We believe it is time for a national conversation about what public safety means, and how it is best achieved.

Many people think of the police when they hear “public safety.” Yet, it is remarkable how little policing has changed over the years, even as society has changed around it. Today, as was true over fifty years ago, we seek to achieve “public safety” largely with agencies whose primary tools are the use of persuasion, force and enforcement of the laws. Public safety means freedom from crime, violence, and disorder. But it must mean much more than that. It requires that everyone be safe, including from the government. It means addressing social problems in ways that promise the best outcomes for everyone, and for society.

At the Policing Project, we believe the challenges of public safety in the 21st century demand that we escape preconceived notions of what public safety is and how it should be achieved, and think broadly about how to do better. True public safety must include addressing social problems that traditional law enforcement, acting alone, cannot. Some social problems should involve the police minimally, others not at all. This likely will require re-imagining what policing agencies of the future will look like, but it also means thinking critically about how government agencies (including the police) ought to work in concert.

Partnering with others, we are organizing a nationwide effort to re-imagine policing and public safety. It will involve research, rethinking and pilot projects.