Public Safety: We Need to Invest in Evidence-Based Solutions

By Tierra Bradford

It’s 2024, and policing and public safety overall are still a major point of tension in society today. 

The current system of policing and criminalization is one that has disproportionately targeted communities of color, beginning with slave patrols and continuing with modern-day policing practices — including brutal suppression of social justice, labor, and protest movements. Policing and carceral approaches to public safety have been the status quo for a long time, yet many people still feel unsafe in their communities. As communities and advocates continue to uplift the harmful impact of policing, lawmakers continue to double down on the status quo. In reality, policing is only one portion of public safety, yet it gets a significant majority of the funding. This must change.

After decades of enduring the current system of policing, communities are considering how things can change in a way that ensures all people can feel safe and be safe. Some are turning to community safety models, in which communities address underlying safety needs and determine what their vision of public safety is by involving community members directly. Community safety is about proactive and preventative investments in “social determinants” of safety like violence intervention, non-carceral crisis response, education, youth programs, economic justice, and community infrastructure. These are all evidence-based ways to prevent violence and harm and make people feel safe in their communities. Investments in public health overall foster trust and positive relationships resulting in safer neighborhoods. 

It’s time to start investing in public safety approaches that work. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is part of the Community Safety Working Group, a coalition of nearly 90 civil rights and justice organizations advocating for policies that actually achieve public safety. In April, the working group released the 2024 Community Safety Agenda calling for sustained investment in communities — ones who have historically been under-resourced and overpoliced — to address the root causes of crime and make our neighborhoods safer without resorting to the violent, biased policing with which too many communities must contend.

Other resources include roadmaps that have been developed for states and localities. The Community Safety Working Group has developed guides for state lawmakers and local lawmakers. Additionally, the Center for Policing Equity has a roadmap for changing the way  public safety is funded while also highlighting the inequitable traditional approaches to police funding. These roadmaps advocate for shifts towards innovative funding strategies that prioritize community investment and address the root causes of crime. These initiatives specifically aim to build trust, foster collaboration, and address the underlying issues that contribute to crime, ultimately creating a safer and more inclusive community. By examining and implementing these innovative approaches to police funding, communities and localities across the country are rethinking and reshaping their approaches to public safety. And for cities that have taken the step to fund and implement public safety alternatives, it’s paying off. For example, several cities have created non-police crisis response teams. Early results are showing that these programs are succeeding at safely handling crisis response while also saving taxpayer dollars.

Achieving public safety requires a paradigm shift that places community input at its core. By investing in evidence-based alternatives, reimagining crisis response, and advocating for policy changes, we can create a future where public safety is achieved through collaboration, compassion, and a genuine commitment to the well-being of everyone in the community.

Tierra Bradford is the senior manager of the justice program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.