I grew up when the show “COPS” was popular on television. Though police dramas had been on for years, this was the first real-life depiction of police and what these officers went through. For many of us, it was the first time we saw a side of society we often try to ignore.
For me, the famous theme song—“Bad Boys, Bad Boys”—was a warning to would-be criminals. Later, as an adult, I was surprised when learned that some parents say to their kids, “Be good or we are going to call the bad boys to come get you.” It was hard for me to believe some would relate the song to the police officers—not the criminals.
Fast forward to today, when television dramas focus far more on crooked departments and “darker” themes, it’s no surprise to hear voices calling for defunding of the police. Some say that “defunding” simply means reform—but in reality, a cut is a cut. For police departments in cities like Austin, budget cuts have real-life impact. Most recently, “defunding” resulted in the termination of all cadet classes in the upcoming fiscal year. We see cities from Minnesota to Texas calling for more body cameras and more administrative layers all while cutting the department resources. Inevitably, this leads to cuts in training, equipment, personnel—or all of the above.
I can assure you that officers would love to have an open discussion about reform. Many will tell you they signed on to protect their communities, not enforce political whims from overzealous government officials. Policing is a fraternity of men and women who believe in their work and mission. They want to be well-trained and able to ensure safe communities. Officers consider themselves professionals—and take pride in that fact.
Texas requires hundreds of training hours covering every facet of policing before allowing you to sit for your certification. Training covers everything from traffic laws to CPR and de-escalation to weapons techniques. Officers learn to read people and to interact with citizens in what are some of the worst moments of their lives. They learn not just how to write a speeding ticket but how to handle a drunk driver hitting a teenager head-on. They learn how to interact with the family when a loved one commits suicide. Many agree they can always learn more.
In my spare time, I’m also a baseball umpire. There, too, we’re expected to “be perfect on day one and improve from there.” Emotions are high. The similarities to policing are striking.
Defunding is not the answer and nothing is truly reformed by simply cutting budgets. We should instead evaluate what leads to the outcomes we are trying to end. Sometimes, it’s a city’s policies themselves.
A notorious example is the case of the late Eric Garner and New York City. Police confronted Garner, who was selling loose cigarettes (“loosies”) without a tax stamp, thus denying the city its tax revenues. Police attempted to enforce this policy, but Garner resisted arrest and then succumbed to a coronary attack that would claim his life. Who was at fault? Partly, at least, it was those who created the policy. Yet we saw little discussion of that; instead, the news was filled with arguments against “holds” by police, despite the coroner agreeing that Garner did not suffocate from a hold but from previous medical conditions.
I support law and order. I also support reform—when that means training and education. I support an audit of how tax dollars are spent. I support allowing officers to be active in their communities. Most of all, I support those men and women who, no matter the criticism and lack of support, will still defend your right to protest them.