Public Safety - Wenstrup for Louisiana


Non-negotiable: Government should care for people in crisis.

The fundamental premise of a public safety system is that people get the help they need when they ask for it. Though crime rates in our communities have dropped, police budgets have expanded and funding for mental health and social services has declined. Recent, highly publicized instances of police misconduct have called into question for whom the current system is working, and what better alternatives could be put in place. Communities of color, poor communities, and victims of violence have long been demanding reform. It is past time that we reorient our violence prevention, mental health, and social service systems to more effectively support people in crisis.

A Public Safety Strategy

I have spent my life as a high school teacher working with teenagers. The core challenge of adolescence is that of crafting an identity that sustains you and that is validated by friends, family, and society at-large. You struggle with what it means to be an A-student, a D-student, an artist, a musician, an athlete, gay, queer, a Man, a Woman, white, Black, and all of the diverse identities that make humans beautiful. But specifically, as my students and other young people determine what it means to be Black in America, we collectively witness, over and over again, state violence upon Black bodies.

This summer, our entire nation was awakened to the plight of communities of color, who say that they are over-policed – too many random stops – and under-policed – children shot in the streets. We have heard from communities across the state who are concerned about response to crisis in their neighborhoods.

We must first reject the umbrella term “policing.” What we mean is that the government must support people in crisis. Crisis could mean breaking down on the side of the road. Crisis could mean a domestic dispute that leaves one or both parties feeling unsafe. Crisis could mean hearing a window break in your house. Crisis could mean being approached by someone with a knife. Crisis could mean being upset and wielding a knife. 

Our current arrangement is broken. We pay officers too little, we ask them to do too much, and we compensate them with job security and obscure pensions. Officers in Louisiana make, on average, just over $42,000, while they are asked to be social workers, conflict resolution agents, and protectors of our communities. For years, politicians have kicked the financial investment down the road by offering low salaries in exchange for job security and complicated long-term pensions. That system fails to reward, attract, and retain the community leaders that we want on our forces. Most Louisianans believe that you ought to pay someone a fair wage to do a job. Let’s make our response to crisis work like that.

The federal government should pay officer salaries at a rate of $80,000 per officer for a set number of officers based on the population. Many jurisdictions employ around 22 officers per 10,000 civilians. Cities should then have the ability to decide whom they would like to hire. Those salaries could be for mental health workers, social workers, armed officers, investigators, traffic agents, or addiction service managers.

 We must trust communities to make those decisions.

In some places, mayors and city councils would choose to maintain a force similar to what we have now, only with more competition for those jobs. In other places, innovative crisis-response systems to address the needs of communities will arise. In exchange for the pay increase, officers would have to agree to accountability measures, including dismissal, just like professionals in the private sector do.

One essential role of the government is to support people in crisis. Like most Louisianans, I want to do that by reducing federal waste, increasing investment, listening to communities, and paying people for a job well done.


What are the first steps we should take to build trust in our public safety system?



Demilitarize Police Forces

Federal Oversight of Police Misconduct

Ending Qualified Immunity

The Federal government should no longer provide military-grade equipment to local law enforcement agencies, and should increase oversight for all Federal money used by these forces.

The Federal government should create a database of officer excessive use of force and reports of officer misconduct.

Government employees should not be exempt from civil lawsuits.

Some Specifics of the Plans:

  • Demilitarization:
    • Since the 1990s, over 8,000 local law enforcement agencies have used a Department of Defense program to access more than $6 billion of military-grade equipment. The Federal government has several other programs that have increased the use of military equipment and tactics in communities, sponsored by the DOJ and FBI, among others. Proponents of demilitarization suggest removing this equipment from local communities will help to de-escalate tensions between the police and those they are tasked with protecting.
    • Those who support the use of military equipment and tactics by law enforcement argue that the rise of increasingly armored gangs and cartels necessitate a similar response from police departments.
  • Oversight of Misconduct:
    • In the nation’s largest police forces, as many as 25% of officers fired for misconduct are rehired, some because of arbitration processes outlined by union contracts, others by other districts who lack information about officers’ previous incidents. Advocates support the Federal government creating a publicly accessible, comprehensive database of police use of force and misconduct so that communities have the necessary information to demand accountability.
    • Critics of this sort of database point to the high average numbers of complaints filed against all public servants and suggest that increased citations will lead to more, rather than less, distrust of police.
  • Qualified Immunity:
    • Qualified immunity provides government employees from immunity from civil lawsuits, even when officials clearly violate the law. Advocates for eliminating this practice say that the reform is necessary because there is less criminal liability for police officers.
    • Critics of ending qualified immunity offer concerns about subjecting officers to frivolous lawsuits and fear a reduction in the number of people who will be interested in the profession in the future.