Introduction and summary
The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating impacts on communities across America, and many now face health and economic struggles that will have long-lasting impacts on nearly all aspects of everyday life. During this time of great instability, cities across the country have also seen a rise in violent crime.1 Consequently, city and state governments, along with community partners, have begun to develop and implement public safety strategies as part of their pandemic recovery efforts. These plans seek to stem the rise in crime by investing in a range of proven crime reduction strategies that go beyond traditional law enforcement efforts.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021—a legislative package focused on COVID-19 relief—was implemented to repair the destructive impacts of the pandemic and prevent further harms. This funding can be used for a wide range of purposes, and now, with the support of the Biden administration, more states and cities are using it as a means to bolster their public safety agendas in the hope of improving long-term community safety outcomes. This issue brief discusses how ARPA became an important resource to bolster state and local crime reduction efforts and highlights some of the innovative ways cities are using ARPA funding to support strategies that have proven to enhance public safety.
ARPA has provided critical support for state and local crime reduction efforts
When Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act last year, roughly $195.3 billion of the $1.9 trillion package was allocated directly to states and another $130 billion went to local and tribal governments.2 States were also given funding to distribute directly to some of their smaller local governments.3 With these funds, states saw budget increases ranging from almost 5 percent to nearly 23 percent, affording many states and cities the opportunity to address community safety needs that they might not have had available funding for otherwise.4
As part of President Joe Biden’s comprehensive crime reduction agenda, the administration has encouraged governments to use ARPA funding to bolster public safety efforts. Since the funding was allocated, state and local governments have invested $10 billion in public safety efforts nationwide. This includes “at least $6.5 billion in state and local funds committed by more than half of states and more than 300 communities across the country.”5
ARPA has enabled investments in proven crime reduction strategies
Cities and states across the country are adopting crime reduction strategies that have proven effective in combating violent crime and improving public safety. From the outset, ARPA legislation included provisions that sought to provide state and local governments with resources to address crime. At the state and local level, ARPA and other federal funding is available to support implementation of measures such as community-based violence intervention (CVI), alternative crisis response, housing support and affordable housing, support for teenagers and young adults, and investments in reentry services.
Community-based violence intervention
CVI programs aim to reduce gun violence and violent crime by connecting community members most affected by gun violence with community resources.6 Notably, CVI programs are typically staffed by members of the communities being served, and these staffers usually have lived experience with gun violence. Often, these CVI programs involve collaboration between government and community stakeholders to invest in services that help community members most affected by violent crime find alternative ways to resolve conflict. CVI programs have been effective in a number of cities and communities and have even reduced homicides by as much as 60 percent in some areas.7
- Indianapolis has allocated $45 million in ARPA funding over the next three years to support grassroots violence prevention organizations. Under the Violent Crime Reduction Grant Program, for example, the city has already distributed almost $3 million to 30 organizations that will develop and implement “evidence-based practices to prevent and reduce crime in Indianapolis.”8
- In Philadelphia, $25.8 million in ARPA funding was used to replenish revenue lost from the general fund due to COVID-19; it supported two gun violence prevention programs: Group-Violence Intervention and Community Crisis Intervention, both operated by Philadelphia’s Office of Violence Prevention.9
- Atlanta has committed $5 million in ARPA funding to expand their violence prevention programming through the Cure Violence program model, which uses street outreach to “engage and support community members and mediate conflicts to prevent escalation to violence.”10
Read more on CVI programs
Alternative crisis response
For too long, communities have relied on law enforcement officers to respond to behavioral health crises that they are not adequately trained to handle, which is problematic for both officers and the communities they serve. Crisis response teams offer an alternative model in which certified mental health or substance abuse professionals respond to calls instead of, or along with, law enforcement.
Various crisis response models are emerging across the nation, and most involve calling mental health professionals to the scene so that they can assess the health crisis immediately, provide necessary treatment, and connect individuals to much-needed support services. This ensures that individuals in crisis receive appropriate care and are less likely to become justice-involved. It also enables law enforcement officers to focus on their core responsibilities.
- Houston has committed $21 million of ARPA funding to three programs aimed at providing support during mental health crisis calls. One of these, the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team, is made up of trained health professionals who intervene in crisis calls deemed nonviolent or noncriminal after the calls are diverted to a community health provider instead of first responders.11
- Los Angeles County has committed $18.5 million of its ARPA funding to be used to support the county’s Alternative Crisis Response project. This funding will help “improve the coordination of crisis calls, field responses, and crisis facility care, and ensure that the 9-8-8 system [for behavioral health emergency response] is connected to and appropriately coordinated with the 9-1-1 system.”12
Read more on alternative crisis response models
Housing support and affordable housing
Access to stable housing is critical to building safer communities with lower rates of crime. This is especially true for people returning from incarceration, who are nearly 10 times more likely than members of the general public to become homeless.13 Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused higher rates of housing insecurity across the nation,14 and governments must work to adopt strategies to expand affordable housing, provide rental assistance, and improve housing infrastructure.
- Denton, Texas, has committed ARPA funding toward several housing assistance programs, including $5 million for the construction of a facility to house people who are either experiencing or at risk of homelessness, $550,000 for hotel voucher programs, and additional funding for eviction prevention programs.15
- Denver has approved $3.9 million in ARPA funds to expand alternative temporary housing areas known as “safe outdoor spaces” (SOS), which allow people experiencing homelessness to connect with support services and “regain stability in a safe, managed and supportive environment.”16
Read more on the need for affordable housing
Support for teenagers and young adults
Gun violence disproportionately affects young people and is now the leading cause of death among youth nationwide.17 From 2016 to 2020, young people suffered 48 percent of gun homicides, despite representing only 20 percent of the nation’s population.18
Initiatives such as youth employment programs and workforce training are crucial to expanding job opportunities for young people who are exposed to high rates of gun violence. Not only do such opportunities keep participants safe and away from violent activities, but they also help prepare them for successful futures in careers of their choice.
- Boston will use $3 million in ARPA funds to develop a workforce development program for young adults and returning citizens interested in environment-related job opportunities.19
- Louisville has committed $8.5 million in ARPA funding to expand their Youth Development System through the Office of Youth Development, which would support young people who are struggling to find a job or reenter school.20
Read more on how gun violence is affecting teenagers and young adults
Investments in reentry services
Lasting public safety requires a strong focus on reentry services for individuals leaving incarceration and returning to their communities. Returning citizens often struggle with successful reentry due to the collateral consequences of their involvement with the criminal legal system, including denial of access to employment, education, and housing opportunities. Notably, lack of reentry support leads to higher rates of recidivism and creates a cycle of system involvement.
Fortunately, cities and states have reserved various federal funding avenues through ARPA to expand job opportunities and housing support eligibility for returning citizens. Such efforts significantly lower people’s chances of recidivating and ultimately improve community safety.
- Houston will use $1 million in ARPA funding to support its Community Reentry Network Program.21
- Connecticut has committed $4 million in ARPA funding to workforce development programs for justice-impacted people who need assistance finding a job and returning to their communities.22
- Under its reentry workforce program, Chicago has allocated $10 million of ARPA funding to support workforce training opportunities and other resources.23
Read more on the need for reentry reform
The American Rescue Plan Act has been invaluable in helping states and cities develop and expand comprehensive evidence-based strategies to address rising crime at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has strained many municipality resources. Now, as some governments are finalizing plans around their second tranche of funding a year after receiving their first,24 states and cities should continue to prioritize sustainable community-based efforts to prevent and respond to violent crime and improve safety for all communities.
States and cities should continue to prioritize sustainable community-based efforts to prevent and respond to violent crime and improve safety for all communities.