At the 2016 Republican National Convention, Donald Trump set the tone on the first day with “Make America Safe Again,” closing out with the campaign’s larger theme of “Make America Great Again.” In his acceptance speech, Trump talked about making America great “again” by restoring “law and order” and eliminating violence in the streets—especially violence against police officers. Trump’s comments linked immigrants and Black Lives Matter supporters to escalating violence and chaos in America.
But making America safe is not about discrediting those who feel marginalized but rather it is about providing real, tangible platforms for policing reform, according to commentary in The Nation by Joint Center for Politics and Economic Studies President Spencer Overton and Senior Fellow Kami Chavis. The duo detailed five ways to make America safer based on community insights gathered during a Joint Center/ Joyce Foundation/ Urban Institute research project that focused on racial disparities, policing, and gun violence. Click here to read The Nation commentary.
Overton and Chavis point out President Obama has caucused with both law enforcement and racial justice advocates calling for reform. They write about recently traveling to American cities heavily impacted by violent crime—particularly gun violence—and had extensive sessions with more than 100 community members discussing solutions to make their communities safer. A majority of participants were African American and Latino, included law enforcement personnel, social service providers, former offenders, elected officials, activists, and religious leaders.
“While we learned the vast majority of African Americans and Latinos believe the police make things more safe, 54% of African Americans and 30% of Latinos responding to our national survey said police brutality is an “extremely serious” problem,” they wrote. “During our sessions, community members told us that transforming policing is a key element of making America safe.”
The following are condensed versions from The Nation of their five proposals for making America safe again:
#1 Be respectful and de-escalate conflict
Police departments should also adopt de-escalation practices that encourage officers to avoid escalating tensions during interactions with citizens. Departments should make available to officers well-established de-escalation tools, such as “slowing the situation down” and looking for opportunities to resolve the interaction without unnecessary conflict or resorting to force.
#2 Address implicit bias
Implicit biases are automatic reactions in response to negative stereotypes. Research shows such bias can prompt police to arrest, use force, and shoot African Americans more quickly than whites. Departments should assess implicit bias in new recruits and current officers, provide training that teaches officers how to mitigate their biases, and screen out those who are unable to address their biases.
#3 Hold police accountable
Body cameras tend to improve behavior of both police and community members, reducing uses of force and complaints against officers. Collecting, analyzing, and publishing key data—including data on citizen complaints, police use of force, and race—can also advance accountability. States can enhance accountability through independent investigations and prosecutions in cases involving shootings by police.
#4 Focus law enforcement resources more effectively
In many cities, focused enforcement efforts that deprioritize arrests for low-level offenses while concentrating resources on more serious crime (e.g., illegal firearm trafficking) have reduced violence and increased public safety. In our national survey, 76% of African Americans and 81% of Latinos support training police to focus on people at high risk of committing gun violence, rather than people who commit lower-level offenses.
#5 Engage meaningfully with the community
For example, strategic planning groups consisting of community stakeholders can develop public safety priorities and coordinate the implementation of programs. Also, communities can play a significant role in recruiting and selecting officers. When law enforcement and community members work collectively to shape policies, all share accountability for the results.