How would we measure “safety” if it was defined by communities themselves?
Recent years have seen many Americans calling for meaningful reforms to how policing is designed and carried out. In this context, a number of American cities have begun “reimagining” public safety.
As communities embark on the work of police reform, some are coalescing on a new vision, centered on upfront investments in collective wellbeing and a set of culturally appropriate wraparound systems. Advocates for this vision want to see effective and equitable policy reforms, resulting in practices that maintain safety while minimizing disproportionate harm to historically marginalized communities — and they want the processes that inform these changes to be both participatory and locally relevant.
The Possibility Lab, in partnership with a diverse array of community-based organizations, has launched an ambitious project in the City of Oakland aimed at better understanding how diverse communities experience and understand safety in their everyday lives. Central to this project is the idea that, in order to actualize meaningful public safety reforms, those most impacted by reforms must play a key role. Individuals in communities that are simultaneously over-policed and under-served by the current public safety infrastructure, especially people of color and low-income residents most impacted by violence, have distinct experiences and understandings of what being and feeling safe entails. Their “webs of meaning” will be critical to reshaping the system, and to holding a reimagined system accountable to their needs.
In this first phase of this work, we are employing methods of community-sourced measurement to develop indicators that reflect how diverse city residents experience complex concepts like “safety” and “wellbeing” in their everyday lives. Ultimately, we will work with the city to design a plan for how to use the indicators as a starting point for designing and testing interventions that can improve public safety. By privileging the daily experiences of residents in their lives and neighborhoods, the process will allow us to help move towards a community-centered process for pursuing criminal justice reform.
This project was made possible with funding from California 100.