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Dallas Discusses Defunding The Police And So Do We

The various organizations have allowed teams to re-congregate and prepare to practice again. That is far from the major news of the week, as you are aware. The protests of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis have sparked a counter-protest from police. Here is a twitter thread from criminal defense attorney Greg Doucette.

A generous reading of police action is that they only have one method for achieving “peace”, and that is pacification through physical violence. That is, of course, what the broader protest is about: police visiting violence on the public, particularly minorities, and specifically black people.

At worst, you can say the cops are relishing the opportunity to “bust heads” and that the entire culture of policing is one of Police Bro: the guy from high school who always wanted to do violence and be paid for it. Add to that mix the influx of white supremacists in the ranks of police, and it is then unsurprising to see the results in the streets.

Seemingly every city in the nation is having a conversation about what to do about this moment, and what to do with their out-of-control police force. Dallas police chief U. Renee Hall instituted a ‘day to intervene’ policy on Thursday. There was a longer, more contentious discussion of policy on Friday night, according to Hyat Norimine of the DMN.

A heated line of questions from Mayor Eric Johnson to Police Chief U. Renee Hall prompted the city manager and a council member to try to interject. The mayor instead muted their mics, which angered council members enough to later yell over each other in the virtual meeting.

There were eight hours of discussion, to the chagrin of most everyone involved, and input from a long list of citizens. Discussion included the simplest and seemingly most extreme point: defunding the police department.

Most every discussion of reform includes increased funds to police officers. Training, re-training, oversight, and surveillance equipment like body cams and the like cost money. As the article by Norimine notes, the budget shortfall because of global pandemic has put a strain on the bank accounts of every government.

If your experience with police is one of seeing a lawless, unaccountable group of people who visit unwarranted violence upon you — stop and frisk, jump out boys, cursing, verbal mistreatment — who do more harm than good — like planting evidence, going into the wrong house and shooting someone with no consequences for that incompetence, unsolved crimes, corruption — then you might not think the police provide a lot of value.

If you think the police provide a sense of safety from the criminal elements, then you think defunding police is a step too far.

Consider that the cop you are thinking of is one person with two sides. If history and life has taught us anything is that some of the seemingly nicest people commit some of the most heinous crimes. The nice cop who helps old ladies across the street can be the same one that says “we should kill them all” about protesters.

Also consider that our own relationship with cops is colored by our entertainment diet. We have consumed thousands of hours of cop shows and movies and that has in part, helped us build a Dallas city budget where the police and fire portion is 60%.

In Denton, $35 million is budgeted for 248 full-time-equivalent police officers, support personnel, jailers and the like. $31 million is marked for fire. The entire budgeted adopted for the 19-20 year can be found here.

It is important to keep in mind, as you are processing these discussions that a review of the utility of police and determining the best way to spend tax dollars is simply the function of government. If we feel unsafe and yet (in Dallas) the public safety budget is 60%, then how much more safer will we be when it is 80%?

You can use this tool to find clearance rates for various police jurisdictions here. According to the tool, Denton municipal PD cleared about 43% of violent crime in the years from 2011-2013, and about 34% of robberies.

This all reminds me of the sign advice to “Lock, your car, Take your keys, Hide your belongings” as a way to “not be an easy target” and prevent crime. Perhaps the best way to solve crime is to prevent it in the first place, by increasing funding for programs that prevent the conditions that lead to robberies, violent crime, domestic abuse, and the like.

A concern is the tendency for police to react to any kind of oversight with a a concerning collective sulking. There are a number of stories of police using protests and “riots” to enhance their standing by strategically allowing looting and burning — and in some cases instigating these acts themselves “undercover”. 1

In the NY Times article about the subject of defunding the police, Gwen Gunter is quoted as saying,

“There’s a part of me that hopes they do succeed,” she said, “because I want to see how long it takes before they say, ‘Oh, no we do need a Police Department.’”

Later, the answer is given.

Those who support the movement to scale back the responsibilities of the police say officers frequently abuse their power and instigate violence rather than prevent it. They say many social welfare tasks that currently fall to armed police officers — responding to drug overdoses, and working with people who have a mental illness or are homeless — would be better carried out by nurses or social workers.

Money for this nurses and social workers can come from the police department fund. Instead of four new sworn officers, there can be four new sworn social workers, etc.

Much like college football coaches cannot imagine a world where the coach is not the supreme shot-caller, the highest paid people in the state, and their athletes are in their complete control (see the discussions on transfers, NIL, social media, protests, speaking to the media, etc) we cannot simply ask the police department if it should exist.

Crucially, we cannot simply fire every officer and move on. They are citizens and if we are proposing new things here, we should fund transitionary training for officers to move into new fields. We can help former officers who want to be social workers, or nurses, or community violence prevention supporters and the like.

That is real reform.

  1. the idea being that doing so would draw out others who would do the same and allowing officers to identify these people. As ineffective and problematic as it seems, at least one former cop has shared this tactic

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