Defund the Police: As calls grow for radical move, what will replace PDs and can it work?

Defund the Police: As calls grow for radical move, what will replace PDs and can it work?
(Getty Images)

The brutal death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black American, at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis on May 25 has seen the US erupting in protests. The post-Floyd death period has also witnessed the rise of a demand to defund the police and even disband it and replace it with some other models. Those protesting police brutality and racial injustice believe the US can do without law-enforcement. The historic move made by the Minneapolis City Council vouching for defunding and disbanding the city’s under-fire police department has encouraged the dissenters all the more. 

What is the defunding of police?
The idea is straight and simple. Instead of funding a police department, a large portion of the city’s budget will be channelized for the betterment of communities, especially the marginalized ones where most of the policing act is carried out. It is not the first time that the voice in favor of disbanding and defunding police has been doing the rounds. It became prominent since the shooting of Michael Brown by a white policeman Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, and the unrest that followed. Arriving at a decision though seemed improbable. The killings of Breonna Taylor in Louisville in March and then Floyd revived the demand and it received a push after the Minneapolis officials expressed their intent to defund and disband the city’s force completely. 

How is defunding of police linked to their disbanding?
According to a CNN report that cited Philip McHarris, a lead research and policy associate at the Community Resource Hub for Safety and Accountability, it depends on whom you are asking. While some want to reallocate some of the funds away from the police departments to social services, others want to completely end police funding and dissolve the departments. “The concept exists on a spectrum, but both interpretations center on reimagining what public safety looks like,” CNN cited McHarris as saying. The aim is also to disband the idea that cops are here to protect communities because many black and other colored Americans do not feel they are being protected by the law-keepers. 

A protester waves a DC flag with Black Lives Matter spray-painted on it next to a DC National Guard Humvee as protesters march through the streets during a demonstration over the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody, on June 2, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)

Why defund the police?
According to McHarris again, divesting funds would bring an end to the brutal culture of punishment in the criminal justice system. The disturbing incidents of deaths in police custody have made this option an increasingly viable one. Training and installing body cameras have not brought in the desired changes in police conduct. There have been instances where people do not think of calling the police even in the face of threats of gun violence. Calling neighbors to defuse situations is being preferred more and people are now thinking whether such community action could be taken on a full-time basis. 

Where will the diverted funds go?
According to Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, defunding the police means reallocating funds to support people and service, especially in marginalized communities. In an interview with WBUR, Boston’s public radio station, defunding law enforcement means reducing the ability for law enforcement to have resources that harm communities. “It’s about reinvesting those dollars into black communities, communities that have been deeply divested from,” she said. The money can be used to address issues like mental health, domestic violence and homelessness besides funding schools, hospitals and housing. 

What will replace police if depts are disbanded?
MPD150, a community advocacy organization that works towards a police-free Minnespolis, has made the headlines more often since the death of Floyd. “The people who respond to crises in our community should be the people who are best-equipped to deal with those crises,” it said. According to the organization, instead of featuring armed people, the first responders should include mental health providers, victim advocates, social workers and other community members. It said not law enforcement but education, jobs and mental-health services help in achieving a good law-and-order situation. Other alternative arrangements in place of armed police could include street outreach teams, shelters and affordable housing for the homeless; elimination of traffic stops and dealing with violations through mail; specalized support for victims of sexual violence; legalization of marijuana to prevent incarceration for 'harmless' drug; investing in prevention of sex trafficking; restorative justice (meetings between victim and offender) to deal with property crimes like theft and burglary, etc.

Street art commemorating George Floyd, killed in police custody in Minneapolis after footage emerged of him pleading for air as a police officer kneeled on his neck, is seen on May 30, 2020, in Berlin, Germany. (Getty Images)

Will defunding police address the problems?
Defunding police on a widespread scale hasn’t been tried earlier and hence it is difficult to reach a conclusion. A report from 2017 though indicated that less policing can lead to less crime. It monitored the New York Police Department cutting down “proactive policing” for several weeks in 2014 and 2015 and it was found that there were more than 2,000 less crime complaints at the time. 

How have police officers and unions responded to the idea?
The police and union officials understandably have objected to the idea of having cuts in police budgets, saying the cities would be less safe as a result. The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union for the city's rank-and-file officers, felt budget cuts would be the ‘quickest way to make our neighborhoods more dangerous’. It also said defunding the police when the US is facing a pandemic situation and weeks of violence is not a smart thing to do.  

It’s not that all colored politicians are supporting the movement
While colored politicians like Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have backed the idea of defunding the police, co-chairman of Congressional Black Caucus Karen Bass and senator and former presidential candidate Cory Booker have welcomed the idea less. President Donald Trump has condemned the idea but his supporters feel supporting it could be a tactical way to gain votes in this year’s election.

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