Politics

DeFund the Police: And Why It Matters to Blue Lives

There is a movement afoot to Defund the police and there is reason to believe such a reimagining of policing can make blue lives easier.

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Policing a free society is the hardest job in the world, and few avocations require more personal responsibility than policing.

Don’t laugh. Notwithstanding the correct and righteous concerns of communities of color, allow me to explain the awesome responsibility police bear, but also why “Defund the Police” can work.

When you call the police, a real person answers the phone, and dispatches a real person to address your situation. That peace officer appears ready to handle any myriad of situations from neighbors who can’t agree over their property line to someone threatening to jump. At the conclusion of that officer’s work, he is required to write a report on the activity and sign it. That report is always checked by at least one set of eyes if not many, depending on the gravity of the situation.

The job of policing is to be society’s mortar when the bricks of society don’t easily fit. The police mediate in a free society full of good and bad, idiots and rejects. And that job takes its toll. You do not want to know the kind of person it takes to absorb society’s darkness and not suffer mental problems.

There is a dead black man on the street: That much is obvious. But nobody asks if the police officer is alright. Odds are that officer is not. He did not start his shift intending to kill. Police officers can become unsafe because the responsibilities of the job are endless. Every move they make and every action they take is bound up in sometimes byzantine law or regulation. Have YOU ever snapped? Lost your temper? Made a mistake? Did something you regret?

Why did you do that?

Everyone accepts WHAT they see in that terrible video, but they seldom ask WHY they are seeing it.

I assert that the job of policing is often brutal and begets brutality. The world view of the police officer can get to be a very, very dark place. Police officers sometimes crack. Many contemplate suicide. Some actually pull the trigger. But you don’t get to see those videos. God forbid if you meet an unsafe officer on YOUR worst day.

What to do? How do we justly satisfy the needs of a society and also protect those who provide safety?

Defund the Police, on the surface, means taking money from police departments. And a substantial portion of a police department’s function is to ensure ever more funding from year to year. The command structure may be more in tune with budgeting and funding than they are with actual police work. So, when you say “Defund the Police,” people in charge get nervous.

Your average patrolman is probably fond of saying they are tired of being your social worker. That’s true. A patrol officer’s motto may as well be, “Let me fix in 15 minutes a situation it took you years to create.”

Protect.

Serve.

Central Park Karen is calling the police and lying about a situation. Citizen x calls the police because her irresponsible daughter is sending and receiving hurtful text messages. Family y has an abusive mother, an alcoholic father and the kids are acting out. Well. You get the picture.

Would it surprise you that, in a world of hurt, some people don’t take responsibility for their own actions?

Would it surprise you that, in a world of hurt, police might despise the people they are sworn to serve?

What is the condition of mental health care in our society? In many places, the only mental health response is jail and jail isn’t built for it. Real mental health care is very expensive. Your provider doesn’t cover that.

The typical police officer is to some degree conservative. Not always (though most often) in the political sense, but in the social sense of believing in a status quo and supporting that status quo. You might read that as protecting the haves from the have-nots.

The typical police officer has some kind of military background. Those who serve their country in the armed services are especially suited to some kinds of police training, which is often based on a para-military model. Those candidates often receive extra credit in the selection process due to their military credentials.

This has a two-fold effect: 1. You are sending “warriors” to a residence where an alarm is going off. You are sending someone who has been trained to kill to an argument between two neighbors who can’t get out of each other’s way. 2. By favoring warriors in the selection process, you are disincentivising candidates with other skill sets that might also be useful. MAYBE a special snowflake is EXACTLY the right person to respond.

And when you are dealing with nothing but soldiers, your command structures are soldiers and your decision making is based on models of conflict resolution suited more to Fallujah than Los Angeles.

The other thing you have to consider is that all police training is not the same. Some departments require a candidate to live at a training center for six months, studying law, the constitution, where their powers come from, use of force continuums and the like. Some cadets graduate from a six weekend course.

Most of the horrible videos that I see are blatant violations of proper police training. There ought to be a federal standard, very high, to become a police officer. And there ought to be more college education requirements to be a police officer. If a candidate gets out of the U.S. Marines and gets preferred selection, so be it, but he should also be required to go to college as well. Learn something else besides war.

The solution might be, if you’re going to require that kind of public servant, you might want to have a diverse kind of police department. Not just patrolmen and detectives. But another kind of officer who is skilled in conflict mediation, in mental health crises.

I can imagine a new kind of police department equally balanced between civil officers, patrolmen and criminal investigators. But, you know, you gotta FUND that. Or, as “Defund the Police” really means to say, “redirect those funds.”

I can imagine a police department that is not entirely predicated on military principles, which bring along their own problems and psychoses. I can imagine uniformed officers, plain-clothed officers and civil officers who look just like you and me.

The answer to every police call is not a soldier.

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Defund the Police and the Rampant Abuse of Authority by a Largely Unregulated Gang of Bullies in Uniforms.

I have had several close encounters with your communities’ “finest” that have ended in a variety of ways.

Most often, I sign a paper upbraiding me for failing to comply with a traffic control device such as a speed limit sign, mail in a check for a fabricated number of dollars, and watch imaginary red marks get added to my driver’s license number.

On a few occasions I have been taken into custody. Cuffed and stuffed in the back seat to await my day in court.

On one such occasion, after suffering a mental breakdown which resulted in spilling too much honesty in a classroom, I was arrested by no less than six police officers in riot gear, bulletproof vests, and weapons drawn.

“Defund the Police” is a snappy catchphrase, but what are we really driving at?

I think “defund the police” is more like... defund the militarization of the police. Defund the bullying tactics of the police. Defund the adrenaline seeking behavior of the police. Defund the untrained, trigger-happy, coercive patter of the police.

Many would argue that such a cry for defunding the police is a call for anarchy and lawlessness. That criminals, thugs and gangsters are free to run wild and inflict their pain on society at large. To those people, I would implore them to look closer at the boogey-men they are demonizing.

I’ve been to the county jail. I know who sits in there and I’ve met them face to face. Far, far too many of them are addicts and drug abusers. People who are trying to escape reality by chasing the dragon or bringing some crystal in for them and their other friends to lose a weekend on.

Are they lost or mislead people? Yes.

Are they doing something technically illegal? Yes.

Do they need help to stop living such a self-destructive lifestyle? You bet your bottom dollar.

Does this mean that the answer to their ills is a crew-cut young man in a tax-funded SUV with a shotgun and a sidearm who will throw them in the clink for a burnt out tail light?

More often than not this is the worst possible outcome for these people. Try getting a decent paying, honest job if your record has any smudges on it. You’re almost branded for life once you have a tangle with a police officer.

Instead of treating these addicts and users as criminals, perhaps we should try treating them like people.

Let’s take police funding for riot gear, assault rifles, and tear gas canisters and appropriate it to substance abuse programs. Get people off drugs instead of getting drugs off people.

When I was arrested by the Seal Team Six division of my county Sheriff’s office, I was shocked at how overboard they went for a high school music teacher in emotional distress after both of his parents died.

Was I a little unstable? Sure. Was I worth paying six guys $20 an hour to get loaded up in riot gear and bust me in a record store? No.

It takes more credit hours of training to be licensed to cut hair than it does to draw a firearm on a human being while wearing a badge. Why do we not take the same care and attention to detail when licensing the people responsible for enforcing the laws?

Why do we continue to dedicate so many dollars of our tax revenue to letting bullies that hide behind the thin blue line get away with literal murder?

When your organization has no obligation to be transparent to the people that it polices, lets abusive cops get away without repercussions for their own law breaking behavior, and fights more for the rights of its cops than it does the citizens of the community, it’s time to step back and reevaluate.

I don’t know if the police are as necessary as they would have us think. I don’t know exactly what a defunded police looks like. But I do know they won’t ever admit that we could make it without them.

They won’t ever tell you that crime is better than it’s ever been, or that crime is mostly addicts trying to escape the crushing reality of poverty by using. They want you to think you NEED them.

Otherwise, what are we spending so much money on?

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