Defund the police is a call we are beginning to hear with some regularity and in many localities. The phrase compels me to register an old metaphor about babies and bath water. On the other hand I think it is important for communities to begin taking a closer look at how police departments are funded and how funds are allocated within the department. While I am sure that there are many police agencies overfunded, there are many underfunded, or more importantly, police budgets that are not sensibly allocated within the department.
Defunding the police will not by itself make police officers any better. It will not make officers any more conscious of safe and proper interaction with the public. And it will not improve relations between police and members of Black and ethnic communities. Police officers are drawn from the same population where they are assigned to enforce the law. If there are police departments that are systemically racist, it is a good bet that that community is also systemically racist. While we must work to eradicate racism in our nation, we must eliminate it completely from police departments. Doing so will not be easy or cheap.
Having fewer police of individually higher quality is the first step. First, communities must demand that their officers are more highly educated than they are now. This will be expensive in terms of police salaries. Next, the hiring process needs to be more detailed. Deeper background investigations will cost time and money, but rooting out a racist before that officer is hired is better than having to go through the dismissal process. Pre-hiring interviews also will have to be more comprehensive. Training both in an academy, and with a field training officer will be longer, more detailed and cover more material than in the past. Part of this will be required academy hours in the study of the history of race and ethnicity in our nation. Training must be ongoing throughout the career of officers, and again must include racial and ethnic sensitivity.
Departments must establish policy and procedures in a written manual that deals with everything from uniforms to the use of force. Officers must have a personal copy of this manual, be required to thoroughly understand it and to include updates as they occur. Failure to comply, depending on severity, should be cause for dismissal.
Finally we will not improve our police departments until the quality of our government representatives also improves. If the population wants better police departments, street demonstrations alone are not the answer. Citizens need to take greater interest in local elections. When the people they elect to local government share their desire for more professional and responsive police work, then by control of the purse and the hiring of better leadership in the police department the goal can be reached.
None of this will be easy or inexpensive. These ideas are a minimum, but will start us on the road to police departments that are not systemically racist.
LeRoy W. Bloom
The writer is a former police officer