veronica Lindström, Lars Sturesson, and Andreas Carlborg, ‘Patients' experiences of the caring encounter with the psychiatric emergency response team in the emergency medical service—A qualitative interview study’ (2020) 23(2) Health Expect 442.
 KPMG, Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project, [PDF] http://www.justreinvest.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Maranguka-Justice-Reinvestment-Project-KPMG-Impact-Assessment-FINAL-REPORT.pdf