One of the fundamental issues with policing today, identified by community members and police officials alike, is that police have become responsible for dealing with a growing number of social problems.
Police have been overburdened with tasks outside of their expertise—such as dealing with homelessness, drug use, educational discipline and mental illness. Oftentimes, police are called to deal with issues that social workers, mental health experts, teachers, or other community members are better equipped to deal with.
Many communities have created community based alternatives aimed at addressing issues of public safety that do not rely on police intervention or incarceration. For decades, communities across the world have recognized the limitations and dangers of overreliance on police and punitive state policies. People from South Africa to Brooklyn have created and sustained community based organizations, safe spaces, and institutions that more holistically and humanely deal with community violence or anti-social behavior.
Community based programs aimed at reducing the need for police intervention can be established at the street, school, city, or state level and include: street outreach workers to prevent community violence, community based mediators to deescalate potentially violent situations, and restorative justice programs to deal with community conflict.
Restorative Justice: Restorative justice, as an example of an alternative to police and incarceration, has a long history in Canada, parts of South America and Southern Africa. Restorative justice deemphasizes punishment and focuses on making communities whole after incidents of violence or trauma. It uses techniques such as mediation, dialogue, and reconciliation. Restorative justice has been used by police, cities and schools throughout the country. Some government run programs include the threat of punitive consequences—which in many ways detracts from the purpose of instituting alternatives. Nonetheless, we have included examples of both state and community sponsored restorative justice programs in order to provide a variety of potentially helpful resources.
- The peacemaking program at the Red Hook Community Justice Center uses traditional Native American practices to resolve disputes that originate in either the justice system (in the form of a court case) or in the community. Peacemaking sessions, which are facilitated by trained peacemakers from the community, are designed to enable those affected by the dispute to “talk it out” and reach a consensus agreement for restitution and repair: http://www.courtinnovation.org/project/peacemaking-program
- The International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) works with licensees and affiliates around the world to make certain restorative practices are presented in a culturally appropriate manner and that programs are affordable and sustainable within the framework of local needs and resources: http://www.iirp.edu/
- The Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth Program works to mitigate the consequences of punitive school and juvenile justice policies by promoting institutional shifts toward restorative approaches that actively engage families, communities, and systems to repair harm and prevent re-offending: www.rjoyoakland.org
Community Anti-Violence Programs: Many communities from Detroit to Los Angeles have created community based programs aimed at leveraging the power and expertise of community members to patrol their neighborhoods and curb violence before it starts, so that police and state intervention are unnecessary. Some examples of community anti-violence programs include:
- Audre Lorde Project’s The Safe Neighborhood Campaign seeks to empower community members to be proactive in preventing anti-LGBTST violence, intervene when violent situations arise, and build stronger relationships between LGBTST people of color, our allies and the community as a whole: http://alp.org/community/sos
- CURE Violence is a state supported program which seeks to use community members to deter and deescalate violent situations in communities. Many organizations have noted that once programs are state-sponsored they may be co-opted or include undesirable punitive consequences: http://cureviolence.org/
For additional resources on alternatives to policing and examples of successful programs:
- Rose City Cop Watch “Alternatives to Policing” https://rosecitycopwatch.wordpress.com/alternatives-to-police/
- Listing of local programs from across the country: http://www.derailthejail.org/site_derail/Alternatives.aspx