I had the great opportunity to partner with Dr. Nick Crofts of the Centre for Law Enforcement and Public Health (Australia) to serve as the Guest Editor for a special issue of the Journal of Community Safety and Well-Being. The special issue, Envisaging Healthy and Safe Communities, shares lessons from a project we led that sought to document and highlight initiatives across the globe that are taking alternative approaches to promote health and safety.
The special issue, funded with support from Deloitte, was released in July of this year and includes an introductory commentary from Dr. Crofts and I. An excerpt is provided here:
There is a growing recognition globally that we are in urgent need of new approaches to address long-standing societal problems—behavioral health issues, such as drug use and mental health; poverty-related issues, such as homelessness, loitering, and vagrancy; and serious personal crime, namely, gun violence, sexual violence, and gang activity. There is increasing acknowledgment that our usual ways of addressing these problems have not worked or, worse still, have systematically made things worse. This “standard” approach has involved an over-reliance on punishment, coercion, and incarceration, a broad-reaching and one-size-fits-all response to problems which can be highly individualized, contextual, and specific to certain people and places.
In jurisdictions around the world, practitioners, policy-makers, researchers, and community members have noticed an emphasis on punitive, enforcement-based approaches that center on the coercive powers of law enforcement, a steady underinvestment in health and social services, or a public health apparatus that can take its own punitive approach. And, in country after country, we far too frequently see the sectors that are intended to uphold life, safety, and well-being—namely, law enforcement and public health—operate in silos or even in competition, when they are clearly addressing the same problems with the same root causes.
The emerging invigorated interest in alternative responses to the wide range of long-standing societal problems has brought into focus some fundamental questions. What sort of partnerships between relevant sectors can be developed that better address social problems while minimizing harm? What kind of investments can government and international donors make to ensure safe and healthy communities while upholding people’s rights and liberties? How can government, academic, and nongovernmental organizations work together to advance both community safety and public health? And most importantly, rather than go through another cycle of outrage to inaction, or simply make the same criticisms repeatedly without meaningful action, what kind of pragmatic and solutions-focused measures can be taken? What has already been tried, where, how, and what impact did it have? This special edition of the Journal of Community Safety and Well-Being represents a contribution to this dialogue on a new path forward.
When we began looking to respond to these questions, it quickly became apparent that there was little collected information—let alone evidence or rigorous evaluations—publicly available as to what initiatives or strategies already exist and work at the community safety and public health nexus. This is especially the case for community-based initiatives. This is not to say that such projects and initiatives do not exist, but rather that they had not yet received sufficient attention, study, or investment.
In response to this historic moment and need, the Global Law Enforcement and Public Health Association (GLEPHA) launched an ambitious project to help document efforts from countries around the world that have taken alternative approaches to community safety and health needs, by operationalizing a public health-based response and working in partnerships with law enforcement. The project focused on regions around the world—North America, Latin America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Africa, and East Asia—and was carried out by researcher collaborators based in those regions. The hope was to remedy the dearth of information on existing public health and law enforcement projects and to offer a comparative perspective on challenges, opportunities, and strategies for success from countries across the world. The articles in this special issue represent a sample of these findings.