Defund the police.
A lot of ‘police work’ is like mopping the flooded floor without turning off the taps first. We will continue to need police — but only as a fall-back when everything else has failed; not as the first and only response to problems in a nation that’s been systematically stripped from the inside.
For a smidge of context: Among my other weird career twists, I was a police officer in a past life. I wrote a book about it. I don’t speak for the police in general, on behalf of any particular police force, or in any capacity other than an American citizen.
With that out of the way:
Defund the police.
Want to know why? Because the vast majority of police work is like mopping the flooded floor without turning off the taps first. The running taps are under-funded education, inaccessible healthcare, poor mental healthcare coverage for those who need it the most, social workers forced to operate on a shoe-string budget, poor driver training, lacking public infrastructure, a dismantled social/economic safety net for those unable to work, idiotic drug laws, poor access to rehabilitation for people who’re trying to reintegrate into society, drug rehab programs that are a joke across the board, and a spineless approach to gun control.
Someone rather smart once said that you should judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable members. The US comes up frightfully short here. The bad news is that this situation is the result of decades of systematic underfunding and dismantling of institutions that are sorely needed. The underpinning causes of this are a national mental health crisis, exacerbated by a general health and economic crisis, rampant unemployment, and a lack of social safety net. When a society as a whole is letting you down, this dismantles your sense of civic duty, care, and compassion for your fellow citizens. And when people stop caring for the welfare and well-being of other humans, you get another symptom: Lots of individual incidents where people can’t think of a better solution than calling the police.
The cost of a symptom-solving based approach isn’t measured in dollars and cents. It comes at the cost of human lives.
The truth is that hiring more police is ‘cheaper’ and a ‘more obvious solution’ than funding all of the above. When someone breaks into your house, people feel violated; they feel unsafe; they want punishment and revenge. What do you do? You call the police. All of that makes sense; but what is needed, is to address the reason why someone felt the need to break into your house in the first place.
That’s the sound of the police
You don’t “fix” root causes by calling the police — but the cost of a symptom-solving based approach isn’t measured in dollars and cents. It comes at the cost of human lives and whole generations of communities that are left without a fighting chance.
Layered on top of that; being a police officer is a pretty frustrating job. I’ve been called to the same house for domestic abuse resolution a number of times. There are addresses where every police officer knows ‘Oh god, not them again’. But police simply isn’t equipped to deal with the underpinning issues of alcoholism, mental health issues, and socio-economic hardship that are needed to find a permanent solution. All you are left with is trying to avoid someone from murdering someone that day — just to leave them to try again the next day. And every time you walk into one of those situations, you are risking your own life and well-being. Does that sound like a fun, interesting, and challenging job to you? Of course not — but this anecdote will have every policeman nodding in recognition. The long-term solution isn’t police. But the real long-term solutions aren’t available to a huge swathe of the population.
As a police officer, you are called upon to deal with the same problems again and again and again. The same people ‘committing crimes’ because they have no other options. The same domestic abuse situations because permanent solutions (and social support structures) aren’t available. And, in the US, all of that is heightened with the fact that every situation you walk into as a police officer, may potentially be life-threatening because guns are abundant and the mental health situation of the people you’re interacting with is unknown — and unknowable.
The job is frustrating, scary, and dangerous. And it attracts people who are willing to do it anyway. Some might like that it pays relatively well. Some may be able to cling to the idea that they are helping and making a difference. Some might enjoy the thrill of driving around with lights on the roof. I can understand all of those things. Others are attracted to the job because they get to carry weapons, and are often put in situations where they may ‘get to’ use them. And that’s where it all goes hopelessly wrong.
Every time the police has to step in, it is a symptom of failure.
I sense there is always going to be a need for police of some shape; it’s helpful to be able to shut down a street after there’s been a car accident, so you don’t get additional accidents. It’s helpful to have someone stop and remove drunk drivers from the roads. When murders and burglaries happen, it’s helpful to have detectives and CSI find out what happened. But if the police is defunded, and the money is instead spent on prevention and social programs that reduce the root causes of the kinds of things that police are called to… We end up with a much safer, calmer, more stable, and nicer place to live in general.
Police involvement is a symptom of failure
Every time the police have to step in, it is a symptom of failure. Failure of social responsibility. Every time police is called to a situation, it’s a symptom of something gone terribly wrong. Police aren’t the vitamin or even the pain killer. Police are the emergency room, for when things have gone to shit, and you need a janitorial crew to try to mop up the mess. We don’t need janitors — we need architects and plumbers who can design and implement long-term solutions, so the police don’t have to pick up a mop bucket again.
I wish we lived in a world where every time police had to step in, we did an investigation of why. Let’s take the Toyota Method approach: Pull the cord that stops the factory, and ask ‘why’ five times. And then allocated resources to resolve the root causes.
And you know what? In the richest nation on the planet, the US could make that a reality. It’s a matter of prioritization. And it starts with the recognition that every time you have to use the last-ditch safety net, something has gone wrong.