Redefining Public Safety Initiative

Redefining public safety by helping build and sustain community-centered solutions and discontinuing harmful policies in our current enforcement-centered systems

Governments across the country rely on policing as the primary tool to maintain order and enhance public safety, despite centuries of examples illustrating its inadequacy and the harm that it causes. Overreliance on policing, coupled with underinvestment in public health and human services, disproportionately harms Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people and other people of color.

Our Redefining Public Safety initiative is supporting a paradigm shift in how public safety is defined and achieved in U.S. cities by:

  • Building and institutionalizing public safety infrastructure outside the criminal legal system to coordinate community-centered public safety ecosystems.
  • Expanding civilian crisis response programs to address the range of health and social needs that come to the attention of 911 call centers.
  • Limiting traffic stops for minor violations that do not affect public safety.

Vera’s Redefining Public Safety initiative focuses on the creation and sustainability of new government infrastructure for public safety that centers health and compassion so communities can have safety, accountability, and justice. We also aim to discontinue harmful policies within the current enforcement-centric system and transfer safety responsibilities and commensurate resources to entities that can address safety and social needs through trauma-informed, healing, and culturally specific means. Through research, evidence-informed policy recommendations, and collaborations with local governments, Vera is helping communities redefine public safety by advancing policies and practices that are data-backed, well-coordinated, sustainably funded, able to center civilian and community leadership, and accountable to system-impacted people and communities.

Establish new structures and intra-government processes so local government has empowered and resourced safety hubs outside the criminal legal system.

The Redefining Public Safety initiative is a resource to government and community leaders on how alternatives to conventional 911 responses and offices of violence prevention and neighborhood safety can and must be a larger part of a city’s public safety ecosystem. Currently, many of these ecosystems include individual programs early in their existence that are especially vulnerable to instability in funding and elimination during political transitions. New public safety hubs are needed to coordinate and consolidate comprehensive, public health-informed views of safety rather than enforcement-based approaches. Our focus going forward will be to advance the concept, model, and evidence for a safety hub to anchor and sustain solutions that meet people’s safety needs. If adequately resourced and empowered, safety hubs can transform our public safety systems. Increasing resident safety, reducing violent victimization, decreasing overreliance on policing, and improving life outcomes for people least likely to experience safety will require commitment to a new approach that centers communities’ humanity and healing. It will also demand different ways of working, budgeting, and using and sharing information.

Narrow the scope of emergency calls for which police are the primary responders.

People typically call 911 to solve problems that pose no imminent safety risk and have little to do with crime—and thus do not warrant a default police response. Vera’s analysis of 911 data has shown that an average of 19 percent of calls for service involve mental health or substance use issues, and could be answered by unarmed crisis responders. In some cities, that number is closer to one-third of 911 calls. In situations where police are overinvolved, Black people are more likely to be harmed.

No more than 7 percent of 911 calls are for situations involving violent crime

Sensible Traffic Ordinances for Public Safety (STOPS)

Nationally, police stop more than 20 million motorists a year for alleged traffic violations. As research by Vera and others has confirmed, a significant number of these are non-safety-related traffic stops: stops for minor infractions that do not affect road safety or public safety, such as driving with a single broken taillight, expired or defective vehicle registration, a missing inspection sticker, or excessive window tint. Although all drivers may face the indignity and potential danger of a police encounter, people of color are at greater risk for being stopped and searched. Non-safety-related traffic stops only exacerbate the problem, with more racial disparities than safety-related stops.

Eliminating non-safety-related stops allows police to improve road safety by prioritizing enforcement of driver behavior that actually threatens public safety, like speeding and impaired driving.

The past few years have accelerated the search for new approaches that work for communities, civilian city agencies, and police departments alike. Grassroots interest combined with state and federal funding has produced a wave of cities implementing innovative approaches, including civilian crisis response to 911 calls for social needs calls; adoption of community violence intervention (CVI) strategies; and the creation of offices of violence prevention or neighborhood safety. Yet, longevity and sustainability of these approaches is not guaranteed. Despite increasing activity in alternative approaches to public safety, most jurisdictions lack a coordinating body that can synthesize disparate actors and programs to support sustainable progress. Government agencies and community stakeholders need a new way of working together to produce safety, enhance and sustain prevention and response efforts, invest in support over punishment, and right-size the role of policing.

Contact us
Daniela Gilbert Director, Redefining Public Safety