How to Investigate Your Local Police Station

Protests against racism and police violence occur in virtually every city across America, but you don’t have to be in a big city to be affected. Wherever you are, you have your local police department, and as a resident you can start pushing for the change you want to see. One of the first steps is to find out what the police in your area are really doing.

But before you start, pause for a moment. You are probably not the first person to want to investigate at your local police station. In particular, reach out to your local black-led activist groups to find out what they do and what help they need. Don’t duplicate effort.

However, there is still a lot of work to be done. If you want to abolish the police or take out support, or even ask for minor reforms , you need to gather information and support. An important part of this is to shed light on what the police are actually doing in your area.

Propublica has guidance on this . Investigative reporter Andrew Ford talks about what he does as a journalist, but points out that you don’t need a media job to start asking questions and making requests for public records.

First, you can learn about the laws and regulations governing the police in your area. Sometimes you can just Google them; in other cases, you may need to dig deeper. Ford says:

Ask the department about their policies regarding activities that bother you, such as containing suspects, using pepper spray, or stun guns. You may also need to ask for rules set by your county or state. Ask for written copies. You may need to submit a formal public records request, which I will describe below. And if there is no existing written policy, it can be taken for granted.

One of those policies that can be helpful is to learn about record retention policies: which records should be kept and for how long? This may include police reports, reports of the use of force, emergency call recordings, and body camera recordings.

The Committee of Reporters for Press Freedom has an interactive map of body camera regulations for many cities and a list of state emergency call recording laws to help you get started.

These tools will help you find out what the police are doing in your area. Be sure to also check with your local authorities – possibly your city council – for information on how they spend their budget and how much goes into police work. Then get together with other residents, make a plan, and work together to make your city safer.

Looking for ways to protect black lives? Check out this list of resources .

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