PFM Center for Justice and Safety Finance provides independent report informing shift to a prevention-first model of public safety to create a healthier, safer, and more just community
April 13, 2021
PROVIDENCE, RI – Mayor Jorge O. Elorza today joined Councilman Pedro Espinal (Ward 10), Commissioner of Public Safety, Steven Paré, Deputy Director of PFM’s Center for Justice and Safety Finance, Seth Williams, Senior Advisor for PFM’s Center for Justice & Safety Finance, Ronal Serpas, artist facilitators Shey Rivera and Vatic Kuumba, and community members to announce the completion of an independent operations review and analysis of the Providence Public Safety Department by the PFM Center for Justice and Safety Finance.
“We are living through a once-in-a-generation moment with the ability to influence transformative change in how we approach public safety in our City,” said Mayor Jorge O. Elorza. “We’ve been asking our public safety professionals to do so much more than they did a generation ago and, too often, they are responding to calls that are outside of their scope and training. We should be investing in trained professionals in those areas, to not only shift responsibilities away from public safety, but also deliver more responsive services that better meet the needs of our community.”
The report provides a series of data-driven policy and operational choices to transition Providence to a prevention-first model of public safety and create a healthier, safer, and more just community. The report will be used to inform the dialogue between the City and the community and identify opportunities to create capacity for prevention-first services and investments in sectors like housing, infrastructure, education, health care, workforce training, behavioral health, and social services, among others to enhance outcomes as part of the City’s commitment to improving social justice and equity.
“I believe that this plan is a great road map to making our Public Safety Department one of the best in the nation,” stated Councilman Pedro Espinal. “With this data-driven report, we can work with our City departments, community partners, and residents to make a better and safer Providence for all who live, work, and visit here. There is still much work to be done, and I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and do all I can to support a stronger and safer Providence.”
Providence has already begun shifting appropriate responsibility for some calls for service to prevention-first approaches through investments in the PVD Safe Stations program and Mobile Health Unit. The City also included funds in its recently passed FY21 budget for a new Community Relations and Diversion Services Major position within the Providence Police Department as well as for a vendor to co-design a behavioral health and social service diversion program. The RFP process for this project is expected to close later this month.
“The needs of our community are constantly evolving, and we are committed to identifying an innovative response to recurring calls to our police and fire departments that will adapt our services to better meet the needs of our community,” said Commissioner Paré. “We look forward to working together with PFM regarding their recommendations to enhance our current diversion services as well as implement new programs to continue serving the community to the best of our ability as public safety officials.”
The review and analysis focus on the benefits of creating innovative, outcomes-based and cost-savings alternative responses for directing public safety resources and how this necessitates restructuring police, fire, and EMS services to meet this goal. The PFM team is led by the Center’s deputy director, Seth Williams, who directed the National Resource Network’s development of a ten-year budget projection model for the City of Providence in 2015.
“As cities across the country ask themselves how to best invest in justice and safety, Mayor Elorza and the City of Providence are leading the way in developing a holistic, data-driven approach to keeping citizens safe and government efficient,” said Seth Williams, Deputy Director for PFM’s Center for Justice & Safety Finance. “We found that most calls to the Providence Police Department are for things other than crimes and calls for the Providence Fire Department are largely for EMS services. While this is not uncommon for many cities, it is inefficient and expensive. Our analysis is grounded in City data and presents options that can help the simultaneously achieve greater, more equitable safety and justice and more efficiently use limited taxpayer resources.”
“If an individual is experiencing a mental health, substance abuse, or homelessness crisis, and the first or most recurring response is a call to the police, then the system has failed,” said Ronal Serpas, Senior Advisor for PFM’s Center for Justice & Safety Finance. “Through this effort by PFM and Mayor Elorza’s office, Providence is taking the first step to imagining a different type of public safety response — a prevention-first approach that can better serve the community by helping prevent crime and public safety calls for service before they occur, make smarter use of taxpayer dollars, and allow law enforcement officials to do their jobs more effectively.”
The City has also selected two local artist facilitators, Vatic Kuumba and Shey Rivera Ríos in partnership with Vanessa Flores-Maldonado, co-executive director of PrYSM, who are tasked with presenting a vision for community-designed public safety strategies that can make a case for increasing investment into anti-racist institutions with meaningful community ownership. Over the past few months, Vatic Kuumba and Shey Rivera Ríos have facilitated, planned, and supported six community discussions about public safety and how it relates to the City budget.
“In response to the local and national emergency of state-sponsored violence against Black people, artists in Providence organized community forums in the spring and fall of 2020 to hold conversations about public safety and divesting from policing, building upon the work of local community members and organizations such as the Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM),” said Shey Rivera and Vatic Kuumba. “These forums transformed into The Moral Documents Project; or MoralDocs. MoralDocs proposes that the City of Providence budgets in a way that reflects antiracist values and leads us into a genuine Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations process.”
The result of these dialogues is a Providence Public Health and Safety Project titled, “The Moral Documents” or “Moral Docs.” This project is a web-based transmedia art project to re-envision public health and safety in the City of Providence. The project will identify current health needs and existing gaps in service, as well as make strategic recommendations about priority issues and opportunities by using film, animation, and design to uplift community stories that present historic and modern harms associated with the complications of public safety and behavioral health. This process involved the creation of an open-source agenda for community forums, informed by data compiled by PrYSM, SISTA Fire, DARE, AMOR-RI, ARISE, Black and Pink, Youth-In-Action, and community partners over the years.
The City is hosting a series of webinars to provide residents the opportunity to learn about the findings of the report, its recommendations, and to submit questions. Residents and those who would like to sign up to participate in these community meetings around the PFM review can do so here – providenceri.gov/community-relations/pfm-public-safety-review-findings/
About PFM’s Center for Justice and Safety Finance
In 2017, PFM created the Center for Justice & Safety Finance to support state and local governments in developing and implementing safety and justice policies that are effective and efficient in the advancement of both civil rights and civil order. The Center conducts comprehensive criminal justice systems and departmental reviews as well as supports local governments in outcomes-based budgeting and the development of multi-year financial plans, with a focus on the costs of law enforcement and opportunities for alternative investments. Learn more about the Center at CJSF.PFM.com.