Public Safety

Rather than keeping all of us safe, our country’s approach to policing and public safety has endangered too many while fueling mass incarceration and racial injustice.

For George Floyd, murdered by a police officer, it was a suspicious $20 bill. Eric Garner was killed while police arrested him for selling cigarettes. Deborah Danner was killed by police during a mental health crisis. Police murdered Daunte Wright after stopping him for driving with expired plates. Philando Castile was killed after he was pulled over because his brake lights were out. The list goes on.

Governments use police as a primary tool to enhance public safety, even as we’ve seen time and time again that policing has disproportionately targeted and harmed Black people and communities of color—while often failing to keep all of us safe. It’s long past time to acknowledge that we need a new understanding of public safety and the role that police play in it. We need to end systemic racism and rectify the harms caused by overpolicing coupled with underinvestment in our communities.

Every 24 hours, nearly 3 people are fatally shot by police
Black people are about 5x more likely as whites to say they’ve been unfairly stopped by police

Policing disproportionately targets communities of color and is unable to effectively address what really makes communities safe.

Experts and historians have traced the origins of American policing to slave patrols, rooted in social control through state-sanctioned violence and terror. Centuries later, we’ve seen this abuse of power continue—the violent police responses to the Civil Rights Movement, the beating of Rodney King, and the ongoing countless police killings of Black people, to name a few examples—and police are rarely held accountable for their harmful actions.

At the same time, too many governments prioritize funding for police departments over other public services, such as housing, employment, education, and public health. And too many communities rely on police as the default first responders to health and social issues, which they are ill-equipped to address. More than 10 million people are arrested every year, and more than 80 percent of all arrests are for low-level nonviolent offenses.

Some communities have taken steps to redefine public safety.

In response to the fatal police shootings of Black people in 2020 and the uprisings that followed, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing federal stimulus funds, some communities are reexamining approaches to public safety by enacting policy change and creating new programs and responses. These efforts range from community violence intervention programs and increased funding for social services to limiting the role of police in traffic enforcement.

Vera’s Redefining Public Safety initiative aims to address this head-on by researching the costs and inefficacies of status quo public safety structures and building evidence for solutions, working directly with local governments and community stakeholders to pilot civilian-led public safety solutions, and more—all to end centuries of overpolicing and move toward a public safety approach that truly keeps us all safe and secure.