There are times when a media storyline takes on a life of its own. Community leaders, church groups, editorial boards, and yes, politicians, all add their own perspectives propelling a storyline. These viewpoints can be both helpful and harmful. Unfortunately, there are times when the original issue gets lost in rhetoric and grandstanding.
The subject of defunding police has gained a prominent spotlight in recent discussions of law enforcement. It is important that as one discusses this subject, a clear, accurate, and objective definition is used. If everyone is well informed a constructive dialogue, along with creative ideas and well-advised recommendations can develop.
What is Defunding the Police?
Plainly put, “defunding the police” means reallocating funding away from police departments to other agencies or divisions within a local municipality. Advocates of defunding, however, usually stop short of abolishing departments altogether. When asked why they support defund efforts, their reasoning usually comes from several perspectives:
- fiscal responsibility
- redirecting services to other departments with the perception that those entities can provide better results
- contentious attitudes, prompted by select police encounters, that work to admonish and enact a form of punishment and penalty against police departments as a whole
Recent and historic events, media coverage, and a groundswell of public emotions, have given the Black Lives Matter movement a valid presence in America’s current conversation regarding people of color and law enforcement. As a relevant cause, the merits of Black Lives Matter are inarguable and warrant consideration. However, loud calls for “defunding” are not going to provide a constructive solution.
If politicians considered current polling information, the cries for defunding would not be nearly as loud. The fact is most Americans do not want to defund their police departments. By a margin of two-thirds, they are, in fact, opposed to reducing police budgets.
Admittedly, within some communities those percentages against defunding are not as high. However, all must realize that policing is needed to keep their neighborhoods safe and secure. To both maintain and improve local law enforcement, certain activities still need full fiscal and public support. Below are a few reasons why defunding our police departments will not bring a positive result.
Everyone agrees that education is a core requirement for efficient law enforcement. To maintain and improve performance within a fair administration of law and order, initial and continuing training is vital. Diminishing their funding would deprive both local departments and local neighborhoods the benefits of improving policing skills, updating methods, and addressing problems as they arise. In short, less funding means less money for adequate training and resources.
BOOTS ON THE GROUND
Normally, the phrase “boots on the ground” is associated with the armed forces, but it also applies to our local law enforcement. As populations grow and shift, New Jersey police departments need to have a sufficient workforce to adequately serve their community.
Whether it’s 911 desk operations, foot patrols, or car patrols, defunding could deprive neighborhoods of adequate police protection. A decreased presence of law enforcement leads to more chaos and crime, which continues cycles of violence in communities who are most at risk. Community policing requires enough police officers to engage with the community on a regular basis, as well as handle distress calls and solve crimes.
Hand in hand with training and educating, an active force needs the ability to recruit and retain officers. Budget cuts would require officers to work more overtime shifts, leading to potential burnout and decreased morale. If budgets are cut through defunding activities, salaries and benefits will also be affected. The direct result – increased challenges to attract the diversity, talent, and skill, needed to serve New Jersey communities.
REAL CRIMINALS / REAL PROBLEMS
The majority of 911 calls are for nonviolent encounters. This might suggest that these calls would be better addressed by mental health or behavioral counselors than by peace officers trained to address violence. But as all police know, domestic incidents and minor disturbances will often turn violent quickly. That’s when an officer’s training to diffuse or neutralize a dangerous actor or situation is necessary. This becomes even more apparent and worrisome when we acknowledge that, at any time of day, there are real criminals committing real acts of violence. Not having the funding to provide our departments with the training, equipment, personnel, and readiness to meet and remove these elements can make a terrible situation much worse.
Media messaging of late sometimes promotes a select rhetoric of police officers as the “bad guys” along with their departments as “corrupt.” Unfortunately, as in any profession, there will always be individuals who underperform or choose not to apply best practices. However, those individual failures – no matter how egregious – must not dictate blanket policy moving forward. Continued education both inside departments and into the neighborhoods they serve, proper training in new behavioral approaches, implicit bias and optimal practices, as well as the ongoing recruitment of a diverse, caring and devoted workforce can ensure that police departments are empowered to do their jobs responsibly and fairly. As such, adequate funding will ensure all communities receive safe, effective enforcement of our nation’s most ideal definition of law and order.