Don't Defund, Transform Public Safety

Time August 17/24, 2020 pp44-55. Nation | “The police are a broken legacy of a racist system and tasked with work they are not trained to do.” “It’s time to radically rethink public safety in America” By Josiah Bates and Karl Vick. Camden NJ and Minneapolis MN


As the public’s ability to capture and post video has exponentially increased, examples of the inequality of law enforcement have been graphically exposed and indelibly imprinted in the American psyche.

How did we get to this point?

The roots of modern-day policing, in some ways, literally stem back to slave patrols and later “postbellum by-products, segregation, Jim Crow oppression…” and more subtle effects of redlining and the “violence of poverty.” Being poor is violent and this certainly is in the mix of uprisings happening now. Other root causes stem from having traditional law enforcement dispatched to incidents with a mental health, homelessness, substance abuse or family root cause. Aggressive and heavily-armed policing is necessary on first blush for certain encounters but not for the majority of encounters. It is estimated that only a small percentage of calls involve the potential of violence. Having said that, there’s no denying that Americans own 270,000,000 guns of which about 1/3 are semi-automatic this according to not the Time report. Also Quora states that “as of 2013 60% of all gun owners gave self-defense as a major reason they own guns..”

Going-to-the-balcony and looking down, it’s also clear that police training, the legacy of certain policies-like stop and frisk, powerful police unions-unable to collaborate with government leadership and other police-operations don’t match the majority of calls law enforcement encounters day-in-and-day out. In terms of operational tactics, there are too many officer-hours behind desks, or sitting-in or driving cars without enough face-to-face interaction with the citizenry. Making matters worse, only a small percentage of officers live in the precincts they serve and few are of ethnically similar to the local inhabitants.

Are there solutions?

There are solutions but they aren’t simple and aren’t binary.

Sadly, “Defund the Police” is succinct and unfortunately polarizing. In some cities, the inability to collaborate for real change eventually resulted in drastically less funding for police. Eventually, the stakeholders were ready to rethink what's needed today.

How does a community improve public safety, respect for the rule of law while reducing serious crime ?

The new vision refocuses on reassessing Roles and Responsibilities for dealing with typically non-threatening, non-violent encounters involving traffic, domestic arguments, mental health, homelessness and substance abuse. Across America, there are examples of these activities being successfully outsourced to contractors and even specialized non-profits. Most of these activities will still require partnering with law enforcement on an ongoing transactional basis. As an examples, a family dispute might be managed by an unarmed specialist with a police unit parked at the curb-there if needed, and keeping parks safe for families will require stepped up efforts between park officials and community police.

Just on a process basis, making significant change isn't easy as stakeholders are entrenched in protecting their departments and their jobs. Often in a corporate setting, with absolute control of budgets and jobs, executing significant change is easier. Making it happen, in municipalities may be more difficult. There must be a mission and the authority to move forward once a plan is agreed upon. This means reallocating funds as appropriate after a professional assessment of needs.

On the issue basis, to effect homelessness, to help improve mental health treatment, and to humanely reduce substance-abuse requires dedicated teams and project managers to incrementally develop actionable plans.

Want more detail read the article.