Center for American Progress

Executive Summary: Improving Public Safety Through Better Accountability and Prevention
Fact Sheet

Executive Summary: Improving Public Safety Through Better Accountability and Prevention

This fact sheet summarizes a Center for American Progress report highlighting ways to build lasting public safety through more effective and targeted accountability and greater investments in proven prevention strategies.

NYPD officers patrol in Central Park in New York City on July 8, 2016. (Getty/Kena Betancur)
See also

Crime spikes during and after the COVID-19 pandemic affected every corner of the country and rendered public safety a top concern for many Americans. While many categories of crime declined throughout 2023, these gains have not been felt evenly across the country, and fierce debates remain around causes and solutions. As policymakers, elected officials, and community leaders craft public safety responses, they should resist resorting to punitive strategies such as more aggressive enforcement and increased penalties, as these have failed to secure lasting and inclusive safety and have devastated communities across the country, particularly communities of color.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Improving public safety requires a comprehensive approach that pairs more effective and targeted accountability with greater investment into prevention, and public opinion research reflects robust support for this strategy. Effective accountability acknowledges and repairs wrongdoing while avoiding the harms of the past. Strategies should be locally tailored and aim to reduce future crime by emphasizing rehabilitation and empowering people to rebuild their lives. Policymakers and community leaders should also identify and reject criminal legal system policies that have failed to improve safety or have actively harmed communities. Simultaneously, leaders should prioritize building infrastructure and services that prevent crime and foster well-being in the communities most harmed by crime. Many of these prevention strategies can be implemented at lower costs than arrest and incarceration, and they also hold the greatest promise of durable reductions in crime and violence.

Cities across the country are exploring a wide range of accountability and prevention strategies to reduce crime and improve safety, including expanding the range of services and experts available to meet community needs and building community collaborations focused on preventing crime. Law enforcement plays a key role in addressing and solving serious crime, but communities are increasingly calling for evidence-based approaches that avoid the harms of overpolicing. Strategies that center the people most affected by crime and that emphasize prevention have long been underutilized in relation to law enforcement and incarceration, yet offer a less harmful and more just and effective path to public safety. This fact sheet outlines a two-part framework for accountability and prevention strategies that can improve public safety now and in the future.

Part 1: Make accountability solutions effective and targeted

Leaders should embrace meaningful solutions to hold those responsible for wrongdoing accountable and stop crime and violence. To be effective at reducing crime, accountability should rehabilitate and change behavior, empower people harmed by crime to repair their lives, and focus on reducing future crime.

Solutions to improve responses to serious crime

Serious crime, and gun violence in particular, remains one of the public’s largest safety concerns. Police should focus their resources on reducing crime and violence without perpetuating the harms of aggressive enforcement or overpolicing, and they should build robust community partnerships to target the few people driving the majority of crime. Law enforcement, elected leaders, and community leaders can collaborate on the following solutions to hold accountable those who commit violent crime and reduce violence altogether:

  • Improve the serious crime solve rate by increasing the time and personnel that police dedicate to serious crime investigations, including for nonfatal shootings. Law enforcement should also expand training and support for detectives, lower detective caseloads, hire civilian support for nonenforcement functions, and shift enforcement priorities away from routine traffic and other minor violations.
  • Tailor solutions to community needs through better data collection and collaboration by collecting, analyzing, and sharing firearm-related data and gunshot injuries from multiple agencies. This should include information on gunshot-related deaths and injuries captured by county and city hospitals and involve regular, systemwide reviews of other types of serious crime to build accurate and timely profiles of crime and violence challenges within communities.
  • Improve police-community relations and crime investigation outcomes by eliminating aggressive policing tactics such as “stop and frisk,” chokeholds, and quick-knock and no-knock warrants. Police departments should improve hiring and recruitment tactics to build a more experienced, diverse, and effective police force and improve training and resources for officer wellness and community engagement. Police departments and elected leaders should hold officers accountable for misconduct, violence against civilians, and other forms of corruption.

Solutions to ensure accountability breaks the cycle of crime

People should be held accountable in ways that address underlying issues, deliver holistic and restorative outcomes, and reduce the likelihood of future criminal activity. Most criminal legal system approaches fail to interrupt cycles of crime or put people on a better path. Stakeholders and elected leaders should change accountability strategies to focus on the following solutions:

  • Expand and increase access to community-based diversion and treatment programs that target underlying issues that drive people to commit certain crimes, including pre-booking diversion, prosecutorial-led diversion, and court-based programming. Eligibility for these programs should be expanded to ensure participation by the widest possible range of people, including those charged with felonies, those charged with both first-time and repeat offenses, and people who cannot afford program fees.
  • Ensure age-appropriate accountability strategies for children that recognize their unique developmental stage and allow for growth and change. This includes prioritizing supportive services such as counseling, social services, and mental health care in schools over police presence; implementing school-based restorative justice practices that prioritize mediation and repair; and employing diversion programs as early as possible once a child has become involved with the juvenile legal system.
  • Eliminate barriers for people with criminal convictions and provide them with meaningful second chances by removing barriers to rebuilding their lives. This includes increasing the supply of and expanding access to safe and affordable housing, passing automatic record expungement measures, banning questions about criminal records on employment and training program applications, and increasing access to safety net programs including health care and food assistance.

Solutions to prioritize supporting crime survivors and victims

Robust and timely victim services are instrumental to interrupting cycles of retaliatory violence, as many perpetrators were first victims who never received the necessary treatment, services, or support to address their trauma. They can also improve police investigations by fostering trust between crime survivors and law enforcement. The following solutions prioritize supporting crime survivors and victims:

  • Interrupt cycles of retaliatory violence through comprehensive, culturally relevant, and trauma-informed services immediately after a crime and throughout the investigation. The most impactful supports include trauma recovery and other hospital-based intervention programs that offer medical services and wraparound support for people at risk of further violence and additional services such as housing, relocation, legal, and financial support.
  • Expand victim compensation funding streams to increase available resources, incentivize collaboration across providers, and reduce reliance on criminal fines and fees. State and federal administrators of victim services and funds should also remove harmful exclusions to ensure support reaches those who have been historically excluded, including gunshot victims, people perceived as contributing to their own victimization, and people with prior criminal offenses or outstanding fines.

Part 2: Invest in proven prevention strategies

Investing in prevention strategies will improve public safety by changing the conditions that give rise to crime. A wide range of approaches that can have both an immediate and long-term impact on crime are available to policymakers.

Solutions to prevent harm caused by guns

One of the most significant factors driving violent crime is easy access to firearms. States that have weaker gun laws are experiencing higher homicide rates, faster increases in mass shootings, and higher rates of police officer fatalities than states with strong gun laws. State and federal legislators can adopt the following policies to reduce gun violence:

  • Pass extreme risk protection order laws, which create civil remedies to allow the temporary removal of weapons from individuals who pose a high risk of violence to themselves or others.
  • Adopt child access prevention and safe storage laws, which require secure storage of locked and unloaded firearms, preventing theft and unauthorized access by others, and which impose penalties on gun owners if a failure to properly secure a firearm results in access by a child.
  • Pass permit-to-purchase laws that require an individual to apply to local or state law enforcement, complete a thorough background check with fingerprinting, and complete a firearms safety course in order to purchase a firearm.
  • Create accountability for the gun industry by repealing federal protections that created unprecedented immunity for gun manufacturers, dealers, and advertisers from civil lawsuits, even in the cases of negligence and criminal or unlawful misuse of a firearm or ammunition.

Solutions to expand  the public safety workforce

Communities face a wide range of social challenges that police are poorly equipped to address and that divert resources from investigating and solving serious crime. Leaders should expand the suite of community-based, civilian-led services and resources available to people in crisis and vulnerable communities, including those at risk of violence, and ensure government infrastructure exists to coordinate and support these strategies:

  • Establish and expand community responder programs that reduce the burden on law enforcement and more effectively respond to community needs by dispatching specialized teams of experts—including nurses, paramedics, peer specialists, social workers, behavioral health specialists, and mediators—to situations that do not require armed officer involvement.
  • Develop and sustain community violence interventions that interrupt cycles of violence and retaliation by conducting targeted outreach to people most at risk of violence through credible, community-based organizations that can mediate conflict, connect individuals to resources, and collaborate across social services to address unmet needs.
  • Build local government infrastructure to support community partnerships, including establishing dedicated offices within city governments that can coordinate a whole-of-government and community-centered approach to public safety, develop comprehensive public safety plans, and provide support for an ecosystem of community organizations and service providers.

Solutions to increase services and resources for underserved communities

To build lasting safety, historically marginalized and neglected communities need investments in the kinds of institutions that create stable communities and foster well-being. Federal, state, and local leaders can adopt both immediate and long-term strategies to improve access to each of these community institutions:

  • Expand access to public health and housing resources that reduce crime and the conditions that lead to crime, including expanding access to Medicaid and substance abuse treatment centers, increasing the supply of affordable, high-quality housing; providing rental assistance; and improving housing infrastructure.
  • Increase economic opportunities in disinvested communities that are proven to reduce crime—including subsidizing youth summer jobs and subsidizing employment for individuals at high risk of violence in conjunction with support services—and providing direct assistance to people experiencing sudden financial shocks, such as eviction or homelessness.
  • Protect and empower young people by providing them with opportunities to learn positive social and conflict resolution skills; investing in before- and after-school programs for at-risk young people; providing school-based support; and providing targeted, wraparound violence intervention services for young people who have been affected by violence.
  • Improve the built environments of neighborhoods that have been systematically disinvested from, neglected, redlined, and segregated by removing or repairing abandoned homes and those of low-income residents, turning vacant lots into parks and green spaces, increasing tree canopy, and increasing street lighting.


Durable and equitable safety requires a comprehensive set of strategies that improve accountability for both the people and systems that cause harm alongside investment into infrastructure and services that prevent crime altogether. Elected and community leaders should act swiftly to identify critical safety challenges and collectively commit to building locally tailored, community-centered policies that create thriving neighborhoods.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Lindsey McLendon

Senior Fellow, Criminal Justice Reform

Rachael Eisenberg

Managing Director, Rights and Justice

Nick Wilson

Senior Director, Gun Violence Prevention


Criminal Justice Reform

We focus on developing policies to shrink the justice system’s footprint, improve public health and safety, and promote equity and accountability.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.