Minneapolis city council voted 9-3 to disband the city’s police department last week. When the news broke, my social media feed lit up with support for the police and law enforcement. Law enforcement should be supported, as should all civil servants.
The comment or response I saw most frequently in response to the decision was, “Glad I don’t live there!”
The conversation about Black Lives Matter and police reform is being broken into a binary, where you fall into one of two camps. You either support law enforcement OR you support Black Lives Matter. I encourage you to support honest and open dialogue before taking a side.
Law enforcement has become the Emergency Department physician for the general public. We expect that law enforcement know how to handle every single interaction with the public, even situations that require a level of specialty. Anyone who has been to the Emergency Department can tell you, the E.D. is a terribly expensive way to obtain health care.
Technology has come to reveal all kinds of new information for us. We have cameras everywhere. Security cameras, dash cams, drones, body cams, and of course everyone’s mobile phone. Video is being used to document interactions and to critique officer’s work constantly. That would be unimaginable for most of us.
You may be surprised to know that the overwhelming majority of 9-1-1 calls have NOTHING to do with crime or law enforcement. Officers are responding most often to calls for accidents, health issues, domestic disturbances, neighbor disputes, animal bites, and psychiatric emergencies. If there is anything that all of this footage has confirmed, it’s that we are not using our resources effectively.
“De-fund” is not “cancel”
The cry to “de-fund the police” is not anti-law enforcement. Everyone acknowledges the need for law enforcement; however, we need to have a look at how we’re funding our emergency services to make sure we are getting the most good out of our dollars.
Reviewing and questioning a budget is not disloyal. It is not un-American. Asking questions of entities receiving public money is normal and healthy. It’d be like foregoing your child’s school supplies and having the latest iPhone. One is necessary, the other is not.
More and more, police departments are becoming militarized forces. Outfitted with assault rifles, riot shields, body armor and other tactical gear. Officers appear to be better equipped to play major league catchers or storm troopers, than humans interacting with humans.
That’s where de-fund the police comes in. These protesters are not saying, “cancel the police.” They are saying “de-fund the police.” Does this statement play well? No. But it isn’t the protester’s job to perform public relations. Their job is to bring attention to an issue.
What’s the solution?
I don’t know. I do know that we need to stop sneering every-time someone asks for a dialogue. Minneapolis is just the latest municipality to take a hard look at how it is serving the public and spending public dollars. This isn’t something to fear, this is something to applaud.
Law enforcement already uses collaborative models with other agencies for both equipment and services. The current duplication of equipment and personnel is coming at an extraordinary human and financial cost. The Columbus Dispatch covered this issue in 2014, here‘s the article.