Let’s talk about “defunding” or “abolishing” the police.
First, nobody is suggesting immediately disbanding all “law enforcement” and leaving a vacuum. But, there is a problem; in fact, there are multiple problems, with the role of police in American society. The Abolition Movement (which may need a better name) proposes to reduce these problems. And the solutions are not that radical.
Criminalizing Human Behavior
Police do too many things that they are not particularly good at. People call the police whenever something is bothers them:
Girlfriend left . . . with your clothes: call the police!
You get the idea.
The status quo, expecting police to be all things all the time (social worker, psychologist, animal control, negotiator, EMT — often all at once) makes competently performing those tasks impossible, often with tragic consequences for people who need actual services (such as a counselor or a doctor).
Furthermore, we militarize the police who respond to these situations. SWAT teams emerged in the 1960s, then the war on drugs became an arms race between police and narco-traffickers, and after 9/11 the military began wholesale disbursal of its surplus weaponry of war to police departments. On top of that, police have begun to view themselves as combatants in enemy territory. Popular “Warrior Training” teaches that police are soldiers in a war zone and that instant death lurks around every corner. In fact, policing barely cracks the top-20 most dangerous jobs, trailing behind most agriculture jobs (farming and ranching). But when Minneapolis banned “Warrior Training,” because it cultivated a dangerously antagonistic attitude toward citizens, the police union announced that the union would pay for it and that police could take the courses on their own time.
Reduce the Number of Encounters
We don’t need Warrior Cops responding to noise complaints and, frankly, don’t want them crashing parties when they are trained that there’s a sniper behind every beer keg. In nearly every criminal case I litigate, I demand the responding officers’ training. I can tell you that the overwhelming majority of their ongoing training is at the firing range, not in counseling techniques, de-escalation strategies, or talking a suicide down. In fact, the standard police report form in St. Paul actually has “Police Assisted Suicide” as a category to check. If someone is suicidal, the only option is to shoot her because we have summoned warriors, not therapists — yet we invariably call the police to respond.
Now, maybe, you see where this is going. “Abolishing” or “defunding” the police means we don’t call them when our child is suicidal or our neighbor’s music is too loud. It means outsourcing many of their responsibilities to professionals who are trained in domestic disputes, drug addiction, and mental health crises, with 911-type emergency calls answered by the sheriff’s department.
This proposal is not novel. The rest of the developed world manages not to criminalize addiction, mental health crises, and poverty. That’s why we jail six times as many of our citizens (SIX TIMES) as any comparable country. It is time to be open-minded. Let’s be visionary. In this crisis, like so many, is an opportunity.