5 ways to make our streets safer (and police better)

Solutions

STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT – OCTOBER 24: Stamford Police Department officer Melanie Miscoiscia speaks to eighth grade students about internet safety and cyberbullying at the Scofield Magnet Middle School on October 24, 2022 in Stamford, Connecticut. Police officers in the department’s community outreach program have been addressing students citywide at the invitation of school administrators. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that student incidents of cyberbullying are highest in middle schools, and children ages 11-14 spend an average of 9 hours of screen time per day nationwide. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

(NewsNation) — Although Americans feel crime in their neighborhoods is getting worse year to year, police departments and communities are devising unique strategies to reduce crime.

The historic increase in homicides that occurred in 2020 has brought with it greater concern over public safety. According to Gallup surveys, “Americans are more likely now than at any time over the past five decades to say there is more crime in their local area than there was a year ago.”

Many Americans continue to support “major changes” to policing in order to make the institution more accountable and effective.

Across the United States, people are working to make our streets safer and policing better. Here are some of the solutions NewsNation highlighted over the past year.

Using street lighting to stop crime

In 2016, New York City engaged in an ambitious experiment that placed temporary light towers outside several public housing developments.

A study released this year found that these lights had a substantial impact on major crimes like robbery and aggravated assault, and nighttime index crimes dropped by 36%.

As crime went down, arrests didn’t go up.

“What I take from that is that it’s not just about lighting. There is some kind of demonstration and signaling effect here that you’re letting people know this is an area that’s being watched. This is an area that’s being cared for,” said Aaron Chalfin, a University of Pennsylvania criminologist who conducted the study.

Training police to intervene against misconduct

Earlier this year, the University of Colorado Boulder police started training with a new program called the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) Project. The goal of the training is to give police a set of skills they can use to intervene to stop fellow officer misconduct when it happens or to prevent it from happening in the first place.

“I think the best part of my job is having officers who call me or email me and say, ‘I did this thing that I would never have done without ABLE, but because I did it, someone didn’t get hurt,” said Lisa Kurtz, who directs the program. “Someone didn’t get in trouble. Someone didn’t do something they regretted.”

More than 260 agencies have joined ABLE, which is run out of Georgetown University.

Give kids meaningful summer jobs

Nineteen-year-old Boston resident Virginia Lathrop spent this past summer as a paid intern at a local architectural firm.

“I think an unpaid internship would’ve been less accessible because then one would’ve had to choose between having a job to support themselves and having an educational internship,” she said.

The internship was set up by the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) — a research-backed project that has been shown to reduce youth involvement in crime.

Many cities across the United States, from New York City to Chicago, run SYEPs with the intent of giving kids meaningful jobs and helping steer them away from bad behavior. The likelihood of arrest among participants dropped 12% in New York City, one study found.

Fighting crime by looking at places, not people

Police in Kansas City, Missouri, have been one of a few agencies pioneering a new approach to crime called risk-based policing.

Rather than focusing purely on arrests and enforcement in order to lower the crime rate, risk-based policing tasks police to identify places that attract crime like boarded-up buildings or areas with broken street lamps.

Then they work with community groups to fix these places up, which eventually results in attracting less crime.

Rutgers University criminologist and former police officer Joel Caplan, who has helped pioneer the strategy, said that risk-based policing changes the conversation “from where the problem is and who’s doing it to what is it about these places that can be made safer?”

The results were surprising, with a 22% reduction in crime in the areas targeted.

Using mental health workers to handle some calls

Police in St. Petersburg, Florida teamed up with mental health workers to respond to some emergency calls to take some strain off department resources and offer those in crisis help from trained professionals.

The program, named Community Assistance and Life Liaison (CALL) has shown signs of success, including a 17% reduction in suicides in 2021 despite an increase in suicide-related emergency calls.

They can’t replace police in many cases, but for the calls they do take, responders have a wide range of resources at their disposal.

“Somebody is staggering in the middle of the road, instead of arresting them for public intoxication [we say] hey, do you want to get help?” CALL program manager Tianna Audet said. “We can bring you to detox. We can get you connected with those mental health services that you may need.”

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