Redefining Public Safety Initiative

Redefining public safety by finding alternatives to policing that truly keep us safe and end racial injustice

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 harms that policing causes. The overreliance on policing, coupled with underinvestment in public health and human services, particularly harms Black people and communities of color.

Vera’s Redefining Public Safety initiative focuses on new approaches to keeping our communities safe by increasing crisis response alternatives and government investments in violence prevention and neighborhood safety while narrowing the role and scope of policing. Through research, evidence-based policy recommendations, and real-world collaborations with local governments, Vera is helping communities redefine public safety by finding alternatives to policing that truly keep us safe while ending racial injustice.

A key priority to redefine public safety: end the role of armed officers responding to 911 calls that pose no imminent threat or danger to others.

Armed police officers respond to 911 calls for everything from general complaints to calls for mental health or substance abuse issues. Studies conclude that less than a third of 911 calls involve life-threatening situations. For all these situations where police are overinvolved, Black people are more likely to be harmed.

About 1% of 911 calls in major cities are to report violent crimes in progress

That’s why Vera is working to increase the use of civilian responders deployed to incidents involving mental health concerns and disturbances or disputes. Police are involved in too many situations that they are ill-equipped to handle and that may be escalated by police presence rather than resolved by it. Too often, this leads to violence. Shifting to civilian-first responders instead of police could reduce the disproportionate numbers of people with mental health and substance use issues who are incarcerated or killed during law enforcement interactions each year at alarmingly high rates.

Here’s how our Redefining Public Safety team is working to expand the use of civilian crisis response programs:

  • Analyzing 911 call data to help us understand what people need from public safety systems
  • Interviewing experts and local stakeholders to publish a step-by-step toolkit for how communities can create crisis response programs rooted in equity
  • Providing expertise and guidance to government agencies and community activist groups on the launch of 988, a new hotline to help people in crisis more easily connect with suicide prevention and mental health crisis services
Contact us
Daniela Gilbert Director, Redefining Public Safety dgilbert@vera.org

With recent federal stimulus funds providing communities with the resources to pilot alternative public safety programs, including civilian-led crisis response teams, and community violence interventions, Vera’s Redefining Public Safety program is eager to support sustainable expansion of these new practices. It’s long past time to end the police-centered approach to public safety and move toward alternatives that truly keep us safe and end racial injustice.