“Defund the police.” It sounds provocative. It is. What it provokes depends upon the person. I hadn’t heard that term until a few months ago. My initial impression was was to consider it the equivalent of “abolish the police”. I thought that idea was radical, irrational, and was simply a “no” to me. After all, literally speaking, “defund” means “to withdraw funding from”, which would seem to mean the end of police.
I wasn’t alone. It has led to considerable and predictable backlash, both Republican and Democrat. The vast majority of people don’t support abolishing the police.
Abolishing Police Isn’t The Issue
I surely want major reforms in policing, but I don’t want to abolish the police. I believe eliminating police is unacceptable and irresponsible. Only the most extreme want police abolished, and it’s probably due more to extreme frustration and anger than reasoning. Rethinking how we go about policing is certainly a viable endeavor, though.
The term “defund the police” was provocative enough to make me look into it. I didn’t want to assume I knew what its proponents meant.
It is not nearly as radical as it sounds. As I learned what was intended, I understood the slogan was not a precisely accurate statement. If you haven’t already looked into it, make it a point to do so. It’s probably not nearly as radical as you initially thought.
What Does Defund The Police Mean?
By and large, to “defund the police” means to reallocate funds spent on police to other services more suited to handle problems cops never should have been handling. Preventing crime is obviously preferable to handcuffs and prisons. Crime prevention isn’t radical or new. It’s simply a different approach to tried and false “tough on crime” policies.
In many cities, the biggest general fund budget item is the police force. The progress the movement makes may lead to a much greater re-examination of budgets. It’s already causing change.
Why Use A Confusing Term?
Whoever coined the phrase “defund the police” may have intended to use a provocative term specifically to get people talking. Considering that I’m writing about it, as well as many others, could well prove the genius of the slogan. Slogans are meant to move people, not fully inform them. A more accurate description would include more words and dilute the message.
The audacity of moving the needle of discourse to an extreme is similar to beginning a negotiation by asking for the most extreme outcome. That extreme becomes a starting point from which negotiations flow.
Police Have A Difficult Job
The concept that police are asked to do too much is not new. Cops themselves know this all too well. Listen to former Dallas Chief of Police for an instructive 1 minute and twenty seconds about cops having to deal with society’s failures.
Cops deal with a multitude of problems while patrolling the streets. They are ill-equipped to handle many of them. It’s unfair to cops on the front lines to expect them to expertly address every possible scenario they encounter. They get face to face with people in their worst moments going through one or more personal crises.
Those crises drive sometimes bizarre, antisocial, even dangerous behavior. Mental illnesses, mental disabilities, behavioral issues, drug-addiction, and many other conditions affect their conduct. Cops have too few tools to deal with these problems. Cops shouldn’t have to deal with these problems. Nonetheless, they are expected to do so.
If you doubt it, I urge you to ask your local PD to allow you to go on a few ridealongs, and you can see for yourselves the range of crappy situations they have to handle. I’ve been on many ridealongs, and they make for an educational experience.
Big Problems Aren’t Easy To Fix
Arrests simply put all those troubled, desperate people on the path to the penal system, a system which is woefully ill-equipped to handle the underlying problems which led to the behavior. In fact, the penal system compounds the problems of these people and makes their lives even more miserable.
No single agency is up to the task of cleaning up society’s failures. Our problems are far more complex than simply slapping cuffs on people and charging them with a crime because they misbehaved. Regretfully, that is exactly what we do, and it’s why we have more people in prison than any other country in the world, including Russia and China.
Part of the answer is clear. Anyone who favors dealing with more crime rather than preventing it is a fool. Spending public funds on more preventative measures should be a priority. Targeting homelessness, drug addiction, mental illness, and poverty would be a great start.
The source of those funds doesn’t necessarily have to be police budgets, although that may ultimately be what happens.
Activists may believe reducing police department budgets means fewer cops on the street, which could mean fewer interactions which turn violent. That may be true, but I would expect police to continue their practices of disproportionately targeting minorities and the communities in which many minorities live. Police would still misuse whatever resources they had left.
Reducing police budgets is not a cut and dried solution. It may help, but many meaningful reforms must be made for true progress. Most notably, police must face real accountability for wrongdoing, especially disproportionate targeting of racial minorities and the excessive use of force. Without meaningful reforms, a reduced police budget won’t yield meaningful results.