South Orange Launches Effort to Reimagine Policing — and More — With ‘Community Care & Justice’

by Mary Barr Mann
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“Transparency,” “honesty,” “authenticity,” “mutual respect,” “dignity,” “empathy,” “intersectionality.”

Participants in the March 7 town hall launching the Community Care & Justice initiative voiced these aspirational values as fundamental and necessary for changing policing and improving other services in the South Orange community.

The Community Care & Justice initiative is described as a collaboration between the municipal government of South Orange, the South Orange community, Seton Hall University and Essex County that was initiated by Village President Sheena Collum, seeking “to reimagine traditional models of law enforcement by putting a greater emphasis on wellness and crisis prevention while embedding care and compassion service values into all facets of police operational strategies and enhancing training for de-escalation and implicit bias.”

The program is being led by Trustee Donna Coallier, chair of the Village’s Health and Public Safety Committee, and Dr. Juan Rios, Director of Seton Hall University’s Master of Social Work program.

At the launch of the initiative at a virtual town hall on March 7, community members also voiced problems that they wanted to see addressed, many of which went beyond policing. They included a “lack of diverse curriculum and faculty in schools,” “disrespect on social media,” “police abuse of black and brown youth,” “rush to judgment,” “poor communication on school reopening,” and the need for greater outreach to minority-owned businesses in commercial districts.

Via email after the town hall, Coallier explained next steps.

“Team CC&J currently has two workstreams. There is a group of seven academics and interns that are working on structuring a survey to be used for research — data collection and results review. We need to find out what the community feels we should address, prioritize our program services based on survey and focus group input, and then assess results against those measures.” Coallier says that the data needs and collection process needs to conform with Seton Hall standards and those of the broader academic community, including team members from NJCU, NYU and Fordham University.

Second, “There’s a smaller team focused on a strategy and program design workstream.”

“We had a great dialogue [on March 7] and will next look to expand the dialogue to engage with those that are not digitally native or do not have ready wifi access. Remembering our mantra – everybody belongs here and together let’s make sure they feel it – we are so deeply committed to more outreach.”

“In both workstreams, all hands are on deck,” says Coallier. “This is social entrepreneurship and so the whole team is called upon to pitch in wherever they can. Seton Hall’s release of Dr. Rios for spring term and the Essex County commitment to the program were the ‘seeds’ that we needed to really start germinating and growing the program.”

Dr. Juan Rios, Seton Hall University

It may seem like a lot of groundwork before implementing real-world changes that will start making a difference in people’s lives, but that is the clear goal — for South Orange and beyond.

Said Rios, “All of this ‘pre-program’ work needs to be done to make sure we serve the community in the right way.” The team envisions 911 Diversion, Restorative Practice Councils, dialogue on How To Be An Anti-Racist, Mental Health Awareness Training and more. “We need the community to tell us what they need and then triage from there based on available funding.”

Coallier called the attraction of funding a possible third “workstream.”

Coallier says that the team will likely launch the survey in early April. In the meantime, community members can share thoughts and feedback at the CC&J Landing Page on the South Orange Village Township website.

Watch the March 7 town hall meeting:

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