Op-Ed: “The safest communities aren’t the ones with the most police; they’re the ones with the most resources.”
We are approaching two years since the murder of George Floyd forced our nation into moral judgment and sparked cries for change in public safety and justice. In New York, as we move toward a just recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic amid a new wave, we have a unique opportunity to ensure that our recovery means reimagining and rebuilding our systems so they work. finally for everyone. This includes public safety.
For decades, our definition of public safety has been synonymous with policing. It’s a narrow understanding that fails to recognize the root causes of our biggest problems. It resulted in over-surveillance, targeted surveillance and mass incarceration. We now know, especially in the face of this ongoing pandemic, that true public safety comes when communities have what they need to thrive. Permanent safe and affordable housing, dignified union jobs, quality public education, food security and universal health care.
Reinventing public safety means reorienting ourselves towards community needs and community-led safety solutions. It means recognizing What the Data recount us: that the safest communities are not those with the most police; they are the ones with the most resources. In short, public safety is a matter of investment.
This requires that we treat our local and national budgets as moral documents. What we invest in is what our society prioritizes and values. By creating and fully funding mental health and behavioral response programs, as well as homelessness awareness initiatives, we can ensure that our communities receive the right response at the right time and we provide the most marginalized in our society. care instead of cages. By strengthening and supporting restorative justice practices in schools, we can ensure that young New Yorkers receive the attention, compassion and resources they need to succeed and better cope with their daily stresses, whether or not it is related to the pandemic. By investing in violence prevention programs and community support initiatives, we can proactively challenge punitive and carceral systems that manifest in spaces that impact working families, including working communities. immigrants and undocumented people. Along with fully funded schools, public health and housing infrastructure, these initiatives are particularly effective because they help focus resources and support where they are needed most.
Building this new vision for public safety won’t happen overnight, but across the state, communities are already taking steps forward. In Ithaca, works are in progress started to set up an unarmed response unit, and the city is working with a countywide coalition to develop a community healing plan to address trauma more broadly. In New York, a pilot mental health intervention program shows promise results, and with a new city council, the most diverse and progressive in the city’s history, the future is bright for what the largest city in the state can do. And right here in Rochester, work is progressing to institute the Person in Crisis Team (PIC)a program to send a unarmed community response — instead of armed police — to people dealing with addiction or mental health crises.
New York can lead the country in reinventing public safety, as long as we act with quick decision, dedicated resources and an unwavering commitment to do so. As members of Local Progress – a national network of locally elected officials – we are proud to be in community with local leaders representing small and large cities across the North and North working together to bring about this change at the local level.
Mary Lupien is Vice President of the Rochester City Council and a member of the Local progress.
Shahana Hanif is a member of the New York City Council, representing Brooklyn’s 39th Ward, and a member of Local progress.