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Morgan Freeman makes donation to launch evidence-based policing center at Ole Miss

Actor Morgan Freeman has made a donation to help launch a legal studies center at the University of Mississippi focused on developing evidence-based practices and training for law enforcement amid ongoing calls for police reform. 

Freeman, along with Ole Miss criminal justice and legal studies professor Linda Keena, have together contributed $1 million to establish the school’s Center for Evidence-Based Policing and Reform, pending approval from Mississippi’s Institutions of Higher Learning, according to a Tuesday press release

Freeman in a statement included in the university’s announcement said the past year’s instances of violent police encounters and civil unrest have demonstrated a major disconnect between officers and the communities they serve. 

“Look at the past year in our country — that sums it up,” the Oscar-winning actor said. “It’s time we are equipping police officers with training and ensuring ‘law enforcement’ is not defined only as a gun and a stick.” 

“Policing should be about that phrase ‘To Serve’ found on most law enforcement vehicles,” he added. 

“All the stories are stuck in my mind,” Freeman said of the multiple prominent police killings of Black individuals in the past year, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

“I often talk to police officers when I see them out and ask how they would do their work if they didn’t have guns. Support of this center is about finding ways to help officers and arrive at solutions,” he said.

The university said that the center is the culmination of months of planning by its Department of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies, and will also be the only one of its kind in the state of Mississippi and one of few across the country. 

The center will focus on training police and other law enforcement officials in Mississippi, and eventually across the country, using “evidence-based practices that allow officers to be more proactive,” and other training that will show “how police can better engage the community in crime prevention.” 

Criminal Justice and Legal Studies Department Chair Wesley G. Jennings said training at the center will also “address how to improve community members’ perceptions of and trust and confidence in police, and how to improve their willingness to call the police in a time of need.” 

Jennings, who will be leading the new center, said Tuesday that while police relationships with certain segments of the population “have historically been tenuous and strained at times,” the level of mistrust between the two is at an all-time high.

“Success only will occur if there is effective and genuine buy-in from police, community stakeholders and constituents, and one of my critical tasks will be to foster these relationships,” he added. “We have no agenda in launching this center except to be a resource through science and data vital to police and other law enforcement officials.”

According to the university, the funding will be allocated in two portions, with the first $500,000 directed toward start-up costs, and the other $500,000 being placed in an “endowment for long-range sustainability.”

Tags Breonna Taylor deaths in police custody Evidence-based policing George Floyd Mississippi Morgan Freeman Ole Miss police killings police reform University of Mississippi

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