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.