When I ran for mayor of New York City last year, it was clear that we did not need more police. We had 36,000 uniformed officers. What we didn’t have was significant mental health crisis response, mental health services and social workers in every school, and enough resources for violence interrupters—people who returned to communities from prisons after being part of the problem and who become part of the solution, preventing crime before the police need to be called. We also have a successful experiment that shows, even in one of our most dangerous crime corridors in a low-income Black neighborhood, that asking the police to step back and allow the community violence interrupters to intervene actually produced lower crime rates and higher feelings of safety. The great thing about this model is that it relies on and supports something many Black voters want: better relationships with their police officers.
Biden’s proposal has very important plans to fund more violence interruption, more mental health crisis response, and other important steps to prevent bad things from happening to people or to have the right responders to a problem that may not require the police. Police-community relationships and violence prevention, in my experience, are very important to Black voters, who were also disillusioned with the failure of the Senate to pass police accountability reforms last year. Supporting retention where needed, shared with real accountability for safe, fair policing, seems to be a way to talk about smarter public safety.
The current proposal would fund these new police officers to support “community policing.” That sounds good, but it is undefined. In fact, the grants program that funnels the money, run by the Department of Justice, called the Community Oriented Policing Services program, has not had sufficient oversight or accountability. There are real questions about the effectiveness of the COPS program. Cities with COPS grants have also had serious cases of police misconduct, like Baltimore, Cleveland, and Charleston. The civil rights community has been raising concerns about accountability. The intention is good, but we have to focus on the impact.