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Civil rights groups press for bills to rethink public safety

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(California News Service) Social justice groups are pressing Congress to pass a series of bills to rethink public safety in the U.S.

The new 2024 Community Safety Legislative Agenda comes from a coalition of more than 60 nonprofits.

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Megan Rodgers, U.S. policy and advocacy manager for the group Nonviolent Peaceforce, said the idea is to prevent violence and address its root causes rather than over-rely on a punitive, law enforcement-driven approach.

"This legislative agenda is a set of bills that re-imagine what community safety looks like," Rodgers outlined. "Making really important investments in community health and prevention programs, community responses to violence, and positive changes that help to eventually prevent and deter violence outside of a dependence on a carceral solution."

The agenda includes 17 bills, either already introduced or will soon be filed in Congress. One of the key bills, the People's Response Act, would create a new division of community safety within the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Rodgers noted the Mental Health Justice Act would fund local efforts to hire trained mental health professionals to be dispatched to help defuse mental health crises, rather than police officers.

"There's many, many times when a person is going through a severe mental health crisis that police are called," Rodgers observed. "That person becomes criminalized and is not given the full wraparound services, as the appropriate response to what truly is a mental health issue."

The agenda also includes the Break the Cycle of Violence Act, which would create an office on community violence intervention, to replicate local programs with proven track records.