Cops, Reform & Justice


A Symposium for Texas Journalists on the Challenges of Covering 21st Century Law Enforcement

Policing is not just this year’s hot-button issue. It’s the linchpin for successfully tackling all the other troubled components of our justice system—from courts and the administration of the law to prisons and jails. The media is a critical player in the current debates on policing reform, and how journalists cover (or don’t cover) law enforcement will have an impact both on public perceptions and on policymakers’ actions.

How have these national policing currents impacted Texas law enforcement? What are the prospects for concepts like community policing, harm-conscious policing, and for new strategies for dealing with mentally ill and substance-abusers? Where have reform efforts failed—and why? Are police being asked to take on new burdens that challenge or constrain their primary law enforcement duties? What acceptable standards will police departments place on themselves, or will they push to the limits practices allowed by the courts ranging from stop-and-frisk to asset-forfeiture seizures?

To help Texas journalists answer—and cover—these developments, the Center on Media, Crime and Justice organized, in cooperation with the Charles Koch Institute, the University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a day-and-a-half-long series of intensive workshops and roundtables on April 14-15, 2017 to provide a closer, behind-the-headlines look at the reform strategies, approaches, best practices (and the arguments pro and con) underway in law enforcement across the nation and in Texas.

The conference looked at the wider context (and constraints) under which law enforcement and the courts operate today, including “over-criminalization,” new approaches in sentencing, new directions in the drug war (opioid epidemic and marijuana legalization.)

Participants addressed the emerging debate about the future of policing reform in a new Washington administration, led by a President-elect who made “law and order” and a return to “tough on crime” strategies signature slogans of his campaign.

Participating journalists came away with new ideas and angles for in-depth, evidence-based and compelling stories and projects, along with key contacts at state and national levels that will help them in future reporting.

Speakers included: Austin Mayor Steve Adler; Malik Aziz, Deputy Chief of the Dallas Police Department; Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP, Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, and Texas Sen. Royce West.  Read a full list of the speakers here. 

Read the full conference program here.

Thirty-three  journalists from print, online and broadcast outlets in Texas were awarded Reporting Fellowships to attend the conference. The Fellows were selected from a wide pool of applicants based on editors’ recommendations, and on investigative reporting projects underway or in the planning stage. Their published work will be posted on these pages during the course of 2017.

A full list of the journalism fellows is available here.