As we enter into the new year, we are reminded that police violence and brutality continue to permeate police culture. It is time for collective reform to change problematic policing practices in this country. The People’s Response Act is an answer to alternative methods of policing that encourage the use of mental health professionals and community engagement.
2023 marked the deadliest year for homicides committed by law enforcement, with at least 1,232 murders. Data suggests that there is a consistent pattern of police violence tactics, with an average of three people killed by officers each day. Mapping Police Violence has found that in 2023, Black people were killed at a rate 2.6 times higher than white people. Although Black Americans account for 14% of the total population, 23.5% of people killed by police were Black. As murders by the police rise, the level of accountability remains stagnant. From 2013 to 2022, 98% of police killings have not resulted in officers facing charges. We see it time and time again, where officers face little to no consequences for their actions while families and communities struggle to trust those sworn to protect them.
In 2023, Christian Glass called the police for assistance with car troubles while suffering from a mental health crisis. Instead of helping Christian, police escalated the situation to the point of shooting him five times. At no moment during the altercation did the police call or consult a mental health professional.
The People’s Response Act emphasizes an inclusive, holistic, and health-centered approach to public safety by creating a public safety division within the Department of Human Health and Services — because communities and experts agree that public safety is a matter of public health. It adopts a new approach to public safety that will save lives, and build systems of care that are rooted in improving the well-being of all communities. This approach must be equitable, health-centered, and preventative to stop violence and harm before it occurs while ensuring that every community has what it needs to flourish.
The People’s Response Act takes this much-needed step by:
Creating a new public safety division within the Department of Health and Human Services to fund and coordinate research, technical assistance, and grant programs related to non-carceral, health-centered investments in public safety;
Launching a federal first responders unit that will support state and local governments with emergency health crises;
Research alternative approaches to public safety, including coordination of research and policies that are being implemented across HHS and other agencies to center health-based and non-carceral responses throughout the federal government;
Providing $7.5 billion in grant funding to state and local governments, as well as community-based organizations, to fully fund public safety and improve crisis response;
Establishing a $2.5 billion First Responder Hiring Grant to create thousands of jobs and provide funding to state, local, and tribal government, as well as community organizations, to hire emergency first responders such as licensed social workers, mental health counselors, substance use counselors, and peer support specialists, to improve crisis response and increase non-carceral, health-based approaches to public safety.
Now, more than ever, it is crucial for Congress to step up and support new inclusive, holistic, and health-centered approaches to dealing with crises that will reduce harm and truly keep our communities safe. State, local, and tribal governments across the country are already implementing innovative strategies to prevent violence, reduce harm, and improve the well-being of every community, especially Black and brown communities.
Every community deserves to feel safe, and the traditional system of response fails to deliver the adequate, health-based response our communities need during a time of crisis.