Since the death of George Floyd on May 25, many Americans have called for police reform. Ideas that are being circulated include defunding police and establishing systems to prevent future violence. However, it can sometimes be unclear what these proposals really mean. The first important thing to note when discussing defunding the police is what it means: reallocating or redirecting funding away from police departments to health, safety and education systems that give special care to those most in need. Defunding does not mean to completely abolish.
Recent data states that nine out of ten calls to law enforcement are for nonviolent encounters. Funding programs that train officers how to properly respond to these nonviolent situations would ideally prevent future police violence. Since 2005, North Carolina has had specialized Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for officers, firefighters and EMS. According to their website, the CIT programs emphasize access to treatment services rather than jail time for persons displaying signs of mental illness. Outcomes for both officers and the individuals in crisis are improved when communities work together to create effective CIT programs.
Advocates for defunding the police agree that the reallocation of funds will increase quality of life. In an interview with NBC News’ "Meet the Press," Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza highlighted that “much of policing is generated and directed towards quality-of-life issues, but what we need instead is increased funding for housing…for education…for communities who are over-policed and over-surveilled.” This is where the use of CIT programs would be beneficial to the well-being of communities.
Another issue with the current police system is juvenile justice. In the 1990s, the presence of police in schools became more prominent in an effort to reduce violence. However, according to the 2019 North Carolina Juvenile Justice Report, youth with juvenile justice system contact tend to achieve a lower level of education and have higher dropout rates. Denise C. Gottfredson, a criminal justice and criminology professor at the University of Maryland, told ABC News that in the ‘90s, juvenile crime increased. She stated that “the idea was to increase school safety…the result has been an increase in the severity of responses to behavior in the past that would have been handled more informally by school administrators.” School resource officers contribute directly to the issues with the school-to-prison pipeline. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the school-to-prison pipeline refers to the school policies and procedures — such as having police in schools — that drive many of the nation’s school children into a pathway that begins in school and ends in the criminal justice system. Those disproportionately affected by the school-to-prison pipeline are students of color, students who fall below the poverty line, students with disabilities, English as a second language (ESL) students and students who identify as LGBTQ+. If funds are reallocated to the education system, ideally there will be an increase in the levels of education achieved by affected students.
While there are many people who believe redirecting funds away from the police would prevent violence and create safer communities, the idea of defunding the police has not been very popular among local, state or federal governments. The Raleigh City Council unanimously approved its $1.01 billion budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year — the budget includes $111 million for the Raleigh Police Department, which is a similar level of funding to the year before, and the meeting included no talk of cutting funds for the police. City Councilman Patrick Buffkin told WRAL news, “I believe we have missed an opportunity in not approving the manager’s alternative recommendation related to public safety. I think it would improve policing by hiring social workers and homeless support specialists, along with animal control units. All three are big need areas, and it would improve safety in the community.”
It is clear that, across the U.S., advocates are demanding changes that would not only improve our police forces but give resources to other important services within our communities. Doing so could create a more welcoming, safe environment for communities that have historically faced discrimination from government entities.
By Rachel Van Horne, Staff Writer