by Kathy Bandujo
For the “Progressive Views,” Boerne Star, Friday June 19, 2020
When you’re trying to sell something, be it a product or an idea, effective marketing is key. If it’s confusing—or worse, misleading—then you won’t be successful. Such is the case with the current movement to “defund” police departments. On the one hand some have argued the shock value of the word has gotten people talking about it. But I think what it’s really done is just turn people off. They immediately chalk it up to extremist nonsense without looking deeper into what’s really being proposed. I think the word “defund” is not only a misnomer, but is also doing a disservice to ideas that deserve serious discussion and consideration.
The words which more accurately reflect what is being proposed are ”reprioritize and refocus.” The city of Camden, New Jersey is being held up as a model for this. Plagued with an unusually high crime rate and an equally high rate of excessive force complaints against the police in 2012, they took the dramatic step of firing the entire department and then hiring back a majority of them with increased psychological testing and screening before re-hire. Then they completely shifted the focus of this new department to “community policing.” They changed the mindset of the department from “warrior” to “guardian.”
Their first days on the job, officers knocked on doors to introduce themselves and listen to community concerns. While they still pursued drug dealers, it was now social workers, which were hired from the savings in cutting the size of the police department, who dealt with the users from a treatment standpoint. Counselors and mental health professionals were also hired to deal with domestic and mental health issues. With this new approach, the crime rate has been cut in half and complaints against the police have dropped to almost nothing over the course of the last six years. And perhaps best of all, the citizens are now receiving the services they need.
I’m sure some who are reading this will say “What does this have to do with us anyway? We’re not a big city. We don’t have a high crime rate. And we have good law enforcement here.” Yes we do! But like many other areas in the country, our local jails have become a substitute for the lack of available mental health or drug treatment facilities. People who should rightly be in treatment have instead ended up incarcerated where they not only can’t get the type of help they really need, but they further stretch and stress police resources.
So why doesn’t every city and town, regardless of size, take a serious look at the portion of their law enforcement budget that goes to fill this gap and see if it’s possible to divert it (“defund” it, if you will) to the actual need? For instance (picking a number out of thin air), say 20% of our law enforcement manpower, man-hours, and jail occupancy are spent dealing with these social issues. What if we used those tax dollars to instead fund increased availability of mental health and drug treatment options and freed law enforcement to just deal with criminals? After all, police are not meant to be social workers or mental health professionals or substance abuse counselors.
As a community and a country, what if we chose to fund those services to lessen the burden on our law enforcement officers and provide the services actually needed by our citizens in crisis? The long-term benefits not only to the individuals involved, but to our communities and the nation could be substantial.
To find out more about how to get involved to create change, visit www.kcdems.us
Kathy Bandujo is a local Democrat.