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Killed over a counterfeit bill: Data on misdemeanors can lead to racial justice in policing

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As activists across the nation call for meaningful police reform and elected officials create task forces to “reimagine public safety,” law enforcement leaders should seize the opportunity to advance ideas that can make a real difference. Police chiefs are navigating tricky waters by simultaneously responding to demands to defund the police and calls for police to address increases in violence in some places. As they do this, police chiefs should tackle a question that lies at the heart of the tension between police and communities — the overuse of their arrest powers when it comes to lower-level crimes.

Contrary to popular belief, police work does not primarily involve responding to serious crimes and making felony arrests. In fact, about 80% of arrests are for misdemeanors — like disorderly conduct and small amount of drug possession. Though less dramatic, these high volume enforcement actions, concentrated in communities of color, are highly consequential.

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