Again and again the data show that people of color in the U.S. are disproportionately, and systematically, stopped, frisked, arrested, and exposed to the use of force by police. Police departments and communities across the U.S. are struggling with these realities and with what has become a glaring divide in how Americans experience and relate to policing. This special collection includes research from nonprofits, foundations, and university based research centers, who have not only described and documented the issue but who also provide much-needed recommendations for addressing this chronic and tragic problem.

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Gatekeepers: The Role of Police in Ending Mass Incarceration

August 1, 2019

Reforming the criminal justice system has become a bipartisan priority and a topic of intense public interest. Much of the focus is on reversing mass incarceration—lowering the numbers of people in prison and jail, creating constructive pathways for people returning to their communities, and addressing the stark racial and ethnic disparities that have been a primary feature of the American criminal justice system. This work remains essential: in the United States, half of all adults have an immediate family member who is or has been incarcerated. Moreover, black adults are 50 percent more likely than their white counterparts to have had an incarcerated immediate family member.But ending the practice of mass incarceration and repairing its extensive collateral consequences must begin by focusing on the front end of the system: police work. A police officer's encounter with a civilian, if it ends in custodial arrest, is where mass incarceration begins. And the enforcement numbers—most notably arrests—are staggering. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as of 2017, some 70 million Americans had been arrested. If everyone with an arrest record held hands, they would circle the globe three times. 

New York, New York: Highlights of the 2019 Bail Reform Law

July 1, 2019

n April 2019, New York passed legislation on bail reform to update a set of state pretrial laws that had remained largely untouched since 1971. Compared to California's Senate Bill 10, passed in August 2018, or New Jersey's Bail Reformand Speedy Trial Act, enacted in January 2017, New York's new bail law received relatively little media coverage or national press. To many interested in bail and pretrial justice, New York's reform seemed un-newsworthy as it didn't go as far as originally promised to eliminate money bail entirely.Yet the relative lack of fanfare over the passage of New York's new bail law belies its historic and transformative potential to end mass incarceration at the local level. If implemented effectively, a conservative estimate of the  legislation's impact suggests that New York can expect at least a 40 percent reduction overall in the state'spretrial jail population.1 That bests the 30.4 percent reduction achieved by bail reform in New Jersey, and the anticipated impact of Senate Bill 10 in California— which is currently on hold pending a challenge by the bail bond industry—if it goes into effect in 2020.What exactly comprises New York's new bail law? What inspired this set of reforms? Can bail reform truly claim to be bold if money isn't eliminated entirely? And what precedent might New York's model of bail reform set for other jurisdictions?This primer provides historical context and an overview of the legislation itself, highlights five unique aspects of the legislation, and offers a few thoughts for how the wins in New York can inspire more comprehensive and transformative bail reform elsewhere. 

Bail & Pretrial Reform

Every Three Seconds: Unlocking Police Data on Arrests

February 6, 2019

Collectively, the data represented in Arrest Trends, and the findings in this report, challenge the notion that America's reliance on enforcement is a necessary component to achieving oft-stated public safety goals -- or indeed, a means of achieving justice or equity. The launch of Arrest Trends marks Vera's most recent effort to reduce the criminal justice system's footprint -- by unlocking key policing data and, in doing so, elevating the narrative of overreliance on arrests and the need for viable alternatives. In this report, readers will find information about the need for greater access to policing data, and overview of the Arrest Trends tool as well as several initial findings gleaned from it, and future directions for this work. 

Police Data

Arrest Trends

January 1, 2019

Police enforcement, that is an arrest, or giving someone a summons or citation, is wide-reaching and is the first step someone takes into the criminal justice system. Enforcement of all forms but arrests in particular have substantial effects on communities, officers, and the nation. This interactive visualization tool enables users to better understand arrests.

Police Data

To Protect and Serve: New Trends in State-Level Policing Reform, 2015-2016 (Fact Sheet)

April 4, 2017

The work of law enforcement involves countless low-visibility duties that are often risky, challenging, and dangerous. Over the last three years, however, members of the public have brought increased attention to incidents of police-community conflict, violence, and misconduct, sparked by several high-profile deaths of people of color, many of them unarmed, during seemingly routine police encounters. These incidents—many of which were captured unfiltered on video and widely disseminated—have resulted in scrutiny of police officer behavior and, in particular, have reignited a debate over the extent to which police may use deadly force against civilians. The ensuing public attention has also signaled a marked erosion in police-community relations and perceptions of police legitimacy and accountability. At the same time, killings of police officers in New York City, Dallas, and Baton Rouge increased concerns about officer safety. To address these issues, localities, states, and the federal government have begun to examine ways to increase public confidence and police safety. In all, 34 states and the District of Columbia enacted at least 79 bills, executive orders, or resolutions in 2015 and 2016 to change some aspect of policing policy or practice—a marked contrast to the relatively few laws related to policing that were passed by states between 2012 and 2014.

To Protect and Serve: New Trends in State-Level Policing Reform, 2015-2016

April 1, 2017

The work of law enforcement involves countless and risky low-visibility duties. Over the last three years, however, members of the public have brought increased attention to incidents of police-community conflict, violence, and misconduct, sparked by several high-profile deaths of people of color, many of them unarmed, during seemingly routine police encounters. These incidents—many of which were captured unfiltered on video and widely disseminated—have resulted in scrutiny of police officer behavior and, in particular, have reignited a debate over the extent to which police may use deadly force against civilians. At the same time, killings of police officers in New York City, Dallas, and Baton Rouge increased concerns about officer safety. Concerned that eroding public trust impedes relationship-building with the community, 34 states and the District of Columbia enacted at least 79 bills, executive orders, or resolutions in 2015 and 2016 to change some aspect of policing policy or practice—a marked contrast to the relatively few laws related to policing that were passed by states between 2012 and 2014.

Racial Disparity in Marijuana Policing in New Orleans

June 1, 2016

In national research, self-reported marijuana use is similar across races, but in New Orleans, black people are disproportionately arrested for marijuana offenses, including simple possession. While some states have legalized marijuana in recent years, the consequences for marijuana possession in Louisiana remain severe—under state law, repeated convictions for simple possession are punishable by multi-year prison sentences. This report illuminates through quantitative analysis the persistent racial disparities in marijuana policing from 2010 to 2015, and discusses the impacts of statutory and policy reforms the city has implemented to date. Through these findings, the report aims to guide state and local policymakers toward further improvements to lessen the harm even seemingly minor police encounters inflict on black communities, and inspire other jurisdictions to examine their own practices.

Racial Bias & Profiling

How to Increase Cultural Understanding. Police Perspectives: Building Trust in a Diverse Nation, no. 1

January 1, 2016

Recognizing the vital importance of trust to community cooperation, public safety, and national security, the Vera Institute worked with the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) to research and write this three-part series, which provides practical, field-informed guidance for creating positive, productive relations with all members of our multiracial, multi-ethnic American population.To engage with their communities, law enforcement must understand their needs and concerns. This guide explores the history of law enforcement's relations with African Americans and offers strategies for overcoming past mistakes, building trusting relationships, and using mediation and other means for increasing dialogue and reducing tension after contentious incidents.

Reform Strategies

How to Support Trust Building in Your Agency. Police Perspectives: Building Trust in a Diverse Nation, no. 3

January 1, 2016

Recognizing the vital importance of trust to community cooperation, public safety, and national security, the Vera Institute worked with the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) to research and write this three-part series, which provides practical, field-informed guidance for creating positive, productive relations with all members of our multiracial, multi-ethnic American population.This guide is a resource for agency leaders who want to build trust with the diverse communities they serve by adopting community policing practices and transforming their organizations. It provides practical strategies for diversifying their workforce, implementing and promoting community policing principles, and training officers in bias-free, culturally aware policing.

Reform Strategies