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Reimagining Public Safety: Resources for State Action
April 2021

Introduction

When a jury found Derek Chauvin guilty on all charges in the murder of George Floyd, accountability was, at last, applied to a police officer. But we must not let this single trial lessen the urgency of demands for changes to the violent system of policing in this country. Accountability does not equate to justice. Justice would be George Floyd alive today, living in a world that knows the Black lives matter. Justice would be an end to the constant, unrelenting police violence that takes the lives of nearly 1,000 Americans each year and terrorizes the lives of thousands more. 

Accountability does not equate to justice. Justice would be George Floyd alive today, living in a world that knows the Black lives matter.

Incremental policy changes haven’t stopped the killings and one guilty verdict will not, either. We need to reimagine public safety in America. Each murder of yet another Black person by the police shows we need to transform our approach to public safety. In the words of the Movement for Black Lives, “There is no ‘reforming’ this system—the time is now to divest from deadly policing and invest in a vision of public safety that protects us all.” 

SiX compiled the resources below following the guilty verdict in the trial of Officer Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd in May 2020. Read our full statement here.

Enacted Legislation

Protester in omaha, nebraska protests the killing of george floyd; sign reads "justice: america's broken promise"
Demonstrator in Omaha, Nebraska holds sign reading “Justice: America’s Broken Promise.”

The police don’t keep everyone safe. We need a new approach to public safety that truly protects everyone from harm. Since the murder of George Floyd, 30 states have passed more than 140 new laws related to public safety, but we know from the continued murders and violence inflicted on Black and brown people that this is not enough.  

As you consider the introduction of public safety legislation, we encourage you to reach out to your legislative peers in these states who have sponsored this legislation. These leaders carry a depth of knowledge about the policy, and can also talk to you about their strategies, the obstacles, what didn’t make it into the legislation (and why), and what they’re working on next (SiX can help connect you). We need to learn lessons from state to state, rather than copying and pasting a one-size-fits all approach, so we can collectively accelerate our work toward justice where all people feel safe in their communities.

“The only way to diminish police violence is to reduce contact between the public and the police.” — Mariame Kamba

Changes to oversight, accountability, training, and police policies are essential for harm reduction, but to truly transform public safety into a system that works for all, alternatives to policing must be pursued. For starters, mental health, traffic, gender-based violence, and crime investigation services could be better fulfilled by other trained, unarmed, and nonviolent professionals. The list of legislation below is not comprehensive.

Structural Reforms

Activists and communities have been calling for fundamental changes to policing for many years. The more recent “Defund the Police” campaigns envision a new system that goes beyond incremental police reforms. As The Opportunity Agenda puts it in Beyond Policing:

What would it look like to have first responders who were unarmed mental health specialists work with those experiencing a crisis in public? How would it be different for those experiencing homelessness if they had an ongoing relationship with a trained social worker instead of periodic encounters with police?

While we are unaware of any state to make fundamental changes to the notion of policing in America, the Beyond Policing report highlights local examples of restorative justice, peacemaking circles, mobile crisis centers, youth and community courts, stipends and other supports for individuals at-risk of perpetrating violence.

The following legislative examples are small steps that states have taken to move away from a model of policing and punishment to one that provides true safety for all members of the community, including alternatives to policing, a halt on automatic police department funding supports, and de-militarization of police departments.

Alternatives to Policing

Enacted legislation in Connecticut (2020 CT HB 6004) requires the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection and local police departments to evaluate the feasibility and potential impact of using social workers to respond to calls for assistance or accompany a police officer on certain calls for assistance.

Colorado enacted legislation (2020 CO HB 1393) expanding the state’s Mental Health Diversion Pilot Programs from four to five or more in selected judicial districts that identifies individuals with mental health conditions who have been charged with a low-level criminal offense and divert such individuals out of the criminal justice system and into community treatment programs.

Limiting Police Engagement

A young protester and celebrant of juneteenth holds a sign that reads i am my ancestors wildest dream at black lives matter plaza
A demonstrator and celebrant of Juneteenth holds a sign that reads “I am my ancestors wildest dream” at Black Lives Matter Plaza.

Police involved violence disproportionately impacts Black and brown communities. Mapping Police Violence provides powerful data showing that:

  • Black people were 28% of those killed by police in 2020 despite being only 13% of the population.
  • Black people are 3 times more likely to be killed by the police than white people, and 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed when killed by the police.
  • Most killings by police begin with traffic stops, mental health checks, domestic disturbances, or reported low level offenses.

To reduce violence during police interactions, states have enacted legislation to reduce over policing, regulate the use of “no-knock” search warrants, limit the use of deadly force, ban chokeholds, require police officers to intervene to stop excessive use of force or to render medical aid, and train police officers in topics from de-escalation to implicit bias.  

Incident Response

Black father and son at black lives matter demonstration with sign reading "enough is enough"
A father and son participate in a Black Lives Matter protest in Orlando, Florida. Sign reads, “Enough is Enough! #BlackLivesMatter”

Investigations of police interactions that result in death or other serious incidents that are shrouded in secrecy, influenced by the offending police officer, and/or conducted by a biased entity degrade public trust in law enforcement agencies. Adequate levels of independence in any response to a critical incident caused by a law enforcement officer ensure that future measures of accountability honor the truth of what occurred.

State lawmakers can ensure that responses to serious incidents are independent and faithfully carry out justice under the law by increasing reporting requirements, protecting the right of witnesses to record incidents, preserving the integrity of available recordings, and requiring an independent investigation of incidents.

Accountability

Demonstrator holding "black trans lives matter" sign
Demonstrator holding “Black Trans Lives Matter” sign in New York City

For as long as publicly-funded police forces have existed in the country, officers who commit brutal violence against Black people have habitually eluded any measure of accountability. Officers have been insulated from professional and judicial repercussions through layers of legal protections and collective bargaining agreements, allowing them to continue a pattern of misconduct and abuse of power against the communities they are charged to protect.

State lawmakers can strengthen accountability measures against law enforcement officers who violate standards of conduct and constitutional and civil rights by reinforcing disciplinary actions against officers, ensuring that collective bargaining agreements do not interfere with disciplinary actions, requiring public and agency access to the personnel records of officers with a history of misconduct to prevent their re-hiring, and banning qualified immunity.

System Oversight

Line of protesters marching holding their fists up for black lives matter
Demonstrators march in Washington, D.C.

The violent realities of over-policing in Black communities and other communities of color are well-known by their residents, who are also best-positioned to develop the policy solutions necessary for lasting transformational change. But too often, state legislatures and institutional actors responsible for enacting policy change are not equitably representative of their communities, and therefore lack the lived experience and information necessary to make structural changes to policing systems.

At the state level, lawmakers can pave the way for broader changes by ensuring that communities have adequate access to data and oversight entities with decision-making power. State legislators can ensure that future reform efforts are informed by publicly available and disaggregated information on police interactions. Comprehensive data collection drives continuous oversight by identifying and investigating patterns of policing conduct that disproportionately harm communities of color. Legislators can also establish independent oversight bodies charged with reenvisioning policing and making policy recommendations with strong requirements for meaningful community participation.

Local and National Organizations

Mural artists collectively create street art in front of city hall
Mural artists collectively create street art in front of City Hall in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Many Black-led and centered organizations have been leading on policing, police reform, and abolition for years. We encourage you to seek information and support from this list below. Note this is not a comprehensive list and will be updated.  

National

Minnesota
Other States

 Resources

Protestor holding up his fist in solidarity; photo by clay banks
Protestor holding up his fist in solidarity in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Clay Banks)
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