Ten Action Ideas For Building A Police-Free Future

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Imagine that you were asked to help create stability in a newly-founded city. How would you try to solve the problems that your friends and neighbors encountered? How would you respond to crisis and violence? Would your *first* choice be an unaccountable army with a history of oppression and violence patrolling your neighborhood around the clock?

— from Enough is Enough: A 150-Year Performance Review of the Minneapolis Police Department

What makes a community healthy and safe? This document doesn’t have all the answers, but it acknowledges that for many of us, police are not part of the solution. Patterns of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and bullying are too common. When someone is having a mental health crisis, or when neighbors are concerned about a fellow neighbor, or when we feel unsafe– are the police our only option? Of course, different communities have different needs. Vibrant, dynamic, and police-free communities aren’t going to be created by outside groups– they’re going to bloom from the soil that already exists in those spaces. What we can share here, though, is what that process has looked like elsewhere. Here are a few tools, ideas, and strategies:

1. An easy one: STOP calling the police when it’s clearly unnecessary.
We can’t tell you to never call the police (though some do make that choice). We can challenge you, however, to reflect on that choice, to make sure that calling them isn’t an automatic response to each and every moment of personal discomfort or uncertainty. Never forget: an inconvenience for one person, once police are involved, can become a death sentence for another person.

2. Get trained in first aid, crisis de-escalation, restorative justice, etc.
The more skills we have to share with our neighbors and family, the less we have to rely on unaccountable armed paramilitary forces! Find or organize local trainings, and share that knowledge.

3. Build community all the time, not just in times of trouble.
It isn’t just about building capacity as individuals; it’s about cultivating resilient communities. One of the first steps we can take toward communities that no longer need police is meeting one another. We can know our neighbor’s names. We can hold potlucks, volunteer to help our neighbors with simple things like shoveling snow or carrying groceries, and build real relationships. That way, when crises happen, we have other resources to call upon besides the police.

As Critical Resistance’s Abolitionist Toolkit puts it: It can be as simple as asking a friend a basic question: “If I needed to, could I call you?” or telling someone “If you ever needed someone, you could call me.” We know that this is nothing like a perfect solution. But we have to begin to try out what solutions might work, especially because know that calling the police doesn’t.

4. If you DO need police, go to them instead of calling them to you.
From the zine, 12 Things to Do Instead of Calling the Cops: If something of yours is stolen and you need to file a report for insurance or other purposes, consider going to the police station instead of bringing cops into your community. You may inadvertently be putting someone in your neighborhood at risk.

5. With mental health crises, remember to center the person in crisis.
From the article 5 Ways to Help Someone in a Mental Health Emergency Without Calling the Police (Tastrom):

Remember that the person having the mental health crisis is a person and their wishes should be followed as much as is safe. The best intervention strategies will be things that the person buys into and does voluntarily. Those of us with mental health issues have likely been traumatized by doctors and other practitioners not listening to us or doing things against our will. All of this is contextual and there are no absolutes, but think about trauma when you are considering what actions to take.

6. Make a list of local services/hotlines you can call instead of the police.
From domestic abuse crisis centers, to shelters for people experiencing homelessness, to mental health support groups, to a range of other kinds of advocates and service-providers, find the people who can deal with the kinds of crises that police so often are not equipped to handle. Find out which ones involve the police as a matter of protocol, and which ones don’t. Hang the list on your refrigerator. Keep those contacts in your phone. Make copies and give them to friends and neighbors.

7. Support organizations that really do keep our communities healthy.
On that note: where these services exist, support them, whether by volunteering, donating, or lobbying for funding from city/county/etc. government. Some great alternatives to the police already exist; they’re just often extremely underfunded. Take this a step further: how might we strategically re-allocate resources from police to services that truly help people? Campaigns to divest from police while investing in communities may offer a path forward.

8. Zoom in and find solutions where you are.
Across the country, activists are finding ways to change the narrative and do this work. Teachers and parents are working on campaigns like Dignity in Schools’ “Counselors Not Cops.” LGBTQ groups are disinviting police to Pride parades. Formerly-incarcerated people are organizing networks of mentorship and even unarmed community mediation teams. Organizations like the Sex Workers Outreach Project are working to address stigma and criminalization. Churches are pledging to not call the police. From the decriminalization of drugs, to the dismantling of the school-to-prison pipeline, to abolishing ICE, and beyond– every step gets us closer to a police-free future.

9. Engage in policy work that can prevent, rather than just punish, crime.
When we ask people “what keeps your community healthy and safe?” the answers we hear are often very similar: affordable housing, jobs, youth programs, opportunities to create and experience art, welcoming parks, etc. We can cultivate safer and healthier neighborhoods by getting involved in activist organizations, neighborhood groups, school boards, etc. that have the power to do this preventative work.

10. Dream bigger: there was a time before police, and there will be a time after.
Some of the solutions we need don’t exist yet. There are some things we can do now, but this work is also about planting seeds. A vital first step toward a police-free future is simply being able to visualize what that future will look like. We must break out of the old mindset that police are this inevitable, irreplaceable part of society. They aren’t. There are better ways for us to keep our communities healthy and safe, ways that do not include the violent, oppressive, unaccountable baggage of police forces. Check out the various sources mentioned here. Do more research, have more conversations, and help build the world in which you want to live.

  • Jeff

    While I agree with everything in this column, this is superficial. The main job of the police is to protect property and the people who own it. In other words, the cops are the army of the rich. If you don’t realize and deal with that, all the other cop issues will remain. The rampant racism in police departments is more of a result of the racism that permeates this entire society than it is of police issues.

    Additionally, street crime, which is the supposed job of cops to stop or at least diminish, is caused by poverty. As long as there’s poverty, there will be street crime, and the majority of people would never agree to eliminating cops under that condition.

    Finally, once again overpopulation is an underlying problem here. With this many people, how would you have a society without some policing in some form? Humans are not even close to being evolved enough mentally and emotionally to be able to police (i.e., control) themselves.

    We really need to be talking about the fact that the cops are the army of the rich and that the rich have allowed cops to act with almost complete impunity, as can now be seen by cops attacking peaceful demonstrators and the press, even though they know that they’re being filmed doing this. This is the cop problem that needs to be fixed. If we don’t change cops from being the army of the rich to actually serving and protecting people and their communities, racism and police brutality and murders will just continue.

  • mmckinley

    I think the problem is that police are inherently the army and protectors of the property of the rich. That can’t be fixed. That and only that is what they have been since their beginnings in the slave patrols, and what they will always be. As inequality becomes more grotesquely extreme, this army will be given greater and greater power and impunity to oppress us, which is what they are for. Get rid of the police. Find better ways to promote safety and peace and justice and equity for all. Beyond the police.

  • Jeff

    We agree that we want to get rid of cops, I just don’t think that’s even close to being possible under the conditions I outlined. Neighborhood patrols would be much better than cops, though racist neighborhoods would still have racist neighborhood patrols, so that problem needs another solution.

    Overpopulation is a fundamental problem, mostly in environmental matters, but also in other ones like this. I can see no way to really fix this problem without great reductions in human population, which will take hundreds of years to accomplish through birth control. If you’ve got another idea I’d love to hear it.

  • chetdude

    “That can’t be fixed”

    Sure it can – remove the “Rich”…

  • chetdude

    Population reduction to a sustainable level COULD be done with Birth Control as a Sacrament, Empowering women to be free to use all forms of it and public education within 3-4 generations.

    Or it will be done quickly through Mother Nature’s backlash or a Nuclear exchange.

  • Nylene13

    How about vasectomies for Men?

  • RickW

    But they can still commit rape……..

  • chetdude

    I think vasectomies for men is a great idea…especially if there’s some real pressure applied to make them reversible — just in case. Alas, the still dominant patriarchy would hate that but tough sh*t, they’re gonna’ have to learn to deal with a lot of stuff they don’t like as we get stronger.

    I have always been uncomfortable with demanding that women take chemical formulations that upset their normal cycles or worse* to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

    It should definitely be a shared responsibility in committed relationships.


    * Worse as in the case of my 1st ex-wife (who is now a friend) who had an IUD that forever ruin her plumbing.

  • Nylene13

    Not sure I get the point of that….anyone can commit rape.

  • Nylene13

    Can’t think of it offhand, but there is some

    issues with side effects from vasectomies too. I think it can cause high blood pressure …. or some kinds of medical side effects.

    One thing it seems is Not commonly known is that a young woman- age 17 or younger- has virtually no chance of EVER getting Breast Cancer -if she has a baby and breast feeds that baby for a year or more…

    Many Feminists do Not discuss this. With all the sex ed-teenagers get-that is one thing that NOT usually talked about!
    I have read statements with Feminist Leaders who say things like-“Well Women are more than our biological cancer risks-”
    But young women have a right to know this.

    Another thing is that the risk of Downs Syndrome babies goes up the older a Mother gets. (The older a father gets too, I think)

    Nature intended for us to have our babies young, but that is about the most politically incorrect thing you can say these days….

  • RickW

    If vasectomies worked to deaden the urge, that would be good. But all it does is lessen the chances of forced pregnancies.

  • RickW

    IMO, nature also intended us to raise kids in an extended family setting……

  • Nylene13

    Deaden the urge- to rape?

    No, that is psychological, not physical.

    Vasectomies should not affect the desire to have sex.

  • Nylene13

    That is a good point. Regarding Family/Tribal members kids as one’s own kids would help to lower the birth rate.

    All kids should have the security of an extended family.