So much of this discussion about the police budget is beside the point, a kind of circular argument that has been going on for way too long. Here's a handy four-point guide for moving this in the right direction:
1) Stop bickering about transparency involving the police budget. Much of the back and forth between Council members and Chief Brackney involves some on Council saying they need more information about what the police department is spending money on, and specifically what we are paying police officers to do. Chief Brackney is justifiably frustrated with Council in this regard. There is a line-item accounting of police expenditures, an annual report, and a daily incident log that provides more than enough information on what the police department is spending money on and what they do. Besides, those calling for police reform have a pretty good idea about what police should and should not be doing. Council members, Chief Brackney, community activists, etc. all getting defensive and sniping at each other does nothing to move this along.
2) Identify what specific responsibilities that the police have that could be transferred to social workers, emergency medical technicians, conflict resolution specialists, restorative justice teams, and other community-based professionals. There’s a reasonable argument to be made that police shouldn’t be expected to be so heavily involved in the handling of social issues like homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse. “Police are effective at reducing violence, the most damaging feature of urban inequality. And yet one can argue that law enforcement is an authoritarian institution that historically has inflicted violence on Black people and continues to do so today. To resolve these divergent ideas requires thinking about whether there are other groups or institutions that can uphold public safety without the damage done by law enforcement. Decades of criminological theory and growing evidence demonstrate that residents and local organizations can indeed “police” their own neighborhoods and control violence — in a way that builds stronger communities.” - Princeton sociologist Patrick Sharkey.
3) Before transferring police responsibilities to other entities, these programs need to be in place with organizing structures and funding. A lot of thought and effort will need to go into creating these programs and putting them in place so that they actually function as they should.
4) A general problem with the “defund the police” debate: restructuring our police department so that community-based professionals, residents, and local organizations take over responsibilities that police handle could actually end up costing the community more money, at least initially.
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