The call across the United States for defunding municipal police departments comes after the killing of George Floyd at the knee of a city policeman in Minneapolis.
The resulting protests across the country have been accented by the call for total reform of policing in the United States, up to, and including, dismantling police departments. Some say the departments can be replaced with community policing.
A majority of the Minneapolis city council announced their intent to defund and dismantle that city’s police department. They seek to shift funding toward a new model of community-based policing, but they give scant details of what that would look like. They, like other municipalities, are putting the cart before the horse. You cannot eliminate a police department without having something ready to replace it.
Abolishing a police department is against the very best interests of society as a whole. Police are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They patrol our neighborhoods, they protect and serve our communities. They quickly respond to emergency calls day and night.
Proponents of police defunding call for funds to be shifted from law enforcement departments to areas such as social services, housing and job creation. All noble goals.
In the nation, there are valid criticisms of law enforcement that include racial profiling, brutality, militarization and racism. Most police officers do it right—they care about their communities and its residents. They engage with citizens, communicate with kids; they put forward the positive face of policing. It is heartening to see images of officers across the United States march and kneel with protesters. Some Keizer police staff joined in solidarity with protesters in Salem last weekend.
Here in Keizer there have been no widespread cries of police brutality. Our recent police chiefs have provided a force the community supports.
Kids are told when there is trouble run to a cop. Unfortunately, many black kids are told to steer away from a cop. It is the dichotomy of how different segments of society relate to law enforcement.
There has been talk of police reform for a long time. Protests against police brutality have ebbed and flowed across the nation since the death in 2014 of Eric Garner at the hands of police officers in New York.
A new paradigm in policing in America calls for culture change. Changes have to begin at the top, which means with city mayors and city councils, then with police chiefs and down through the ranks. The first steps should be a deep look at the hiring process and psycological evaluations. The following step should be the training of recruits. We can assume an overwhelming majority of applicants want to enter law enforcement for the right reasons: to serve and protect their communities. Most serve with integrity and honor throughout their careers.
That is cold comfort for citizens who feel they are treated differently and more harsh than others. Dismantling police departments is not the answer—the answer is cities need to assure their patrol officers are part of the solution, not the problem.