Understanding Residents’ Definition of Community Safety to Guide Public Investments

Tucson, AZ

When justice system actors talk about increasing community safety, they often mean increasing punishment, surveillance, and incarceration. When community members are asked what they mean by safety, they provide very different answers, focusing on strategies entirely outside the justice system that advance wellness, health, and community cohesion. But most reform strategies are embedded in an enforcement-as-safety paradigm and rarely, if ever, reflect the needs, input, or participation of people affected by justice systems and processes.

With Catalyst Grant funding, AFSC–Arizona will survey residents in underresourced, overpoliced Tucson neighborhoods that are predominantly Latinx to learn how they define community safety and what investments they think would improve their safety and well-being. The organization will take a participatory research approach and train residents to administer the survey and disseminate the findings. In addition, it will share findings with Tucson’s mayor and city council to advocate to shift funding from punishment toward community programs and services and center the expertise of affected communities in the development of city policies.