“In Burlington, Vermont?” NBC reporter Stephanie Gosk exclaims in this utterly predictable story of outcomes from the Defund the Police movement, even in bucolic Burlington. The city leaped into the “Defund the Police” movement by cutting its police department in the wake of the George Floyd murder, cutting funding by nearly 30% and imposing a hiring freeze.
As NBC’s follow-up explains, this new set of incentives produced two major shifts. Even officers who didn’t get cut left the department, unwilling to risk their lives for a city that refused to support them. Crime went up and Burlington suddenly transformed into an unsafe urban center. Now Burlington wants to end its “grand experiment,” while Defund activists shrug at “unintended consequences”:
Like a child who’s about to touch the stovetop for the first time, NBC Nightly News was in for a rude awakening Thursday night as they discovered that the Defund the Police movement they supported actually harmed the liberal stronghold of Burlington, Vermont. Correspondent Stephanie Gosk was shocked to discover the “unintended consequences” of cutting the police department’s budget by 30 percent, leaving people feeling unsafe.
“In Burlington, Vermont roll call looks a little different than it used to,” she announced as she began the report. “Often just five officers are on shift for a city of more than 44,000 after Burlington’s leaders cut the police force by nearly 30 percent. Essentially imposing a hiring freeze.”
This result came after the network, along with ABC and CBS, engaged in Orwellian doublespeak last summer and tried to tell Americans that “defund the police” didn’t actually mean defunding the police.
In fact, it did mean defunding the police, and more. The movement intended to force police into an entirely reactive mode, eliminating the disincentives for spot crimes and disturbances. The resulting destabilization of public peace can hardly be described as “unintended,” even if that’s the line now from activists:
GOSK: Realizing there was a problem, this fall, the City Council reversed course and voted to bring back more officers.
HIGHTOWER: We’re in a situation that I think nobody wanted us to get to.
GOSK: In other words, there are some unintended consequences?
HIGHTOWER: Oh, absolutely.
These were less “unintended consequences” than predictable collateral damage. The operating theory of Defund the Police is that law enforcement was worse than crime, except in the most violent circumstances. That’s why activists like Lisa Bender in Minneapolis insisted on characterizing the calling of police an expression of “white privilege,” even in the case of forcible theft at one’s home. They knew that the outcomes of these policies would result in more crime and instability, and tried to pre-empt those criticisms by shaming people into silence rather than risk being called bigots.
Most of the Defund activists probably still believe that law enforcement is worse than crime, but that has become a politically untenable position now that their shaming tactics have failed. What might have been an opportunity for fine-tuning largely successful policing tactics has now been lost as cities will have to rapidly re-fund and re-staff their law enforcement agencies and deal with historic spikes in crime rates. That will mean aggressive policing, as London Breed promised while reversing course on “defunding” in San Francisco, and lots of issues in getting police to actually commit to those policies after their political abandonment over the last 18 months.
It will take years, perhaps a decade, to recover from this “grand experiment” by progressives in charge of America’s cities. In fact, the cities themselves may never fully recover as people with means vote with their feet against progressive leadership and the community destruction it creates.