Politics of Crime and Safety

Politics of Crime and Safety

Safety is achieved through solutions, not scare tactics.

The conventional wisdom among politicians has long been that safety is delivered through “tough-on-crime” approaches like more police, more jails, and more prisons. But voters know better. Across the country, in big cities and small towns, the failure and injustice of mass incarceration is clear. Communities understand that real safety comes from solutions that prevent crime in the first place, not just reactive measures like police, courts, and incarceration. 

It’s time to get the facts straight about the politics of crime. People want safety, accountability, and justice. Vera Action’s public opinion research and polling shows that voters want a comprehensive approach to safety; one that prioritizes investing in the things that keep communities safe in the first place, like good schools, housing, and mental health care, over a narrow “tough-on-crime” approach. 

Safety

Voters across the board see comprehensive solutions that tackle the root causes of crime as more effective than so-called “tough-on-crime” policies. This is especially true for voters who are most likely to be concerned about crime in their own communities.

Our extensive research shows that preventing crime and delivering safety is a priority. After being presented with two approaches to public safety – “tough-on-crime” versus crime prevention – 56 percent of voters preferred crime prevention, over 43 percent who prefer “tough on crime.” When you pull out Black and Latino voters, who are most likely than white voters to say they are concerned about crime where they live, support for the crime prevention approach jumps up to 72 percent and 60 percent respectively. A comprehensive approach is broadly popular and is supported by suburban voters and Independent women, 58 percent and 57 percent, respectively.

Voters prefer comprehensive prevention over a “tough-on-crime” approach.
GQR survey commissioned by Vera Action (August 2023)

Accountability

A solutions-based approach to crime prevention demands accountability for everyone: personal accountability when someone commits a crime as well as accountability for the police, prosecutors, courts, jails, and prisons that carry the responsibility of ensuring safety and justice for the public. 

Accountability when someone commits a crime means people taking full responsibility for their actions, including understanding the harm they’ve done, making amends, and changing their behavior–and the majority of voters prefer accountability over a punishment approach. 

Voters prefer an accountability approach for dealing with crime.
PerryUndum Survey commissioned by Vera Action (June 2023)

Accountability also extends to the people entrusted with enforcing the law and operating courts, jails, and prisons. 90 percent of voters agree—and 63 percent strongly agree—that “we need more accountability at all levels. The criminal justice system needs to be accountable for public safety and fairness. There needs to be accountability for people who break the law. Police should be held accountable for excessive force. Elected officials need to be accountable to voters when they spend billions on things that don’t work.” 

Justice

The notion that you can have safety or justice, but not both, is a false choiceand one that communities reject. Our research reveals that voters understand that the “tough-on-crime” status quo is not making us safer. There is wide support for comprehensive prevention-first strategies that advance both safety and justice. For example, when asked the most effective solutions to fighting crime, more voters select addressing underlying economic conditions (56 percent), increasing access to mental health care (61 percent), and ensuring public safety and not wealth determines who stays in jail pending trial (57 percent) than traditional “toughoncrime” solutions such as adding more police (43 percent) and longer sentences (38 percent). 

Voters are demanding solutions over "tough-on-crime" rhetoric.
GQR fall 2023 national survey commissioned by Vera Action.
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