Two police reform measures — one to increase police officers in Austin, Texas, and another to decrease them in Minneapolis — went before voters last fall and failed.

While the stated goal was to create a better model for law and order in those two cities, a majority of voters recognized that they didn’t represent true police reform solutions.

The supporters of the two measures, not surprisingly, were quick to suggest that racism factored in the failed ballot measures. But we don’t believe that to be the case. They both failed to represent data-driven, common-sense initiatives to enhance public safety.

In Austin, the proposal failed because it was an unfunded and unrealistic mandate to increase minimum police staffing and require officers to spend a third of their time on community engagement — rather than responding to calls of service.

Lisel Petis, a former prosecutor and now senior fellow for Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties at the R Street Institute in Washington, D.C., wrote, “While the call for police to spend more time on community engagement was well-intentioned, the timing is poor when one considers Austin police have already declared they cannot respond to non-emergency calls due to staffing issues.”

In Minneapolis, 18 months after the murder of George Floyd by law enforcement, voters rejected the proposal to rebrand the police department as the department of public safety and to remove minimum police staffing requirements. In light of what the community has suffered, that effort came across as a weak attempt to respond rather than a serious and realistic solution to an identified problem.

The Minneapolis proposal lacked substance, left details of the new proposed department up to the mayor and city council, and brought criticism from both the political left and right for the lack of substance and community engagement in determining the best solution, Ms. Petis wrote.

The defeat of these two measures does not mean that the need for police reform should be discounted. But policymakers need to focus on creating substantive, research-backed plans to increase public safety.

Urban areas would be wise to take the time to retain experts, engage their communities, and vet proactive solutions that have already been implemented successfully across the nation. Rather than concentrate on overbroad, expensive recommended reforms that are difficult to implement, elected officials should instead rely on tried-and-true initiatives — such as law enforcement assisted diversion programs and what’s known as “citation in lieu of arrest” that have been proven to reduce crime and free up police time.

These types of common-sense solutions could be implemented by local authorities and supported by lawmakers. Implementing solutions that already exist and have proven to be effective — instead of trying for Band-Aid ballot measures — will save officers time, unclog our courts and reduce recidivism.

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