Skip to main content

Lawmakers Seek New Directions on Public Safety

By NCSL Staff Report  |  January 4, 2023

As the nation navigates the lingering challenges of the pandemic, new public safety concerns have emerged, among them fentanyl overdoses, carjackings, catalytic converter thefts and other crimes of opportunity.

Legislatures are responding by tailoring criminal and juvenile justice policies and focusing resources on community-oriented approaches that can reduce violence and prevent people from becoming more deeply involved with the justice system.

Hot Topic — Reducing Justice System Involvement

At the front end of the justice system, legislatures are expanding community-based crisis services and responses that don’t involve law enforcement, including deflection programs and access to treatment. Deflection pathways help connect individuals who have substance use or mental health needs to community-based treatment and services as an alternative to making arrests or taking no action.

For people released from prisons and jails, a lack of housing, employment and other support systems can increase the likelihood of continued involvement in the justice system. Legislatures are supporting returning citizens by addressing the impacts of fines and fees, providing identification after release and making changes to criminal record policies. In Wisconsin, lawmakers convened a committee to study efforts to increase employment opportunities and improve post-release connections for people while they are still incarcerated. These supportive policies can be an important part of public safety; research has shown that successful reentry leads to reduced recidivism.

Hot Topic — Targeted Safety Policies

In recent years, many states have reduced the penalties associated with simple drug possession, focusing higher penalties and resources on people who are trafficking or dealing large quantities of drugs. While this trend continues, some states are reevaluating reduced penalties for fentanyl, which can be deadly even in small amounts. Colorado passed legislation in 2022 making it a drug felony to possess more than 1 gram of fentanyl. In the same bill, the state created programs for fentanyl use prevention, education and treatment, emphasizing the need to provide supports for people with substance use disorders.

Trending: Catalytic Converter Theft

In the last couple of years, most states have considered legislation addressing the recent increase in catalytic converter thefts. Twelve states enacted bills in 2021, and at least 20 states enacted 25 bills this year; the trend is likely to continue in 2023. Most enacted legislation added requirements for the sale and purchase of unattached catalytic converters. Minnesota allocated funds to establish a pilot program that permanently marks the devices with a unique identification number, which is then registered with law enforcement.

Trending: Data Collection

Legislatures are requiring uniform data collection and reporting by local agencies to understand who is in the system and how they move through it. Data is also vital for lawmakers when making policy decisions and allocating state resources.

Hot Topic — Violence Reduction

To create safer communities, several initiatives have emerged from the Justice Department and the White House. The DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance released its Community-Based Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative, which aims to increase the use of evidence-informed and community-tailored strategies to reduce violence. The initiative includes a checklist to guide local governments in creating multidisciplinary violence intervention policies and programs, and in collecting data to assess the effectiveness of programs after implementation.

An executive order, signed by President Joe Biden in May 2022, focuses on increasing public trust through policing reforms for federal law enforcement officers. It also incentivizes state and local agencies with funds to adopt similar policies, including revising use-of-force standards, limiting agencies’ ability to use military equipment, and limiting no-knock warrants and those that permit unannounced forcible entry.

Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which made many changes to federal firearms laws and provided billions of dollars for mental health and community-based violence intervention programs. Notably, one new provision prevents people convicted of domestic abuse from owning a firearm regardless of marital status and partially closes the “boyfriend loophole”; both moves are designed to protect dating partners from gun violence.

  • Contact