“Unfortunately, the police department has been made the catchall for everything. All the problems,” said Anderson, a 30-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department.
And the protester, Eric B., who is 24 and from Baltimore, eased back a little to hear this man speak, a little taken aback that an officer broke his silence.
“You know, psychiatric centers can’t hold the patients. So we put them on the street. Call the police to deal with it,” Anderson explained, as a couple of officers in the chain of men beside him nodded their helmet-heads in agreement. “There’s a drug issue . . . police are called to assist with that drug issue. The community has allowed that. The community is not saying, ‘Wait a minute, we can’t put all this on police.’ ”
And right there, in the chaos and anger and passion of the protests following the death of George Floyd, a single police officer offered a valuable perspective on the whole “Defund the Police” debate.
Let’s be honest. It’s a horrible slogan.
“Defund the Police” is candy to the one-liner simpletons. It’s a cry that launched a thousand memes about the lawless anarchy to come. It’s a loping softball to the grumping Trumpers who swat it away with a red hat.
Just like the “Abolish ICE” outcry that followed our nation’s shameful treatment of immigrants meant “Open the borders and let every criminal in” to too many folks, “Defund the police” sounds like “Get rid of all police everywhere and let anarchy reign” to anyone who doesn’t want to figure out what’s really going on.
The needed change isn’t about defunding the police. It’s about reimagining the police.
Most folks don’t know this, but violent crime in America is radically, sharply down.
FBI numbers show that the violent crime rate fell 51 percent between 1993 and 2018. And Bureau of Justice Statistics data show the rate falling 71 percent during those years, according to the Pew Research Center.
We’re just not as deadly as we used to be.
Unfortunately, 6 in 10 Americans who talked to Gallup said they believe violent crime is up. (We can thank too much crime TV and too many desperate politicians for that.)
But our nation keeps spending and policing like it’s the wild, wild West — about $100 billion a year among the nation’s 18,000 police departments.
And what happens with some of that money, now that violent crime is down?
At least $6 billion has gone to police departments to buy military equipment such as night-vision goggles, machine guns, armored vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers and military aircraft, according to a report by the Charles Koch Institute on the growing militarization of police departments.
Yup, thanks to the 1033 Program, which allows the Pentagon to sell battle-ready gear to state and local police departments, at least 11,959 of your friendly police officers now have bayonets. Bayonets.
See the problem?
We’re doing it all wrong. Instead of transforming police departments to deal with their changing roles in society, it’s easier to double down on going hardcore.
“The increased use of military equipment has coincided with an increased use of military tactics, such as SWAT teams and no-knock raids, by law enforcement agencies,” wrote Jeremiah Mosteller, author of the Koch Institute report. “One study found that use of paramilitary-style teams by law enforcement increased by more than 1,400 percent since 1980.”
Meanwhile, listen to what that officer was telling that young man the other day about what police work really is.
The stuff our society is dumping on police departments doesn’t need bayonets. No one needs night vision goggles for the mentally ill guy on the street who can’t afford treatment, who is homeless.
Police departments don’t need to simply be defunded. They need to be reconstructed.
An arrest is made every three seconds in America, the folks at the Vera Institute of Justice reported. And they’re not the kind of arrests that require grenade launchers, which at least 205 police departments bought from the Pentagon, according to an NPR report on the 1033 Program.
Not even 5 percent of all those arrests in America are for serious violent crimes.
“Instead, the bulk of police work is in response to incidents that are not criminal in nature and the majority of arrests involve nonserious offenses like ‘drug abuse violations,’ ” according to a Vera Institute report by Megan O’Toole.
That’s what smart changes address.
“The majority of police academy training focuses on crime fighting, criminal law, defensive tactics and weaponry skills; however, many of police officers’ day-to-day tasks are related to social services,” said a blog post by the Tulane University School of Social Work that argued for a change in police training.
“Police officers spend the majority of their time on the job resolving conflicts, responding to family disputes and providing other services to community residents.”
Already, the Black Lives Matter movement has prompted a series of common-sense changes across the nation.
Here in the District, the city council passed emergency legislation — without any public hearings — that, among other things, formally bans the hiring of officers with a history of serious misconduct elsewhere. Cities including Seattle, San Diego and Denver have banned police use of chemical weapons and chokeholds. The New York State Senate voted this week to repeal a law that keeps police disciplinary records secret.
These are the beginnings of long-overdue reform.
Fix the police. Change the police. Train the police. Reimagine the police.
Just no more bayonets.
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