There’s nothing wrong with looking at new ways of doing things, especially when it’s clear many of the practices associated with those things aren’t working.
As Americans have emphatically demonstrated over the last two weeks, the way our police conduct themselves is in serious need of such a look
But a quickly growing campaign to “defund” police departments and replace them with some kind of ambiguous alternative would potentially jeopardize public safety at a time when we need better policing more than ever.
Even the politically charged phrase, “defund police,” threatens to undermine the already shaky confidence we have in our police agencies and therefore undercuts the legitimate reform efforts that are taking place on the state and national levels right now.
We just can’t just get rid of police departments. We need them, and the basic model has worked in many ways for decades.
But as we’ve all seen, there are significant changes that need to be made to ensure the public’s safety while also making sure police aren’t abusing their authority by targeting certain groups for profiling or assault.
That can be done without taking away the money they need to do their jobs protecting the public, investigating crimes and arresting criminals.
In fact, it might be wiser to invest more money in our police departments — to provide them with more training for dealing with tense situations, more training for officers to deal with minority populations, more training to deal with mentally unstable individuals, more investment in recruitment to boost minority staffing levels, and more training on techniques to subdue suspects without injuring or killing them.
Some of what’s fallen under the umbrella of “defund police” are calls for investing more money to address the problems that lead to confrontations with police, such as poverty, homelessness, domestic violence, mental health, housing and education.
Those are all needs that should be addressed and funded, but not necessarily at the expense of public safety.
If there are ways that police agencies could become less expensive and more efficient — such as through better control over overtime costs and using smart technology — then those savings certainly could be diverted to other community needs. But elected officials already should be looking at ways to save taxpayers money in all aspects of government.
We don’t need to defund police departments to get the changes that protesters have been demanding.
We need to make police more sensitive and responsive to their communities. We need them to be better trained in race relations and arrest techniques. We need to identify and remove individual officers who apply their racism to their jobs. We need law enforcement to be more transparent and answerable to the citizens. And we need to keep holding them accountable for their actions.
Defunding police is the wrong way to achieve those goals.