Today, I’m introducing the second part of my plan to improve public safety and provide justice for our community in the Fifth and communities around the country.
Now is the time to holistically reimagine our approach to public safety and the police function. I’m calling for a significant reallocation of resources from the police budget to expand social services that directly improve public safety, including mental health services, housing stability, and education. We can create an effective system that reflects our values and improves safety for all of us. Police will always have a role in preventing and investigating crime, but it’s past time that we invest in community services that promote public safety.
For too long, policing has been the primary solution to all public safety problems, even when police are not trained to effectively address those problems. Throwing police resources at social problems has proven ineffective time and again, while at the same time resulting in massive costs, both social and monetary.
Two of the most prominent failures of policing as the solution to public safety are criminalizing mental illness and homelessness. Policing, arresting, and imprisoning those with mental illness and those experiencing homelessness simply does not reflect our values. These punitive tactics are also dangerous, expensive, and just plain ineffective.
The good news is: we know there are better, more effective and humane solutions. These solutions involve investing in professionals and services that are trained and designed to address these problems in ways that the police are not.
That’s why I’m calling for significant investment in mental and behavioral health first responders. We have proof this model of crisis response works. Some cities are already using these first responders successfully to resolve crises and treat mental illness, while also saving significant money.
I’m also calling to invest in Permanent Supportive Housing to end chronic homelessness. Ending the cycle of homelessness is the right thing to do, and it also makes good fiscal sense—it will save us an estimated $2.5 billion dollars annually. Providing permanent housing stability for all chronically homeless individuals will cost less than what we spend each year on chronically homeless individuals while keeping them homeless.
We also need more teachers and fewer police in our schools. Education is associated with lower rates of violent crime and incarceration. Yet, Minnesota has one of the worst educational achievement gaps in the nation. This is simply shameful. Investing in public education by raising teacher salaries, providing student debt relief to teachers, diversifying our teacher workforce, and funding low-income school districts and community schools with wraparound services is both a moral and a public safety imperative that we can no longer ignore.
Ultimately, true public safety for all rests on equal access to health services, housing stability, and educational and employment opportunity. None of these aims are directly served by heavy police presence in our communities. Let’s reimagine public safety as a broader sphere of community investment and security, with police occupying a more narrow role.