Policing Clinic Works with Partners Nationwide to Put Theory into Practice
A new clinic co-taught by Walton Hale Hamilton Professor Tracey Meares and Clinical Lecturer in Law Jorge X. Camacho ’10 provides Yale Law School students with an opportunity to work on real-world policy projects related to policing and public safety. The Policing, Law, and Policy Clinic tackles longstanding issues that have gained greater national attention following high-profile policing controversies such as the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.
The clinic maintains a close affiliation with the Law School’s Justice Collaboratory (JC), of which Meares is a founding director and Camacho is the Policing, Law, and Policy Director. The JC is an established social science research center that combines theory and empirical research in order to make America’s criminal legal system more just and democratic, while the new clinic seeks to translate leading theory and empirical evidence on policing reform into actionable policies aimed at transforming policing and public safety.
“Our goal in the clinic is to teach students how to apply both classic and cutting-edge scholarship to real-world problems and to give them opportunities to bring these ideas to ground by working with policymakers,” Meares said, who described the relationship between the clinic and the JC as symbiotic. “We want to produce policy materials that can be enacted and change how these institutions actually operate.”
Through a partnership with the nonprofit Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, headed by Megan Quattlebaum ’10, clinic students work closely with policy experts around the country and have opportunities to brief policymakers on pressing issues and potential solutions.
“This clinic provides students with multiple opportunities to directly and meaningfully address failures of the current state of policing.”
—Alejandra Uria ’23
“The goal is for students to help advance the JC’s mission — to promote a future where science and scholarship provide the foundation for police system transformation, where people and communities feel and experience equity, respect, and trust in criminal legal interactions,” Camacho said.
Working in small teams, clinic students tackle projects that assist state officials with effective ideas for policy reform.
“This clinic provides students with multiple opportunities to directly and meaningfully address failures of the current state of policing,” said Alejandra Uria ’23.
“Though we often focus on national politics, some of the most exciting changes are happening at the state level,” added Callie Bruzzone ’23. “The clinic’s partnership with CSG allows us to help states with the technical and research assistance they need to carry forward this mission.”
After the clinic first launched, one group of students summarized the availability of alternative public safety models that deemphasize reliance on police offers and then presented their summary to high-level state officials from Virginia. Another group worked with Kansas state law enforcement to reimagine their community supervision system by identifying flaws in current policies, recognizing deficiencies in existing resources like public housing and mental health services, and developing potential new policies.
For students like Uria, the work has been a significant part of their Law School experience thus far.
“CSG’s Kansas project imagines what noncarceral solutions to criminalized behaviors should look like,” she said. “Contributing to that work — and knowing my ideas have the potential to improve such a complicated and harmful system — is one of my greatest accomplishments in law school.”
During the fall term, clinic students will finalize model police reform legislation developed by the JC and will conduct research on new models of civilian oversight of police departments.
“The clinic has been a remarkable opportunity to attempt to think about these problems in novel ways and see these conversations translated into substantive policies.”
—Callie Bruzzone ’23
According to Meares, this research-backed focus, coupled with giving clinic students the opportunity to engage in policy development work, sets the clinic apart in the conversation to reimagine policing, where the focus has largely been on more prescriptive responses.
“Theory-based transformation is at the center of what the Justice Collaboratory does,” said JC Executive Director Caroline Nobo Sarnoff. “Traditional solutions such as changes in use of force or disciplinary policies tend to serve as stopgaps instead of working toward the larger goal of creating a criminal legal system that exists in service of community.”
The clinic affords students the opportunity to support policymakers who are embracing the more comprehensive work of reimagining public safety, according to the clinic’s directors. And that experience profoundly impacts students as they put what they’ve learned into practice seeking to help create more just policing policies around the country.
“The clinic has been a remarkable opportunity to attempt to think about these problems in novel ways and see these conversations translated into substantive policies,” said Bruzzone, who is in her second year of working with the clinic. “This important work is ongoing, and there is still so much to be done.”