The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) is a national nonprofit organization that encourages a conversation around justice reform and advances policies that promote well‐being and justice for all people and communities. A new report issued this month (May, 2012) addresses a startling fact: Since 1982, police protection has increased 445%! And the number of people in prisons and jails increased 275 percent from 1982 to 2007.
Much of what they say is consistent what I say in my new book, “Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police” which is available at Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Arrested-Development-Veteran-Corruption-Necessary/dp/1470102560/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335197097&sr=8-1)
Although crime rates are at the lowest they have been in over 30 years, the number of arrests has declined only slightly between 2009 and 2010.
Some other findings…
- Federal government funds and involvement have helped create large police forces that are disconnected from communities and operate in a punitive rather than preventative way resulting in more arrests, more prison, and more costs to taxpayers, among other negative effects on communities.
- It is not just the sheer number of police that lead to more arrests and more prison, but also the style of policing, which treats entire communities as though they should be contained, surveilled, and punished.
- However, crime had already started to decline by the time these grants were distributed and implemented. Therefore, additional police only contributed to increases in arrests for both serious and minor offenses, without significant additional impact on crime – although law enforcement took credit for declines. The increases in arrests were, however, a likely major driver of incarceration rates… and the greatest impact of these policies was seen in communities of color.
- As arrest rates have not dropped at a rate corresponding to that of violent and property crime, police are now arresting people for other types of offenses, particularly drug offenses. These arrests, often for possession of very small amounts of drugs, carry tremendous costs both to society and to the people involved, who must then face the rest of their life with the collateral consequences of a criminal record.
- Policymakers should be directing funds toward true community‐based and collaborative policing efforts, prevention, intervention, treatment, education, and a host of other programs and initiatives that have been shown to promote healthy safe communities. When arrests are the bottom line instead of public safety and healthy, prosperous communities, our priorities are skewed.
- JPI does not argue that there should be no law enforcement, nor do we argue that some communities are not seriously harmed by crime, but that communities and the federal government should reconsider how much is being spent and on what type of policing.
- Militaristic policing does more harm than good. Drug task forces, S.W.A.T. teams, gang task forces, and other militaristic styles of policing have resulted in corruption, deaths of innocent people, wrongful convictions, and the disproportionate arrest of people of color. These types of police forces have done very little to improve public safety, but significantly harm communities and the image of police.
- Although Blacks make up 13 percent of the population, they make up 31 percent of arrests for drug offenses, while whites are 72 percent of the population, but 67 percent of arrests. Meanwhile both groups report similar rates of drug use.
- The negative effects of over-policing, including punitive, militaristic policing, outweigh the benefits. Research indicates that more investments in police lead to more arrests, especially for drug offenses. Arrests are the first step to involvement in the justice system, which carries with it the potential for incarceration and a host of negative outcomes for individuals and communities, including high taxpayer costs.
- Policing initiatives that are community‐driven and supported have had similar, if not better public safety benefits as more aggressive, arrest‐driven policing initiatives. San Diego’s, now defunded, community supported policing initiative had similar public safety outcomes as New York’s zero tolerance approach, with fewer arrests and without complaints of police misconduct or abuse.
- More spending on policing means fewer resources available for other public safety strategies that are better for communities. Investments in community based drug and mental health treatment, education, and other social institutions can make communities safer while building their other assets and improving life outcomes for all.
The recommendations from JPI are:
1. Reform laws and sentencing so police don’t have to pick and choose.
State and federal policymakers must take sentencing reform seriously, reducing the harmful impacts of harsh sentences, and must examine both drug laws and those related to other lesser offenses to determine where they might be rolled back or eliminated completely.
2. Reallocate resources to positive social investments known to improve public safety.
Research shows that investing in services and programs that keep people out of the justice system is more effective at improving public safety and promoting community well‐being than investing in law enforcement.8
3. Focus law enforcement on the most serious offenses.
Arrests for low‐level offenses have less of an impact on public safety, but still use up considerable law enforcement resources. Focusing law enforcement efforts on the more serious offenses will allow officers to use their resources more effectively, thereby improving public safety.
4. Implement policies that allow police to issue citations over arrests for certain offenses.
A number of cities across the country have started to recognize the waste involved in arresting people for certain low‐level offenses, which result in people spending days and sometimes longer in jails.
[To read the full report, Rethinking the Blues: How we police in the U.S. and at what cost, please visit www.justicepolicy.org or contact us at Justice Policy Institute 1012 14th St. NW, Suite 400 Washington, DC 20005 Phone: (202) 558‐7974 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.]