No, you're not going to "defund the police"

The killing of George Floyd has once gain spurred public calls for police reform, though the protesters are generally lacking in specifics as to what they mean by that. Following other high-profile killings of black suspects by police officers and the ensuing civil unrest, such “reform” agendas have been put in place in a number of cities, including Baltimore and Chicago. But now the calls for change in Minnesota are taking shape with a different sort of message. This trend is highlighted in an article published yesterday at The Intercept titled “The George Floyd Killing Exposes the Failures of Police Reform.”

In this piece, the authors aren’t talking about instituting different forms of training in police departments or establishing review boards to deal with misconduct. It’s not a discussion of how to better integrate police officers with citizens on the streets and rebuild trust. No, this is a call to end the funding of police departments. In other words… cancel the police.

After Garner’s death, as after the death of Michael Brown the same year in Ferguson, Missouri, and those of scores of other black men and women killed by police since then, protesters called for the officers to be held accountable. But there were new calls at Thursday’s protests — such as “Fund Community Not Police” — that tapped into a more recent and growing movement demanding not so much police reform and accountability as abolition, through the defunding of police departments.

“In the wake of George Floyd’s murder by MPD officer Derek Chauvin, and the Minneapolis Police Department’s escalated violence against the city’s grieving Black community, Minneapolis is in desperate need of visionary leadership,” the Minneapolis group Reclaim the Block wrote in a statement calling on the city council to defund the police department. “Now is the time to invest in a safe, liberated future for our city. We can’t afford to keep funding MPD’s attacks on Black lives.”

There were signs some local leaders were starting to see it the same way. Under pressure from students, the University of Minnesota announced this week that it would scale back its contract with the Minneapolis Police Department.

I’ll return to the question of “police reform” in a moment, but first we should address the insanity on display with this proposal. If you defund the police in your city you wind up with no police. And if you think things look bad out on the streets right now, you apparently have no idea what your city would look like with no cops. Wait… I take that back. At least in Minneapolis, you’ve actually gotten a fairly good look at what life would be like without the police. It looks like arson, looting and assault when a certain percentage of the population thinks that the police either aren’t around or are too overwhelmed to do anything about it. You’d be living in The Purge before you knew what had hit you.

So let’s not get started on some sort of nonsensical call to “Abolish Police” the same way some activists who support illegal immigration want to “Abolish ICE.” The only reason you are able to live and function in a free society is because that society built-in protections against those who would prey on the weak and the helpless.

Now, as to this repeating theme about “police reform,” the authors of the linked article are largely correct. So-called reform efforts in a number of cities have probably failed for the most part because the entire concept is built upon a flawed premise. In many ways, the foundation of such efforts at police reform is similar to the way we implement gun control laws. Those laws only impact the people who already obey the law and probably weren’t committing any gun crimes to begin with. Similarly, having more or different rules for cops is going to impact the behavior and performance of the cops who follow the rules.

The fact remains that the vast majority of men and women who sign on to become law enforcement officers are dedicated citizens who care enough about keeping us safe that they are willing to do dangerous and potentially deadly jobs that don’t pay all that much money. But as with any group of human beings, a bad apple is going to slip through once in a while and join the rest in the barrel. But how do you root them out? Even someone with ill intent who signs up for the Police Academy isn’t going to show up for their first interview saying, “Oh, boy! I can’t wait to get out there and begin oppressing minorities and cashing in by robbing drug dealers!”

The bottom line is this: Every cop is a good cop until they stop behaving themselves. The vast majority will go on to finish their careers with no issues and admirable records of public service. Some few will turn out to be bad actors and they must be rooted out and held accountable in the strongest fashion possible.

We give our law enforcement officers significant, sweeping powers and permissions not granted to the average citizen. Most of us have to follow all sorts of protocols before being allowed to freely go about the town carrying weapons. For police, it’s an accepted part of their daily routine. Police can (with a warrant) barge into the private residences of other citizens and investigate their activities. You or I (assuming you’re not a LEO) would go to jail for that. And police are given wide latitude in their ability to employ force – even deadly force when necessary – in the name of preventing crime and maintaining order. That’s why when one of them goes bad, they tend to go spectacularly bad.

I don’t know of any way to get the error rate down to zero when recruiting new police officers. All we can do is be as vigilant as possible and weed out the bad ones quickly when we identify one.