I get the desire to redirect, defund, and abolish the police.
Over the last four decades several intersecting factors have made it difficult to challenge aspects of police culture. These include a reduction in mental health services; the growing power of police unions; militarization; and the increased presence of guns. Add that in some places the police are the tax collectors for municipalities and get graded on their generation of income.
And that doesn’t include the hiring of white supremacists.
But most community organizers will tell you that communities want the cops. Social workers want cops to provide protection when they’re called on to deescalate. Furthermore, most urban police departments are more diverse than other institutions.
Community organizers know that one problem is underpolicing in dangerous areas, and overpolicing in everyday situations.Community leaders can tell the police where the dangerous places are; and they will tell you when they see cops sleeping on the job. When a precinct or a department are not connected to the community, they will not have the capacity to respond effectively.
LEOs can often be their own worst enemy. Some times the cop who has the worst reputation is like an enforcer in hockey, who will be the one who can be called to handle the most challenging and intractable situations. They fire the police who tell the truth; they begin to see civilians as enemies. This is not structurally different than other unions. But their inability to police themselves agitates the problem. Escalation against citizens ends up escalating the calls for abolishing police. That some cops work for more than 18 hours in a day means poor decision making.
We live in a country where guns, poverty, and envy, intensify the anxiety and corrode the capacity of individuals and communities to direct their energy toward mutual flourishing. It can be geographically intensified through density and close contact. Without an abundance of countervailing institutions, violence has always been a way to pay the piper, to maintain honor, to establish rules. The availability of guns makes these communities, and work of LEOs less safe. The solutions are not simply, “be nice to cops” or to stop protesting; but perhaps counterintuitive.
Public safety includes a variety of social problems that requires coordination across disciplines. Communities should fund a variety of institutions that do so. This includes police. Therefore, some resources should be directed away from parts of the pipeline into programs that prevent violence in the first place – Midnight Basketball was one of the more ridiculed ones. But it worked!
I submit that two policies might actually reduce and redirect this challenge of cops occupying communities: fund living wage jobs for teen-agers to adults; and second, rearrange our policing so that they are not underpaid, do not work 30 hour overtimes, and are trained for more than 3 months, but up to four years. Four years before getting a gun.
That the origins of the police have been related to issues of race – and ethnic patronage – is familiar history. But origins do not determine use, and it is up to us to think realistically about both ensuring safety, and funding the programs that actually give people the tools to thrive.