Morgan Freeman and a University of Mississippi professor donate $1M to college's policing program

Morgan Freeman and a college professor donated $1 million to the University of Mississippi. By Amir Vera, Dave Alsup and Jamiel Lynch, CNN

(CNN) -- Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman and University of Mississippi Professor Linda Keena donated $1 million to the school in order to establish a new center focused on policing.

The new Center for Evidence-Based Policing and Reform at the University of Mississippi looks to "build relationships and share data with policing agencies as well as use the data to enhance the preparation of students in criminal justice," according to a Tuesday news release from the school. It will be "the only one of its kind at a Mississippi university and one of a few in the nation."

While he was born in Memphis, Tennessee, Freeman did grow up in several Mississippi cities, according to CNN affiliate WLOX-TV.

He even owns a blues club, Ground Zero Blues Club, in Clarksdale. He tweeted earlier this year that he was proud to call the state his home after it debuted its new state flag.

Freeman said the events of the past year inspired him to make the donation. Protests erupted across the country last summer after the death of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of law enforcement, prompting calls for police reform.

"It's time we are equipping police officers with training and ensuring 'law enforcement' is not defined only as a gun and a stick," Freeman said in the news release. "Policing should be about that phrase 'To Serve' found on most law enforcement vehicles."

The role of the center, the release states, will be to provide training for police and other law enforcement across Mississippi. It will also use "evidence-based practices that allow officers to be more proactive." And, the center looks to improve how officers engage with the community and community members' perception of, trust and confidence in police, the release said.

"The goal should be to give officers as many tools as possible to do their jobs more effectively," said Keena, an associate professor of criminal justice. "Our faculty will address critical issues inherently interwoven in the current and historic landscape of policing such as race, class, bias and lack of compassion."

The center is pending approval by the state's Institutions of Higher Education.

The donation will be split into two funding streams, with $500,000 being directed to start-up costs. The other half will be placed in an endowment for "long-range sustainability," the release said.

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