Re-imagining community protection

A new resource developed by members of the Shanti Sena Network and Nonviolence International shares examples of existing and potential community protection initiatives.

Building off the present energy around re-imagining community protection mechanisms, Eli McCarthy — a professor at Georgetown University and member of DC Peace Team — has been working with members of the Shanti Sena Network and Rand Engel, researcher at Nonviolence International to create a new online resource called “Alternative Community Security: Initiatives and Stories.” The first edition (included below) was released on June 24.

According to McCarthy, “We worked to include as much as possible within a three-page limit, trying to identify what was most relevant to our intended audience of community organizers/leaders and elected officials who are seeking to make changes soon. There is contact info at the bottom to collect more key ideas that could be used for an updated edition.”

Alternative Community Security: Initiatives and Stories

Here are examples of existing and potential initiatives toward comprehensive, systemic transformation of community protection.

Agendas for Change

The Movement for Black Lives coalition argues in Defund the Police that reform is often promised or enacted, but fails to adequately change behavior, which thus requires significant systemic change and investing in affected communities.

The Poor People’s Campaign’s Open Letter to Our Nation’s Lawmakers on Systemic Racism proposes an agenda to the government. It concludes with: We will not stop until we can all breath.

Recent Policing Changes

Municipalities and states have implemented or proposed new laws, restrictions, budget reallocation, training, etc. since the George Floyd killing. These responses may be examples to other venues: banning chokeholds; banning or restricting use of teargas and other “non-lethal” munitions; allowing protesters paths of exit; annual retraining; banning hiring police officers fired for cause in other jurisdictions; reallocation of funds to other municipal services; having trained, non-armed personnel for mental health, domestic disputes, homelessness interventions; duty to intervene if another officer is using excessive force/violence; required de-escalation and bias training; cancelling school contracts with police; ending qualified immunity; requiring warning before use of deadly force. See sample “Care First Budget” proposal for Los Angeles.

The Police Department of San Jose, CA (US 10th largest city) releases current information about all use of force incidents.

U.S. Senators Warren and Merkley introduced legislation in June 2020,  the National Police Misconduct Database and Transparency in Hiring Act. Misconduct in one place could be known by potential hiring departments and the public anywhere else. 

Disarming and Demilitarizing Police

In countries with unarmed, less armed, or less militarized police there are far fewer police-caused fatalities.  The United States, for example, has 25 times as many police-caused deaths as Germany relative to population. Police are mostly unarmed in Britain, Norway, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, Iceland, and 12 of 16 Pacific Island Nations. See the table right.

Mental Health, Addiction, Schools, and Neighbor Interventions

The Scottish Violence Prevention Unit (SVPU) has significantly reduced violent crime with a network meeting broad needs: Street and Arrow gives people employment, a chance to start over. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) aims to protect children from violence and thereby reduce future violence. Glasgow’s Medics Against Violence has 250 health care providers who visit schools and talk about what happens to a body in violent assaults. 

Stockholm’s mental health ambulance, rather than police, responds to  5-6 calls daily.

Eugene, OR police and partner CAHOOTS developed a team approach and extensive training for interventions in mental health crises.  In 2019 CAHOOTS responded to 18% of 133,000 911 calls, calling for police support only 150 times. This service on a $2 million budget,  if handled by police, would have cost closer to $14 million. 

Responding to recent protests, San Francisco committed to implementing a Cahoots type program with unarmed professionals that respond on “noncriminal matters involving mental health, the homeless, school discipline and neighbor disputes.” 

The City of Albuquerque responded (June 2020) to calls to defund the police by creating a new public safety department that will respond to calls on inebriation, addiction, homelessness and mental health issues. Albuquerque, a city often cited for overuse of force, will be watched to see if it truly improves policing.

Sunnyvale, CA replaced the police department with a Department of Public Safety, in 1950. “Public Service Officers” are cross-trained to perform police, fire, and emergency medical services. Police on patrol will change to fire gear to respond to a fire, etc. Would what works in Sunnyvale, a city of +/- 150,000, work in larger cities? 

How Not to Call the Police

Showing up for Racial Justice’s Alternatives to Calling the Police is being used in more than a dozen cities.

In deconstructing racism and white supremacy, Baratunde Thurston looks at racist, privileged, fear-based 911 calls to police, and strategies that may lead to less racist behaviors. 

@conflicttransformation has designed posters to promote alternatives to policing – as well as many other themes. They are getting attention.

Citizen Interventions

Nonviolent Peaceforce is the largest Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP) organization. UCP practices include accompaniment, patrolling, proactive presence, inter-positioning, rumor control, and Early Warning/Early Response. [UCP Methods Chart] All can only be undertaken after engagement with affected communities, incident mapping and communication with as many of the stakeholders as possible.

Cure Violence Global hires violence interrupters who are credible messengers in the community; uses a public health approach to stop the spread of violence in communities by detecting and interrupting conflicts, identifying and treating the highest risk individuals, and changing social norms — resulting in reductions in violence of up to 70 percent.

Meta Peace Teams (MPT), in addition to fielding hundreds of domestic peace teams across the nation at a variety of events, has deployed international teams to several countries including Bosnia, Chiapas (Mexico), Haiti, Iraq, Egypt, and El Salvador, as well as with the sovereign nations of Indigenous Peoples in the U.S., Canada, and Panama. MPT also offers bystander intervention, direct action, and sanctuary training as well as presentations on issues around nonviolence/justice/social change.

DC Peace Team trains and deploys unarmed civilian protection and accompaniment units to hostile conflict zones, as well as offers training in nonviolent communication, bystander intervention, restorative circles, and meditation.

Stories of Unplanned Interventions

Bystander intervention on a Tokyo subway. An Aikido (martial art) master tells how he learned what the real nonviolent core of his art could and must be.

Antoinette Tuff talked down a heavily armed gunman and saved the lives of many children in a Georgia school. 

In London, 5 people of color, in an impromptu third party intervention, rescued a racist counter-protester from injury.

Building Community Resilience

Restorative Justice “repairs the harm done by a crime” and, with community support, finds a resolution between victim and offender. It can strengthen communities, and reduce bullying in schools, violence in the streets, and prison recidivism.

Trauma-healing programs and trauma-informed approaches to protection strategies save health and lives. Trauma and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) are factors in suicidal ideation, police violence, and intergenerational violence. Investment in community care reduces costs in policing. 

Truth-Telling Projects enable affected community members to share their experience and harm from police violence, which enables us all to better imagine alternative community protection approaches.

Gun violence reduction efforts: abolition of categories of weapons, buybacks, registration, insurance, restrictions on ownership and use, safety training. 

Metta Center for Nonviolence provides educational materials on the theory and practice of nonviolence, including the forthcoming film, “The Third Harmony”. 

Training and Networking

Nonviolent Communication- teaches effective interpersonal communication.

Bystander Intervention and De-Escalation

Restorative Circles

Unarmed Civilian Protection and Accompaniment 

Violent Interrupters- public health approach

Nonviolent Social Change and Resistance

Security Planning for Communities

Mediation Skills and program

Three newly designed training programs, Rethink Security: Unarmed Civilian Protection Program: 1) Community Protection, Nonviolence and Protection of Homes and Businesses; 2) Bystander Intervention and UCP Teams: Political Demonstrations/Events; 3) Direct Intervention in Police Brutality.

Shanti Sena Network of U.S. and Canada organizations trains professionals in unarmed civilian protection, accompaniment, and violence interruption.

The Nonviolence Training Hub’s 50+ partners around the world provide training on one or more of these themes: Nonviolent Social Change, Communicating Nonviolently, Nonviolent Conflict Transformation, Spiritually-Based Nonviolence, Training for Trainers.

The Nonviolence International Training Archive has training workshops, exercises, campaigns, history, and legal and direct action materials.

*Resource developed by members of Shanti Sena Network and Nonviolence International.

Please send additional alternative community security resources and stories that you know or propose.
Contacts: Shanti Sena Network or 

This story was produced by Metta Center for Nonviolence

We provide educational resources on the safe and effective use of nonviolence, with the recognition that it’s not about putting the right person in power but awakening the right kind of power in people. We advance a higher image of humankind while empowering people to explore the question: How does nonviolence work, and how can I actively contribute to a happier, more peaceful society?

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