chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
July 28, 2023 Feature

ABA Legal Education Police Practices Consortium: Law Schools Collaborating to Support Policing and Public Safety Reforms

By Jessalyn Walker
The Consortium’s student fellowship program affords students the opportunity to learn about promising approaches to community-police engagement.

The Consortium’s student fellowship program affords students the opportunity to learn about promising approaches to community-police engagement.

fstop123/E+ via Getty Images Plus

Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Patrick Lyoya, Keenan Anderson, Tyre Nichols. These are just some of the names of Black individuals killed by law enforcement, with varying degrees of social unrest and demands for change spurred as a result. While the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 is currently stalled, local demands to revisit policing practices (to include hiring, training, and accountability) remain. This conversation is particularly poignant for law students who are committed to a criminal legal system that works for all, including those who have been disproportionally impacted by race, gender, socioeconomic status, or sexual identity. It’s for this reason that the American Bar Association (ABA) Legal Education Police Practices Consortium (the Consortium, began a virtual student fellowship program in the spring of 2022 to afford students from across the country an opportunity to engage with one another and external policing and public safety experts to learn about, discuss, and collaborate on pressing issues and promising approaches related to community-police engagement.

In an early meeting, much of the outrage from the summer 2020 protests demanding policing reform was palpable as students discussed what led them to the Zoom room. They shared with peers across the country an understanding of the disparate impact that policing has and continues to have on historically marginalized communities. Some voices expressed a desire to learn from experiences in different cities to better determine what reform efforts might support the development of a public safety system that protects the lives and rights of all citizens. Others spoke of past experiences with law enforcement and voiced their commitment to the Peelian Principles of policing to prevent crime without repression and while maintaining respect of the public. The students wanted to explore ways in which the legal profession might further support that work.

As it launched its third cohort in January 2023, the Consortium fellowship exemplified the value of law school collaboration (both with one another as well as with external policing and nonprofit organizations), particularly under the auspices of the ABA. This article will explore the goals of the Consortium and how the student fellowship program has advanced them, as well as identify opportunities for continued engagement.

Background of the Consortium

The Consortium was established in 2020 by the ABA and law schools across the country to jointly address issues relating to policing and public safety within their respective communities. Law school deans came together with the goal of ensuring that the lawyers of tomorrow had access to the necessary policies, procedures, and understanding to aid their ability to build a more just, humane, and equitable criminal legal system. They determined that additional progress would be possible if they worked together in a collaborative effort, rather than operating independently. A community of practice was established so that lessons could be shared across their network to better identify good and promising approaches related to reform efforts. The deans determined that the creation of a clearinghouse of information related to policing practices (to include information regarding other organizations currently working and researching in this space) would be of value to students, faculty, and policymakers in informing conversations related to policing reform. Due to the ABA’s existing engagement with the law school community, it was a natural fit to house the initiative within the ABA Criminal Justice Section.

To date, the Consortium has 60 member law schools and actively contributes to the national effort examining and addressing legal issues in policing and public safety, including conduct, oversight, and the evolving nature of police work. This work is done through the aforementioned fellowship program, the development of law of the police and police practices courses to be offered at interested member schools, and the creation of a law of the police legal scholar database, expected to be publicly available in the summer of 2023 on the Consortium’s website.

Consortium Fellowship Program

The fellowship is offered as a biannual opportunity for students at member schools. The first class of fellows ran from January through April 2022, with 39 fellows from 33 member schools representing 25 states and the District of Columbia. The second class of fellows ran from September through November 2022, with 25 fellows from 20 law schools representing 17 states. Students met virtually via Zoom weekly to hear from a variety of subject matter experts on topics related to policing, public safety, and reform efforts to further inform their own understanding of these issues. In addition, in consultation with a faculty advisor, students researched their local policing context to determine if a collaborative relationship would be of interest and value to both their law school and the police department and/or civil rights organizations focused on policing issues.

Community partnerships are one of the key pillars of a community-oriented approach to policing, and the Consortium aims to position relevant law schools as viable and appropriate partners for law enforcement academies and agencies (while recognizing that not all schools are interested in partnering with law enforcement but would rather work with external agencies or government bodies to address reform efforts from outside). The Center for Innovations in Community Safety (CICS) at Georgetown Law provided a wealth of inspiration for this type of relationship, as students in the program have been actively engaged with law enforcement across the country through its Police for Tomorrow Fellowship and Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) programs. Both programs have been well received by law enforcement agencies and have resulted in additional engagement between police officers and law students, to the benefit of all. The Consortium hopes to identify additional communities where this type of collaborative knowledge exchange between policing agencies and law schools might be possible, particularly with many police agencies actively working in support of the same goals as the Consortium. This type of proposed cooperation may assist law schools in aiding police departments in revising or reviewing policies, procedures, and/or training material while helping police departments in accessing legal expertise as well as engagement with both the law school and the larger community. The ABA intends to further aid in this work by publicizing lessons learned and promising approaches from across the network to ensure greater awareness and appreciation along the way toward progress.

At the start, students were cautioned that as this was the first semester that external outreach was initiated, it may take time for these relationships to be solidified and a formal partnership or research agenda to be identified. For those who chose not to pursue engagement with a police department or external agency, alternative research assignments were identified. Research themes varied from school to school to ensure that they represented the needs and desires of each community. Guidance on resources for additional information related to current events and themes in policing and public safety was provided by the Consortium director. While there was a great deal of variety in the work undertaken by each fellow, some overarching themes became apparent, reflecting the larger conversation related to policing across the country.

Emerging Themes

Co-Responder Models

As the conversation around policing has evolved, attention has been paid to co-responder models, which typically encourage a trained mental health provider to respond alongside a police officer to calls for service involving an individual experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis. Officers who respond to these calls often receive additional crisis intervention training (CIT) to better equip them to de-escalate the situation and better protect the mental and physical health of all those involved. A variety of benefits have been seen in communities that have implemented a co-responder model, including a decrease in arrests and jail admissions for individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis, decreased stigmatization of people in crisis, and a more efficient and effective use of time for responding officers. A number of students examined co-responder models to determine which local mental health providers were partnering with law enforcement and to evaluate the real and perceived efficacy of this approach. For those communities without a current co-responder model in place, research was conducted to determine which, if any, local organizations might be able to coordinate this type of service or provide crisis-intervention training for police officers.

In one law school community, the local mental health services provider partnering with the police department agreed to present at the police practices course, which brings together law students and police officers to ensure greater awareness regarding the program. In the majority of campuses where fellows are located and examining this theme, co-response models have only recently been implemented. For this reason, one area for possible future exploration would be supporting agencies in developing metrics for success and evaluating community perceptions of the police department following the implementation of co-response models. This type of qualitative review may aid in the expansion of similar programs or, alternatively, identify areas for ongoing improvement and advancement.

Citizen Review Boards/Community Police Review Boards

In response to calls for greater police accountability, nearly 150 oversight or citizen-police review boards (CRB) have been established. However, there exists little to no experiential sharing between different communities, relegating any lessons learned to be retained only by members and citizens from the immediate area. The allocation of funding and identification of who should staff these boards has also been hotly contested. In addition, external review of the real and/or perceived success of these types of boards is still nascent. To support this work, one student whose law school had an existing relationship with the local CRB decided to aggregate the statutes from all CRBs across the state of New York in the hopes of providing recommendations on key components to be included in the establishment of CRBs going forward. This student also examined whether a CRB had the authority to either directly discipline or recommend disciplinary action for officers. He intends to present this research to Albany Law School’s Government Law Center as well as possibly to local legislators looking to create or refine existing CRBs.

Publicly Available Data

The first assignment for Consortium fellows was to collect publicly available data, including contact information, policies, procedures, and training manuals from their campus, local and state police departments, as well as sheriff’s offices and highway patrol agencies. This information has been compiled and is available on the Consortium’s website. The goal of this assignment was to support students in learning the context of the policing department as well as determining the extent of open access information regarding each department. The Consortium wanted to ensure that it had a broader understanding of each school and its local policing agency before determining if and how it might proceed with additional research.

Similarly, the New York University School of Law Policing Project released a model statute on police agency data collection and transparency, advocating for the release of basic agency information. Building on this statute and the research conducted in the first semester, the two member law schools in Arizona (the University of Arizona and Arizona State University) decided to work together to draft a white paper with recommendations on ways in which to make statewide policing agencies more transparent. They posed the following research question: “What is the state of available policing data in Arizona? What is possible legislation that would promote information sharing to better support the public’s trust and confidence in policing?” With 124 agencies in the state ranging from local police departments and county sheriffs to tribal and university police departments, the amount of publicly released data (defined by these researchers as encounter data, use-of-force data, and complaint data) varies widely based on the agency. Of the 124 agencies, only 55 had any of the requested data available to the public.

The students are also undertaking a legislative comparison between Arizona and other states to learn how Arizona differs in its statutory requirements regarding the collection and dissemination of policing data. They also hope to determine whether there are any technological or infrastructure issues that pose obstacles to the gathering and dissemination of policing data in state-run law enforcement agencies.

Body-Worn Cameras

The conversation around the use of policing technology has shifted in recent years, with many advocating for a reallocation of funding to less tactical responses. Additional focus has been given to the use of body-worn cameras (BWC) to promote a sense of trust from the community while simultaneously helping the police feel more confident in their interactions with the community by providing a recording of each citizen interaction. As of 2016, 80 percent of large police departments in the United States had obtained BWCs for their officers. Reasons cited for acquiring BWC include increasing evidence quality, reducing civilian complaints, and reducing agency liability. While results remain mixed, footage is increasingly sought as evidence by both community members and police agencies following incidences involving the use of force.

Forty-two police departments in the state of Rhode Island will be receiving federal funds to purchase body-worn cameras in 2023. Rhode Island’s Congressional Delegation secured a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Justice to supplement state funding for the program to operate BWC over a five-year period. Because of this initiative, the local fellow will be examining how the implementation of BWC affects the attitudes and job performance of officers within the Bristol Police Department. Per the fellow’s assessment, much of the media attention has been on the perceptions of the community with limited to no focus on the feelings of the officers themselves. The student intends to draft an officer survey, to be completed following the rollout of the program, to gauge their sentiments regarding the use of BWC. They hope that the results of this work will potentially support efforts to extend the grant period as well as determine additional areas where police may require further support in using the new technology to achieve the larger goals of the department and the community.

Student Fellows Feedback

“The Consortium empowered me and gave me the opportunity to conduct meaningful research that will be beneficial to the District of Columbia. More importantly, though, the Consortium brought together a group of other law students from across the United States to share ideas and collaborate with. We were able to learn from each other just as much as we learned from the Consortium, all while contributing to the ABA’s valuable data collection objectives.” —Jordan Mallory, Spring 2022 Fellow, Georgetown Law.

“I had the privilege of participating in the first cohort of fellows in the American Bar Association Police Practices Consortium. As a fellow, I had the opportunity to research local police policies and understand the impact of Cleveland’s Consent Decree on reforming the City of Cleveland’s Police Department (CPD). I was surprised to learn that there were more than two dozen law enforcement agencies operating within the city’s municipal boundaries and sharing jurisdiction with the CPD, including transit and public housing authorities that have been accused of excessive or fatal force against transit riders and residents. Without this opportunity, I would not have learned about the role of co-jurisdictional policing, its authorization under state law, and lack of oversight by the City of Cleveland because those are independently operating police bodies. I am thankful to the ABA Consortium, and, more importantly, Jessalyn Walker, Director of the Legal Education Police Practices Consortium, who helped guide our work, provided very informative webinars on policing practices with excellent guest speakers, and organized a presentation for three other colleagues and me in Columbia, South Carolina.” —Katrice Williams, Spring 2022 Fellow, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.


The work of all fellows will continue through at least the next semester before findings or informed recommendations for the next steps are possible. In the meantime, students have identified strong in-roads for collaborative research on the topics chosen as most relevant to their communities. Fellows researching similar areas of thematic focus will be grouped together in the spring to better share experiences and lessons learned from their respective jurisdictions. Dependent on the research and key findings, the Consortium hopes to propose and advance relevant policy recommendations to the ABA Criminal Justice Section and, ultimately, the ABA House of Delegates to ensure that the students’ work helps to inform real-world reform. Individual law schools might then work with their local departments to determine what implementation of that policy might entail in their department. Throughout this process, the students and larger Consortium remain dedicated to researching and addressing issues related to policing and public safety at both the local and national levels through participatory, evidence-based approaches informed by the needs of their communities.

    The material in all ABA publications is copyrighted and may be reprinted by permission only. Request reprint permission here.

    By Jessalyn Walker

    ABA Legal Education Police Practices Consortium

    For more information, contact Jessalyn Walker, director of the ABA Legal Education Police Practices Consortium, at [email protected].