Democrats, Republicans, left and right leaning people, and those in between have been having knee-jerk reactions to the term, “defund the police.” “Defund” sets off a reaction that unnerves people, no matter how the topic is being discussed. Using that term to describe what people feel is necessary to improve police departments across the country is the wrong word to use. If you can get past the scary headlines and loudmouth commentators on TV and radio, you will learn that the people using this term really want progressive changes to take place within the culture of police departments. They want a reallocation of some funds that would help both the communities and the police.
In the past few weeks, since the televised death/murder of George Floyd, we have heard numerous horror stories about police behavior from people who have had encounters with the police. We’ve heard stories from police officers who feel they are stressed by the uncertainty of exactly what they will encounter when they get called out to investigate a situation. There are dozens of issues in police departments that can cause the officers to be stressed. Yet, I would say that is the same in every aspect of the jobs nurses, doctors, firefighters, EMTS, soldiers, and any other person who is considered to be a “first responder” do on a daily basis. It does take a special type of person to know their lives may be put on the line for the benefit of another human being. That person may well encounter various situations where they are faced with trauma and hysterical family members, along with being the person who may ultimately be responsible for trying to save a life. That kind of profession takes special and dedicated people who, in most cases, will do anything within their power to improve the situation and achieve a positive outcome.
“Abolish the police” is another term that has surfaced in the last couple of weeks. There may be a few people who believe that is exactly what should happen. Yet, if those people would take a breath and step back for a moment, they would realize abolishment is not feasible, and it isn’t what people need. From the various articles I have read and researched, the true meaning runs along the lines of “abolishing” the racism and bigotry that, in many cases, has been allowed and encouraged among too many police departments. It does start at the top and runs through the training programs for new recruits and sometimes, subtly or blatantly, emphasized daily by superiors and fellow officers. This culture needs to change. Unfortunately, the culture of “us versus them” has gone on for so many years that the change will not happen overnight or even within the next five years. Yet, it must be allowed to start, now.
I do feel empathy toward many police officers who are asked to intervene in situations that may be well outside their professional experience. Our police are not trained to be social workers, mental health specialists, addiction counselors, or crisis management specialists. Those subjects may be discussed during cadet training or ongoing training required by some police departments, yet, we have seen too many times that whatever training the officers have received, it usually isn’t enough to bring a situation to a positive outcome. The police should not be expected to know exactly how to handle every situation. Communication between the officer and another human being is imperative, but not every officer will know or understand how to deal with a person who is blind, deaf, autistic, mentally challenged, suffering from PTSD, or something as simple as not understanding English. This is where reallocating funding from the police departments to various social service entities and community programs would be necessary. I am the first to agree we may be asking too much from our police officers.
How many of us have seen news reports where people were arrested because they were feeding the homeless out on the street? How many times have we heard the horror stories about the homeless being hassled and arrested for being homeless? There are many homeless people who do have jobs but can’t afford the cost of any kind of housing. It is easy to tell yourself, “I don’t see any homeless people in my community, so why should I care what happens to them?” If that is your attitude, you should be aware it could happen to you at any time.
We have witnessed so many recordings of violent encounters by police using excessive force unnecessarily for what appeared to be minor traffic infractions. We’ve seen similar incidents happen in our own county and not always to people of color. It has happened to white people who might have looked like “lowlifes” or had previous dealings with the police for whatever reason. The attitude seems to be once a lawbreaker, always a lawbreaker. Some of those people are caught in a cycle they can’t get out of, no matter how hard they may try. This again comes back to the lack of community/social programs that may help people turn their lives around. Yes, I know, some people can be irredeemable, no matter how many chances they may get. It is still wrong of the police to pre-determine the person or family members are all bad seeds, and, therefore, they must immediately, upon contact, treat them as criminals.
There have been several suggestions about how to change the culture within the police departments. There are very few changes that can be instituted immediately. Police departments aren’t the only entities that must change how they deal with the people they have sworn to protect and serve. The police unions and FOP must change their behavior and culture. The simple fact that police officers are so well protected by their “immunity” does not instill confidence or trust from the public.