The Policing Literacy Initiative (PLI) is a youth-driven public education and advocacy group focused on policing services and community safety in Toronto. It combines research and on-the-ground experience to create educational resources to help people better understand policing and safety issues, while also empowering those affected by these issues to influence policy.
On an individual level, PLI focuses on education and discussion to equip youth with knowledge that can help ensure their safety and empower them to address perceived systemic inequities in the way policing is conducted in Toronto.
On an institutional level, PLI focuses on well-researched approaches to policy change informed by lived experience, taking into account the needs of both the police and communities.
On a broader community-wide and municipal level, PLI seeks to bring together groups that traditionally have been polarized, to engage in discussion and better understand the diverse needs and concerns that feed into this complicated issue.
PLI grew out of a desire to change the conversation about police-community relations. The model was inspired by the Yale Law School Innovations in Policing Clinic, in which PLI Founder Jamil Jivani participated. PLI is particularly interested in the potential for blending academic research with lived experiences in Toronto's designated Neighbourhood Improvement Areas in order to provide authentic, well-researched and nuanced insights and policy recommendations.
PLI's goal is to positively transform police-community relations in the city. There are four key areas that it seeks to address: 1) building trust between communities and police, 2) making citizen complaint processes more effective, 3) addressing concerns over disproportionate contact with police based on race and geography, and 4) the stigma and inequality created by public housing authorities and their community safety policies.
The research and peer-to-peer educational aspects of PLI are driven by, and focused on, the interaction between police and youth based on race and geography.
Its "Crisis of Distrust" white paper and policy recommendations are directed towards the Toronto Police Service (TPS) and policy makers. Its "Crisis of Distrust" film – which has been viewed over 13,000 times since it premiered in April 2014 – and media coverage are advocacy efforts aimed at improving the general public's understanding of these issues and building a broad base of support for systemic change.
Events in the summer of 2013 inspired a groundswell of interest in policing issues and community safety in Toronto and worldwide.
In response to these community concerns, a group of young leaders in Toronto formed the PLI in August 2013, and the group has engaged in an advocacy campaign to positively transform police-community relations in the city since January 2014.
Making a Difference
PLI is successful because it is a grassroots, independent initiative that uses peer-to-peer education by and for its target communities. Because PLI is not accountable to a particular funder or institution, it is able to focus on the real, immediate needs of community members, and is better positioned to build a base of trust and support.
As a result of PLI's work, youth and racialized communities are empowered to advocate for themselves and address perceived systemic injustices in policing, policy makers are better positioned to address any systemic barriers, and police officers are better equipped to perform their duties in an equitable and effective manner.
PLI members were invited to sit on the TPS Police and Community Engagement Review (PACER) team.
PLI participated in "fair and impartial" police training by the TPS.
Workshops and seminars in 2014 have engaged over 90 youth.
Vision for the Future
Key areas will include: developing curricula for inner city schools; putting forward innovative ways to improve civic engagement; creating a video advertisement; working with the TPS to support officer training; holding a community event focused on advocacy, education and civic engagement in relation to policing issues, and continuing to hold youth workshops and publish educational materials.
About the Policing Literacy Initiative
The Policing Literacy Initiative combines grassroots advocacy rooted in lived experience with well-researched and informed policy recommendations. This is an approach to systems change that actively seeks to understand the complexity of the issue being addressed and the diverse groups who have something at stake. By actively engaging in discussion with TPS and the TPS board, advocacy groups, sociologists and community members, PLI is able to engage these groups in a manner that is results-oriented and focused on positive change instead of polarization and entrenchment.
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