Guest Commentary: Society’s Problems Call for More Than Police

By Nicholas Turner

People across the United States agree that police should not be called on to solve every problem that arises in communities—from children skipping school, to mental health crises, to homelessness. This is too much to put on one profession. During Police Week, and beyond, leaders looking to truly support law enforcement should invest in preventive strategies to address problems facing the country.

Police are too often left to fill the holes left by inadequate health care, housing, education, and economic systems. No one profession can make up for all of that. The United States already spends $115 billion a year on policing, and is putting too many charges on police departments.

We know it’s time to use new solutions to lift the burden, and the best way to support our nation’s police—during Police Week and throughout the year—is to adopt a comprehensive approach to public safety. Such an approach addresses the drivers that contribute to troublesome behavior, aiming to prevent crime before it happens, instead of simply reacting in the aftermath. It includes expanding access to treatment and services and alternatives to incarceration. It means involving civilian first responders in situations like behavioral health calls, low-level traffic enforcement, and other routine duties that do not require the involvement of an armed officer. This comprehensive approach will allow police to focus on the job that communities expect them to do—investigate and solve serious crimes.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, if given a choice, people choose a “preven[tion], not just reacting after” approach to crime and safety over a “tough-on-crime” status quo approach (53 percent to 47 percent in a recent national poll). These findings were affirmed in an exit survey conducted this April of voters in the Chicago mayoral runoff, where crime and safety issues were especially salient. People recognize scare tactics as empty rhetoric and are eager to put aside partisan divisions and have honest conversations about safety.

Fundamentally, everyone deserves safety, and police can play an important role when they carry out their responsibilities in a measured and accountable manner. However, better, effective policing is not synonymous with more funding for police or simply more police.

As federal legislators prepare to vote on legislation related to policing and public safety in the coming weeks, it’s critical that they prioritize solutions over scare tactics by taking the following actions:

  1. Support localities working to reform their approaches to policing and public safety, and vote against politically driven efforts, like the resolution disapproving Washington, DC’s Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act (H.J.Res.42), which would overturn the will of DC voters and nullify local progress on police accountability.
  2. Oppose the Invest to Protect Act (S.1144), the COPS Reauthorization Act (S.1306), and other bills that would expand policing and increase funding for local law enforcement agencies to recruit, hire, and retain officers—despite inconclusive evidence that more policing makes us safer—and without including accountability measures that help preserve community trust.
  3. Oppose bills that create new and harsher penalties for already-penalized conduct against police
    officers, like the Back the Blue Act (H.R.355), the POLICE Act (H.R. 2494), and the soon-to-be-
    introduced Protect and Serve Act. Governments should ensure the safety of law enforcement
    officers, but because the perceived harshness of a potential sentence is not a significant
    for people who commit crimes, layering additional federal penalties on top of existing sentence enhancements for offenses against police won’t make officers safer.
  4. Support bills like the Break the Cycle of Violence Act (H.R.4118/S.2275) and the Mental Health Justice Act (H.R.1368/S.515), which invest in community violence intervention and other approaches to safety that prevent crime, rather than just responding in the aftermath. These bills are set to be re-introduced soon.
  5. Oppose mandatory minimum sentencing and other outdated approaches to drug enforcement,
    like the HALT Fentanyl Act (H.R.467), that create harsher punishments but do nothing to deter
    drug use or activity. Instead, support evidence-based approaches to drug scheduling and
    sentencing, like the TEST Act (S.5167) and the EQUAL Act (H.R.1062/S.524).

Police Week presents an opportunity to do away with partisan rhetoric and scare tactics and instead set an honest, optimistic, and solutions-oriented tone to the necessary debates about crime and safety. When people across the political spectrum are asked about public safety, a clear consensus emerges that accountability and a more effective system of care and support are what’s needed.

Nicholas Turner is President and Director of Vera Institute of Justice.  Originally published by Vera Institute of Justice.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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1 Comment

  1. Walter Shwe

    Everything this author suggests will ultimately result in lower crime rates. The incarceration industrial complex has only lead to drastically higher homicide rates vs. EU member nations.

    We should note that Hayes’s statement also suggested that the overall homicide rate in the U.S. – from firearms and other methods – was about 23 times higher than the EU. The IMHE found that in 2019, 5.6 people per 100,000 were murdered in the U.S. compared to 0.9 in the EU. In other words, the overall homicide rate in the U.S. was 6.2 times higher than the EU.

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