Someone, somewhere has been the spark for one of the dumbest, most dangerous ideas around. Dumb because it’s wrong-headed and diverts attention from the core message of “Black Lives Matter.” Dangerous for the type of society it would create.
“Defund the police.” Do you mean “Abolish the police?”
That’s it. Just three words. But, it’s become one of the rallying cries from crowds in the streets. From coast-to-coast. “Defund the police.”
Yes, I know about “police brutality.” I know from first-hand experience. I know about police raids gone wrong when an innocent person is injured or killed. And, I know about statistics showing the disparity between how black and white Americans are treated during interactions with the police. And, yes, there are bad cops.
Many, many years ago, I was the reporter assigned to the law enforcement beat at a TV/Radio outfit in Boise. And in Omaha. Yes, Virginia, there really was a time when reporters didn’t just sit around, breathlessly awaiting the next “news release” from some police agency. We actually engaged in what was called “beat reporting.”
I mostly worked the 2-11pm shift. Many nights, after the late newscast, I’d do a “ride-along” with local police or sheriff’s deputies. I hung out at the “cop shop” and really got to see things from a different perspective. I experienced what police life was like. At that time.
Forward to Washington D.C. during much of the anti-Viet Nam and equal rights marches. As a street reporter, I experienced police over-reaction and mounted police charges into otherwise peaceful and lawful demonstrations with participants in the thousands.
So, with some first-hand experiences over 40 years or so, I’ve seen the many “faces” of police work, police training and police duties from both sides. The good. The bad. The ugly.
Defunding (abolishing) the police will not - and should not - ever happen. Nor should we grant law enforcement more authority - more power - than it already has. But, there are areas where we can focus.
Hiring is one. Create a “hiring panel” composed of senior officers and civilians with appropriate backgrounds. If the hiring agency deals with mixed-race communities, put leaders of those communities on the panel. Experienced applicant or new hire, do a rigorous and in-depth background check plus an extended interview process with that panel. Do a psych eval. Make sure the new hire is qualified - “inside and out.” Catch the bad guys there.
Continually check your officers. The cop who put his knee to the neck of George Floyd had 17 - 17 - prior write-ups for bad behavior. Although he was already on the force, why was he allowed to stay given that record? Why wasn’t he fired after five write-ups? Ten write-ups? Improve periodic reviews of what’s going on and find where you’ve got personnel problems. Continually.
If not already a practice, go back to neighborhood patrols. Get out of the cars. Meet people. Know the ins-and-outs of the area. And “who’s who.” Determine the local leadership. Go back to doing “community policing. It works. One of the biggest problems with police interactions today is the cops don’t know the territory.
Next, get rid of the military equipment. Give those damned M-Raps with machine guns back to the feds. The AK-47's, too. Get ‘em off the streets. Giving local cops the look of heavily-armed military invaders can also add “heat” to a bad situation and make it worse.
Abolish police unions. I support most unions. But, where police are concerned, unions have become places to hide bad cops. They make it almost impossible to fire ‘em. Unions have their rightful place. But, not in “cop shops.” Not when life or death decisions are made.
Night after night, we’ve watched cops charge into marchers. Trump’s bible photo-op was one example. They just raised shields and batons and launched into what were obviously peaceful protestors. Faced with that, and some teargas canisters for good measure, unarmed marchers suddenly became targets of brutality instead of people - individuals - trying peacefully to make their point(s). One of those points being police brutality.
No matter who ordered that charge (Bill Barr has confessed) it was wrong on so many levels. But, it perfectly captured and made clear to millions watching, one of the major issues in this country is the widening gap between authority wrongfully used and marchers expressing their frustrations in a lawful manner under the First Amendment to our Constitution.
Fair to say, not all marchers are always solely intent on delivering the message of the moment. Looters and vandals often use good people for cover. Absolutely. But, sooner or later, they always break away to do their evil deeds. Cops need to go after the evildoers while keeping in mind those miscreants have nothing to do with crowds legally and peacefully in the streets. The obviously separate events require a change of focus, and a change in police attitude towards innocent folks.
Yes, it’s easy to sit here in the cheap seats and pontificate. Political writers do a lot of that. But, with extensive life experiences and some gray hair, watching the problem unfold night after night in our living rooms, there is a certain clarity to (a) see the problem and (b) recognize some of the answers.
“Defund the police.” No! “Abolish the police?” No!
Instead, recognize the need to have strict, in-depth hiring policies. Constantly review, and where necessary, update training to match the communities - and individuals - served. Renew efforts to get out among the people so a relationship is developed face-to-face. Make the use of force - in any situation - the last, very last, step to take.
Crowds come and go. Cops are here to stay. And should always be.