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Should We “Defund” Police? It Depends on the Definition of “Defund”…. AND the Definition of “Police”

June 9, 2020

The front page of our local newspaper ran AP writer Michael Balsamo’s recent article on the slippery definition of “defunding police”. In most cases, “defunding” is not intended to eliminate ALL funding for police departments altogether. Rather, it is a response to the collective belief that many communities are over-policed and, because the police departments are soaking up lots of tax dollars, under-resourced in social services. In the article, Balsamo quotes California Democrat Karen Bass, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who clarified that “the movement was really about how money is spent.”

“Now, I don’t believe that you should disband police departments,” she said in an interview with CNN. “But I do think that, in cities, in states, we need to look at how we are spending the resources and invest more in our communities. Maybe this is an opportunity to re-envision public safety.”

“Defunding” is, then, shorthand for “re-appropriate money for police into more social services”… a phrase that does not lend itself to slogans but IS much clearer.

I agree that we are spending far to much on police, and much of the money is being used to ask police to perform duties and accept responsibilities that might be done better by other agencies. The national movement to add SROs to schools is a case in point. When a school district that lacks social workers, guidance counselors, and classroom teachers hires a police office to perform duties that could be done by non-uniformed school staff it seems like a bad investment.

MAYBE the defund movement will look even more deeply into our spending patterns as a nation and dome to the conclusion that we are not only mis-appropriating funds for the 18,000+ police departments in our country, we are also spending WAY too much to police the world. Maybe, instead of staffing the armed forces to perform “nation building” functions and funding munitions to help them do it in the way they know best, we might spend more on agencies like the USAID, Voice of America, and Peace Corps. Those groups can help explain why the citizens of countries ruled by tyrants would be better off with a different governance model. Investments in diplomacy and butter would do far more for spreading peace than investments in guns and drones.

Peace will not come at the point of a gun and sustainable order cannot be imposed by uniformed police. If “defunding” means re-appropriating state and local dollars away from police, maybe a parallel movement could get underway to do the same thing at the national level.

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