The NCSL Blog


By Julie Lays

I woke to the news of a manhunt going on in Clinton, Mo., for a suspect who had killed a police officer during a routine traffic stop the day before. How sadly appropriate this was for the day I was attending the deep dive session on police-community relations offered at the Legislative Summit in Boston. 

Baltimore Mayor Catherine PughAt the session, a standing-room only crowd heard from an articulate, experienced and funny panel of three, moderated by Katherine McQuay from the U.S. Department of Justice. The panelists were:

  • Catherine Pugh, former state lawmaker and current mayor of Baltimore.
  • Colm Lydon, deputy superintendent of the Boston Police Department.
  • Phillip A. Goff, president, Center for Policing Equity.

Pugh emphasized the importance of getting to know the community. Her advice: “Ask, What is the real problem? It’s not just about the guns and violence,” she said. It’s about mental health, poverty, housing. You need to get into the community and get people involved. Also, strive to get the police department to reflect the same diversity of the community, she said.

Lydon shared some innovative things the police department is doing in Boston to engage with the community, “to lift, rather than lock, people up.” Things like flashlight walks, coffee with cops in local cafes, peace walks, working with clergy, and ice cream trucks are all intended to connect cops with communities. The deputy superintendent encouraged everyone to be thieves. “Steal good ideas from other places!”

Goff, a self-described data nerd, promoted the use of data—and hiring nerds to interpret the data—to make informed, effective changes. He gave an example of a simple change that has made a big difference in Las Vegas.  After an analysis of previous police-community encounters gone bad, officials changed police protocol so that the first cop to get to a suspect after a foot chase is barred from being the one to arrest the suspect, with safety exceptions.

The panel invited a trio of state lawmakers who had recently sponsored bills on police-community relations.

  • Washington Representative Roger Goodman (D): Establish a task force to study the use of deadly force in community policing.
  • Arkansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren (R): Increase penalties for firing at a cop.
  • Illinois Senator Kwame Raoul (D): Require more investigation into officer-involved deaths.

Discussion around implicit bias and gun violence heated the room up a bit, but for the most part, attendees were kept engaged and entertained by the speakers—just the kind of high-quality session that keeps lawmakers and staff coming to NCSL’s Legislative Summit year after year.

Julie Lays is the editor of State Legislatures magazine.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.