Just Policing
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Just policing requires fairness, transparency, communication, and impartiality when it comes to enforcing the law. Overly punitive policing, such as excessive traffic stops or other stops for suspicion of a violation, can reduce the stability and health of communities, which in turn, reduces the likelihood of economic success among residents and impairs community members’ power and autonomy and the systemic inequity in police enforcement practices in a community

Evidence of the Relationship between Predictor and Related Outcomes

  • Increased police visibility increases the fear of crime and decreases confidence that the police can control crime (Hauser and Kleck 2017). Using data from two nationally representative crime surveys of adults matched with administrative data, researchers predicted that if every officer in the country were to make an additional arrest, confidence in the police would decrease 1.5 percent, controlling for other factors (Hauser and Kleck 2017). This leads to social disorganization, or the inability of a community to maintain social controls (Sampson 1990).
  • A survey of 1,261 young men (ages 18 to 26) in New York City found a relationship between police contact and trauma and anxiety symptoms (Geller et al. 2014).
  • An analysis of neighborhood-level stop-and-frisk data and individual-level health survey data in New York City found that the frequency of frisks and incidents involving the use of force at the neighborhood level were associated with higher levels of nonspecific psychological distress among men (Sewell, Jerfferson, and Lee 2016).
  • Building on existing qualitative research around surveillance and system avoidance, Brayne (2014) conducted a quantitative assessment and found that “individuals who have been stopped by police, arrested, convicted, or incarcerated are less likely to interact with surveilling institutions, including medical, financial, labor market, and educational institutions, than their counterparts who have not had criminal justice contact” (367).
  • Overly punitive policing leads to increased contact with the criminal legal system and higher arrest and incarceration rates. In addition to negative consequences of criminal legal system contact at the individual level, mass arrest and incarceration negatively affects families and communities. Gifford (2019) discusses how high incarceration rates in communities can lead to a loss of working-age adults, increased exposure to infectious diseases, and the shifting of public resources from health and social supports to the criminal legal system, which harms the health of communities.
  • Through ethnographic methods, Haldipur (2018) provides firsthand accounts of the harms of aggressive policing in the South Bronx, concluding that aggressive policing had the effect of making community members feel that public spaces were off limits or inaccessible, thereby damaging community cohesion by splintering connections across community members
  • Manduca and Sampson (2019) use data from the Opportunity Atlas in combination with the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods to find that “the predictive power of the incarceration rate is both highly statistically significant and quite large in magnitude: With higher levels of punitiveness comes lower income mobility, all else equal” (4).
  • People of color experience a disproportionate amount of police-initiated contact compared with white people (Baumgartner, Epp, and Shoub 2018; Davis, Whyde, and Langton 2018Fagan, Davies and Carlis 2012; Fagan et al. 2009; Hetey et al. 2016;). An analysis of data comprising almost 100 million traffic stops across the nation found significant racial disparities in policing (Pierson et al. 2020). The same study used “veil of darkness” methodology to assess the possibility of racism in choices to stop drivers and found that Black drivers were less likely to be stopped after sunset (when one’s race is less identifiable), suggesting the presence of bias in officer decisions to stop drivers (Pierson et al. 2020). In addition to experiencing an increased level of police-initiated contact, people of color are more likely than white people to be searched, have property seized, and be arrested. The same national study on traffic stops found that Black and Latinx drivers were searched more often than white drivers and disproportionately to rates of contraband being found in searches (Pierson et al. 2020). Police are more likely to use force and excessive force against people of color during police contacts (Goff et al. 2016). People of color also have a higher lifetime risk of being killed by police than do white people (Edwards, Lee, and Esposito 2019).

How Investments Can Influence the Predictor at State or Local Levels

Campaign Zero provides a list of evidence-supported initiatives that communities can implement to reduce police violence, including ending “broken windows” policing (trying to address minor disorders and incivility in order to prevent major ones), increasing community oversight, limiting use of force, having independent investigation and prosecution, increasing community representation, implementing body cameras, increasing and improving police training, ending for-profit policing, demilitarizing the police, and fighting for fair police union contracts.

A few cities are exploring alternatives to police response to some calls for services (Batko et al. 2020; Cunningham et al. 2021; Vera 2020). Programs to divert calls for service concerning mental health, such as CAHOOTS and STAR, already existed before 2020. Leaders in some cities have vowed to cut police budgets, though that has not come to fruition in many cities (Kight and Hart 2020; Vera 2020). Other efforts to reduce overly punitive policing include decriminalizing low-level offenses and increasing oversight and accountability (Vera 2020). Research suggests that even police departments would support reduced police budgets if they were charged with fewer tasks, thus supporting efforts to divest from police and shift away from policing as the solution to a multitude of societal problems, instead investing in other community-serving institutions (Vermeer, Woods, and Jackson 2020). Research presents considerations for budget reallocation based on lessons learned in three cities and recommendations to address public safety outside of the criminal legal system and policing (Doyle and Sakala 2021a, 2021b; Sakala and Doyle 2021).


The primary reference is marked with an asterisk.

Batko, Samantha, Sarah Gillespie, Katrina Ballard, Mary Cunningham Barbara Poppe, and Stephen Metraux. 2020. “Alternatives to Arrests and Police Responses to Homelessness: Evidence-based Models and Promising Practices.” Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Baumgartner, Frank R., Derek A. Epp, and Kelsey Shoub. 2018. Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us about Policing and Race. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brayne, Sarah. 2014. “Surveillance and System Avoidance: Criminal Justice Contact and Institutional Attachment.” American Sociological Review 79 (3): 367–91.

Cunningham, Mary, Devlin Hanson, Sarah Gillespie, Michael Pergamit, Alyse D. Oneto, Patrick Spauster, Tracey O’Brien, Liz Sweitzer, and Christine Velez. 2021. “Breaking the Homelessness-Jail Cycle with Housing First: Results from the Denver Supportive Housing Social Impact Bond Initiative.” Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Davis, Elizabeth, Anthony Whyde, and Lynn Langton. 2018. “Contacts between Police and the Public, 2015.” Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Doyle, Libby, and Leah Sakala. 2021a. “Redefining Public Safety: Lessons Learned from Police Budget Reallocation Efforts: Testimony before the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, Council of the District of Columbia.” Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Doyle, Libby, and Leah Sakala. 2021b. “Shifting Police Budgets: Lessons Learned from Three Communities.” Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Edwards, Frank, Hedwig Lee, and Michael Esposito. 2019. “Risk of Being Killed by Police Use of Force in the United States by Age, Race–Ethnicity, and Sex.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116 (34): 16793–98.

Fagan, Jeffrey, Garth Davies, and Adam Carlis. 2012. “Race and Selective Enforcement in Public Housing.” Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 9 (4): 697–728.

Fagan, Jeffrey, Amanda Geller, Garth Davies, and Valerie West. 2009. “Street Stops and Broken Windows Revisited.” Public research paper 09-203. New York: Columbia Law School.

Goff, Phillip A., Tracey Lloyd, Amanda Geller, Steven Raphael, and Jack Glaser. 2016. “The Science of Justice: Race, Arrests, and Police Use of Force.” Los Angeles: Center for Policing Equity.

Geller, Amanda, Jeffrey Fagan, Tom Tyler, and Bruce G. Link. 2014. “Aggressive Policing and the Mental Health of Young Urban Men.” American Journal of Public Health 104 (12): 2321–27.

Gifford, Elizabeth J. 2019. “How Incarceration Affects the Health of Communities and Families.” North Carolina Medical Journal 80 (6): 372–75.

* Haldipur, Jan. 2018. “No Place on the Corner: The Costs of Aggressive Policing.” New York: NYU Press.

Hauser, Will, and Gary Kleck. 2017. “The Impact of Police Strength and Arrest Productivity on Fear of Crime and Subjective Assessments of the Police.” American Journal of Criminal Justice 42 (1): 86–111.

Hetey, Rebecca C., Benoît Monin, Amrita Maitreyi, and Jennifer L. Eberhardt. 2016. “Data for Change: A Statistical Analysis of Police Stops, Searches, Handcuffings, and Arrests in Oakland, Calif., 2013–2014.” Stanford, CA: Stanford University, Social Psychological Answers to Real-World Questions.

Kight, Stef W., and Kim Hart. 2020. “The Cities That Are Already Defunding the Police.” Axios, June 27.

Manduca, Robert and Robert J. Sampson. 2019. “Punishing and Toxic Neighborhood Environments Independently Predict the Intergenerational Social Mobility of Black and White Children.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116 (16) 7772–77.

Pierson, Emma, Camelia Simoiu, Jan Overgoor, Sam Corbett-Davies, Daniel Jenson, Amy Shoemaker, Vignesh Ramachandran, Phoebe Barghouty, Cheryl Phillips, Ravi Shroff, and Sharad Goel. 2020. “A Large-Scale Analysis of Racial Disparities in Police Stops across the United States.” Nature Human Behaviour 4 (7): 736–45.

Sakala, Leah, and Libby Doyle. 2021. “Strengthening Nonpolice Safety Infrastructure in DC.” Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Sampson, Robert J. 1990. “The Impact of Housing Policies on Community Social Disorganization and Crime.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 66 (5): 526–33.

Sewell, Abigail A., Kevin A. Jefferson, and Hedwig Lee. 2016. “Living under Surveillance: Gender, Psychological Distress, and Stop-Question-and-Frisk Policing in New York City.” Social Science & Medicine159: 1–13.

Vera. 2020. “After Weeks of Protests, a Look at Policy Changes in U.S. Policing.” New York: Vera.

Vermeer, Michael J., Dulani Woods, and Brian A. Jackson. 2020. “Would Law Enforcement Leaders Support Defunding the Police? Probably—if Communities Ask Police to Solve Fewer Problems.” Santa Monica, CA: RAND.


Related outcome: Stable and healthy living environment

Mobility dimension engaged: Economic success; power and autonomy; being valued in community