Center for Policing Equity Releases Critical Steps for Exploring How Public Safety Resources are Allocated

Steps Provide Starting Point for Reinvestment in Most Vulnerable Communities

New York, July 27, 2020 -- Today, the Center for Policing Equity (CPE) released a set of recommendations for communities considering new models of public safety. Nationwide demonstrations against police violence have sparked long overdue conversations around reallocating public safety resources and reinvesting in our most vulnerable communities. As cities begin reimagining what public safety can look like, CPE has outlined five initial steps communities can take to assess how public safety is working for them now, shrink the current footprint of law enforcement on vulnerable populations, and avoid fears of rising violence.

The goal is to give communities a set of tools to gauge what resources—law enforcement or otherwise—they need in order to keep themselves safe. Taken together, they make up a kind of first step in creating a roadmap for conversations about the future of public safety. They allow for a better public understanding of how cities are using current public safety resources and allow for more informed decisions about whether or not those resources are appropriate for addressing community problems. While the ability to stand up social services and assess the rollout processes will require a diverse skillset and time to implement, the communities that demand these conversations will not be satisfied by government action that is not informed by a plan. 

“Any reimagining of public safety must include a conversation about matching the right resources to the right problems. Mental health professionals should be dispatched for mental health crises. Firefighters for fires. EMTS for medical emergencies.” said Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, Co-founder and CEO, Center for Policing Equity. “The steps we have outlined are not exhaustive, but we hope they will be a starting point for leaders wanting to advance conversations about how to create safe communities for their most vulnerable residents.”

Budgets are under unprecedented strain amidst the global pandemic. With the help of AH Datalytics, a consulting firm focused on bringing 21st century analytics to the organizations serving the public good, CPE has identified the following steps to structure the conversation on reallocating public safety resources. Each step can be undertaken serially or simultaneously and responds to a specific question about how a new allocation might proceed:

1. What services might replace law enforcement to reduce their footprint on communities?

1.1. Conduct a rigorous analysis of public safety service demand.

In order to reduce police responsibilities, it will be helpful to catalog them. Cities collect enormous amounts of data on public safety services rendered to the community. The most prominent data source is 911 Calls for Service, but public safety services are also delivered through 211, 311, and 411 programs. Analyzing these data with sufficient technical and subject matter expertise can provide a thorough understanding of the service demand from communities. These analyses can be combined with an assessment of public safety agency budgets and staffing to enhance planning for allocating resources to other organizations that may be able to fulfill the required services.

1.2. Evaluate officer-initiated activity.

In addition to calls for service, officers make self-initiated contacts. Analyzing the location, time, and type of these interactions is crucial to understanding how police act proactively. Completing these two steps can provide a map of what services are delivered by police, and what services communities would prefer police not deliver.

2. How can departments reduce their footprint in “overpoliced” communities?

2.1. Map inefficiencies in police activity

The first step in fixing a problem is measuring its scope. Comparing officer-initiated activity to reports of crime will provide insight into where crime and enforcement geographically diverge. These analyses can identify the types of police contacts that are least aligned with public safety needs and the areas that receive the heaviest dose of those contacts—a first step towards reducing them.

3. What communities need more resources and what mechanisms can deliver them?

3.1. Locate and create “Public Safety Opportunity Zones”

Identifying which communities are burdened by crime—or policing—provides a first look at which communities may require greater investment. Neighborhoods with either high crime rates or high rates of police contact that are untethered to crime might be considered ripe for an influx of resources. The mapping performed to identify inefficiencies would also identify neighborhoods ripe for investment. Using the same mechanisms as standard “Opportunity Zones,” these “Public Safety Opportunity Zones” could be created to deliver more social services to residents—including cash subsidies—and provide credit to local businesses, providing a stronger social safety net. Importantly, zoning a neighborhood in this way need not restrict aid to businesses. These same neighborhoods would be ripe for investments in other social services (e.g., hospitals, grocery stores, substance abuse facilities, etc.) as well.

4. How can we measure the response to change?

4.1. Gauge community and law enforcement opinion

The best way to tell how people feel is to ask them. Surveys of community members can help quantify what services they want, trust, and need. Surveying law enforcement officers in good standing can help identify ways of constructively shifting an agency’s culture. Both are necessary for charting a path towards public safety that communities can embrace.

5. But what about violent crime? How can we respond to community violence with a lighter law enforcement footprint?

5.1. Implement focused deterrence

Focused deterrence is a research-validated method for reducing violence committed by a small number of chronic offenders. When done correctly, it reduces law enforcement’s footprint and empowers communities to produce their own public safety.

5.2. Use community resources where possible

Community-led violence interrupters such as LIFE Camp in New York and community-led crisis intervention teams such as the Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS) program started in Eugene, Oregon show promise as low-cost, community-centered, and non-violent alternatives to police responses to violence. Similarly, a Community Navigator model like the one in Minneapolis allows trained city employees (instead of police) to respond to victims of crime, homelessness, or other concerns where there is not an immediate threat of violence. Similar community-centered response models exist across the country and the globe. While there are not deep literatures on each of these programs individually, there is evidence that combinations of these programs are under appreciated causes of reduced crime over the past several decades.

“For generations, we’ve been too dependent on law enforcement to be a stopgap for governments that refuse to acknowledge failure in providing the social supports that would prevent unnecessary calls to police,” said Dr. Tracie Keesee, Co-Founder and Senior Vice President of Justice Initiatives at CPE. “Answering these five questions creates a pathway for community leaders who are serious about building new paradigms in public safety.”

More information on the outlined principles can be found here.

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About Center for Policing Equity: As a research and action organization, Center for Policing Equity (CPE) produces analyses identifying and reducing the causes of racial disparities in law enforcement. Using evidence-based approaches to social justice, we use data to create levers for social, cultural and policy change. Center for Policing Equity also holds a 501(c)3 status.