The Claremont Independent
Why You Should Support #Defundthepolice Even If You Don’t Think Our System Is Racist
By Margot Rosenblatt
I’ve never seen “The Purge,” but it seems like an unpleasant movie. Although it’s fiction, I believe it holds some truth: it would be bad if we had no law enforcement.
This metaphor is fairly involved, but bear with me; I imagine American society as a beautiful vegetable garden. We spend billions each year keeping the weeds away because they inhibit the production of vegetables by stealing nutrients and otherwise hurting the other plants. I think it’s great that we keep the weeds away, and I love that our vegetable garden is thriving.
But successful people (and countries) work smart, not just hard. Even if their system is running just fine, they innovate to make it better.
What if there were a way to stop the weeds from coming up altogether? It would save us so much energy if we didn’t need to pull weeds all the time. These pesky plants show us that there’s room in our garden for more vegetative life; what if we could keep weeds from coming up by channeling that plant-growing capability into farming productive plants?
If it’s not already clear, the garden is the United States, the vegetables are our contributions to society, and the weeds are crime. Right now, we’re dealing with crime extremely inefficiently.
You may be thinking: good luck, we’ll never get rid of crime completely because it’s a part of “human nature.” People are inherently selfish and will commit crimes when it benefits them. While I agree that people are rather self-serving, that argument implies that people will take the non-crime route in their lives if we set the dials in such a way that “crime doesn’t pay” — not as much as a job pays, at least. Let’s do it that way.
A 2016 report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers found that “a ten percent increase in wages for non-college educated men results in approximately a 10 to 20 percent reduction in crime rates.” It also wrote that “a number of studies have found that increases in compulsory schooling requirements reduce criminal activity… a ten percent increase in high school graduation rates results in a nine percent decline in criminal arrest rates.” In a 2017 review of criminological literature, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania found that increases in policing manpower reduced crime — but increases in wages and job opportunities did so, too.
There is good evidence that more police leads to less crime. However, there is also very good evidence to support the theory of “hotspot policing,” meaning positioning police only in small, high-crime areas. It turns out that in “bad neighborhoods,” there’re usually just one or two bad blocks, and stationing a cop car by that block cuts crime rates significantly.
Therefore, it makes sense that more police leads to less crime; the blunt instrument of more policing will hit everywhere, including pressure points. But we need to police smart, not hard. We can prevent the same amount of crime using far fewer police officers. And besides, questions about retooling our system are not about whether or not policing works; the questions ask if there’s another, better way to prevent crime in our society.
I, for one, would rather live in a society wherein we stop crime by making potential future criminals valuable members of society before they have the urge to break the law. Don’t think about social programs as handouts — think about them as proven methods that keep innocent Americans safe. Social programs are the weed-killers that stop the seeds of crime from germinating.
Right now, weed-pullers — the police — waste energy and resources taking on all kinds of tasks for which they are not adequately trained.
A Department of Health and Human Services study claims that over 90 percent of officers on patrol have an average of six encounters with individuals in crisis each month. The study added that mental illness is often accompanied by substance use, physical health vulnerabilities and/or homelessness, and that co-occurring substance use disorders are highly prevalent among criminals, with mental illness figures as high as 75 percent for inmate populations. According to the Wall Street Journal, at least one in four people killed by the police were severely mentally ill. Not surprisingly, most police officers aren’t at all trained to handle mental health situations.
Similarly, although a report of child abuse is made every ten seconds, law enforcement professionals are rarely ever trained to focus on the psychological wounds of the victims and perpetrators. So, although the police might stop the abuser in the moment, American society still ends up with abused children, who are nine times more likely to be involved in criminal activity than their non-abused counterparts; we still have to bear the social and financial burden of the 14 percent of men and 36 percent of women in prison who were abused as children.
In the bigger day-to-day picture, 80% of police reports that lead to criminal charges are about misdemeanors. Police spend most of their time on traffic and motor-vehicle issues, false burglar alarms, noise complaints, and problems with animals.
We can hand off these issues to professionals with more relevant training so that the police can utilize their specific skills to serve the public in the most efficient way possible. I suggest a compromise: break the police into specialized sections. Each section would be trained specifically to solve a type of problem. That way we don’t defund the police, we just restructure the police, and everyone gets what they want.
The city of Eugene, Oregon put this idea into action with a program called “CAHOOTS,” which integrated mental health workers into the Eugene police force. CAHOOTS worked wonderfully well and saved the city a lot of money — the mental health workers required half the expenses of normal police officers.
By training police for violence and putting them in situations where their learned expertise is completely inappropriate, we are effectively giving the law enforcement a weed-whacker and expecting them to stop the weeds from growing in the first place. It doesn’t work that way. Police presence might deter crime (to a point) but a gun isn’t the right tool to prevent the conditions where crime begins, like toxic homes or broken families.
You wouldn’t solve a mosquito problem in a swamp by shooting the bugs one by one; you would drain the swamp altogether. That’s what we need to do.
Besides, there’s a lot of evidence that once someone breaks the law, they’re likely to break it again. According to a Department of Justice study, 83 percent of state prisoners released in 2005 across 30 states were arrested at least once during the nine years following their release, with an average of five arrests per prisoner. If we create conditions that keep one person off the streets in the first place, we stop a whole lot of potential weeds from sprouting.
However, sometimes liberals get a little too eager. Sometimes those who prefer weed-killing to weed-whacking disseminate a lot of weed-killer but completely abandon the fight against the weeds that are already there. For example, San Francisco and the State of California are famous for their investments in weedkiller — welfare and social programs. However, in 2014 San Francisco passed Proposition 47, which downgraded the possession of illegal narcotics for personal use and the theft of anything under $950 in value from felonies to misdemeanors. This eliminated a lot of potential weed-whacking activity. Perhaps as a result, San Francisco has one of the highest crime rates in America compared to communities of all sizes — from the smallest towns to the very largest metropolises. In other words, if we begin policy as I suggest, we need to do it right. We need to continue weed-whacking — policing, albeit in a different way — in conjunction with weed-killing programs — social help — until there are no weeds left to whack.
Liberals like to say “defund the police” because it has a scare factor — but you shouldn’t let it throw you. Maybe some people are angry and short-sighted enough to actually want the police completely gone all at once, but they aren’t the majority. Many liberals are calling for a slow reformation of the police via re-delegating some police tasks to professionals who are properly equipped to deal with them. They do not want the San Francisco model. The slogan is “defund the police,” not “abolish the police,” which is an entirely different idea that most liberals do not support.
Personally, I think #defundthepolice should rebrand. The slogan “divest from the police” is slowly gaining popularity, and I suggest the hashtag be replaced by something like #re-delegatepolicetasks or #restructurethepolice.
Next time you’re in a discussion with someone who wants to defund the police, try saying that you agree with them. That should throw them off their polarizing, rhetorical playbook notes and start a genuinely productive conversation wherein the both of you come to a consensus. And consider donating to organizations who are working to build this new system — to build a better, more productive, and more efficient America.
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