During the protests of 2020, a new chant came to hold just as much importance as Black Lives Matter: “Defund the police!”
Defunding the police is not a new idea – it has existed at least since the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Prison abolitionists and critics of the prison-industrial complex have long promoted it as the most comprehensive solution to the militarization of police departments and the best way to decrease police brutality.
But what does it really mean to defund the police? And could it actually make a dent in the massive issue of police brutality? Wouldn’t that lead to more crime? Well, no.
What most proponents of the idea propose is to divert money away from police departments and towards more nonviolent, community-based services that also decrease crime such as rehab, homeless support and mental health services. Rather than using police officers for every situation, including those that they are poorly suited for, governments should “spread the wealth” and allow more specialized first-responders to assume some of the burdens. Many believe that this would lead to fewer violent interactions between officers and civilians.
For example, during a mental health crisis, a highly trained mental health professional would be better suited to handle the person who is having an issue, whereas an untrained officer is less so. There were multiple cases, such as in the cases of Ricardo Muñoz and Walter Wallace Jr., in which police were called to handle a mental health emergency and the person whom they were called to help ended up killed.
In both cases, police were called because the beloved family member was having a crisis (often due to schizophrenia) and in both cases, they were murdered. According to Treatment Advocacy Center, people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed in encounters with law enforcement.
Seeing this, proponents of defunding the police believe that with more financial support for professionals who work best in situations such as these, there would be fewer violent encounters between civilians and police officers. Another key issue for advocates is the over militarization of police. Many cite the extensive use of military weapons, such as tanks, by police as one of the major reasons for conflicts during protests.
Protesters are enraged by being treated as an enemy force, and more tension is created. In order to decrease the likelihood of these violent interactions, police should have their access to military grade weapons limited through the significant cutting of their sizable budgets.
The intention of the movement sounds good; however, does it work? How effective is it to defund the police? The unfortunate answer is that it has yet to be tried on the scale suggested. America has one of the largest police budgets in the world (if not the largest) and a massive defunding has never been attempted. However, many look at Scandinavian countries as the perfect model for the effectiveness of the plan. These countries put far less money into their police departments than they do other sectors and enjoy fairly low levels of crime.
Though it is reasonable to say that these countries are both far smaller and have far different population concentrations, it would be fair to at least give the movement a chance. And who knows? Perhaps defunding the police would help mend the broken relationships between many minority communities and law enforcement.