About Us

What is the Policing Project?

The Policing Project is dedicated to strengthening policing through democratic governance.

Policing agencies play a vital role in preserving social order. To see that they function effectively, we must, and do, grant them vast powers. We allow police to restrict people’s freedom of movement, take them into custody, search their person and their property, and engage in surveillance. These powers are not granted lightly: used wrongly, they can imperil the very society that policing officials are pledged to protect.

We believe it is essential to work to maximize the effectiveness of policing, and minimize the risks, by utilizing time-honored techniques of democratic governance.

What is policing?

There’s a reason we refer to “policing” rather than “the police.” Any government body or official that has the authority to exercise force against, or conduct surveillance of, the citizenry is “policing” society, and should operate according to principles of democratic governance. This includes those whom we usually think of as the police, such as cops on the beat. But it also includes the agents of the FBI and the surveillance experts at the NSA.

What is democratic governance?

In the United States, democratic accountability means that whenever possible there are rules put in place in advance of official action, describing what officials may and may not do; that those rules are public; that they are designed to promote the social good, while doing the least amount of harm; and—most important—that they are developed through a process that allows for public input and debate.

At present, policing differs from this familiar model of democratic accountability. Policing is regulated primarily after the fact, through a combination of civilian review boards, inspectors general, and courts. The people rarely get a say, up front, in the specific rules that govern policing.

That’s what we’d like to see change. We are writing rules to regulate policing, working on accountability mechanisms at all levels of government, and examining policing practices using cost-benefit analysis. We’re partnering with organizations, including policing officials, to accomplish these goals. We believe both the work of policing, and the society in which it takes place can be better off as a result.