In its third meeting, a task force examining local law enforcement’s relationship with the community and social services heard from a consultant who has led similar initiatives across the country.
Jake Jacobs, president of The Illumination Project, gave an hourlong presentation Monday morning that highlighted work he’s done in Charleston, South Carolina and Louisville, Kentucky.
“Our organization has worked in several communities around the country on this issue and opportunity of further strengthening police/citizen relationships,” Jacobs told the committee in a Zoom meeting.
Jacobs was invited to talk to the committee by facilitator Allison Bergh, of Leadership at Play.
During his presentation he talked about helping plan an effort in Jackson and what that might look like. He also took questions from committee members about funding and differences between projects in bigger cities and how they might translate here.
“It looks different in different places,” Jacobs said. “What is most important is that you have strong project management support.”
Jacobs said The Illumination Project encourages diversity in committees, so projects can help create positive change. Some projects offer stipends or compensation for members who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate, to get rid of barriers.
“If the process doesn’t have integrity you can’t trust the result,” Jacobs said. “What we found is if we do a good job building a team … a real team that listens to each other, one that works together, one where I feel like I am on even footing with everyone else in the room, whether it’s the police chief, or a professor and someone who works at McDonald’s … it doesn’t matter. We are all on the same team that sustainability tends to take care of itself.”
The idea for the committee came up over the summer after the Teton County Board of County Commissioners heard public comment from residents who advocated taking money from law enforcement budgets and allocating it to human services — advocacy efforts often labeled as defunding the police.
The decision came after a sustained campaign organized by activist group Act Now JH that formed in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis. The group attended county meetings in force throughout the end of June, lobbying commissioners to defund law enforcement’s patrol budgets and divert those funds to social services.
After receiving several applications from members of the public and conducting interviews, county commissioners voted to commit $14,000 to the project and appointed five people to the committee.
The committee has since added one or two members and after hearing from Jacobs the group agreed they should add more Hispanic participants. There was also discussion of creating a more formal project with a steering committee and doing community surveys.
A full-blown project in a smaller community can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $75,000, Jacobs said.
The goals of such a project are to enhance police-community relationships; bring together all parts of the community to promote calm, measured exploration of public sentiment; to celebrate what is working well in police-community relations; to explore how to change and preserve public safety and civil liberties; to increase capacity to have meaningful and civil dialogue about difficult issues; and to develop specific and implementable plans.
The committee’s recommendations will be formed into a request for proposal for another stage of assessment.