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Racial Justice

How We Can Reimagine Public Safety

News & Analysis

Policing in the United States has a long and troubled history. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others brought police racism and violence sharply into focus, and spurred a national conversation about reimagining public safety. The Minneapolis police killing of Amir Locke while executing a no knock warrant has added fuel to these concerns.

People For the American Way believes that while federal legislation can help, it’s time to look to local governments for forward-thinking solutions to this urgent problem. We strongly support one of these approaches, the Ithaca Model.

What Is the Ithaca Model?

While serving as mayor of Ithaca, New York, People For the American Way Executive Director Svante Myrick proposed a dramatic restructuring of the city’s public safety structure. The city would replace its traditional police department and create a new Department of Public Safety. The new department would be run by a civilian director. It would include both armed officers and unarmed first responders. The goal would be to reduce the frequency of sending armed officers to address situations that really call for social workers, medical or mental health personnel. These situations could involve residents experiencing mental health crises, crises arising from homelessness, and other challenges. Changing the city’s policy to an unarmed response in these cases dramatically reduces the risk of violence or injury to residents, and makes everyone safer.

The Ithaca City Council voted unanimously to adopt the plan.

How Can the Ithaca Model Help Other Communities Reimagine Public Safety?

People For the American Way believes the Ithaca Model can be adopted by communities nationwide. We are excited to share this model with governments that want to reimagine public safety. Our Young Elected Officials network, composed of progressive legislators, mayors and other officials at all levels of government across the country, is our primary way of sharing the Ithaca Model with leadership in other communities.

Federal Legislation Can Help, But Communities Should Act Now

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed in the House, but was blocked by Republicans in the Senate. The Act called for eliminating police use of chokeholds, no-knock-warrants and other abusive practices. A number of municipalities have taken steps to eliminate these practices on their own.

We welcome any steps toward ending racism and violence in public safety and law enforcement. At the same time, we believe communities should think holistically about truly transformative changes to public safety, beyond regulating individual practices. Police violence is a national problem, but the greatest promise for ending it is at the local level where police and public safety departments are controlled. If we start by transforming public safety in the Key Metro Areas where the majority of Black U.S. residents live, we can save and protect many lives right now.