There has been a push by some anti-police groups to either disband or defund the police. Often, those pushing for this radical agenda do so out of an unfair hatred of the police. Others do it out of a desire for anarchy or to overturn our capitalist society and the rule of law. This is a huge step further than the police reform movement we have witnessed in the past.
Over the past several years, we have felt intense pressure to “reform” policing in America. Often, the reforms advocated are not well thought out and would make both our communities and our police less safe by placing dangerous and unrealistic burdens on law enforcement officers. Following every high-profile event, we have seen a new demand for police to make additional concessions, often in the areas of officer safety and due process rights. Removing these existing rights would prevent officers from thoroughly safeguarding our communities while also protecting our safety. Often the concessions are forced on law enforcement agencies by pandering politicians in order to appease a loud but very small segment of our community.
Frequently, police management and labor groups are asked to meet with anti-police activists who are demanding these concessions, with a hope of finding a middle ground. I have found, through my experience, that often there is no middle ground. It is impossible to find a set of policing policies that will appease a group that demands that police no longer exist. While we have seen occasions when departments and activists can agree to a set of policy changes, there always seem to be new demands each time a new police-related event occurs somewhere else in the country.
Fortunately, some policymakers have their heads rooted in reality. We learned this in the debate over the use-of-force standard in California. What was originally floated by anti-police groups was later mitigated by more level-headed policymakers, resulting in a new policy that was only slightly more restrictive than the existing standard. Unfortunately, that is not the end of the debate. Each new high-profile event spurs a new demand for even further concessions. We must remember that for some, the ultimate goal is a world with no police.
Our communities yearn for the safety that is provided by our brave law enforcement officers. Communities across the nation have seen surges in violent crimes take root in the chaos of the last few months. In Sacramento, a gang war emerged out of a law enforcement vacuum that occurred as police resources were pulled from their normal duties and dedicated to responding to riotous protests. In the month since the protests began, Sacramento has seen a 183% increase in shootings over the same period last year. This story has been repeated in many other communities throughout the state and around the nation. Caught in the crossfire, several children become victims of these shootings, yet the spike in crime has gone largely unreported in local media.
I cannot predict what the next wave of demands on law enforcement will entail, but we have already seen some rapid changes. While the events in Minnesota had nothing to do with the carotid restraint, departments across the state have been quick to ban the tool. We have also heard demands to end the use of less-lethal munitions, tear gas, pepper spray, tasers, batons and police canines. Removing less-lethal options will increase the likelihood of officers using deadly force in dangerous situations. If we want our officers to be less likely to use deadly force, we need to give them more tools, not fewer.
While we have not seen a huge push in California to disband municipal police departments, there is a huge push to ban campus police, including both school police departments and school resource officers. Our school police officers are an important tool to keep our vulnerable children safe from both internal and external threats. Additionally, having law enforcement on campus can create important connections between officers and students. As police mentor and serve as positive role models for young people, these relationships can help establish positive links between officers and the communities they serve.
We have also heard demands to move the responsibility for responding to calls involving individuals in mental health crisis and the homeless from police officers to newly hired social workers. The funding for these social workers would come from a corresponding defunding of police departments. These types of calls for service can be among the most dangerous and difficult ones that officers handle. While many officers might agree that much more needs to be done to better serve community members in crisis, the problem does not rest with the police officers who respond, but with what services are available. Officers desperately want to help those in crisis receive the help they need to make permanent life changes, but sadly, due to lack of community services, our officers are only able to temporarily resolve situations that are bound to flare back up once they leave. The issue clearly is not about who we send, but what long-term services are available.
Demands to move these calls from officers to social workers clearly reflect a lack of understanding about the underlying issues. Those in crisis need more services, not fewer. Taking the responsibility away from police officers and giving it to social workers will not solve anything. We need a partnership between law enforcement and social workers, as well as triage centers and long-term services to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives. Without adding long-term care in the areas of mental health, addiction, substance abuse, housing, education and job training, the cycle of calls for service will continue to repeat, no matter who you send to handle them.
PORAC is actively working to protect police officers from the onslaught of half-baked ideas and dangerous policy change proposals. We have already seen many demands and expect to see many more. PORAC is helping our elected officials understand the reasons why we have officers, why they have the tools they have and why they deserve the rights they have. It is important that we show them the logic behind our law enforcement tools, policies and procedures, and not just ride the emotional demands for change projected by a small but vocal group.