Possibilities and Ramifications

Defund The Police

2020-12-22 | Dr. Barbara Bailey, Founder, Collaborative Crime Solutions

When I first heard the slogan “Defund the Police,” I cringed and tensed up, automatically rejecting the thought of it. But once my initial reaction dissipated, I was able to explore in myself what triggered that response. I encourage everyone reading this to do the same. We all hold beliefs and are quick to react to things that go against them without even thinking through the process. For me it boiled down to one of the levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. My reaction stemmed from a belief that my safety and security needs were being threatened. But were they really? 

With more thought, I see how important it is to see beneath the language to what is driving the call rather than having a trigger reaction.  There is a large segment of the public who feel like they have no voice. They want to be heard and they are tired of being silenced. I can only imagine how much frustration must be boiling below. Let me be clear, I am not lumping in citizens who express their frustrations (or use this movement for personal gain) through destruction of property, looting, and crimes of violence. I am looking at those who are part of the peaceful uprising to bring attention to their cause. 

But I also see that modern day police are the most professional they have ever been and yet they are often scapegoated for societal problems. Those sworn to protect and serve carry a heavy burden. Prior to 2020 they already suffered higher rates of suicide than other professions. It’s easy for us to forget, especially when the media doesn’t focus on it, that they are the ones that investigate murders, rapes, assault, etc., seeing the most disturbing things done to humans and animals, and hearing the pain of the victims. 

As with most things in this country during 2020, there is a divide on the topic and the media’s portrayal of it does nothing more than increase polarization. A major issue is that there is no uniform definition of what this slogan “defund the police” means. It means different things to different people, bringing up different reactions. Contrary to trendy belief, it is not a new concept born after the death of George Floyd, it has been around a while. But current events have catapulted this slogan to gain national attention. 

We can take the definition to the extreme of having a police free society, which would be wonderful if all humans had respect for one another, equal opportunity, strong ethics, and connection to society. There would be no need for “policing.” But for now, we do not live in that utopian world, so an authoritative presence is needed. 

On the other end of the spectrum, it calls for moving money out of police budgets to fund social services. 

PROS 

  • It can alleviate some of the burdens and responsibilities that have been placed on the backs of law enforcements over the years.
  • Extra support from experts in the field of mental health, substance abuse, and other areas where the police are not trained should come as a welcomed relief to law enforcement (on average, recruits only get about 22 hours of training in the academy on Human Rights and Victims' Rights with only 2 hours devoted to interaction with special populations).
  • A chance to collaborate and build community partnerships to ease other burdens.

CONS

  • This reallocation of funding may result in job cuts for many departments who already struggle to stay within budget. 
  • The police are often underpaid for what they do already.
  • Looking to the future of reduced police budgets and fewer officers, we may get something we did not bargain for. We may get an even bigger “police state” due to the use of more technology. For example, traffic cameras and other technology to gather your data for traffic infractions you may have gotten away with if no police officers were around. Further, history may repeat itself as it did when officers began using police cars, creating even less interaction with the public and a greater divide.
  • Programs that involve community outreach and officer wellness programs will likely be the first to be cut.
  • If money is diverted from the police department, where will it go? There is an assumption it will be allocated to social programs, but who is to say what ones, what types, etc.? Everyone wants extra funding. Will it merely fund political pet projects?

I am sure there are more pros and cons, but these are the ones that stand out at this moment. So, what is the bottom line? To me, it’s a re-envisioning public safety. Whether we like it or not, chances are that budgets will be reduced, so it’s on innovative leaders to get ahead of it. They must step out of the box of what has always been and move towards solutions, with all voices being heard and no one feeling threatened. To lead this initiative, one must examine their personal beliefs and biases to ensure they are not locked into something just “because”. 

When I was just starting college, I went to a shopping center and while inside, my car was burglarized, and my radio was taken. I called the police with some grand illusion that they would be able to catch this person. I would say it’s safe to assume that many people would think this who have had no prior contact with the police. I imagined they might check the store security camera or check for fingerprints. But that's not what happened. I waited at least two hours for an officer to arrive to basically tell me, “well I will write the report, but this is between you and your insurance company”. Talk about a letdown. I began to question my academic path. 

Almost 30 years later I witnessed a woman dumping some electronics in an area known to locals as a place to illegally dump trash. It is rural county land that the owners did not monitor. My neighbors and I must drive by this land each day to get to our subdivision. The property looked like a garbage dump. I called the local agency, and again, had to wait a long time for a response. At least this time around I was told to go home, and the officer would contact me when they were available. He seemed a little surprised by how many couches, televisions, and other items were dumped out on this property, which could be plainly seen from the road. I showed him a picture of the woman and gave him her license plate. I cannot say if anything ever became of it because I was never notified. The officer was perfectly pleasant, but my impression was that it was not his problem because it was on private land. Overall, it was not law enforcement that solved the problem. It was the community contacting the landowner who organized a clean-up and put in a fence to prevent more illegal dumping.

Why am I reminiscing on these events? One, we call the police for everything! A better educated public can help alleviate that. But also, because they are examples of calls for service that take up a lot of the officer's time that could be diverted to other agencies or units within the department that does not take away from the officer patrolling or investigating crimes. I imagine there are already departments leading similar initiatives. Reports would still be written to document events; an officer can review and decide if further investigation is warranted. When a member of the public must wait for hours for a police response it gives the impression that they do not care, thus creating a divide that is not necessary. Diverting such duties can allow for greater response time by both law and enforcement and those who are tasked with taking the original complaint report. Who could they be diverted to?

  • A specialized unit with less training and a lower pay scale who can respond to these calls for service. Another option would be for the reports to be filed electronically by the public and someone from this unit can review and assign.
  • Insurance agencies can pick up some of the slack.

These are just a few of many possibilities to explore, to get people thinking “solution focused”, but considering long term ramifications. I am not blind to the fact that this may also open liability issues. This is why there needs to be an open discussion involving all those who will be impacted should budgets be cut. 

I support a collective approach to build safer communities. We all wear the lenses of our training and backgrounds. Bringing different stakeholders together who see the problem from different perspectives will blossom into more holistic solutions rather than band aids addressing symptoms. We live in an “I am offended society.” These movements should not be viewed as personal attacks on others, but an opportunity for an examination of how we are doing things and what we can do better from a collective approach.  But I get it, it’s hard. 

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