Defunding the Police

Born of a very long DM that I wrote to someone who asked about defunding the police.

By Joe Rosenthal

When people say they want to defund the police, that’s generally supposed to mean that a police budget goes to zero. It’s come to mean that some amount of money is removed from their budget. The mayor of LA wants to cut $150M from the Los Angeles Police Department’s over $3B budget (page 152), a bit less than a 20% reduction. It’s not nothing, but it’s only a start.

My argument, which my wife says I’ve been making since we met a bit less than a decade ago, is that we fire every cop. We don’t fire them all across the country at the same time, but eventually, each police department at some point should have zero members. Police departments need a clean flush.

People point to the absolutely toxic openly racist police union president Bob Kroll in Minneapolis as the problem, but he was voted in by the overwhelming majority of police officers. He is a representation of the police, and without exception they all need to go. The same is true across the country. There is a systemic cultural problem in police departments across the country, and that culture cannot persist.

I believe there needs to be some form of law enforcement, but a very different one than we’ve seen. There’s a piece at Mother Jones, “What a World Without Cops Would Look Like,” where a Brooklyn College sociology professor is interviewed on the topic. That might be the most fleshed out piece that I’ve seen on the topic of defunding the police.

The main idea is that instead of police, money would be spent on community efforts, and alongside some amount of decriminalization, you obviate the need for the police in many instances. But there’s holes. I think some form of law enforcement would need to exist, but it would need to be very different from what we have currently. Any law enforcement agent needs to be licensed in the way medical professionals and lawyers are. Any law enforcement agent operating regularly in a city should live in that city. There should not be any cops that don’t live in the city.

What remains needs to be highly monitored and highly accountable, with strict limitations on use of force, and with independent review at every possible step.

Police are civilians. They are not military. Police should not have access to any equipment that you or I could not have. They should never act as a military force. Police firearms training is generally pretty limited. For departments like the NYPD, extremely so. Look into it and you’ll find many stories like “Cop accidentally shoots his sergeant instead of wild dog”—there’s a reason the NYPD is mandated to have heavy 12-pound triggers on their department-issue firearms.

In general, there should be specific regular training for anyone carrying a firearm in an official capacity, and that should be rare. Having a gun is a profound responsibility. Most people are not equipped for that. Why do we assume police are?