Ben Wilen ’24

Policing Project, NYU School of Law, New York, NY

The Policing Project focuses on bringing democratic accountability to policing whereby communities should have a say into how they are policed. To do so, there needs to be more transparency between police agencies and the communities they serve, especially marginalized communities; and there needs to be community engagement between officers and community members. Community engagement does not only mean officers getting to know the communities they work in; it also means that police agencies are regulated and accountable to democratically elected oversight boards. Not only will this reinstate trust that police departments have lost with communities as a result of overcriminalization and police brutality, but it will significantly improve public safety as well.

Researching automatic license plate readers and their use to enforce and arrest people for minor, non-violent infractions.

This summer, I worked on a variety of projects including one using tech audits to help mitigate the civil liberties risks and disparities that often result from policing and surveillance technology. The logic is that instead of auditing over 18,000 U.S. policing agencies, you can assess and mitigate policing tech risks by auditing fewer tech companies. I was able to help conduct research, conduct statistical analysis, and edit drafts for these audits. Second, I helped out with Tech Certification. The Policing Project is trying to use soft law to help policing agencies only procure tech that is equitable and does not violate the privacy of its constituents. I helped take notes on interviews for this project, as well as work on administrative tasks to help track the invite list for a Tech Certification conference. Third, I worked on the Reimaging Public Safety (RPS) initiative. Too often, public safety is confined to policing and criminalization. RPS looks at alternative models of community safety. On this project, I helped research potential funders, and research potential design and messaging for the website launch.

This work significantly impacted what I am interested in for my future. Technology has the ability to benefit and harm communities, and prioritizing profitability will often ignore these concerns. I hope to take an ethical and empathetic approach to any technology I might be working on in the future. On a personal level, I also think this internship impacted how I think about police reform and how it intersects with gun and gang violence, racial bias, and segregation. I do not know whether abolition, defunding, community engagement, or any other reform is the solution. One thing I do know, though, is that communities should have a say in what their public safety looks like and what police reform in their jurisdiction looks like.

I would like to thank the members of the Class of 1972, the ’68 Center for Career Exploration, and the Policing Project. Working at this organization has truly benefited my career and I hope I have made an impact into the necessary work of police reform, protecting civil liberties, and decreasing racial disparities in policing.