This article will address the narrative that defunding the police is reasonable. I am not sure when exactly the “Defund the Police” movement began, but its popularity has grown significantly after the death of George Floyd. If I try really hard, I can almost empathize with this sentiment. For those who are surprised by that statement, understand that to empathize with does not mean to agree with.
Uneducated and impressionable individuals have been told by their elected officials and the mainstream media that police are killing people based on their skin color. These dumb masses do not know they are being lied to and they honestly believe this narrative to be true. Therefore, a natural response is to stop giving money to an organization who they believe is violating human rights.
Consider the following, if you educate an individual from childhood that a certain group of people is evil, then you release that person into society as an adult, they would behave as if what you told them was true. This is the process for radicalization. And this is precisely what the mainstream media and ideological politicians have done to shape many citizens’ view of police.
Monetary Value and Funding
Monetary value is value measured in terms of currency. Certain items and services have more monetary value than others. Factors that affect monetary value could include quality, effectiveness, efficiency, or even factors such as brand name or social proof.
Funding is providing financial support to a business, mission, or other entity. The amount of funding we provide is indicative of the monetary value we place on that business, mission, or other entity.
I personally don’t place much value on abstract art exhibits (Please contain your surprise), therefore I do not donate to these groups. However, I do value the work done by Pro-Life groups and I donate to (fund) these groups.
We all understand this, and these concepts are outlined in great detail in Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell. However, I find it useful to cover first principles of a concept when setting the stage for a contentious discussion.
Societies cannot function well without laws. Laws are basically an agreed set of boundaries and standards placed on individuals within a society in order to preserve the society and protect the individuals within the society. Now, we could have a discussion on the arbitrary nature or morality of various laws that have been passed; however, that is beyond the scope of this discussion (though, look for one in future posts). Generally speaking, there are laws that are necessary for the preservation of a society. If you are an anarchist, this discussion is not for you.
If we were a virtuous and responsible citizenry, these laws could be agreed upon and every man, woman, and child would follow them out of an altruistic motive to do the right thing. However, that has never been and will never be the case. Thus, there must be some system in place to enforce the laws. This system needs to ensure laws are being observed, stop unlawful activity, and discipline those who commit unlawful activity.
Social Workers in lieu of Police?
A growing naive narrative is that unarmed social workers could replace police. One of the main ideas behind this narrative is that the presence of armed police can actually escalate a situation, whereas an unarmed social worker might result in a peaceful resolution. I will concede that there might be a FEW situations in which a suspect might not be as likely to shoot a social worker as they would a cop. However, I would argue that the reason for this is that the social worker has no real means for coercing the suspect into compliance. Therefore, when the social worker cannot get the suspect to comply, they will be left with two options:
- Disengage from the suspect and allow them to continue doing what they were doing.
- Call the real police.
Note, these two options would be a best case scenario, should a suspect not comply. Worst case would be that either the victim or the social worker be assaulted or killed. There is a reason police carry firearms and other less-lethal tools, because when a situation goes sideways, it is too late to gear up.
I think another reason many feel that armed police should be replaced with unarmed social workers is a lack of understanding for what arms are intended for. Arms (lethal and less-lethal) are tools for imposing one’s will on another when verbal demands fail. Good and bad guys both use arms for this purpose. Bad guys use arms when a victim will not comply with their demands and good guys use arms when a bad guy will not stop being bad even after verbal commands.
An unarmed police officer is like a bite dog without teeth. Now, if you think that what I just suggested is that police are only good for shooting people, then you don’t understand the analogy. Bite dogs are not only used for biting, they are also used to intimidate a suspect into compliance. Bite dogs are often held on leash as they bark viciously at the suspect while other officers give commands to the suspect. However, if a suspect sees a bite dog without teeth, the intimidation is lost. This also does not mean that police should, or are, always brandishing their firearms and threatening to shoot someone but that the fine print of every law enforcement command is “or else”. Without the “or else”, you have neutered the officer’s authority.
Not only is it a bad idea to try and replace police with social workers, it still doesn’t address the root of the issue. Police departments, along with every other organization on earth, have issues because they are composed of people, and there is nothing we can do to change that.
Now, one might suggest that this fact is the reason why an unarmed social worker is the answer. Because an armored social worker cannot mistakenly kill someone. Theoretically this might be true and the few individuals who were unjustly killed by police would still be alive. However, considering that the vast majority of police shootings are justified, what is more likely to happen is that we would have a bunch of social workers killed by armed suspects.
Does police brutality exist in this country? Yes. However, when you factor in all the interactions police have with citizens on a daily and annual basis, police brutality is statistically zero. The reason police brutality seems like more of an issue than it is could be because our society gives most of its focus on examples of brutality while marginalizing examples of professional policing.
Defending the case that police brutality is not as much of an issue as it is portrayed by the media is beyond the scope of this article, but I encourage you to watch the following discussions.
Skip to 9:12 for stats on police killings.
Now that we have established that a society needs laws and we have determined that we need an organization with the power to enforce those laws (police), the next question is who and how this organization will be formed and maintained.
The police organization could be voluntary, comprised of members who work other jobs to support their families or who have other means of financial support (a well paid spouse). Or the police organization could be funded.
Let’s suppose the police organization is voluntary. Imagine the entire organization tasked with enforcing laws was composed of men and women who were volunteer cops. One could argue that this could be an effective method, due to the likely altruistic motives of the volunteers (ignore those who would do it out of thirst for power and authority).
Some potential pitfalls with this model could include difficulty with gear and uniform acquisition, and a lack of consequence for decommissioning (unpaid volunteers do not feel the same consequences as paid volunteers when fired). Gear acquisition would either be the responsibility of the volunteers, which would result in a lack of uniformity, or it could be achieved through donations to the organization. Threat of punishment or job loss to volunteers is not nearly as effective as with paid employees (I would also make the case that low wages can have this same consequence when employees could work for another industry and get paid more).
Next, let’s consider a funded police model (the current model used across the United States and in many other Nations). This model requires there to be some means for financially supporting the organization. This funding could be through voluntary donation (not reliable), or funded by tax payers (current model).
A voluntary donation model would only work if you had enough wealthy altruistic individuals, who were willing to donate their money to the organization. The main problem with this model is that if departmental funding were reliant on donors, they might recant their support after receiving a speeding ticket or other negative encounter with police. Or worse, these donors were viewed by law enforcement as untouchable for fear that they would revoke support.
The tax payer funded model is the most fair and equitable means for law enforcement funding since all in the community would benefit from the organization. Furthermore, it prevents individuals from pulling support or from placing the wealthy in an untouchable class.
Allocation of Funds
After determining the source of funding, we must then determine how the funding will be used. Training, gear, uniforms, facilities, transportation, administrative, and salary must all be funded in order for a law enforcement organization to function.
Law Enforcement funding is not an allowance for good behavior and it is not a reward. Funding is necessary to ensure the officers are prepared and well equipped, while also compensating them in accordance with their duties.
Higher Pay = Higher Standards
Think back to the voluntary law enforcement organization. Volunteers offering their time with no compensation would not be as compelled to maintain the same standards as a group that was well compensated. This would be due to their need to work a paid job with another employer (their true financial allegiance) as well as no consequence for losing money due to being fired from the law enforcement organization.
Now, consider a law enforcement organization that paid its officers a very handsome salary, such as $60,000 for starting pay, in an area that currently has a starting pay around $40,000. This may sound absolutely ludicrous to some, especially when you compare it to the current average starting pay; however, the employment standards that could be set for such a high starting salary would be much higher than the current standards.
These higher standards could be in the form of hiring standards, physical fitness standards, conduct standards, and more. These higher standards would likely disqualify many who meet current standards; however, the pay bump would mean that the departments would have a larger pool of applicants. Furthermore, higher pay would also result in higher retention rates, which is significant since the hiring and training process for new officers is extremely expensive.
More Funding = More Training
Police training includes initial academy training, career advancement training, as well as annual in-service training.
I cannot speak for other departments, but the department I worked for had a phenomenal initial academy training program. Our training consisted of eight weeks of an interdepartmental academy, ten weeks of a state academy, and then sixteen weeks of on-the-job training with a Field Training Officer (FTO). That’s 34 weeks, or about 8.5 months of training before you are allowed to patrol on your own. Once again, I worked for a great department and they put a lot of time and resources into ensuring new officers were trained.
Juxtapose this with other departments in my state that allow new hires to hit the street before even going to the academy. As insane as it may sound, our state permits departments to send officers on duty for up to six months before requiring them to graduate the Police Officers Standards and Training (POST) certified academy. This is not uncommon either, at least 30 states allow untrained or minimally trained officers to go on duty during these certification “grace periods”. If you believe that this is a recipe for disaster, I completely agree. This is one area of “police reform” (I hate even using the term due to its political connotations) that I agree with.
Not only is initial training suboptimal in many departments, but it gets much worse when you consider annual recertification and in-service training. Generally speaking, officers are required to get 40 hours of in-service refresher training annually to maintain their qualifications. This training consists of use of force, weapons qualification, mental health, domestic abuse, defensive tactics, Amber alert protocol, cultural diversity, 4th Amendment, etc. In my opinion, 40 hours of training per year is not nearly enough to ensure junior and seasoned officers are sharpening their skills. However, departments are underfunded and it costs money and manpower to conduct training. Thus, defunding an already underfunded organization is not going to make matters better. If anything, it will create a positive feedback loop: not enough training due to underfunding -> undertrained cops making poor decisions -> defund -> less money for training -> more poorly trained cops -> cops making worse decisions -> further defunding -> etc.
Meaningful Police Reform
Again, I hate even using the term “reform” because of the ideological connotations it carries. However, I do believe that there are meaningful ways to improve policing in America. Some examples include:
- Eradicating certification grace periods that allow officers to work on duty before becoming POST certified.
- More training
- Higher salaries
- Enable departments to be more selective
- Better retention rates, thus saving money on training replacements
- Better morale