Pathways to Collective Healing: Law Enforcement and the Communities They Serve

By: Aviva Kurash

Policing Reentry Victims August 19, 2021

In the wake of calls to reevaluate public safety, the challenges of modern policing call for police agencies to build and maintain trust and legitimacy with the communities they serve and to work with community members as essential partners to identify problems and co-produce tangible solutions.

As strategic partners to the Safety and Justice Challenge, the IACP recognizes that promoting community-wide healing in the wake of trauma cannot be detached from the efforts to reduce jail populations and promote alternatives to arrest that uphold community safety. Trust, transparency, accountability, and safety are intertwined.

Policing happens in a dynamic environment. Policies, procedures, supervision, oversight, and accountability systems can help minimize the risk of high-profile events occurring or scandals arising. However, police agencies also need to be prepared to respond in the aftermath of these incidents to promote healing, recovery, and accountability. Police agencies that have trained officers to provide a trauma-informed response and promote comprehensive officer wellness are better able to constructively respond to the trauma of a high-profile incident.

This raises the question: how do we move forward? In 2016, the Office for Victims of Crime in the U.S. Department of Justice sought to explore what a path forward that embraces collective healing might look like, in the process developing a national demonstration initiative: Law Enforcement and the Communities They Serve: Supporting Collective Healing in the Wake of Harm (“Collective Healing”). The IACP was motivated to lead this initiative because we recognized that a strong foundation of understanding and collaboration must be in place between police and the communities they serve, prior to high-profile incidents, to ensure the deployment of effective responses in the wake of such incidents—when barriers, tensions, and stakes are often intensified.

Over the intensive four-year Collective Healing initiative, the IACP provided oversight, management, and national training and technical assistance to five law enforcement agency demonstration sites. Through partnerships with Equal Justice USA, Resilience Works, the Alliance for Safety and Justice and the Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice Initiative, PRO Wellness Services, and a range of other experts with experience in building trauma-informed systems through multi-stakeholder collaborations, the Collective Healing initiative supported law enforcement’s leadership role in adopting a trauma-informed culture and practice.

Themes Across Collective Healing Sites

The initiative’s intersectional approach focused on three interrelated components that are essential to fostering collective healing: 1) improving community-police relations and community wellness, 2) enhancing the access to and quality of victim services, and 3) improving officer and agency wellness and resilience. Specifically, this initiative elevated strategies that address institutional disparities, enhance victim services (with particular attention to reducing barriers to accessing these services in communities that experience a disproportionate burden of victimization), and promote comprehensive officer wellness and resiliency. Our resulting report from this project sheds light on both these preventative and reparative strategies.

Work with demonstration sites included developing, implementing, and assessing the practical tools necessary for building essential relationships and joint strategies to reduce tensions, maximize communication, promote trauma-informed interventions and problem-solving, and facilitate healing between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

The report outlining what we learned is designed to help law enforcement agencies create a victim-centered, trauma-informed, collaborative response, co-created with the communities that they serve. The report emphasizes meeting the needs of the most vulnerable after traumatic events, including communities that are most impacted by the criminal legal system and community violence, the responding officers, their families, and their agencies. These efforts are significant but represent only the early stages of what should be a long-term commitment to addressing complex and deeply rooted challenges.

The intensive work of the Collective Healing initiative over four years focused on creating a victim-centered, trauma-informed, collaborative response that meets the needs of those most vulnerable amid violence and traumatic events. In the wake of calls to reevaluate public safety priorities and strategies, we should bear in mind that working toward collective healing is a continuous process, involving both accountability and transparency, and which includes:

  • Trauma-informed policing
  • Leadership, culture, and operational capacity-building
  • Collaboration and community engagement
  • Victim services
  • Vicarious trauma and officer wellness

We look forward to sharing the lessons learned from this demonstration initiative as we continue to work with and learn from the sites in the Safety and Justice Challenge, and ultimately promote local justice systems that are both safe and just.

You can read the full report here.

Cumberland County, ME

Action Areas Pretrial Services Victims Women in Jail

Last Updated

Background & Approach

Cumberland County in southern Maine is the state’s most populous county and contains Portland, the economic center of the state. Cumberland County established Project Safe Release, a partnership between the pretrial service agency, the domestic violence resource center Through These Doors, and the jail to assist justice-involved women. The project assists justice-involved women and works to understand their histories of victimization. The program connects these women with essential services, risk and needs assessments, and trauma-informed safety planning.

Cumberland County continues to engage with the Safety and Justice Challenge Network to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just, and equitable for all.

Lead Agency

Maine Pretrial Services, Inc.

Contact Information

Shawn P. LaGrega, Jen LaChance, Jenny Stasio


Through These Doors, Cumberland County Sheriff's Office

Blog Posts

How Prisons and Jails Might Function if Addressing Trauma Was A First Priority

By: Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia

Community Engagement Mental Health Victims June 3, 2021

Incarceration is traumatic, and the institutions charged with that function—prisons and jails—often operate in a way that is most traumatic for the people who are incarcerated. But we often overlook the trauma that is also experienced by those who work to staff the jails, and the families of people who are incarcerated.

It’s an opportunity for us to do better, and the scale of the challenge is huge. Every year, people are placed in jails 10.6 million times. On any given day, approximately 2.7 million US children have a parent who is incarcerated, and more than 5 million children have experienced parental incarceration in their lifetime. Approximately 415,000 correctional officers work in our jails and prisons.


Over-policing of Black communities results in a disproportionate number of Black people being sent to jail for low-level offenses. My own father was arrested for marijuana possession when I was growing up in a small town in North Carolina, and he ended up going to jail and then to prison for a couple of years.

As a child, you never forget the experience of police officers hauling your father off. You do not forget having to interact with your father through a piece of glass. They are links in the chain of trauma that lie embedded within a person. And it radiates through communities. Yet, these communities have no pathway to power when it comes to the policies and practices of the institutions responsible for the safety of their loved ones. That must change. There must be a shift in power from correctional leaders to community members when developing and overseeing policies, practices, training, and environmental conditions within these institutions.

Image credit: Chicago


I ran the jail in Chicago, Illinois, otherwise known as Cook County Jail, as warden, for several years. I was one of the first clinical psychologists in the country to run a correctional institution. My focus was to use my training to instill humanity in the institution, but we don’t talk about how people are traumatized by the experience of incarcerating other people.

The numbers are stark.

When you talk about such trauma the attitude, historically, towards jail and prison staff is, “Suck it up. You signed up for this.” But the problem is that compartmentalizing the trauma just leads it to bleed out in other areas of your life.

A person’s partner might say, “you are snapping much more often.” Or point out that you are not the same person you used to be. It took me a while after I left the job to realize that it is not normal to sleep only two hours a night. It is not normal to be constantly ready for your phone to ring. To feel on the edge of your seat worrying about the next crisis. It takes a significant toll on a person, and it is hard to see the woods for the trees when you are in the thick of it.

People who work in the system are sometimes a little nervous when I bring this stuff up. They do not want to risk opening an emotional Pandora’s box by talking about the trauma they might be suppressing. My response is that the box is already open. The effects are already exerting themselves on you, on your family, and on those you signed up to keep safe.

Interconnected Humanity

At Chicago Beyond, we have started an impactful conversation about all this. In my reflection on my time at Cook County Jail, one of the big things we realized was that if correctional staff treated the people who were confined and their families with humanity, they could also see the humanity in themselves. We partnered with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office to develop family-friendly visitation, because helping people who are incarcerated hug their children for the first time in years is humanizing for everyone. People had strong emotional reactions to working in visitation, and we talked about the implications. We also acted on them at the policy level.

We have produced a report on this at The Square One Project, called Harm Reduction at the Center of Corrections. It includes a first-of-its kind framework for correctional leaders to better support the people detained, staff, and the families of both. It provides recommendations for correctional leaders centering on safety, transparency, agency, asset-based approaches, and interpersonal connections for these three groups to minimize the harm created by jails and prisons.

The project of harm reduction is critical from this perspective. There are many specific measures that can be used in correctional settings to decrease harm, including incarcerating fewer people. But the key ideas center around one core concept: correctional leaders promoting human interaction that instills humanity.

We are talking about imagining a future for justice and public safety that starts from scratch — from square one — instead of tinkering at the edges or cherry-picking cordoned-off areas for reform. To do so, we need to get to the root of the problem: decades of neglect around communities with chronic poverty and the twin crises of ingrained racism. That begins with drastic systemic change. It requires addressing the specific harm we have experienced as people and extending the compassion we give to ourselves to other people – all people.

How Cities Are Transforming Public Safety at the Local Level

By: Kirby Gaherty

Community Engagement Racial Disparities Victims March 23, 2021

The deaths of Black residents at the hands of law enforcement led to national unrest and protests in over 2,000 cities across America in 2020.

The losses of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain—and years before, of Philando Castile, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray and far too many others—led this country to a reckoning: public safety needs a re-imagining, a transformation.

The movement away from traditional law enforcement response requires leadership and a true commitment to engage community. At the National League of Cities this moment reinforced the need and importance of the voices of local elected officials, many of whom are at the forefront of this work. The commitments of these officials, in collaboration with residents, spark city movement toward equity-driven public safety systems.

For mayors and councilmembers to speak about engaging communities is only natural because they are elected by and represent their residents. Many local leaders have recognized the gravity of this moment and the importance of addressing residents’ concerns. This gravity means that their words, and the actions that follow, carry great weight and responsibility.

In January, NLC’s Re-Imagining Public Safety Task Force convened for the first time as an organized response to these needs. The group, co-chaired by Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark, New Jersey, and David Holt of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is made up of more than 20 mayors and councilmembers from across the country.

Representative of various perspectives, the Task Force’s goal is to amplify city-led initiatives that center community in public safety efforts. Several of the Task Force Members represent regions that are also working toward jail reduction and reduced disparities through the Safety and Justice challenge—providing a strong primer in transforming systems.

“This work demands a hard look at each community’s vision for public safety, accountability, and the opportunity for residents to not only to be consulted about desired outcomes but also to fully own the process of reimagining public safety,” said co-chair, Mayor David Holt.

“The trauma and pain experienced by residents due to systemic disinvestment in communities specifically in Black and Brown communities, must be addressed holistically and through transformations that start at the local level,” said co-chair, Mayor Ras Baraka.

City innovations are serving as an inspiration and conversation starter for the Task Force. Some examples include:

Community & Resident Engagement

  • At the center of national attention, the Minneapolis City Council has pushed to dismantle their police department and re-invent their local public safety system with a community focus.
  • In July 2020, the City of Columbus adopted a set of legislative priorities to reimagine public safety that deeply engaged residents. The three priorities are alternative crisis response, investing in violence prevention, and investing in a better, more accountable public safety division.
  • The City of Oakland created their own Reimagining Public Safety Taskforce to rapidly develop a recommendation for Council consideration to increase community safety through alternative responses to calls for assistance, and investments in programs that address the root causes of violence and crime (such as health services, housing, jobs, etc.).

Violence Reduction and Prevention Strategies

  • Several cities, including Newark, New Jersey and Baltimore, Maryland, have established or expanded their respective Offices of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery and Neighborhood Safety and Engagement. These offices prioritize holistic approaches to addressing community trauma, violence prevention and reduction.
  • In Washington D.C. Cure the Streets (CTS) is a public safety pilot program working to reduce gun violence in the District. CTS uses a data-driven, public-health approach to treat violence as a disease that can be interrupted, treated, and stopped from spreading. Additionally, gun violence was declared a public health crisis by the city.

Accountability  in Law Enforcement & Detention

  • In order to reduce the jail population safely, the City of New Orleans Mayor’s Office developed a strategic plan centered on smart decision-making that ensures public safety while minimizing the use of detention.
  • Residents in Philadelphia approved a ballot measure in 2020 calling for the city to create an independent police oversight commission to replace the existing police advisory body. City leaders are moving forward with steps to implement this voter-approved measure.

Health-Driven Solutions

  • The City of Albuquerque created the Community Safety Department, a civilian response force. Community Safety Responders dispatched via 911 call centers may have backgrounds like social work and doing peer-to peer support, or they may be clinicians, counselors, or similar.
  • Early this year, Los Angeles California announced a Therapeutic Transportation Pilot, a city/county collaboration to better respond to calls for law enforcement when managing mental health crises through a civilian responder model.

As the Task Force comes together around recommendations for municipal leadership, many of these examples and themes will guide its work.

NLC is hopeful that this work, with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, will guide cities across the country toward equity driven, community-envisioned public safety solutions.

—Kirby Gaherty is Program Manager, Justice Reform & Youth Engagement at the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families

Video Series: The Need to Address the Trauma of Individuals Inside Jails

By: Renee Williams

Community Engagement Mental Health Victims November 6, 2020

At the National Center for Victims of Crime, we have come to realize that the majority of the people in our jails and prison are victims of crime themselves.

We hope to shed light on the link between experiencing trauma or victimization and incarceration in our new video series.

We hope this series will encourage cities and counties across the country to develop and provide programs for crime victims who are behind bars  to overcome their traumatic pasts, and live happier, more fulfilling lives.

The series focuses on the experiences of three people: Lisa James, David Garlock, and Richard Smith, all alumni of Just Leadership USA—a national nonprofit dedicated to decarcerating the United States by educating, elevating and empowering the people and communities most impacted by systemic racism. Each of them has a lived history of victimization, trauma, and incarceration. These videos focus on them as survivors, examining their pasts through their own words. We are extremely thankful that Lisa, David, and Richard were willing to share their stories in such an honest, open, and vulnerable way.

The interviewer and narrator, Dr. Justin Ramsdell, Assistant Professor of Psychology at George Mason University, provides us with an introductory video providing background on the series and  guides us through four additional videos on: what makes victimization traumatic; developmental effects of victimization and trauma; connecting victimization and incarceration; and treatment within the criminal justice system

The videos are an effort to break down the false dichotomy between victims and offenders. The videos do not suggest that being a victim necessarily leads a person to involvement with the criminal legal system, later on. But they provide insight as to how these experiences are sometimes connected, and why the trauma experiences of incarcerated individuals need to be addressed. Just as we provide someone who is diabetic in jail with proper treatment, we should provide help to someone with a history of abuse.

One way that cities and counties can begin to address this issue is by reaching out to victim organizations in their communities who may be able to provide assistance to individuals inside the jail and those who are re-entering their communities.

—Renee Williams is the Executive Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime