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Often, the incentives that police face prioritize arrests and tickets over safer communities. In many cases, states have asked individual officers to devote significant time and resources to what amounts to glorified tax collection instead of preventing crime and solving community problems – the reasons many officers entered the profession in the first place.
The inability to pay one traffic ticket or fine should not lead to incarceration, but it often does. Changing how we enforce fines and fees will prevent people without disposable income from taking up space in a jail and keep them from being separated from their jobs and families. Jails should be reserved for people who pose a true public safety risk.
Taxpayers are on the hook for $48 billion of their hard-earned dollars each year being spent on enforcement, arrests, investigations, prosecutions, and incarceration for individual drug use, including marijuana. These dollars have gone to waste as the rate of drug abuse and addiction have not been positively affected and the number of drug overdose deaths only continue to climb.
The enforcement of our current drug laws also distracts law enforcement from focusing on serious violent crime. While drug-related arrests have risen by more than 350 percent since 1970, the percentage of violent crimes solved by law enforcement has stayed consistently low nationwide. We need more community solutions to address addiction and substance use disorder so that law enforcement can focus their time on preventing and solving serious crime.
Did you know that your car, house or cash can be seized without you even being arrested? Many South Carolinians do now. In just three years, law enforcement confiscated $17 million in cash and property, but 20 percent of those individuals were never charged with a crime. We’re working to end civil asset forfeiture throughout the country.
The challenges to fair policing may seem impossible to solve, and it’s hard to know where to begin.
But there’s a way forward — and it starts by uniting Americans on the ground and in our communities.
It starts with the people closest to the problems themselves.
It starts with you.
Policing in America just isn’t working well for many — least of all Black Americans, police officers, and communities where peaceful protests have given way to destructive riots. Groups on both sides have pitted communities against each other and forced them to choose between equal justice and public safety.
But that’s a false choice. Instead of drawing lines and pitting people against each other, let’s bridge divides and unite to make policing work for everyone. Here’s how we’re working to do it:
Focus policing on more serious crimes. Most arrests in America are for non-violent offenses, like marijuana possession. We can stop criminalizing these offenses so police officers can work to reduce and solve serious crimes that harm people and communities.
Stop creating bad policies for police to enforce. We can eliminate policies like unnecessary fines and fees and civil asset forfeiture and replace them with alternatives for good policing that keeps everyone safe.
Help the people who need help. We can increase access to community solutions that alleviate the root causes of criminal activities like poverty, mental illness, and addiction, instead of simply throwing people behind bars.
Equal justice for all won’t happen overnight — but together we can make a difference for millions of individuals across America to whom equal justice has not been served.