WASHINGTON, DC – Despite crime rates being at their lowest levels in more than 30 years, the U.S. continues to maintain large and increasingly militarized police units, spending more than $100 billion every year, according to a report released by the Justice Policy Institute.
The report continues to say police forces have grown from locally-funded public safety initiatives into a federally subsidized jobs program, with a decreasing focus on community policing and growing concerns about racial profiling and “cuffs for cash,” with success measured not by increased safety and well-being but by more arrests.
Called Rethinking the Blues: How we police in the U.S. and at what cost, the report highlights the negative effects of over-policing by detailing how law enforcement efforts contribute to a criminal justice system that disconnects people from their communities, fills prisons and jails, and costs taxpayers billions. The report also highlights both alternatives to improve public safety and examples of effective community policing efforts.
“With an increase in police surveillance - from traffic cameras, to police video equipment monitoring certain neighborhoods, to the use of drones - as well as the continued presence of over 714,000 police officers, the U.S. has become too reliant on punitive approaches to public safety and not enough on alternatives,” stated Paul Ashton, a primary author of the report. “And with the combination of dropping crime rates and performance measured by number of arrests, police are devoting more and more time to arresting people for drug abuse offenses.”
Ashton also pointed out that with the number of laws criminalizing various behaviors skyrocketing – there are about 50 percent more offenses in the federal code now than there were in the early 1980s – police often feel compelled to enforce a variety of laws that may or may not have a real impact on public safety.
“We need to return to more community-centered law enforcement,” said Tracy Velázquez, JPI’s Executive Director, “and adopt a more balanced approach to how we spend dollars to make our communities safer - one that includes more treatment and other services that can keep people from coming into contact with police in the first place. And in tight economic times, the reality is if we keep overspending on police, we’ll have fewer resources available for other more effective public safety strategies.”
The report also highlights the disparate impact of our current policing on communities of color. Although African Americans comprise 13 percent of the population, they make up 31 percent of arrests for drug offenses.
Overall, blacks are arrested at over twice the rate per capita as whites. There are a number of reasons for this, but concentrating more police in certain neighborhoods, and subjective practices such as New York City’s ‘stop and frisk’ program, play a large role in funneling more people of color into the justice system.This ultimately results in higher rates of incarceration, and more people with diminished life prospects due to the challenges formerly incarcerated people face after release.