Good News: The 2020 Election Saw Some Major Wins For Criminal Justice & Policing

Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images.
Right now, we are on the brink of welcoming a new president — and one that isn't actively destroying the rights of marginalized people across the U.S. And while both celebrations (and protests) have already ramped up across, we still face another, inescapable political reality: Biden will likely be running a Republican-majority Senate for the next two years. While cynics might like to believe, maybe rightfully so, that the “blue wave” never actually came, there’s still a lot to be proud of in the way of progressive wins — especially in the realm of criminal justice and policing. 
After months of Black Lives Matter protests that sprung from the police killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others, organizers didn’t just take to the streets — they demanded change be brought to the ballots. According to Ballotpedia, at least 20 local, police-related measures were on the ballot across the country this week. Now, 19 new measures have passed that will help to hold police accountable and begin to divest from policing and incarceration. These new measures span from creating oversight committees and budgets to fund social services, mandating the release of body-cam footage, and ending stop and frisk policies.
More importantly, these measures could serve as a national model for meaningful change that can be replicated and pushed even further in the future. “All of this is just a culmination of the years of organizing that has happened by Black folks,” Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, the executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC), told CityLab. "I am really happy to be seeing local initiatives to address police brutality, divest, invest. I think that it’s a demonstration of people taking power into their hands.”
These wins vary by location — including both local-level and state-level changes. Ahead, we've mapped out all of the new criminal justice efforts we look forward to seeing enacted.


In San Francisco, the passing of Proposition D will create a Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board and Office of Inspector General so that civilians can investigate and hold police accountable. California also voted for Proposition 17, which restores incarcerated people’s right to vote upon being released from prison and completing parole. Voters in San Diego also approved a measure to create an independent Commission on Police Practices, a tougher oversight committee than that which existed before. The committee will be tasked with investigating misconduct, complaints and in-custody deaths using subpoenas.
One of the biggest wins of this election for abolitionists occurred in Los Angeles, where voters took a small step towards moving funds away from the police and towards alternatives. There, Measure J passed, which requires at least 10% of the county's general fund (an estimated $360 million, if not more) to be invested in community programs and alternatives to incarceration. Funds will now be allocated towards job training, substance abuse programs, and mental health treatment. While it’s not entirely defunding the police like many protests demanded this year, it’s a step in that direction. 


Portland — the sight of many of this year’s most violent anti-police protests — voted to pass an initiative that will create a new civilian-led oversight board. The committee will replace the old oversight board, which currently can’t investigate officer shootings or cases in which people die in police custody, can’t make its findings public, and has no say in officer discipline. However, the new board will have subpoena powers to investigate complaints, including any police officers' alleged use of deadly force and misconduct. The initiative will also have the power to discipline and fire police officers.


Even Columbus, Ohio, which was previously the largest city in the country without a civilian review board, has opted to create one to investigate allegations against officers. Columbus will be using a 16-member working group in order to create recommendations for how the review board will look and operate. And in Akron, Ohio, constituents voted to require the police department to release body camera and dashboard camera videos after use-of-force deaths or serious injuries. 


Constituents in Philadelphia overwhelmingly voted to ban stop and frisk policies that disproportionately target Black people and people of color. Voters also opted to create a Citizens Police Oversight Committee to replace its Police Advisory Commission, which has been criticized for its inability to effectively hold police accountable. Much like other new oversight committees across the country, Philadelphia's aims to provide more power to investigate and discipline officers.


After Washington saw police violence against protesters who marched and set up an autonomous zone in Seattle over the summer, constituents in King County voted to pass a sweeping police reform. There, a new civilian-led Office of Law Enforcement Oversight will be set up and will have the legal authority — and subpoena power — to investigate misconduct. Voters also approved a mandate that will provide a public attorney to represent victims' families.

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