Transforming policing from within: The New Blue initiative
Through a fellowship model, New Blue seeks to create a network of police officers committed to bringing about change within their departments
By Police1 Staff
In a move to address the challenges facing contemporary policing, the New Blue initiative was established by Andrew Saunders, a former police officer with a current leadership role at Teach for America, and Brittany Nestor, an active-duty police officer in North Carolina. New Blue seeks to create a network of police officers committed to bringing about change within their departments.
Executive Director of New Blue, Kristin Daley, describes the organization’s purpose: “Our officers join to transform the system, one department at a time, and actively engage with their communities to foster solutions that build trust and transparency between the police and their communities.”
The cornerstone of New Blue is its fellowship model, which selects police officers for a one-year intensive program. Through a cutting-edge curriculum taught by experts in the field, officers examine and address policies and practices in their departments that can be transformed or implemented to improve community wellbeing and increase trust. Working with other officers, New Blue staff, and experienced researchers, they develop and implement pressure-tested solutions.
The fellowship not only focuses on developing ideas but also supports their practical application. As the program concludes, officers can apply for microgrants and are provided with ongoing support to help implement their ideas in their communities.
New Blue aims to build a network of forward-thinking officers across the country and has already seen fellows initiate projects in various areas, including restorative justice, compassionate policing, cultural sensitivity, gender equity and transparency in the use of force, showcasing the potential for change within the policing system through internal initiatives.
In this Q&A, Kristin Daley details the inspiration behind New Blue and how the organization aims to achieve its goals.
1. What inspired the founding of New Blue, and how does its mission address current challenges in policing?
Our co-founders, Andy Saunders (a former officer and Teach for America alum) and Brittany Nestor (a current officer and police trainer at a department in North Carolina), served as partners right out of the Police Academy. After two years, Andy decided to leave policing; Brittany stayed. They lost touch for 10 years, then, in 2020, after the death of George Floyd, Andy reached out to Brittany, and they teamed up to begin creating New Blue, recognizing that current officers have the power to create change in policing in collaboration with their communities.
Our mission is to build trust in policing by identifying, empowering and activating forward-thinking officers and their innovative ideas. We envision a future in which communities and police agencies collaborate with transparency and a shared dedication to public safety and community well-being. The key is to truly listen to the community. Policing, at its core, is a commitment to public service, and an honest conversation with community members is the only way we can begin to address challenges in the field.
We also need to consider the needs of officers. This is a demanding job that requires support networks. One of New Blue’s most valuable functions is that we are building a community of officers and policing experts who can connect and lean on each other for moral support, advice and collaboration, the importance of that can’t be overstated.
2. How does the New Blue fellowship program specifically work to transform policing from within?
New Blue is a nationwide fellowship program that equips police officers with the tools to identify policies and practices that aren’t serving the best interests of their community and to work with our team to create viable, sustainable solutions to community concerns. We are a driver of compassionate, ethical policing and a platform for the profession’s future.
Key components of our program are:
- Community-centric initiatives: Collaborative efforts to develop and implement programs that focus on community engagement, police transparency and justice alternatives. By aligning our resources and expertise with motivated, forward-thinking officers, we can create impactful solutions that resonate with local residents.
- Innovative curriculum: Specialized learning opportunities for police, emphasizing community outreach and problem identification and ensuring that officers are well-prepared to navigate complex situations while promoting a respectful approach with other community stakeholders.
- Data-driven insights: Leveraging data analytics, New Blue’s research team helps fellows to identify patterns, trends and potential policing problems in their community. This approach enhances the officer’s ability to allocate resources effectively and build solutions that address the real issues.
New Blue gives forward-thinking officers a platform and a home by providing a cutting-edge curriculum focused on community trust. We work with officers to develop their ideas into capstone projects, provide them with a dedicated research team, invite them to an all-expenses-paid immersive convening, and offering a microgrant of up to $5,000 to help their departments implement their solutions in their communities. Most importantly, we help these officers think about how they can genuinely connect with their communities, assess their unique needs, and ensure the solution they propose directly and credibly addresses community trust.
3. Can you provide examples of concrete changes or impacts that have resulted from the fellowship program?
In collaboration with researchers at several universities, New Blue is using rigorous methodology to document an increase in both public safety and positive, genuine and trusting police-community relationships via fellows’ capstone projects. This is a multi-year effort given the rigor of the methodology. Three in-progress examples are highlighted below.
Promoting Successful Reentry — Evanston PD Team:
- Challenge: Law enforcement jails and releases people due to cyclical calls for a variety of reasons, many of which require the services of community organizations.
- Solution: Recognizing this, Evanston PD (EPD) has collaborated with community groups to create a protocol for asking jailed individuals what their needs are, efficiently connecting community members to services to alleviate those needs and prevent recidivism.
- Currently: A team of Northwestern University researchers is preemptively collecting qualitative and quantitative data with approximately 400 members representative of the community via surveys in each city sector and demographic. The surveys question whether knowing about this initiative affects confidence and trust in EPD, experimenting with how to align the initiative to the community.
- Next: After ensuring the community is supportive of the initiative, researchers will examine recidivism after EPD begins the initiative. Researchers will ensure officers question jailed people in a mutually trusting and empathic fashion using survey data.
Watch: EPD New Blue fellows present solutions to city council:
Incentivizing Restorative Justice — Madison PD:
- Challenge: Police are often emotionally distant from the experiences of those sent to court.
- Solution: Meg Hamilton (MPD) has led an initiative to incentivize officers’ participation in restorative justice circles, where everyone involved in each case voices their perspective. Officer participation may also increase their empathic and compassionate response.
- Currently: University of Wisconsin researchers have spent hours interviewing upwards of 16 officers who were eligible to participate in restorative justice circles. The research team has identified likely barriers and propellers to participation.
- Next: Using the insights from the interviews, researchers will experiment with different ways to motivate police participation. Officers will be trained in how to participate, using concise, evidence-based lessons. Researchers will evaluate how officer participation in restorative circles affects the connection, compassion and empathy they feel toward the community members in and out of court. Finally, researchers will track the recidivism of those involved in restorative justice circles with, or without, these trained officers.
Increasing Trust with Traffic Stops — Evanston PD:
- Challenge: Police need to make traffic stops to deter distracted drivers but traffic stops invoke anxiety for community members that can often escalate due to distrust of police.
- Solution: Francesca Henderson (EPD) has seized an opportunity to allow police to show they genuinely primarily care about the safety of drivers, through actions and words.
- Currently: Northwestern University researchers have collected more than 150 distracted driving traffic stop surveys of both police and community members after police communicate their intent through words (transparency statements), actions (providing a cell phone holder), or respectful, but ambiguous, business-as-usual (a warning to stay safe). Comparative data is still being collected, but the initiative has yielded positive sentiment (43% of drivers at lowest level of threat; 56% at highest trust; 62% willing to initiate building rapport with EPD in the future).
- Next: Recorded body-worn camera footage will analyze police-community interactions during these stops to examine predictors of mutually receptive and respectful conversations, using a natural language processing model built from this set of data.
4. How does New Blue measure the success of its initiatives, and what are its long-term goals?
Police play an enormous and important role in their communities, and have a responsibility to participate in the narrative around reimagining policing by taking accountability for policies and practices that aren’t working. We want to be working toward community-centered solutions. When we imagine what the ideal future could look like, it’s important to acknowledge that policing will continue to exist as a critical role within our communities. By engaging police with a community-centered mindset, we have the power to shape what that future looks like, building departments that collaborate with other community stakeholders as equals. New Blue selects officers who are motivated to advance policing as a career of true public service. We give them the tools and support networks they need to accomplish real change in their communities because they ARE a part of their communities.
We define success as ensuring that the officers who come through our program are provided with the skills they need to be impactful in their departments and work collaboratively with their communities toward a shared vision of public safety.
5. What support do officers receive after the fellowship ends?
Ultimately, the goal of New Blue is to build police-community trust through programs that improve community wellbeing. We are creating a support network of forward-thinking officers who can not only support their communities, but each other — sharing ideas and resources, backing each other up, and leading by example to show how a good officer does the job.
Our alumni are putting outstanding programs in place in their departments. New Blue supports that financially by offering a microgrant of up to for project implementation, but we also continue to offer our time to meet with alumni, continue to talk through their projects and continue to offer access to our research team. We host alumni virtual meet-ups, and some of our past fellows have become instructors for our curriculum and spoken at our annual conference. They’ve provided guidance and mentorship to incoming fellows. You’re not done with New Blue when you graduate from the fellowship. This is a community, and we are actively seeking out as many opportunities to support our alumni as we can.
6. What would the next step be for readers interested in learning more or applying?
Our application to join the 2024 Fellowship Cohort is now open, with a deadline of April 1, and we are conducting interviews on a rolling basis. If officers are interested in joining, please visit https://newblue.org/apply.