There is a lot of talk around the slogan of ‘Defund the Police’ and recently in the City Council of Concord we have gotten a rash of about three or four form letter emails using this slogan and putting together a bunch of things that do not contribute to what the apparent goal is.
If you are of the belief that “Defund the Police” means ABOLISH the Police and their services and you are advocating that, stop reading now, as nothing here after will be of value to you.
If on the other hand (or foot or other body part that is in vogue) you believe that “Defund” means to shift funding from the Police Department, a restructure of emergency response and the assignment of non-police to different community service requests, then we may have some things we can talk about. Are their possibilities of creating a societal approach that reduces the need for police?
LET’S REVIEW THE METRICS
There has been a focus on the percentage of a city’s total budget designated to police departments. However, there is no magic number that people profess to support – just whatever the percentage is, it should be less.
Some compare percentages of other cities that are lower. However, not all police budgets contain the same services. Plus, percentages are a function of the size of the budget in the first place.
Take for example Concord. Our police budget includes the Code Enforcement Department, not a traditional police function. It also includes the Family Justice Support, Court Diversion, and Civilian Emergency Response Teams.
Aside from those which are functions, there are major budget items that go into Concord’s police budget that are significantly missing from other cities. For example, our police budget includes provisions for lifetime medical benefits for our current and past officers. Walnut Creek has no such thing. We also have pensions which is also missing from some of the smaller cities in the County.
Budget percentages is further complicated in comparison when you look at the General Funds and the size of the population that is served by it.
Richmond allocates less of a percent of their budget on the Police Department than Concord; however, they spend $10 million dollars more on their force even though its population is 20% less.
Walnut Creek has about the same General Fund as Concord but only half the population. Thus, a significantly lower percent of the budget is spent on police. (They also tear gassed people, shot rubber bullets at demonstrators, used dogs for crowd control, failed to protect their shopping area, and killed a mentally ill person they were called to protect. None of which happened in Concord.)
Do we look at police per 1,000 population as a possible metric? Maybe. According to California city-data.com, Concord has an average of 1.1 police per 1000 residents, whereas, the state average is 1.99.
So, the metrics of percent, budget dollars, cops per 1000 all have issues. One might ask then, should the metric be: do you feel safe, or does the population feel that the cops are doing a good job?
What we need to do is to break out the police budgets so we can all see what is spent on what and we do not try to compare a budget containing healthcare and pensions (that all workers deserve) to departments that do not have it, or where the funds available are massively more available for other city services.
“Defund the Police” is very poor phrasing at best for its fundamental intention. What really matters is can we provide better service with modifications to the current model to provide community services that reduce crime over time and leads to a more racially just and equitable society. With reduced responsibilities, will this redirect our police to then concentrate more on violence and traditional crime so that residents will still feel safe?
RACISM AND EXCESSIVE FORCE
These need to be eliminated. It will take education, training with detection and accountability. All of which is not something we are going to cut from a budget. When I spearheaded the placement of body cameras, it cost a bunch of money, but it has been worth it.
Accountability must be seen to be fair to all concerned in order to build good will. The interface with non-police reviewers be it Commissions of Oversight, Police Chief Advisory Boards, Council Ad Hoc Committees, or Personnel Review Panels, etc. are all reasonable. The level of incidents may be a deciding factor in which way you go.
We need to have different response abilities that work. For example, homeless encampments on private property may need a homeless outreach team to give notice of alternative services and direction to get them moving off the sites. We need to have a place for those who will move to transitional housing and a means to deal with those who steadfastly refuse.
Maybe accident reports and traffic control can be dealt with a different level of respondent.
However, a Domestic Violence call is not going to see a psychologist show up with a lawn chair and a notebook to find out how they feel about the situation.
Mental Health is a serious and dangerous problem. We have increased training on this in Concord and have a County response team, but it needs to be available 24/7 and able to get to the incident location in minutes not hours or days. It may take county or multiple cities to combine to provide such efforts so that dispatchers can direct the teams to the locations rather than squads of police cars.
We have removed parking tickets from police officers and assigned them to Meter-Monitors, a systematic approach to such other functions needs to be done cooperatively with everyone involved.
LONG TERM INVESTMENT IN SOCIETY
Much of this can be done without police layoffs. The hope is that the savings from the restructuring of the police forces can be funneled into efforts that will lead to a better community that is more in concordance with one another in the long term. This is why I fight for more funding for the Family Justice Center, our diversion programs, affordable housing, and union wage jobs and careers. Over time, reducing headcount as officers retire or leave the department would also help contribute to a “defunding.”
Society is an interlocking dimension of forces. Putting more money into parks without making the people feel safe in using them is not going to help.
Changes in priority and approaches have to be thoughtfully arranged. We are up to the task. However, please remember that Rome was not built in a day or a year, but when they screwed it up, it was destroyed in three days. This is not going to happen overnight.