Build Back Better - But for who?*

With updates on election results and new education resources

The election is over. If 2020 was one of the most consequential elections in U.S. history, then the coming year will be one of the most important for public policy. If the election is to “mean something,” we must make it. That means communicating our priorities clearly to local, state, and national representatives – early and often. If you would like, you can modify the letter I shared with you back in June and send it again.

The catch phrase is to build back better, but as always, the question is what are we building back, for whom, and how will it be better. In 2021 let’s commit to elevating the voices of communities impacted most by police violence, economic inequality, racism, and more. Let’s open our eyes to their visions for the future.

In this newsletter I will cover a small piece of that vision, violence prevention without police. Inside you’ll find:

  • Seven research-backed policy proposals that prevent violence without increasing police budgets

  • Some good down ballot election news for criminal justice reform

  • The latest education resources from Civilytics

Next month’s newsletter will recap what happened at Civilytics in 2020 and where we’re going in 2021. As always, I’m thankful for all of you who read and share. This has been (and still is) a trying time. Please take care of yourselves.


Seven ways to stop violence without police

I’ve spoken with many of you about the need to make our communities safer and more resilient and to change our attitudes about the role of policing in public safety. With violence and homicide rates spiking nationwide in cities like Philadelphia and Minneapolis, one of the most important questions I’ve heard is: what alternatives can my city deploy to reduce violence?

The answer is that there are many common sense (i.e. inexpensive, popular, and easy to implement) investments communities can make today to become radically safer. But don’t take my word for it: An excellent new report “Reducing Violence Without Police: A Review of Research Evidence” by a group of leading national scholars on community safety details seven research-backed investments communities can make to become dramatically safer:

  • Improve the Physical Environment

  • Strengthen Anti-Violence Social Norms and Peer Relationships

  • Engage and Support Youth

  • Reduce Substance Abuse

  • Mitigate Financial Stress

  • Reduce the Harmful Effects of the Justice Process

  • Confront the Gun Problem

Reducing Violence Without Police: A Review of Research Evidence. John Jay College Research Advisory Group on Preventing and Reducing Community Violence (2020). New York, NY: Research and Evaluation Center, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York.

Our political system is often tilted in favor of interventionist action, instead of investment in preventative action (h/t John Roman). Let’s change that.


I am highlighting this report in part because there has been a lot of dangerous tsk tsking from “policing experts” who claim that people demanding safer streets, better youth services, and community-based anti-violence programs are somehow amateurs who don’t have evidence to support their claims. I agree that:

Part of the mission at Civilytics is to help refute this anti-democratic technocratic elitism by taking the best parts of social science research and bringing them together with the best parts of democratic problem-solving and community voice. I’m happy to say I will have some big announcements around the next phase of this work very soon.

I’ll add one other thing to this report, which is that there is growing momentum around taking police out of the role of enforcing traffic. Read Philip V. McHarris’s excellent essay recounting a traffic stop he was subjected to and the routine issues raised by how traffic enforcement is done in the United States. 


Good down ballot election news for criminal justice reform

Daniel Nichanian and Anna Simonton  published an excellent review of the election and its impacts for criminal justice reform. A few highlights from their article at the Appeal:

  • 4 states legalized recreational marijuana (including my home state of Montana by a double-digit margin!)

  • California became the 19th state to restore voting rights to anyone not presently incarcerated

  • Prosecutors pledging to reduce jail populations by refusing to prosecute many drug crimes won victories in Travis County (TX), Orange and Osceola counties (FL), Jefferson and Larimer counties (CO), Pima County (AZ), Washtenaw County (MI) and more. Many of these challengers are former public defenders. 

  • Pro-ICE sheriff incumbents were defeated in Cobb and Gwinnett counties (GA) and Charleston County (SC), which will end the ICE 287(g) program deputizing “law enforcement to act like federal immigration agents within county jails.”

  • Challengers pledging to end the presence of police officers in schools (school resource officers) ousted incumbents in a school board race in Gwinnett County (GA) .


The latest education resources by Civilytics

This year Civliytics released two big education products. Please check them out!

Mapping Admissions Prospects (MAP)

Civilytics created a new mapping tool for college admissions offices to develop a recruitment plan based on their institution’s objectives. MAP offers an easy, efficient way to identify public high schools using customizable filters including college readiness indicators, student demographics, and household income. It was developed in collaboration with colleges seekinga user-friendly tool they could adapt to their recruiting plan.

To spread the word I taught myself some video editing skills and made this demo video that shows how the tool works and all its features:

Change demands change. Many colleges have relied on purchasing student information from admission test vendors - a practice that is not an option this year due to less testing, and has been criticized. Now, some colleges are starting to abandon or reduce the influence of the SAT/ACT in the admission process due to criticisms about the equity and fairness of these assessments. These are big changes in the landscape of higher education recruiting and, with MAP, Civilytics seeks to be at the forefront of that change. Check it out today.

Policing the American University

I announced this report in a newsletter all the way back in February, but it has become increasingly relevant as the world is changing around us. Read an updated blurb about it below and access the report online: 

Colleges and universities are wrapping up a fall term unlike any other. COVID-19 has affected decisions about classroom instruction and impacted college budgets. A summer of historical mass demonstrations against police violence has given more attention to calls to defund city police departments. Recently, editorial boards and campus student groups have connected these two events, questioning the need for campus police departments. Campus police departments are now under increased scrutiny at a time when budgets are tight and policing is viewed as a potential threat to – rather than a solution for – safety.

Nearly 7.5 million students attend a college with a campus police department (CPD), according to a new report from Civilytics Consulting. This report provides a first-ever look at CPD staffing levels and arrest patterns and trends for over 800 colleges. The report combines data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) and the U.S. Department of Education to explore where CPDs are found and their role on campus.


* My brilliant editor (and spouse) Hannah told me the title should use the word whom, but it sounded too pretentious for me.