Published in the Wall Street Journal today...
Over just a few weeks, the phrase "defund the police" has entered the debate about local law enforcement in cities across the U.S., and some public officials have begun to embrace the slogan.
In Minneapolis, for instance, the City Council pledged this week to revamp or replace the department whose officers were charged with the death of George Floyd. Many Americans, however, have been startled by the defunding notion, to say nothing of the calls that also have been heard in the recent protests to "abolish the police."
The idea of defunding the police is hardly revolutionary, though, at least as it's understood in the broader context of criminal justice reform. It ought to make good sense to anyone who cares about effective governance.
The problem, simply put, is this: We send police officers to deal with too many social problems-substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness, domestic disputes, even civil unrest-for which they are grossly unprepared.
This mismatch has a range of negative consequences. Not only do the underlying social issues not get addressed, but the police overuse enforcement, including arrests, in dealing with them.
This results too often in force and violence against black people, which is what launched the defund movement in the first place. The mismatch also hurts the police, fraying their relationship with the communities they are supposed to serve. Many police would be the first to say they are being asked to do things for which they are not trained.
Because their involvement so seldom resolves underlying problems, police are called to return again and again to deal with the same issues. One study found that in Los Angeles in 2004, 67 people with mental illness accounted for 536 calls for service over eight months. Another from Denver in 2016 found that just 250 homeless people accounted for 1,500 arrests and 14,000 days in jail. At best the police in these cases are temporary Band-Aids.