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How scrappy and strategic communications leads to big wins for police reform

As pro-carceral politicians and police unions are successfully pushing “tough on crime” narratives, states from Washington to Mississippi have rolled back hard-won police reforms secured after decades of organizing and the national racial justice uprising of 2020. But, in New York City, advocates not only stemmed the tide, but successfully secured gains, passing historically important police reform legislation against the opposition of former NYPD captain Mayor Eric Adams. Spitfire partnered with Communities United for Police Reform to pass the How Many Stops Act (HMSA), requiring the NYPD to report on every single stop it makes. 

blogHMSA first passed in December 2023, but was vetoed by Adams. The mayor used his full political capital to press members of the New York City Council to walk back their votes. But on Jan. 30, 2024, in a historic 42-to-9 vote, New Yorkers proved to the mayor, the NYPD and their police unions that true public safety is about greater police transparency, oversight and accountability.

How did Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) and Spitfire buck the national trend and win such important civil rights legislation? When CPR came to us in latecp 2022 to discuss working together on this little-known package of bills that would legally require reporting of all NYPD stops, we knew we had a steep hill to climb. So, we did what we always do: We started with strategy.

Keeping our SMART Chart® in mind — and knowing that shifting timelines and priorities were going to require nimbleness — we built out a strategic plan that outlined our campaign objectives, audience targets, top-line messages, media strategy and opportunities. Our objectives included passing HMSA, generating community buy-in and building a sense of urgency for the Speaker of the New York City Council and council members to bring the legislation to a vote, keeping in mind that we would be facing staunch opposition from the mayor and the NYPD along the way. 

We knew that this fight was going to be won and lost in messaging. We meticulously crafted asset-based messaging to use as a foundation for all materials, talking points and interviews. As the campaign progressed through multiple different stages, we constantly refined, revised and updated messaging to reflect the current moment. The messaging led with facts and provided indisputable information on police abuses in New York City and how HMSA was going to be a cornerstone of police transparency and accountability. In the face of an unprecedented misinformation campaign that the mayor and the NYPD spread, we did what Spitfire has always done best: We spoke truth to power; we built trust; and we hit our opposition with pure facts.CPR

To build our campaign’s credibility, we added important messengers and uplifted community voices. Our spokespeople included family members of those killed by the NYPD who could speak directly about their experiences and how greater transparency could have prevented their loved ones’ deaths. Not only were their voices in most — if not all — CPR materials, they were quoted in media outlets such as Black Star News and News 12. We partnered with Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso and 1199SEIU President George Gresham to write op-eds in the New York Daily News and Amsterdam News, respectively. We sought out civil rights organizations, district attorneys, and even current and former law enforcement to bring into the fold as validators. 

With objectives, audiences, messages and messengers all accounted for, it was time to start creating opportunities.

Spitfire worked with CPR to host seven rallies that brought together community groups, advocates, immigration groups, youth activists, faith leaders, LGBTQIA+ organizations, bill sponsors, elected officials, and even City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. These rallies won coverage across multiple outlets including in the POLITICO New York Playbook, City & State, AMNY, News 12, Black Star News and ABC.

All along the way, Spitfire continued to cultivate valuable relationships with key reporters to keep HMSA top of mind and earn coverage. 

And earn coverage we did. By the time all was said and done, HMSA was covered nearly 100 different times in every major outlet in New York City including:

By the time the City Council voted to override the veto, 100 organizations across the city, 28 family members of those killed by the NYPD, and the City Council’s Progressive and Black Latino and Asian Caucuses endorsed HMSA.

This was a community-led effort amplified by scrappy and strategic communications. By uplifting the voices of those impacted most by NYPD abuses, staying nimble with our strategy, and consistently updating and refining our messages to address any misinformation, we helped New York City prove that our communities define and drive true public safety. Thank you to all the community members, organizations and elected officials who fought alongside CPR. Spitfire is lucky to partner with you. 

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 28, 2024 at 16:49 pm and is filed under Campaign planning, Communication planning, Media relations, Opposition containment and Policymaker engagement. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.