WASHINGTON (Feb. 1, 2021)— The COVID-19 pandemic has defined the last year of Americans’ lives. However, it was not the only thing to plague our nation in 2020. Incidents of police brutality motivated by racial bias drove thousands to the streets to voice their anger and disappointment with our system of policing, all in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.

In an effort to create safer policing practices in response to the pandemic, many areas across the United States adopted or expanded alternative-to-arrest policies. Led by an increased use of citation in lieu of arrest, these policies helped reduce police-civilian interactions and unnecessary justice system involvement.

In a new policy short, Lars Trautman, R Street resident senior fellow of criminal justice and civil liberties, and Camille Infantolino, R Street research and policy associate of criminal justice and civil liberties, argue that while beneficial, these policy shifts are fragile. Their status as emergency measures connected to the pandemic, along with the unilateral manner in which law enforcement agencies enacted many of them, make them especially vulnerable to rollbacks. Indeed, even though the pandemic continues to rage, some jurisdictions have already reversed course on alternatives to arrest.

Policymakers can make alternatives to arrest more sustainable by increasing the number of actors with authority over them. This includes enacting policy changes through legislative processes rather than executive order as well as passing measures that shift the duty to respond to certain crises away from law enforcement officials.

“With the right kind of structural changes and supports for these alternatives to arrest, a more limited and effective criminal justice system could emerge as one silver lining from our current hardships,” said Trautman and Infantolino.

Read the full policy short, “The Sustainability of COVID-19-Motivated Alternatives to Arrest,” here.