Defund the Police?

A member of the sheriff’s police visited us lately when our granddaughter locked her keys in her car. He was extremely friendly and very helpful, getting her door open in less than 5 minutes.

We thanked him as he got back into his squad car and he said, “Just don’t defund me.” I was startled to hear that, surprised that he would see that as a threat to his personal income. But of course, “Defund the Police” would create fear in a man whose livelihood was at stake.

I know that the phrase used by Black Lives Matter protesters doesn’t mean to remove all money for the departments leaving cities without any police protection and millions of hard-working, dedicated workers out of jobs. I think what they mean is to recreate the way we protect citizens from harm. Defunding means less police presence and more presence of persons qualified to handle persons who are causing trouble because of their mental illness. It also means funneling money to channels where crime is prevented, such as Boys and Girls Clubs. This is just the tip of the iceberg of creative thinking going on.

Today I was listening to a program about evictions as the statute that prevents landlords from evicting their tenants issued at the start of Covid 19 is expiring. The fact is that only formal, legal convictions are on record. Landlords can get tenants to leave in other ways such as raising the rent to an impossible rate or turning off utilities.  One example given was to take the front door off of an apartment so the tenants lost their privacy and their safety. These types of evictions are not on record.

The discussion closed with a recording of a woman being evicted from her apartment who was saying, “I have no place to go. My stuff is still there. Let me go back and get my things.” The landlord responded, “Don’t you dare step foot in that apartment or I will call the police.”

What exactly could a police officer do except intimidate the woman or arrest her if she got violent? I thought about what could happen if those receiving distress calls had other alternatives. There are people in social services whose jobs it is to help people find housing or to receive rent assistance. Churches and charities often provide services that include immediate help for those in crisis. And what about those trained in negotiation? The landlord and tenant clearly were not in a mind set of listening and considering each others point of view. Police officers are not trained to be social workers nor are they responsible to settle disputes (though many have done so).

We don’t need to defund our police departments, we need to re-imagine ways to protect the citizens than just policing. I regret that Black Lives Matter couldn’t come up with a phrase that more clearly reflected what I believe they are trying to say. It has caused confusion and resistance. Even those who support the plight of Black Americans struggle with the phrase.

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