Charles Fain Lehman offers three nonpolice, crime-fighting tools to complement police efforts
NEW YORK, NY — Last June, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made headlines by disbanding the city’s plainclothes anticrime unit and suggesting civilian “violence interrupters” could help foster public safety. Throughout the summer, government officials in other states made similar proposals as a broader “defund the police” movement swept the country. But as a growing crime wave threatens cities from Baltimore to Chicago to Oakland, it’s worth evaluating whether such proposals are conducive to public safety. In a new report, Manhattan Institute (MI) fellow Charles Fain Lehman suggests that policies that disempower law enforcement in favor of civilian or other nonpolice alternatives pit the two groups against each other. Instead, the public would be best served by “both/and” approaches, entailing the use of non-policing technology to complement the public safety work police do every day.
Lehman marshals recent data to demonstrate that civilian policing “alternatives” stand on shaky evidentiary ground and, more importantly, are poorly suited to the fundamental function of stopping crime. While some programs can be useful tools for assisting police with cases involving mental illness, homelessness, and addiction, they serve specialized populations and are thus not equipped to handle all police cases. Instead of pushing to replace the police with less efficient alternatives, lawmakers should pursue nonpolice crime-fighting tools that will relieve stress on overtaxed and understaffed police forces, allowing law enforcement to better focus on the urgent task of restoring public safety.
Specifically, Lehman’s report outlines why policymakers should be skeptical at the prospect of replacing the police, either with unarmed municipal officials or through the redirection of police funding. Instead, he offers three non-policing, crime-reduction approaches city officials should purse to complement the police. These include:
Reducing crime through changes to the built environment, such as cleaning up vacant lots and greening public spaces;
Using “nonpolice guardians,” such as neighborhood watches and CCTV cameras, to extend the police’s reach;
Targeting problematic alcohol use, such as an increase in alcohol excise taxes or participation in a 24/7 sobriety program.