The controversy over the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis has brought more attention to an idea that has been simmering in urban areas for years—defunding the police.
Advocates say “defunding” means redirecting resources from arresting, prosecuting and jailing people to drug treatment, mental health, education, housing, and other needs, primarily in communities of color.
Forbes reports the “defund” movement is gaining traction in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Nashville. Minneapolis City Council has even been debating the idea of disbanding the police department and starting fresh with what council member Steve Fletcher calls, “a community-oriented, nonviolent public safety and outreach capacity.”
Jamani Montague of the group Critical Resistance goes even farther. Montague told Newsweek he envisions a world without policing where communities must find alternatives to traditional law enforcement and imprisonment by “building a sense of collective care and interdependency.”
It is essential to hold the police to a higher standard and to root out and punish the kind of violence seen in the Floyd video. However, what do these so-called alternatives even mean? They are feel-good pablum with no practical application to enforcing the law.
It is, however, reasonable to hope that having more addiction and mental health first responders would help, and I suspect the police would be relieved if they did not have to take every call about people who are off their meds or an addict who is passed out on the street.
Supporters of defunding argue that with more money directed to social services, there will be less need for the police. But it is not a zero sum game. Some of these calls involve violence and more serious crimes that require a trained officer with back-up.
And here is a stunning fact: More police means less crime. Steven Mello at Princeton studied the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which increased funding for Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), during the Obama presidency.*
He found that adding more police in neighborhoods reduced crime. “The results highlight that fiscal support to local governments for crime prevention may offer large returns,” Mello concluded.
Harold Pollack, a public health professor and co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, told CityLab that he believes people have valid grievances about the police and problems specific to low income and minority communities.
However, “divesting police resources… would in fact lead to more bad policing and less good policing, and it sets up a dynamic that plays right into the hands of people who do not want these communities to do well.”
We live in a dangerous world. In 2018 (the latest available full year of statistics) there were 1.2 million violent crimes. The Thin Blue Line is essential for protecting the public from chaos.
Less policing, or some made up non-violent outreach substitute, are not viable alternatives. What we need is more police who are better at doing their jobs and a better system for holding rogue police accountable.