Why “defunding the police” won’t work

November 19, 2020 • 10:45 am

Since the summer, there have been increasing efforts to “defund the police” (DTP), both in cities like Seattle and Minneapolis, and on many college campuses. This mantra can mean different things: reducing the money given to police departments, paring the size of the force, diverting some police funds to social workers who could do some police-related tasks, or getting rid of police completely, replacing them with either a brigade of mental-health specialists or “citizen patrols” (i.e., vigilantes and posses). The latter has been suggested in several places, including for the campus police at my school. (The Provost has already declared that this is a no-go.)

The DTP movement came from the poor treatment, including possible murder, of some black suspects like George Floyd by white policemen. It’s clear that black people are, overall, treated more poorly by police than are whites (more per capita traffic stops, etc), but there are no convincing data that the rate of murder of black suspects by cops is higher than that of whites when one controls for encounter rates.

But I have no objection to examining police departments for the behavior of their officers and, if there’s more than one or two bad apples, to mandate some kind of reeducation or remediation program.  And I favor including social workers or mental-health professionals being involved in policing, but they should always be riding along with officers—as in the case where these programs are already in place.

Defunding is another matter. Clearly, those who favor elimination of entire police departments, whether in cities or on campuses like the University of Chicago, are uninformed chowderheads. Without cops, crime would skyrocket. One bit of evidence, often cited by Steve Pinker, is the Montreal Police Strike of 1969, which is also known as the Murray-Hill Riot. Because of poor working conditions, the cops went on strike for just one day. The results were chaos. Wikipedia quotes Steve from The Blank Slate:

“As a young teenager in proudly peaceable Canada during the romantic 1960s, I was a true believer in Bakunin’s anarchism. I laughed off my parents’ argument that if the government ever laid down its arms all hell would break loose. Our competing predictions were put to the test at 8:00 a.m. on October 7, 1969, when the Montreal police went on strike. By 11:20 am, the first bank was robbed. By noon, most of the downtown stores were closed because of looting. Within a few more hours, taxi drivers burned down the garage of a limousine service that competed with them for airport customers, a rooftop sniper killed a provincial police officer, rioters broke into several hotels and restaurants, and a doctor slew a burglar in his suburban home. By the end of the day, six banks had been robbed, a hundred shops had been looted, twelve fires had been set, forty carloads of storefront glass had been broken, and three million dollars in property damage had been inflicted, before city authorities had to call in the army and, of course, the Mounties to restore order. This decisive empirical test left my politics in tatters (and offered a foretaste of life as a scientist).”

It’s the recurrent calls from “progressive” leftists to “defund the police” (and its ancillary mantra ACAB: “all cops are bastards”) that, I think, turned many voters against Democrats in general, turning the vaunted “blue wave” into a “blue trickle.” No American wants to feel unsafe, or have nobody to call if there’s a crime or home invasion. You may not want Trump around, but you do want the cops.

After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, according to the article below in the Washington Post, the city council voted to “defund and dismantle the department and replace it with a new agency focused on a mix of public safety and violence prevention—a move that could go before voters in 2021.”

In the meantime, we have a taste of de-policing in Minneapolis already, as the police are bleeding officers (they’ve lost 100 because of the situation there), with the expected surge in crime.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Some quotes (George Spann is a community activist):

The police are not as much a presence as they used to be, Spann said, noting that sometimes when neighbors call 911, officers are delayed in responding or don’t come at all.

“If you want to talk about pandemics, we’re dealing with a pandemic of violence,” Spann said on a recent afternoon, just as word came of two more nearby shootings. “We’re under siege. You wake up and go to bed in fear because you don’t know what’s going to happen next. . . . And our city has failed to protect us.”

. . .Homicides in Minneapolis are up 50 percent, with nearly 75 people killed across the city so far this year. More than 500 people have been shot, the highest number in more than a decade and twice as many as in 2019. And there have been more than 4,600 violent crimes — including hundreds of carjackings and robberies — a five-year high.

Most of the violence has happened since Floyd’s killing on Memorial Day, and some experts attribute it in part to the lingering anger over the slaying and the effects of the coronavirus, including job losses and the closure of community centers and other public spaces.

. . . Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said over 100 officers have left the force — more than double the number in a typical year — including retirements and officers who have filed disability claims, some citing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder linked to the protests over Floyd’s killing.

Well, you can attribute it to whatever, but the same violence happened in Montreal, and there was no pandemic or police murder there. It’s simply common sense to surmise that if the police force is cut way down—to the point that police don’t even respond to 911 calls—then crime will go up.

More police are planning on leaving, and last week the city council allocated half a million dollars for “temporary hiring of police officers.”  But the situation may get worse. The article quotes a personal-injury attorney who is representing 175 officers who have left the force or are firing disability claims:

Meuser said his firm recently met with an additional 100 officers who are considering leaving the force, some citing mental exhaustion and fears of further unrest, including protests linked to the trial of the four former police officers charged in Floyd’s killing, which is scheduled for March. The officers have expressed a fear that the city will suffer “Portland-style riots during the entire trial,” he said, referring to extended unrest in the Oregon city.

Low morale is rampant, Meuser said, and he expects the exodus could extend to hundreds more officers by summer, perhaps as many as a third of the department’s positions. “You have a lot of officers come in and say, ‘Why am I doing this?’ They sit there with their spouses and say, ‘Is this worth it?’ ”

The reasonable solution was voiced by a black resident of Minneapolis, Spann:

Among some Black residents, she said, there have been conflicted feelings about the push to abolish the police. Many have been harassed by officers, but they also live in a neighborhood that on some nights feels like a war zone.

“Why can’t I have police reform? Why can’t I have law and order? Why do I have to pick and choose? I should be able to have both,” Spann said.

Indeed. Another resident described the surge in Minneapolis crime as “a sociology experiment that obviously doesn’t work.” So now we have TWO inadvertent experiments in reducing policing: Montreal an Minneapolis. Both suggest that police inactivity or attrition will lead to more crime.

The solution is training police, not firing them. (I’d of course like more stringent gun laws for citizens as well.) In view of this, and the common sense view that less policing means more crime, or more unsolved crime, I’m led to respond to “defund the cops” calls with Hitchens’s razor:

“What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

Or maybe the cop-defunders care more about getting rid of the cops than about boosting the crime rate.


h/t: Enrico

45 thoughts on “Why “defunding the police” won’t work

  1. I’m all in for restructuring police departments; they are called upon to perform too many tasks for which they are ill-suited. And, across the nation, over the past couple decades, law enforcement has become unnecessarily and dangerously militarized.

    But “defund the police” is a misbegotten and detrimental slogan.

    1. That is my take as well. Some kind of “police” is necessary. There needs to be someone there when bad things happen. It is de-militarization that needs implementation. GROG

    2. Funding that is used to purchase military surplus equipment could probably be better spent elsewhere. I also wouldn’t mind if SWAT missions were returned to their original missions (which are, AIUI…): active shooter, hostage, and terrorist situations. Stop using them to bust into people’s houses to look for coke.

      Plus IIRC training in de-escalation and nonviolent confrontations, and policy changes to better investigate police shootings, all correlates with reduced numbers of police shootings of unarmed civilians. So that’s an area where police should get more funding, not less, please.

      1. Yeah, that whole militarization of the police needs to be rolled back. It’s like they are cosplaying Special Forces. Few situations require that.

        1. In addition, with all their extra equipment, they certainly don’t get the kind of TRAINING that Special Forces people get, which includes work in de-escalation, negotiation, and so forth, depending on the mission.

        2. My Humanist group had a speaker from LEAP (Law Enforcement Action Partnership) who had been teaching a class on de-escalation techniques to newly-hired police. The training was one day of de-escalation and 4 days of shooting practice. The de-escalation training was discontinued because the recruits wanted more shooting practice!

          1. Keep in mind that to be a decent shooter, one generally needs hundreds of hours of practice, while the police tend to get a wee bit of training a year (the time and ammunition is expensive.) Being a bad shot is bad for all involved. So depending on the details, I don’t necessarily see this as an outrageous or irresponsible decision. What is very sad is that they were put in a “one or the other” situation of choosing between two important skills for their work.

      2. I suspect, though, that at least part of all this excessive force is motivated by the fact that half America has a gun, and the police is obviously hesitant to risk being shot by a doped-up coke user.

  2. There are several potential levels of support for this idea. First, of course, are just the uninformed. Second are people who believe that the root-cause of crime is a structural issue, in this case oppressive racism (or poverty, which is caused by racism). When we eliminate “racism”, there will be no crime. Third is the view that the police are part of the defensive system of liberal society. The goal is to eliminate the police to make the overthrow of the liberal social order easier. They view chaos as an opportunity, and have no commitment to traditional conceptions of justice. While it is easy to say that people who call for “defunding the police” don’t know what they are talking about, the people who champion this idea know exactly what they are doing. For them it is not about reform, but destruction.

  3. I believe the idea of defunding the police makes about as much sense as defunding the fire department or the hospitals. All it takes is stupidity to come up with that. As things are going in this country right now all of these necessary services may be in trouble.

    You could not pay me enough to be a police officer. I would not do it for any pay. With our current lack of gun laws and the numbers of guns in the country it is a dangerous job. Depending on the location more dangerous than being in the military in some overseas locations. Certainly you want the best people and the best training for police and I do not think they are getting the best. They are doing jobs they are not trained for particularly dealing with mentally ill people. I believe in some locations the job itself can cause mental problems and people doing police work are under the same pressure as combat in the military. It should not be this way either but what are we doing about it? Just sell more guns and remove all regulations and then be surprised how many people are killed.

    1. Agreed: idea of defunding the police makes about as much sense as defunding the fire department or the hospitals.

      There is always room for change and improvement with more appropriate training for the police. Also the idea of more specialization for different types of situations would help. Better recognition for the good things they do and recognition for community involvement – simple appreciation for what they do achieve is an idea too.

      Defunding is not a good idea if you want support from criminals.

  4. I view the problem with police departments writ large when it comes to the bad apples as being complicit in protecting their fellow officers to no end. The idea that police departments will reform themselves is as unevidenced as the idea that defunding the police. Places such as Dallas that have prioritized de-escalation training have seen notable drops in violence both towards and from police. Obviously, not all departments are inclined to do this but I think the Federal Government has a strong cudgel at its disposal in the form of funding to incentive states to do this across the board.

    As for the “Defund the Police” movement, it is idiotic and if the advocates need to wokesplain that “defund” doesn’t mean what the dictionary clearly says it means, well they’re already losing the battle. If they mean reform the police, say reform. It rolls off the tongue just as easily, you can still make a trendy hashtag, and people can actually understand what you’re saying.

  5. I was in rural Pennsylvania last weekend. There were numerous “I support law enforcement” signs together with Trump/Pence signs still on the lawns.

  6. > Why can’t I have police reform? Why can’t I have law and order? Why do I have to pick and choose?

    You must pick and choose as long as riots in response to the death of an evil black thug are considered even remotely acceptable. When such a death sparks outrage, while murderers leave you cold. While you never rat out your criminal peers, but expect the police to lower their guard.

    When the police is treated as racist scum that no liberal institution would want to associate with, who will sign up for it?

    1. I absolutely do not condone any of the damage done or people injured during riots or protests after the incident, but you seem to be clearly biased here. “Evil black thug”? Is this really the best you have to say?

      1. George Floyd held a gun to a pregnant woman’s belly during an armed home invasion. He had 8 criminal convictions, 19 arrests, spent 4 years in jail and never supported his 5 children.

        Maybe he was a good man in popular imagination, but the real person matches my description. Phrases like “unarmed man” or “hip hop artist” do too, but they are misleading.

        1. I am not contesting his character or anything he did before that fateful day. What I am suggesting is that his prior actions don’t justify what happened to him in that moment. I think people clearly have a right to get upset with the manner in which he died, but I don’t think that it justified riots. It seems like you are willing to excuse bad police behavior only because the victim had a history of crime. I still don’t know why in your “evil black thug” statement that “black” was a chosen descriptor. Why do you think this is relevant in your justification?

          1. > I still don’t know why in your “evil black thug” statement that “black” was a chosen descriptor. Why do you think this is relevant in your justification?

            There would have obviously been no riots (or even protests) whatsoever if George Floyd had been white. The policing debate in the US is all about blacks. You can’t have it colorblind.

            1. Yes, that much is obvious. What I am asking you is why it was relevant in your statement clearly intending to downplay the circumstances of his death?

          1. Can you elaborate on this? Did he not have a criminal record? Did he not basically abandon his kids?

            Of course, the fact that George was actually not that great of a guy does not mean he deserved to die in the way he did…but I agree with Savage that the media has quite deliberately ignored the unsavory facts about George’s life in order to push a narrative.

            Further, Savage is correct that we would likely not have heard of this if George was white….just google “Tony Timpa” and compare the media coverage to him and George.

    2. An unarmed man murdered by the police in broad daylight is an “evil black thug”? Wow. Stay classy!

      Also, you’re making a hell of a lot of assumptions about the person quoted in this piece. How do you know s/he doesn’t care about murders or refuses to “rat out” criminals?

    3. The white officer Chauvin had many disciplinary complaints against him.
      He was also running some rackets in the background.
      It may be that he as a thug too.

      But I also get your point. Most of the BLM cases try tp paint the police as pure evil and the victim as some poor innocent angel. George was not always ‘a gentle giant’.
      But most if not all of his trouble is due to criminalization of drugs.

      Also the woman was not pregnant.

      Home invasions are bad, just ask Breonna Taylor.

      It is a complicated situation but I think you are a bit biased.

      I do wonder what the proportions of race there are in home invasions though, for those who think race shouldn’t matter.

  7. The Democratic Party needs to stop letting their most radical voters create their slogans and pretend to represent their interests. While certain Dem politicians will try to bring these bad ideas into the party platform, the real culprit is the lack of a well-defined Dem brand. Fixing this is, I suspect, not Biden’s strength but my hope is that he will lead the Dems in the right direction and make ALL the voters understand precisely what that direction is.

  8. The difficult problem is that police unions have strongly resisted reforms and increased accountability. They tend to strongly protect problematic officers, and there is thus a sense that the police force as a whole approves of the behavior of its worst members.

    Another problem that I read about somewhere is that the more senior officers, who train the rookies during their early years on the job, tend to undermine any police academy sensitivity training and bring the young officers around to the old ways of doing things.

    It seems we have to retrain the entire force, and we have to do so in a way that gets full buy-in from the older officers.

  9. We have seen this comedy many times before. In 1968, effective opposition to the American intervention in Vietnam was slowly at work inside the Democratic Party. Outside the Dem Party convention in Chicago, Tom Haydn’s crowd of New Leftist/Exhibitionists baited the police into rough behavior. Many voters blamed the outcome on the behavior of the protest mob led by Mr. Haydn, which is partly correct, and which probably gave Nixon his narrow election victory.

    In the next couple of years, similar and worse behaviors seriously undermined opposition to the war: the grandstanders who pretended to be the American Viet Cong with chants of “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh” at protests; the window-breaking parties in Chicago in October of 1969; the occasional bomb explosions; and many similar exploits. These charades undoubtedly helped Nixon to win his landslide reelection in 1972, and, I submit, resulted in those voters who were called “Reagan Democrats” in 1980 and later.

    This year’s style sensation among performance Leftists is the “defund the police” outfit, which is so, so exciting to wear. This fashion trend is leading to the same result as its predecessors in the comedy of politics as performance art. Its utter foolishness–in the light of experimental results evident in Montreal and now in Minneapolis—makes it a good deal harder to sympathize with than the excesses of the New Left in the 60s and 70s.

    Good intentions, even if real (and how is one to tell?) do not compensate for these endlessly repeated episodes of counter-productive acting-out. As Paul Berman points out, the Left always seems to be afflicted with an “undertow”, the effect of its small but noisiest, self-defeating segment.

  10. Tom Edsall’s column at the NYT this week deals with the topic of discussing how the far left was a godsend to Trump and the Republicans. As is his style, he solicited the opinions of experts in the area under discussion – in this case political consultants. Most of them agree that slogans such as “Defund the Police” hurt many Democratic candidates. The rebuttal to this argument is that most candidates did not embrace the slogan and is implications. This may be true, but is irrelevant. The Republicans were able to label Democrats as supporting defunding the police and sympathetic to the goals of the far left, and the Democrats failed to successfully refute the charges. Republicans also successful portrayed Democrats as supporting riots and violence. So, once again, Republicans were better politicians than the Democrats even though the latter’s actual policy proposals were widely popular. As a result of all this, Democrats are in danger of losing the House in 2022 and the Biden years may be a rerun of the Obama ones.


  11. My interpretation of the whole situation is that democrats mistook “a big reaction” for “a good reaction” with Defund the Police. I think they had been casting about for a lightening rod issue for awhile, from Russia to Kavanaugh to immigration, but nothing seemed to stick or inspire the fiery response they had hoped for. Then, suddenly with Defund the Police, people were out in the streets protesting, rioting, starting fires – judging from the swift and lavish corporate response to this in terms of donations, I think democrats felt they had finally found “it”, the anti-Trump lightening rod. What I think they’re finding is that this was, again, a big response by young people suddenly emboldened to riot and tear down statues with few consequences (young people will do that under any number of circumstances, so no surprise there), but not an overall popular response among voters.

    I made this prediction earlier and it is still my prediction – I think rather than back down publicly, ‘defund the police’ will turn into some version of ‘more modern, ‘smart’ policing!’, which will essentially be a way of getting the uglier realties of law enforcement shuffled out of the public eye. Instead of confrontational arrests that can easily be filmed on cell phones, for example, I predict people will be ID’ed – sometimes using things like facial recognition technology – and there will be increased consequences for having a warrant out for one’s arrest (perhaps increased government benefits will be offered but cut off if one has a warrant, for example.)Instead of police cars where suspects cannot be safely kept (and so must be restrained by officers,) if they are extremely escalated and trying to kick out the windows, I predict there will be something like specialized “arrest vehicles”, where this would pretty much be impossible. Or alternatives to tasers and police holds such as BolaWrap tethers and yet-to-be-invented devices.

    Perhaps I have an overactive imagination. We’ll see I guess.

  12. “The DTP movement came from the poor treatment, including possible murder, of some black suspects like George Floyd by white policemen.”

    I am with you Jerry.

    Just one point: Of the four police officers involved in the killing of George Floyd, two were white (including Derek Chauvin, the senior officer and the most responsible), one was a Hmong officer (Tou Thao) and one was an African American officer (J. Alexander Kueng, pronounced “King”).

  13. I also believe that the summer riots and the “defund the police” chants promulgated by the illiberal far left cost the Dems seats in the Senate and the House. Also, too many commentators in the print media and on television dismissed the use of the word “defund” as not really meaning to take away all funds from the various police departments, but just to move money to other areas that might help alleviate some of the responsibilities for which the police are not trained…social work, etc. The problem is that the meaning of the word defund is absolute, and means to no longer fund a particular organization or event, etc. If that is not what was intended then don’t use the word. It became a major talking point for Trump and unless the Dems get the far left under control will cost them again in 2022. In my opinion it may well cost them the House majority. Yes, there needs to be police reform, but not defunding.

    1. “The problem is that the meaning of the word defund is absolute, and means to no longer fund a particular organization or event, etc. If that is not what was intended then don’t use the word.”

      It actually started out as “abolish the police”…in the addled minds of certain democratic leaders, “defund the police” was an improvement!

      There is a faction within the left that really are obtuse enough to want to get rid of the police.

      Cynical Democratic leaders tried to have it both ways. When speaking to these radical wingnuts, they use the literal meaning of “defund”. But when addressing saner folk, they equivocate on the term and stretch its definition.

      If they had any brains/spine, they would have just shut down the wingnuts. It would have been so easy to talk about the necessity of the police while at the same time speaking of reform where needed.

  14. We need police forces. People will run riot in their absence. (See The Murray Hill Riot.)

    The police do need reform and more and better training. Proper training will probably reduce these kinds of incidents to “noise” status. Keep in mind they will never go to zero. Policing (and “peopling”) is performed by relatively irrational monkeys.

    I am grateful to the people willing to do this hard, dangerous job.

    There are over 50 million interactions between citizens and police officers in a year in the US (roughly 500,000 arrests).

    The number of bad outcomes like George Floyd is vanishingly small compared to the denominator. Of course, the goal (which won’t be achieved) is zero.

    It averages about 6 per year (330M population) since 2000, with a peak in 2012-2018 and a large drop since then.

    More that 150 police officers die in the line of duty in the US every year.

    Something like this can happen any time a police officer arrests someone (these officers clearly need better training):


    1. There are more than about six bad outcomes per year. The six are the ones one hears about because they have white police perpetrators and black victims(plus there were bystanders as witnesses). The ones with different racial constellations only make it into the local media.
      Completely agree with the rest of your post.

      1. That is correct: I am counting unarmed “people of color” being killed by police. Mainly because this is the hobby-horse these days. The numbers I cite include things like someone dying of a heart attack during a police raid.

        Huge numbers of “colorless” people are killed by the police every year, nearly always with good cause.

        The number of unjustified killings is vanishingly small (but we should continue to focus on them in the attempt to drive the number to zero).

        There are approx. 10,000 people murdered by gunfire in the US every year. There are approx. 20,000 suicides by gun every year in the USA.

        As Sam Harris has cited: Black and Hispanic cops are more likely than white cops to kill black and Hispanic people in police-citizen interactions.

        My main point is that it’s complex. The media focus on the miniscule number of hits and ignore the myriad misses.

        (And the Woke Left’s calls of “abolish the police” and “all cops are [bad]”, and “all white people are racist” lack the nuance 😉 they are always calling one everyone else to see.)

  15. Get the extreme far right to police, they seem to fund themselves and very fair and reasonable people when faced with criminal behaviours.
    No Funder types better be careful what they wish for.
    It’s exasperating thinking about the centuries of the civilizing of society and processes laboured through to be here, even as flawed as it is, but on the whole are eminently better evolved behavioural and law systems.

    And so it should be as we progress… it’s not done yet by any means.

  16. Yes, that much is obvious. What I am asking you is why it was relevant in your statement clearly intending to downplay the circumstances of his death?

  17. “Another resident described the surge in Minneapolis crime as “a sociology experiment that obviously doesn’t work.”

    Of course it didn’t work! This is like trying to support an SUV on a bed of popsicle sticks, and wondering why the sticks are instantly crushed.

    The people responsible for this staggering level of incompetence now have blood on their hands.

  18. My question is about descriptions. Police use descriptions all the time, as I learned from TV shows — so, pretty uninformed. Is the facility with which identification of very dark skin is made a factor explaining how black skinned individuals experience higher than average (I assume) police questioning? Such that lighter shades of skin are not as clearly defined, so some suspects might be missed, or mistaken, or even just called “black” by an informant “erring on the side of caution”? “White” after all is only true for albinos.

    ^^^this comment is mostly reproduced from the Biden/woke post where it was put by accident^^^…

    … I still don’t know how to “sub”….

  19. I am not familiar with the details but it does seem that the US has many police forces operating at different levels within each State. Some are comparitively small. Would it not be more conducive to professionalism, efficiency and consistency were forces organised and administered at State level. ( More populous States could be divided into semi autonomous regions. The Scottish Police Force is a single entity covering a population of some 5.5 million.

  20. In spite of the Floyd murder, which was an atrocity, I never understood why the police need be defunded. Re-educated in some quarters, yes. In my country (Netherlands), the police were partly defunded due to austerity policies and replaced by less well-trained squads of a semi-civilian nature. The result? More violence during demonstrations, not less.

  21. Defunding the police does work.

    Police departments are set up to have limited independence from politics, and they have institutional protections and organized labor protections, to prevent elected officials from using the police politically (arresting innocent people who are viewed as political enemies, letting regime loyalists openly commit crimes).

    You defund the police, then you put your black shirts in charge, except that unlike the black shirts, your cadre of political loyalists are “anti-racists”, not “racists”. The NKVD model.

    I see two benefits: destroying police unions and creating a loyal cadre of muscle for the regime. It is good business, as long as the business remains loyal to the Leadership. Good for Wall Street and good for our “antifascists” who hate fascists but copy from their political playbook.

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