To resolve these divergent ideas requires thinking about whether there are other groups or institutions that can uphold public safety without the damage done by law enforcement. Decades of criminological theory and growing evidence demonstrate that residents and local organizations can indeed “police” their own neighborhoods and control violence — in a way that builds stronger communities. This isn’t about citizen watch groups. When neighborhood organizations engage young people with well-run after-school activities and summer jobs programs, those young people are dramatically less likely to become involved in violent activities. When street outreach workers intervene, they can be extremely effective in interrupting conflicts before they escalate. When local organizations reclaim abandoned lots and turn them into green spaces, violence falls. When community nonprofits proliferate across a city, that city becomes safer…

What if these alternative actors received the same resources the police do? The Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, for example, operates with an annual budget of close to $580 million and a workforce of 4,400 full-time employees. Each of its 57 precincts receives, on average, about $10 million per year to protect public safety, with a workforce of roughly 77 full-time employees to serve a population of just over 12,000. If we ask community organizations and leaders to take over primary responsibility for creating a safe community, they should be given equivalent resources. And we have every reason to believe that a coalition of organizations and leaders with the capacity to hire and train more than 70 professionals — conflict mediators, violence interrupters, youth outreach teams, case workers, mental health counselors, crisis response teams, maintenance and beautification crews, data analysts, liaisons to public agencies — can begin to transform a neighborhood. These would be well-paid, full-time jobs.