June 8, 2020

Defunding The Police

“A majority of the members of the Minneapolis City Council said Sunday they support disbanding the city’s police department, an aggressive stance that comes just as the state has launched a civil rights investigation after George Floyd’s death.” AP News

Last week, the mayors of Los Angeles and New York announced cuts to their police budgets. Los Angeles Times, New York Times

See past issues

From the Left

The left supports reducing police funding, arguing that diverting spending to social programs will benefit residents without increasing crime.

“To fix policing, we must first recognize how much we have come to over-rely on law enforcement… We ask police to take accident reports, respond to people who have overdosed and arrest, rather than cite, people who might have intentionally or not passed a counterfeit $20 bill. We call police to roust homeless people from corners and doorsteps, resolve verbal squabbles between family members and strangers alike, and arrest children for behavior that once would have been handled as a school disciplinary issue…

“For most proponents, ‘defunding the police’ does not mean zeroing out budgets for public safety, and police abolition does not mean that police will disappear overnight — or perhaps ever. Defunding the police means shrinking the scope of police responsibilities and shifting most of what government does to keep us safe to entities that are better equipped to meet that need.”
Christy E. Lopez, Washington Post

There is no justification for sparing police functions from—at minimum—the same scrutiny to which policymakers are now subjecting other critical public goods and services. Although policing is sometimes imagined to correlate directly with safety, there is evidence that the opposite can be true: In New York, measures of crime fell both after a court ended stop-and-frisk policing and when officers organized a work stoppage to protest attempted accountability for Eric Garner’s death.”
Brian Highsmith, American Prospect

“The U.S. spends 18.7 percent of its annual output on social programs, compared with 31.2 percent by France and 25.1 percent by Germany. It spends just 0.6 percent of its GDP on benefits for families with children, one-sixth of what Sweden spends and one-third the rich-country average… Does this spending make the country safer than its peers? No. Violent crime has reduced markedly in the past few decades. But America’s murder rate is still higher than the average among member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and about four times the rate in Canada.”
Annie Lowrey, The Atlantic

The failure of police in [black and brown] communities is twofold: The harassment generates backlash and distrust. But so, too, does the police departments’ inability to solve serious crimes — in some black and brown neighborhoods, the percent of murders that lead to an arrest can fall to the single digits… It’s this dynamic of simultaneous overpolicing and underpolicing that’s led to so much distrust in the police in minority communities. It leads many to believe that cops are not only harassing them, but also not even taking the time to protect them — to do the job that the police are there for.”
German Lopez, Vox

The Nordic countries, as usual, have an instructive example for America. These nations have both enormously smaller police departments and prison systems than the United States, and much less violent crime, especially murders. Emulating their basic approach could allow American cities to cleanse themselves of police abuse and still enjoy lower crime… Undoubtedly one major factor is the generous Nordic welfare state…

“On the other hand, the extraordinary Nordic success at solving crime must also play a part. Since Nordic police are not busy hassling desperate poor people or suppressing protests of their own abuse, they can focus all their effort on catching offenders, which they do very well. Because virtually all serious crime is in fact punished, there is much less of it — in keeping with research (and common sense) suggesting that criminal impunity is another driver of crime…

“A much more generous welfare state and better public services would require much more taxation, but it could also be partly funded by cutting the amount spent on police and (especially) prisons that are plainly failing abysmally to control crime anyways.”
Ryan Cooper, The Week

Minneapolis City Council Member Steve Fletcher writes in defense of disbanding the Minneapolis Police Department that “We had already pushed for pilot programs to dispatch county mental health professionals to mental health calls, and fire department EMTs to opioid overdose calls, without police officers. We have similarly experimented with unarmed, community-oriented street teams on weekend nights downtown to focus on de-escalation. We could similarly turn traffic enforcement over to cameras and, potentially, our parking enforcement staff, rather than our police department…

Our city needs a public safety capacity that doesn’t fear our residents. That doesn’t need a gun at a community meeting. That considers itself part of our community. That doesn’t resort quickly to pepper spray when people are understandably angry. That doesn’t murder black people…

“We can invest in cultural competency and mental health training, de-escalation and conflict resolution. We can send a city response [that] is appropriate to each situation and makes it better. We can resolve confusion over a $20 grocery transaction without drawing a weapon or pulling out handcuffs… We can declare policing as we know it a thing of the past, and create a compassionate, non-violent future.”
Steve Fletcher, Time

From the Right

The right opposes reducing police funding, arguing that it would increase crime and harm minority communities the most.

The right opposes reducing police funding, arguing that it would increase crime and harm minority communities the most.

“Led by New York City during the 1990s, the country’s urban areas have made tremendous progress in holding crime rates down… policing — specifically good policing — played a role in the crime decline, and thus in the dramatic improvement of urban America. New York’s strategy of tracking crime trends and sending cops to areas where crime is spiking works. Everyone from the libertarian-leaning economist Alex Tabarrok to the liberal Vox writer Matthew Yglesias has written about the evidence we have that increasing police presence tends to decrease crime

“Defunding the police has little support in surveys, but hiring more cops and sending them to high-crime areas has plenty. Black Americans are the racial group most likely to want additional cops in their own neighborhoods. 38 percent support an increased police presence, and only 10 percent want fewer cops around, despite the fact that a majority of blacks think cops treat them unfairly… The members of American society most exposed to crime don’t want less policing; they want better policing.”
Robert Verbruggen, National Review

“The number of black victims of violent crime fell by nearly two thirds from 1993 through 2005, exactly in conjunction with widespread adoption of larger police forces, more patrols in the ‘inner city,’ and greater willingness to cite or arrest people for even lesser offenses. For most of the 15 years since, those numbers have fallen still more…

The answer isn’t less funding for police, or elimination of police. The answer is to have more police, better paid (to attract better applicants), and especially better trained so as to learn alternatives to force where possible, elimination of biases, greater accountability, and easier approachability by ordinary citizens…

“Reforms have been slowly but steadily improving police forces, too. Take one more pair of statistics: The number of all U.S. deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of police dropped from 94 in 2015 to 41 in 2019. The number of those who were black dropped from 38 to 9.”
Quin Hillyer, Washington Examiner

Indiana’s Attorney General writes, “Certainly, there are individual cops unworthy of the badges they wear, whether due to corruption, incompetence or hot tempers that get out of control. A small number of officers hired to fight crime turn into criminals themselves, violating the rights of citizens, engaging in police brutality, and – on rare occasions – even killing innocent people of all races…

“The truth is that a small number of people in every profession engage in criminal conduct. We’ve all seen news stories about pedophile priests, doctors who rape patients, teachers who assault students, lawyers who swindle elderly clients out of their life savings, corrupt politicians who take bribes, and more…

“Defunding police departments, however, would only make positive reforms all the more difficult to achieve. In a troubling move, for example, the mayor of Los Angeles has proposed cutting as much as $150 million from funding for the city’s police department. This defunding makes as much sense as cutting funding for a hospital or a school where a doctor or teacher has engaged in criminal conduct against a patient or student. In all these cases, the criminal cops, doctors and teachers would not be the ones to suffer as a result of defunding. Hospital patients, students and the general public would suffer instead.”
Curtis Hill, Fox News

“State and local governments spent $115 billion on police and $79 billion on corrections in 2017, for a combined $194 billion. In 1977, they spent $42 billion on police and $18 billion on corrections, for a combined $60 billion. That is quite an increase… but it has less shock value when considered relative to other expenditures, and even less when adjusted for inflation. Indeed, just to keep up with inflation, that same $60 billion for police would require $251 billion in 2017…

“Without adjusting for inflation, state and local spending have increased in all categories outlined by the Urban Institute in the last 40 years: 381% increase for public welfare, 216% for health and hospital expenditures, 128% for elementary and secondary education expenditures, and so on. Again, those numbers compare to the 223% rise for police and corrections, putting the law-enforcement numbers well within reason.”
Jeremy Beaman, Washington Examiner

“We need laws to hold our passions in check. If men were angels, we would not need laws or governing officers to enforce them, wrote James Madison… We can pump money into all sorts of programs, but human nature will not change. And if you eliminate the hand that keeps human nature in check, otherwise known as law enforcement, we will collapse into anarchy, and every single one of humanity’s worst instincts will run rampant…

“The past few weeks have made it quite clear that we need more accountability and transparency within law enforcement. And many police departments across the country have proved that there is a deep-rooted institutional and cultural failure that needs to be addressed. But the way to address these failures is through more training and more accountability, which means more funding and more oversight.”
Kaylee McGhee, Washington Examiner

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