Guest Op-Ed: Making Smart Investments in Public Safety – by Building Stronger Communities

By Joe Gravellese, Candidate for State Representative 

Public safety requires thoughtful investment. In my time working at the State House and at Revere City Hall, I’ve advocated for smart, cost-effective policies that protect public safety and increase harmony in the community, and I’ll do the same as your State Representative.

In the coming years, Massachusetts will face a budget crunch due to COVID-19, putting a squeeze on our ability to fund important priorities. Tax cuts largely benefiting the wealthiest families in Massachusetts have cost $4 billion per year — money that could go toward pressing needs like education and public safety.

We need to pass the Fair Share Amendment, and reverse a portion of these tax cuts on those making over $1 million per year. If we repeat past mistakes and adopt austerity budgets in response to a crisis, communities across the Commonwealth will have to slash budgets for public safety and schools.

Beyond this, it’s also important to make sure that we’re not just spending money – but that we’re spending it wisely, on things that truly help our communities, rather than doubling down on failed policies.

Thankfully, this district already offers good examples of the kinds of cost-effective investments that truly reduce crime and create harmony within the community.

The Chelsea Police Department has been recognized as a national leader in building strong relationships between the police and residents, at a time in our country when the need for these relationships has never been clearer. Chelsea’s police host regular meetings with nonprofits to help individuals with substance abuse, and get people the support they need before they end up in the criminal justice system.

Great work is also happening in Revere. Revere’s police department has opened community substations and increased walking patrols, to strengthen positive relationships between residents and officers. Annual events bring young people and public safety officials together in thoughtful ways. Revere Police and Fire Departments coordinate with the city’s Substance Use Disorder Initiatives office to visit residents who have struggled with addiction. This is the kind of work that creates meaningful change.

These programs are so important because of the relationship between addiction, homelessness, lack of educational and employment opportunities, and the criminal justice system. So many of the people rotating in and out of the criminal justice system are people who are struggling with these issues. 

It costs taxpayers $53,000 per year to lock someone up in jail, but $2,500 per year to treat someone for substance abuse. It all comes back to that key word – investment. We need to expand access across the state to evidence-based practices that reduce substance abuse. We also need to ensure that Massachusetts residents have adequate access to affordable mental health care.

Protecting public safety also requires investments in other causes of social disorder like homelessness, hunger, and lack of opportunity. Reducing homelessness will undoubtedly reduce future criminal justice expenses. Students who go to school hungry are less likely to graduate, and more likely to end up involved in drugs or crime; strengthening school nutrition programs can go a long way toward making our streets safer. 

We also need to reduce barriers to opportunity for kids growing up in working-class communities. We need to ensure that any student who wants to go to a vocational or technical high school can.  We need to ensure that new development in the area creates pathways to good jobs for local residents. We need to ensure that any student who wants to attend community college and pursue higher education can do so, without going into debt.

Together, we can make the kinds of thoughtful investments and adopt the smart policies that reduce crime and make our communities safer, but we need leadership to make it happen. I pledge to deliver that leadership if elected as your next State Representative.

Joe Gravellese is a candidate in the Democratic Primary Election for State Rep. in the 16th Suffolk District (Revere, Chelsea, Saugus) on Sept. 1.

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