What “Defunding” the police means

Defunding the police is a simple and viable solution that will go a long way towards reducing police brutality and racism.  It involves having other agencies that are better equipped to handle a specific problem get the mission (and budget) to handle that problem, instead of giving the over-worked police departments that mission. Scaremongering from those who oppose defunding of the police lacks a basis in fact or reason, as is explored below.

Why defunding the police is necessary

Police officers are currently tasked with doing so much more than they are equipped and able to properly do. The police are called upon not only to handle criminal law enforcement, but to respond to people having a mental health crisis, dogs on the loose, civil disputes that don’t rise to the level of needing actual law enforcement, etc. Since police training in the United States tends to range from several weeks to perhaps half a year at the most, it is no wonder that the police officer who responds to all those different types of calls is not very well equipped to properly handle each of those situations. By being a jack of all trades, the modern police officer is a master of none.

Police are not mental health experts. They are not domestic violence experts. They are not animal control experts. They are not equipped to effectively handle a great many problems.  As a result, police officers facing a difficult situation tend to fall back on their training. Since police training includes significant use of force components, and since police culture glorifies use of force, it is unsurprising that police gravitate towards use of force as a means of resolving problems.

More concretely a 22 year old police officer with a badge and a gun is not going to do nearly as good of a job as a trained mental health care worker when it comes to handling a call regarding a person who is having a mental health crisis.  The odds of injury or death for the citizen, the cop, and bystanders is higher when the cop responds to that call than when a mental health professional who is trained in deescalation and is used to spending their days dealing with people in crisis responds.  Similarly, that cop is not nearly as likely to catch a loose dog without injury to the dog, themselves, and bystanders as someone who works at an animal shelter and deals with rowdy dogs every day.  Sending the cop to do that job increases everyone’s risk. The result in every case where a police officer is sent into a situation they are unqualified to handle is unnecessary risk of to members of the public, unnecessary danger for police officers, and more distrust of the police when something bad does happen.

Indeed, a single instance of seeing the police unnecessarily use violence can stick with a person for the rest of their life and make them reluctant to seek assistance from the police in the future. This produces secondary effects that are not good for society. As a simple example, my first memory of the police involved a police officer falsely accusing my parents of shoplifting a baby carrier. The situation was resolved with the police officer acknowledging that my parents had not shoplifted anything, but being detained and seeing that officer rudely treat my parents like they were less than human has stuck with me for decades. That comparatively mild experience (along with many instances of racial profiling I’ve experienced as an adult) still causes me to be apprehensive around the police, so it is is no wonder that people who have seen and experienced much worse are even more afraid of the police. It is no wonder that some people have panic attacks or try to run from the police even when completely innocent.  Indeed, a cycle is created where abuses committed by the police lead to fear and distrust of the police, which in turn manifests in fear or even combativeness with the police, which in turn results in police using more force…

What defunding the police means

Defunding the police means taking some of their responsibilities (and the budget to go with it) away from the police department, and giving those responsibilities to agencies that are better equipped to handle that area.  Instead of having the police handle a loose dog, let’s have the animal control agency (or a local animal shelter) get the call. Rather than having police officers respond to a person having a mental health crisis, we can have trained mental health professional show up. When a homeless person is loitering or aggressively panhandling, an advocate from a local homeless shelter can be given the opportunity to address the problem. To be sure, not every such problem can always be completely solved without the police becoming involved. But most of them can be solved without the police getting involved, and doing so results in better outcomes with less danger for everyone.

Real examples of what happened when the police were defunded

The city of Denver, Colorado has implemented a system of having a van with mental health workers and other trained professional dispatched to nonviolent 911 calls. The program has been a resounding success and more information on it can be seen here.

Camden, New Jersey abolished it existing city police department, shifted law enforcement duties to the county, reallocated resources to other agencies that could assist with mental health and related issues, and as a result saw a 47% drop in violent crime. The doom and gloom about defunding the police leading to violence was entirely unfounded. More on that here.

Don’t buy in to the scaremongering about defunding the police

Defunding the police doesn’t mean that police will be unavailable to respond to violent crime. It doesn’t mean that citizens will be left to fend for themselves. That is not what is being sought.  Don’t buy into the fearmongering. Instead, see defunding the police for what it is – an opportunity to have better-equipped agencies handle things like mental health and homelessness, resulting in better outcomes and greater safety for everyone (including police officers).