I Didn't Say That: Defund the Police

Let's not. Unless you mean let's reform the police and also fund some other important health and safety things. Then maybe let's.

Bias Alert:

My view on "defund the police" is that literally defunding the police is and always was a bad idea. Some advocates say that what's really meant by "defund the police" is some combination of reforming the police and reallocating some police funding to other agencies and programs. Which, fair enough. But others have been steadfast in their calls to actually abolish police departments. And it's the latter group, for the record, that I think has the bad idea. Though I also think the former should remain in contention for the Worst Messaging of the 2020s Award that I just made up.

I think all of these things are true: there is a policing problem in the US; the US probably needs police reform; the US probably also needs more police funding; the US probably also needs to put more imagination and money into other non-policing health and safety programs.

I'm not saying all of that funding is especially realistic. But I also don't know that it isn’t. If nothing else, these are at least aspirations that we could start to work backward from. But we first need to get past the aggressively bad messaging and binary thinking that don't reflect most people's opinions on the issue.

I'm genuinely doing my best to understand and frame the issue accurately, and to keep my sarcasm within reason—I'm just having some fun. But I also want to be fair. So if you feel I've misrepresented any group or idea here, I welcome your corrections.

Today’s First Notable Thing:

A new USA TODAY/Suffolk University/Detroit Free Press poll shows that a vast majority of Detroit residents are more concerned about public safety than police reform. Importantly:

By an overwhelming 9-1, they would feel safer with more cops on the street, not fewer. Though one-third complain that Detroit police use force when it isn't necessary—and Black men report high rates of racial profiling—those surveyed reject by 3-1 the slogan of some progressives to "defund the police."

More about the Detroit poll:

The Detroit survey was the second in a series called CityView, a project by the USA TODAY Network and the Suffolk University Political Research Center exploring attitudes of residents in major American cities toward policing, public safety and community. The first poll, which was taken in Milwaukee last month, found broad dissatisfaction with law enforcement practices there

More from the Milwaukee poll:

The poll shows views of the police are complicated, though. An overwhelming majority of residents say the problem is “a few bad apples'' on the force, not systemic racism by most officers. There is opposition by 2-1 to “defund the police,” a slogan adopted by some in the Black Lives Matter movement. But most of those surveyed also support the idea of diverting some police funding to mental health and other social services.

So: If we look at this incomplete snapshot of public opinion in two of the top 10 cities in the US for violent crime (at least according to this CBS News article, updated on November 9, 2020), we see this: (a) some dissatisfaction with the police, (b) majority opposition to defunding the police (both the slogan and the literal interpretation), and (c) majority support for reallocating some police funding to mental health and social services.

You know my thoughts already, so I won't elaborate much here other than to say these sound like reasonable concerns and assessments that can and should be met with reasonable actions. The bigger point, though, is that it doesn't matter very much what I think, or even necessarily what the majority of protesters and activists think. It matters what the majority of people think. And I would argue that the majority of people, before getting too attached to what they think, should carefully consider what the people who would be most affected by defunding the police think.

From a June 2020 Gallup survey:

When asked whether they want the police to spend more time, the same amount of time or less time than they currently do in their area, most Black Americans—61%—want the police presence to remain the same. This is similar to the 67% of all U.S. adults preferring the status quo, including 71% of White Americans.

From a March 2021 Ipsos/USA TODAY poll:

Only 18% of respondents supported the movement known as "defund the police," and 58% said they opposed it. Though white Americans (67%) and Republicans (84%) were much more likely to oppose the movement, only 28% of Black Americans and 34% of Democrats were in favor of it.

Okay then.

Today’s Second Notable Thing:

Here's the subject of today's Daily Bulletin newsletter from The Trace, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates gun violence in America: "NYC Experiment to Send Clinicians Instead of Cops Sees Early Success."

More from that newsletter.

Last month, the city launched B-HEARD, a pilot program in northern Manhattan that dispatches clinicians and paramedics instead of police to certain nonviolent emergency calls. Early data shows that 911 operators routed about 1 in 4 mental health emergency calls to the team between June 6 and July 7. In 95 percent of cases, people accepted B-HEARD’s help, compared with 82 percent of cases that were serviced by police in the same area during that period. And because more people are being treated on-site by mental health professionals, only half of the people seen by B-HEARD were transported to the hospital for further care, compared to 82 percent when police were deployed. Context: New York City is part of a growing movement to send mental health professionals to certain 911 calls in lieu of police officers, who are trained to respond with force.

I'm about as far as one can get from being an expert on this (though not as far as all those people who think we should abolish the police—I’m kidding!). But on its face, a program like this sounds very promising. As do the numbers above.

But do you know what I think sounds even more promising? More programs like this in conjunction with better police departments (reformed, better trained, better funded—whatever works). If "defund the police" is meant to capture that sentiment, it does not. It also does not make people want to vote for the side saying it, which is arguably the side with the best chance of actually doing it at scale. So that's important too.

What Do You Think?

I don’t particularly care about being right; no one is ever it for very long. I do, however, care about getting things right. So if you think I’ve gotten something wrong, let me know.

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