American policing is over-reliant on punitive enforcement—that is, issuing someone an arrest or citation. This has significantly contributed to two of society’s most pressing ailments: mass incarceration and acrimonious community-police relations. The term “mass incarceration” is becoming increasingly commonplace, especially as more Americans learn about the justice system’s broad and deep reach into so many communities. However, the same cultural narrative and general knowledge surrounding the scale and impact of police enforcement generally, and arrests specifically—the justice system’s front door and the far leading cause of incarceration—does not yet exist. Moreover, efforts to improve relationships between police and the communities they serve hinge upon understanding arrests, ensuring that they are applied as sparingly and judiciously as possible, and that problem-solving mechanisms and alternatives are both available and appropriately employed. There is a need for accessible data on the dynamics of policing to answer questions such as:

  • Who are the police arresting and why?
  • How effective are various police practices at solving crimes?
  • What are the impacts of police enforcement on communities? 
  • How reliably are these data reported and made publicly available?
  • How do arrest trends vary by time and place?

To drive policy change, and new policing practices, the Vera Institute of Justice’s (Vera’s) Arrest Trends tool collates and visualizes publicly available but disparately located and difficult to analyze data on various law enforcement-related indicators. By making data accessible to policymakers and the public at large, this tool is intended to generate knowledge and dialogue about the role of policing and highlight the extent to which local decisions about arrests might create disparities in criminal justice involvement and act as a primary driver of mass incarceration. Further, we hope this tool will promote and surface opportunities for alternative responses that help address the root causes of crime and strengthen police-community relationships.

For a guided exploration of Arrest Trends, users can select from several components, including Arrests, Demographics, Clearances, Victimizations, and Data Reported. Once on a theme page, users can interact with the visuals to learn how arrest trends vary by place, time, crime type, and more. These pages are designed to provide an easy-to-interpret walk-through of the data; however, they are also customizable, so that users can assess how these trends affect the populations and communities they are most interested in understanding. The site also offers information on the data and methodology used to generate this tool, answers to frequently asked questions, and other supplemental resources that users may find informative as well. Lastly, users with further questions or needs are welcome to email ArrestTrends@vera.org to share their challenge or request.

Arrest Trends is supported by the Vera Institute of Justice’s Capital Campaign, the Microsoft Cities Team, and the Charles Koch Foundation.

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