Justice in Public Safety Project

Framework for Public Safety

Our nation is at an inflection point in its struggle to keep communities safe. Our current system of law enforcement has largely been unsuccessful in reducing violence and increasing public safety on a sustained basis. It is also historically rooted in the racial subjugation of the people it disproportionately targets and harms. We must consider an alternative to the current system and advance a plan for effective, equitable and humane public safety structures. Many promising reforms and models exist. LDF offers this framework, comprised of three mutually reinforcing strategies, as a starting point for progress. 

1. Build a Corps of Unarmed Civilian Responders

Armed police officers are called upon to intervene in a wide array of crises and routine, non-emergency events for which they are not adequately trained or suited. For example, armed enforcement of traffic laws contributes to racial disparities in the criminal legal system and too often leads to use of force and police killings. Instead, state and local governments should train a corps of unarmed responders to serve as alternatives to law enforcement. These responders should not be part of the law enforcement system. Rather, they should operate as independent civil servants who receive professional training and develop the expertise to enable them to respond effectively and humanely to events such as: 

2. Expand and Institutionalize Restorative Justice Programs

Too often, the criminal legal system fails people who experience harm or violence, as well as impacted communities.  In many cases, survivors and the individuals accused or convicted of crimes belong to the same community. Employing restorative justice practices centers the specific needs of people who experience harm or violence and impacted communities and can better address the root causes of many incidents that threaten public safety.  Examples include:

School-based restorative justice programs that emphasize civic engagement and mutual accountability while repairing individual harm and building productive relationships within the school.

Pre-charge restorative justice diversion programs that meet the needs of people who experience crime while avoiding the harms of criminalization.

Justice for Tyre Nichols projected onto the Franklin School building in Washington D.C. Tyre Nichols died after he was beaten by five Memphis police officers in January 2023. (Source: Shutterstock)
Shan'a Mason, 42, left, hugs her children following a protest in Oakland, CA. (Source: Yalonda M. James/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

3. Increasing Investments in Community Resources and Ensuring Economic Security

All communities deserve and desire safety. However, an over-reliance on policing has ignored safer and less harmful alternatives that would strengthen communities and reduce violence.  For example, gun violence is a public safety and public health crisis that disproportionately harms Black and Brown communities. Rather than relying on specialized crime-suppression units and hyper-surveillance, which have disproportionately harmed those same communities, state and local governments should instead make substantial community investments to enable impacted communities to direct and determine the resources necessary to ensure the safety and prosperity of their neighborhoods.

Federal, state, and local governments should:

Eliminate aggressive crime suppression units, such as the Memphis Police Department’s SCORPION Unit, whose officers tragically killed Tyre Nichols, and replace them with community-sourced, evidence-based approaches to reducing crime.

Invest in community-based violence intervention programs, which use relationship building, de-escalation, and mediation, and have proven to decrease and prevent gun violence without replicating the harms caused by law enforcement involvement.

Expand programs that improve the social determinants of health, such as housing, infrastructure, economic security, and access to health care, which create long-term stability and safety and prevent the need for law enforcement.

Provide full accountability for law enforcement misconduct.

These three interventions are a starting point for a new paradigm of public safety that centers the dignity and humanity of individuals and communities while creating conditions to reduce crime on a sustained basis and avoid the harms associated with the current system of law enforcement. To move from reimagining public safety to making it a reality begins with changing our choices and investing in solution-oriented outcomes.  

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This database provides publicly available data of federal grants and military equipment transfers to more than 250 local law enforcement agencies across the nation along with demographic and police department data. It also provides, where available, information about police misconduct complaints filed by individuals, consent decrees, and settlement amounts.

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