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Reviews | The root cause of violent crime is not what we think it is

Meanwhile, local policies that get close to the cause are delivering results. Dozens of communities show how to stay safe and, in many cases, save money along the way. In Austin, Texas, a 911 call from someone reporting a mental health emergency was previously directed to police. Now, if there is no immediate danger, dispatchers have the option of transferring the call to a mental health clinician. In the first eight months of the program’s launch in 2019, 82% of transferred calls were handled without police involvement, saving taxpayers $1,642,213. In fiscal year 2021, the program was involved in nearly 2,000 appeals. In Brooklyn, youth who entered an alternative program for illegal gun possession had a 22% lower re-arrest rate than their peers who went to jail. In Olympia, Wash., a new police department unit that provides “free, confidential and voluntary crisis assistance” has responded to 3,108 calls since 2019, while minimizing arrests and without harming residents. stakeholders.

Communities that have adopted these approaches have not given up on law enforcement; they just demanded less. In Denver, a five-year randomized controlled trial of a program that provides housing subsidies to people at risk of homelessness found a 40% reduction in arrests among participants. These kinds of results explain why communities from New Jersey to New Mexico are restructuring their local governments to invest in the social determinants of health and safety.

And yet, as I have learned in more than two decades of work in this field, the black hole narrative cannot be changed by statistics alone. If you want policies that actually work, you need to change the political conversation from “tough candidates punishing bad people” to “strong communities keeping everyone safe.” Candidates who care about solving a problem pay attention to what caused it. Imagine a plumber telling you to have more absorbent flooring but not looking for the leak.

Because the old narrative is so entrenched, candidates often assume voters agree with it. But common sense and recent polls show that a majority of voters are concerned about crime and also support changes to how we keep communities safe. This has fueled thousands of local innovations across the country. Municipal governments, community groups and nonprofits are comparing notes on what works. And organizations like One Million Experiments track innovations aimed at producing scalable solutions that don’t rely on punishment. Reducing crime and reducing the use of punishment only seem incompatible if you accept, as the narrative black hole dictates, that the police and prisons are the only solution.

Voters know the status quo does not work. As 2024 approaches, in the interests of public safety, candidates must offer them real alternatives. It’s the only way out of the black hole and into the light.

Phillip Atiba Goff is Chair and Carl I. Hovland Professor of African American Studies and Professor of Psychology at Yale University. He is also co-founder and CEO of the Center for Policing Equity, a nonprofit organization that aims to make policing less racist, less deadly, and less pervasive.

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