How to Re-Invent Crime Prevention

6 ways to upgrade police, 17 crime prevention ideas and 7 anti-crime concepts

a cartoon about defunding police and how it will actually benefit police
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My plan is to continue adding to this page as I come up with new ideas. If you can think of anything I’ve missed, please leave a comment and I may add them.

Police are not the enemy:

Any move to “defund” the police should make the promise that if we need to lay off any officers, we must guarantee them paid college education, job placement services and moving expenses as part of their severance packages. We need to work with, and take care of our police, not abandon them. If we don’t do this, they will fight us every step of the way and we won’t get anything done.

Let’s say “re-invent crime prevention”, “modernize the police”, or “upgrade law-enforcement” instead of “defund the police”. There are lots of ways we could improve policing to make it more rational, compassionate and scientific without necessarily defunding it. We need to keep those options on the table.

We’ve all heard the calls to end qualified immunity, to require officers to stop police brutality in their colleagues and to hire officers who actually live in the neighborhoods they police. These would likely improve our current situation, but what I want to talk about are ways to completely re-imagine policing and crime prevention. Let’s start thinking outside the box on this issue.

Ideas to re-invent the police:

The best way to upgrade the police is to make mental-health professionals integral to the profession. We should be pushing toward a situation where police departments have as many mental health professionals on the payroll as they have officers. What specifically these mental health professionals would do could be adjusted based on incoming crime data and feedback from the police and community. We could start by simply hiring teams of mental health professionals and allow them to experiment with different programs within the police department. Here are a few ideas to start with:

  1. Police should have virtual mental-health professionals as assistants available to them at any moment. Police should have the option to have a therapist on video chat at any moment to help the officer with their mental health, give advice on how to handle a situation, or speak directly to a troubled citizen. This therapist’s chat could even be transferred over to a victim’s device so the therapist can stay on scene virtually to counsel people after the officer has left.
  2. Police should receive regular mental health training, a couple hours a week, even if it’s over video chat. There needs to be independent oversight to make sure the training is taken seriously by both the officers and the trainers and that relevant information is being taught. Officers would be paid their regular salary for this time. The training itself needs to get a decent budget. If the officers see the training as a joke, the training itself may need to be redesigned.
  3. We need to experiment with teaching police to speak kindly instead of aggressively to suspects.
  4. Police departments should offer a “discussion session” for anyone who accuses a police officer of misconduct or even if a person is simply bothered by normal police behavior. If I file a complaint against a police officer, I should be guaranteed, regardless of the validity of my complaint, the option to meet with the officer over video chat, have my complaint heard, and have the meeting moderated by a mental health professional. This meeting would be focused on emotion and healing from an upsetting episode. And of course the officer would continue being paid for this time.
  5. Likewise, police officers who have been traumatized or otherwise harmed by criminals should have a similar system in place for them to speak directly to the offending party. Again, a mental health professional would be required to moderate and the officer would be paid for their time. Officers should be encouraged to do this, even if they don’t feel it necessary as this may be a very effective way to show criminals the real-world harm they are doing.
  6. We could have mental health professionals literally out on the streets, just talking to homeless and other at-risk people. Their job would be to gather information about the community so we can better understand how to prevent crime. They would also offer free on-the-fly counseling and advice, gently steering at-risk individuals toward a better life.

Ideas to prevent crime long-term:

  1. We need a “911” for mental health. Something where anyone can call whenever they feel a domestic violence, or similar situation brewing. This could be an expansion and improvement of existing suicide hotlines. Someone in need could be instantly connected with a counselor on video chat. Like suicide hotlines, this would need to be separate from the police system so that people trust counselors not to simply prosecute them.
  2. More school counselors, particularly counselors who have some kind of autonomy to go out and find the at-risk youth who do not normally volunteer to go to counseling.
  3. More victims support groups.
  4. Work today/paid today company. A place where homeless people can show up in the morning and get a job for just that day and get paid in cash at the end of the day.
  5. More walk-in or call-in mental health clinics (these could be for-profit if necessary).
  6. Tax breaks for any mental health related business.
  7. More organizations that give kids something to do. Board games, skate boarding, even video game organizations could help steer kids away from crime, especially the ones that are accessible to the poorest kids.
  8. The Gift of Fear is a book written for everyday people about how to predict, prevent and protect yourself from violence. This book should be in every library, school and shelter.
  9. Conflict resolution and self defense classes for adults, with some classes dedicated specifically to women, particularly classes that teach people how to recognize and intervene in other people’s violent situations.
  10. Make non-violent conflict resolution and compassionate reasoning into standard and regular parts of curriculum in public schools.
  11. We need housing for the most at-risk people, not just for single-mothers. We need to get homeless people into some kind of home, even if it’s a one room apartment with a shared bathroom. We will need to allow drugs and alcohol in some of these residences, however. This is the only option to avoid people refusing the housing. This has proven to be a problem in other cities so we need to experiment with ideas such as having drug abuse counselors regularly visiting tenants, gently and compassionately pushing them toward treatment options.
  12. Better drug treatment programs with better access for poor people.
  13. More drug intervention programs that utilize families to help steer people away from crime.
  14. Interventions could be used for lots of different behavior patterns beyond just drug use.
  15. Parenting classes and counseling for families of at-risk kids.
  16. Work to ensure homeless people have equal access to government assistance programs. Too often low-income people with homes are able to apply for these programs but the people most in need are left out.
  17. We need to do more to work directly with churches, teachers and community leaders to get their input about what works and also to give them resources to affect change within their community.

General concepts regarding criminal justice:

  1. We should push people to say things like “criminals should be treated in the way that most efficiently and effectively convinces them to change their behavior” instead of things like, “criminals need to be punished” or “there needs to be consequences for crime”.
  2. We need to get away from this feeling that it’s unfair or wrong to hand a bunch of expensive services to people who haven’t “earned it”. Sure, it doesn’t seem fair that a homeless person might be rewarded with expensive therapy and a free apartment simply for being a drug addict, but we need to remember that the alternative for society is actually worse. Putting a person in prison is far more costly to taxpayers. It’s better to spend the money up-front to help people get back into society so they can contribute to the economy.
  3. Whenever we arrest a criminal we should have a policy of strict cost-benefit analysis of the goal instead of jumping straight to prosecution. The goal must always be to prevent future crimes; not to provide punishments. If it’s a drug crime, for example, we must gauge the cost of drug treatment versus the cost of prison and compare the likelihood of each working to actually prevent the crime in the future. If someone is stealing to pay their rent, it is much cheaper for taxpayers and better for the economy to assist them with payments than it is to put them in jail. Mandatory anger-management, meditation and couples counseling will likely be more effective than jails for domestic violence issues.
  4. This will all take a lot of experimentation. But we need to start experimenting immediately. We can’t delay changes just because certain things might not work as well as we hope. We need to implement changes as soon as possible and then adjust as we get more information about what is and isn’t effective. The suffering resulting from the current system is far too intense and volatile for us to hesitate on this.
  5. Remember these are long term solutions instead of short-term band-aids so it’s a very different paradigm from traditional policing. Things could get real confusing real quickly so we need to carefully follow long term science.
  6. Remember crime statistics are tricky. They are based on so many factors beyond just crime. Only a tiny percentage of crimes are actually reported. Police being kind to victims could cause more to come forward, increasing the statistics. Different cultures may also have wildly different values about when to call the police.
  7. The whole concept of “crime” is tricky and overly complicated because different people and jurisdictions have different definitions of what counts as crime. What we are really trying to accomplish is an overall sense of wellbeing and safety in society, which is incredibly more complex than just looking at crime. This is why it’s more important to listen to researchers and mental health professionals who are actually talking to people in the community than it is to look at crime statistics.

Kalin Ringkvist is a queer, atheist, web developer, science fiction author, real estate investor, and police brutality survivor. In 2020 he is taking a break from the personal data organizer application he’s building to write about current social issues, particularly the call to defund or re-invent the police.

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