Defunding The Police: What You Should Know

Across the nation, we are seeing unrelenting public protests and calls for action in response to the recent murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police. The continued abuse of power, blatant disregard for black lives, and refusal to hold officers accountable by law has sent the country into a rage. This anger has sparked the belief that the only way to entirely eradicate police brutality, is by defunding them altogether.

The concept of defunding the police isn’t new; however, it is gaining popularity in light of recent events. So what does it even mean? Are people calling to eradicate the use of a police force? No, not necessarily. By defunding the police, cities would be allowed to reallocate a portion of their budgeted funds back into the communities in order to provide or expand social services to support the citizens. However, there are some supporters who call to dismantle the police force as a whole, as a large majority of people do not feel protected or served by law enforcement.

According to Philip McHarris, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Yale University, “divesting funds ends the culture of punishment in the criminal justice system. And it’s one of the only options local governments haven’t tried in their attempts to end deaths in police custody.” Isaac Bryan, the director of UCLA’s Black Policy Center, supports the concept as well, citing the racist beginnings of law enforcement as a means to recapture escaped slaves. Over time, with the vicious enforcement of Jim Crow laws and how our current practice of policing disproportionately affects black people, according to Bryan, “That history is engrained in our law enforcement.”

In a radio interview, Black Lives Matter co-founder, Patrisse Cullors interpreted the call to defund police as, “reducing the ability for law enforcement to have resources that harm our communities… It’s about reinvesting those dollars into black communities, communities that have been deeply divested from.” She went on to state, “Those dollars can be put back into social services for mental health, domestic violence, and homelessness, among others. Police are often the first responders to all three.”

As states search for ways to address the civil unrest within their communities, Camden, NJ serves as an example of how to implement the first steps as they disbanded their police department in 2013.  The redesign of their police force allowed for an increased presence of law enforcement as a means to establish community trust and educate officers in de-escalation practices. Additionally, the use of body cameras, enacting a comprehensive use of force policy, and holding officers accountable for violating the rules as a means to terminate employment has drastically decreased excessive force complaints by 95% since 2014. While imperfect, the overall success in Camden can lead to streamlined discussions across the country on ways to improve this flawed system.

In a 2017 study, the NYPD pulled back on proactive policing, which is referred to as the “systematic and aggressive enforcement of low-level violations” and heightened police presence in areas where “crime is anticipated.” During the time span from 2014-2015, when this tactic was implemented, there were fewer reported crime complaints. In Minneapolis, there is a community advocacy organization called, MPD150 which was founded under the belief that “The people who respond to crises in our community should be the people who are best equipped to deal with those crises, rather than “strangers armed with guns.”

In an attempt to enact immediate change, Minneapolis Council President Lisa Bender announced plans to dismantle the city’s police altogether. She stated, “We committed to dismantling policing as we know it in the city of Minneapolis and to rebuild with our community a new model of public safety that actually keeps our community safe.” As other states search for ways to address the civil unrest within their communities, it may not be so radical after all to see the eradication or at least much-needed reformation of a system that was never designed or intended to protect and serve all.

Defunding the police
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