The words “defund the police!” have been chanted ad nauseum for over a year. No one has ever really explained the term in detail. Instead, the “defund” narrative has been aligned with the allegations of racism in American policing, and failure to defund was promoted as being unsupportive of police reform. Law enforcement leaders warned of the dire consequences of suddenly reducing the ranks; however, it fell mostly on deaf ears as the defund trend took root across the country. Budgets were slashed overnight and, in an instant, there were fewer officers available to address crime problems. This was a recipe for disaster. And now the tide has turned. Crime has surged and the same political leaders who championed the effort for defunding are now advocating for the restoration of funding. Simply put: Reality has set in.
Between the lines
In short, the police defund plan suggests that money allocated to law enforcement should be withdrawn immediately and repurposed for social reprogramming. Embedded in the concept may be some valid elements. Any street cop knows that a large number of the calls for service could be handled by methods other than a police response. Some of the ideas that have been circulating this past year actually make sense. Conflict and dispute resolution, addressing chronic homeless problems and mental health crisis intervention are just a few. And some of these innovative approaches have seen successes. Perhaps over time, these changes can be implemented incrementally.
One thing is abundantly clear: Changes of this nature do not happen overnight. It takes research, planning and evaluation before it is known which concepts are viable and which are not. The notion that you can take cops off the street one day and replace them with other support personnel or services is absurd. Here’s a news flash: Criminals don’t change their behavior overnight. If anything, the criminal element is emboldened by knowing that there are fewer officers to catch them in the act. This fact has been validated by the alarming increases in criminal activity taking place in cities across the country.
Now is the time to decide what’s important to your communities in terms of law enforcement priorities. Addressing “quality-of-life” issues may be a thing of the past. Loud music, noisy skateboarders, low-level infractions, etc., are not worth expending the resources. I think each community should assess what the citizens want from their policing entity and adapt accordingly. We must never lose sight of the fact that all it takes is one person who needs the police to justify the existence of an entire force. The loud voices of the anti-police faction must not drown out the cries for help. The politicians who jumped on the defund bandwagon are now having “buyer’s remorse” as violent crime engulfs their streets.
If your department is among those that lost funding but are now getting it back, don’t get complacent. Put the money to good use and start developing alternatives to traditional policing to augment the actual “cops and robbers” aspect of keeping communities safe. There will always be a need for law enforcement, and even the most vocal zealots for defunding the police are the first to call when they are in peril. Somewhere between the overnight budget reductions and the return of funding is a happy medium of policing. Hopefully we are on a path toward putting the defund era in the rearview mirror.
As always, stay safe!