Kelcey Duggan, MPP'18, on Black Lives Matter and Police Accountability and Transparency

Kelcey Duggan, MPP'18
Kelcey Duggan, MPP'18

Police accountability and transparency have never been more critical. The Black Lives Matter movement has drawn the nation’s attention to police brutality and the tragic deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement across the country. As policymakers at every level of government seek new models for community safety, Kelcey Duggan, MPP’18, is working to provide them with the resources they need. She discusses her work as a research and policy associate at the Community Resource Hub for Safety and Accountability in Philadelphia, and how she and her team have incorporated increased policing and surveillance during COVID-19 into their work.

How did you become interested in working on police reform?

After I graduated from Florida State, where I majored in criminology and psychology, I worked for the parole board of Florida, scheduling and handling cases for people up for parole. That’s how I realized I wasn’t on the right side of what I wanted to do. I wanted to help work toward more change in the criminal justice system, rather than perpetuate it.

That’s why I came to Heller for my MPP [Master of Public Policy], where I focused on the intersection of gender and race and the criminal justice system. We were required to read the book, “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. In her foreword, she mentioned that her book focused on Black men in particular, and that more research needs to be done on the ways that Black women are caught up in the criminal justice system. When I read that, I was like, okay, that’s what I want to focus on, along with LGBTQ populations.

What is the Community Resource Hub for Safety and Accountability?

The Hub focuses on police accountability and community safety measures that don’t rely on policing, such as transformative and restorative justice and boosting alternatives to police. We offer technical assistance to local advocates and organizers across the country who want to reform policing and create a better system of law enforcement. Our resource hub has a ton of different toolkits, model policies, legislation, reports and more.

I do research and write papers and memos for different projects and campaigns. One of the first things I did when I was hired in late 2018 was research residency requirements, requiring police to live in the county that they serve. Then, in early 2019, I focused on divesting from huge police budgets. This huge movement around defunding the police has grown since then, so it’s good to see that taking off. 

How has COVID-19 impacted the work of the Hub?

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the public health orders that have come out of it, the enforcement of these orders by police, and increasing surveillance during the pandemic, we just launched covid19policing.com to track orders and enforcement and connect individuals who need legal support to the National Lawyers Guild.

There have been a surge of people speaking out about the ways that already marginalized people are being policed. With COVID and these mask orders, they’re even more over policed.

I’ve been tracking a lot of news articles that show specific examples of ways people have interacted with the police during COVID, where you see police harassing people in the street for not wearing masks.

Late last year, we also started working on a report on surveillance and law enforcement, partnering with the Action Center on Race and the Economy. Now, with COVID, we’re seeing how surveillance is being used to do things like contact tracing. We’ve seen surveillance used to track people under the guise of public health. We’ve also seen the surveillance being used against Black Lives Matter protestors. Surveillance has been used for years to track First Amendment activity. We can’t let public health be a reason to navigate away from accountability and transparency mechanisms.

Oakland, California, is one of the biggest examples of a city with a robust protection system. They have a privacy advisory commission that can ban certain surveillance technologies, like facial recognition, and educate the community and council on how they can be misused.

“Defunding the police” is now a popular concept—but not everyone knows what it means. Can you explain that, and share some alternatives and models that you’ve collected for the Hub?

Defunding the police means cutting police budgets and putting that money into other services for the community instead. These could be crisis intervention teams: first responders who are specifically trained to respond to mental health crises without showing up with guns drawn. During COVID, for example, we can boost mutual aid networks and community services to decrease desperation and give people the resources they need, rather than criminalizing people for going out when they are sick.  

Across the country, different organizations have different models for community safety. In New York City, the Audre Lorde Project, a community organizing center for LGBTQ people, has a toolkit around safe party systems so people can keep each other safe without relying on the police, who often victimize those populations. There’s also a large youth movement in Los Angeles that’s working on alternatives to the 911 system. They go out and train community members on first aid response, crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques so they can build their own robust network for first responders that aren’t police.

It’s super understandable that if you say “abolish the police” or “defund the police,” people will ask, “What’s going to happen to crime?” But community safety doesn’t have to rely on policing. This abolition work has been around for a long time—just look at what Brandeis alumna Angela Davis ’65 has been doing.

At the Hub, we’re empowering city council members to make decisions and give them proof that you can do something else other than increasing the police budget. A remarkable number of city councils have agreed to cut budgets, but it’s so recent we haven’t seen measurable outcomes yet.

If Heller folks want to start a campaign or join an existing one, they can look at our get involved locally map or visit our resources archives—we have more than 500 resources now. I know that’s something I definitely could have used in grad school, so I always try to keep that in mind when I’m uploading things.