The wildly unpopular “defund the police” movement has been damaging for cities around the country. In some areas actual cuts to police budgets have been noticeable, in others there have been policy changes based on the defunding philosophy. Much of the damage cannot be traced to either of these actions directly; instead, it is the result of the anti-police environment the defunding movement has created that has and will continue to harm our people and our cities.
In some circles, the original thrust behind the defunding movement was either to punish the police or abolish the police (or both). It was a ridiculous concept from the onset, punishing 800,000 officers for the actions of one officer in Minneapolis, who was already charged and later convicted of murder for those actions. The irony of a group claiming to be collectively mistreated demanding that another group be collectively punished went unnoticed by the mainstream media, but not by the police officers taking the brunt of this outrage.
Proactive policing—the most successful kind—is initiated by an individual officer. While on patrol, he or she looks for criminal activity, seeking to prevent crime where possible and catch criminals where it is not. They also respond to calls for service, but the actual pressure on gangs and other criminals comes from the proactive patrolling of police officers—not just in responses to crimes that have already occurred. These proactive patrols and stops place our officers in direct confrontation with criminals.
Because most of proactive policing is discretionary, how much proactive patrol should we really expect from our police officers when they know that any incident, justified or not, might be the next viral video that burns down cities across the country? How much stress are those same officers under when they have to wonder if any of the other 800,000 officers in this country might have an incident that causes riots in their own city?
Defunding the police did not necessarily result in less proactive policing by itself. Policy decisions in New York City and Portland to disband the most proactive policing units, the tip of the spear when it comes to law enforcement pressure on criminal elements, were more directly responsible for those changes than defunding. But the combination swirled into a general anti-police environment. Politicians have demonized the police, sometimes in departments that work for them directly. This caustic environment will make proactive discretionary patrols less common, meaning less policing pressure on criminals, and this will allow crime rates to continue to rise for the foreseeable future.
It will also make it harder to recruit and keep police officers. Early retirements and officers moving to other departments or leaving the profession completely are resulting in police departments across the country being dangerously understaffed. Proponents of defunding could not have orchestrated a better way to destroy policing than by making it so unappealing that almost no one will do it anymore, and the ones that do won’t do it enthusiastically.
While defunding won’t immediately destroy policing the way the anti-police movement can, it will ensure that policing remains broken. Defunding cuts money from things like training, the best and surest mechanism to improve policing. Less training will mean more mistakes, which will make for more spectacular viral videos to energize the anti-police crowd.
While it may sound like I am predicting the death spiral and ultimate downfall of policing, I am not. The end of policing would literally be the end of civil society, and we are not there yet. I am optimistic that the pendulum will swing the other way. The anti-police crowd and the politicians who threw in with them will face a reckoning in future elections as voters and citizens see defunding and anti-police sentiments for the dangerous ideologies that they are.
Those victimized by crime in this era, who exponentially outnumber those who are victimized by police misconduct, will play an important role in the paradigm shift that is coming as we look to make our communities safe.