Defund police

Think Twice Before Underfunding Police

Many are familiar with Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Physics: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and three of his colleagues killed an innocent man, George Floyd, on Monday, May 25. It’s hard to find any persons besides Donald Trump and William Barr who won’t say that the officers’ acts were criminal.

Most Americans were truly pissed off and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, have taken to the streets over the past two weeks. Ninety-nine percent of them have been peaceful, and it’s understandable why the protestors have so demonstrably shown their frustration and their suggestions for change.

But these protests have gone on far longer than most other occasions of citizens taking to the streets, and I’m fearing that there will be an equal and opposite reaction to the fortnight of demonstrable marches. When we’re talking about human behavior, as opposed to physics, the reaction does not have to be exactly equal and opposite. But it will be characterized by significant force and will run counter to the movement that spawned it.

Over the past several days, a new demand / request / talking point, whatever you want to call it, from some of the protestors has been to defund the police. Such a contention makes emotional sense in light of what Chauvin and numerous other white police officers have done, not only recently, but through the entirety of American history, in arbitrarily dispensing violence against African-Americans, in many cases resulting in the deaths of innocent victims. Almost without exception, police officers have gotten away with their misconduct without any penalties or repercussions.

But this does not mean that we should defund police departments. Here are a few reasons why I think that would be a very counter-productive move.

  1. There are many police officers who do their jobs well, serve the public well, and should not be penalized.
  2. There are many police departments that have transitioned into community policing and by and large have developed practices that honor human rights.
  3. Police departments are a lot like teachers in schools. You get what you pay for. We have a lot of police officers who go into the profession for the wrong reasons and are essentially clueless about what is needed if you are a frontline official connecting government with the citizenry. We need to raise the pay of police officers, perhaps double or triple it, in order to bring a whole new breed of individuals into the profession. We need to make policing attractive to individuals who are not by nature belligerent. We need men and women who know the skills of conflict resolution and do not consider the public to be their enemy.
  4. It is much easier to hire “the right people” and give them necessary training than to hire those who are less than ideal and then have to spend the time, money and energy to try to train them, with questionable probability of success.
  5. Some have suggested diminishing the amount of money that goes into the funding of police departments and transfer that money into providing social services. Again, this might sound right, but I doubt that it’s good policy. First, it would leave us with poorly paid police officers who would not be skilled in conflict resolution, perhaps the most important quality needed in a law enforcement officer. Second, it would set up new social service bureaucracies. That means bringing in universities, administrative agencies, professional this and thats with enormous duplication and inefficiencies. Let’s focus on bringing the best people possible into policing.

We have written before about making police officers into law-enforcement social workers. This can only happen If we get the best and the brightest into the profession. That won’t happen without paying them well. So, let’s not defund police; let’s fund law-enforcement social workers. One other thought. Every time you piss off the police, you give Donald Trump more votes. Is that what you really want?