Given the reasonable goal of real change in how policing functions and fits in the larger basket of public services, and the utility of slogans, this post contemplates alternatives to the one that stuck (“Defund the police”).
First, what are the goals that are included in that phrase? In picking an alternative, it will be shaped both by what the people who adopt the slogan want and what the larger public wants to do with policing. As I’ve said before, my personal views include changing the job of policing because it’s a fucked up job full of high stress, danger, and temptations. But I haven’t seen publicized whether the defund-callers or the people who self-describe as abolitionists are interested in that aspect or not. Some of the possible goals follow.
Demilitarization of police. Police are not a replacement for the national guard. The police should not be close to a military. It should be a professional service primarily for the work of investigating crimes and assisting victims of crimes. While one of the current tasks of the police is to meet violence with violence, and under certain emergency circumstances some level of police violence might be necessary, it should be restricted to protecting people and otherwise isolating threats of violence.
Reapportioning funding. Some of the funding of police should be moved to mental health services. Other funding increases should go to eliminating poverty and breaking up pockets of extreme poverty in order to remove the circumstances that allow chronic violence, chronic crime, and chronic misery to exist.
Reworking criminal justice. The manner of trials, the lengths of sentences, and the conditions in jails and prisons all need to be improved.
Reallocating police labor. The community policing movement previously tried to improve community relations, but more can and should be done, both for the benefit of society and for the mental health and benefit of those who work in policing. The job of policing should primarily be activities that focus on community improvement through positive activities and less about negative interventions in peoples’ lives.
It strikes me as interesting that the very problem of policing is reflected in the problems with the slogan, defund the police. That the phrase is doing harm, that it should be retargeted, exactly as police and criminal justice spending are doing harm and should be retargeted. There’s a certain irony there. But there’s also inspiration.
If you do a search for fund alternatives to police, many defund articles already talk about funding alternatives. The idea is already out there. It hasn’t been sloganized, but it’s right there: Fund alternatives.
That’s what it’s all about, right? Policing hasn’t worked in many ways we wanted it to. Recidivists go through the same system and come back out and recommit. Lots of first-timers and innocent people, poor people, get regularly chewed on. Cops themselves have a shitty job and feel lots of hostility because their job is shitty. Most police aren’t bad at policing. They’re just in a job that, for the average police officer, there isn’t a good version of it.
Alternatives give people options, for all three groups: authorities, victims, and perpetrators. They say that a different dynamic is possible for many of the situations we currently resort to a very narrow framework of arrest, prosecute, incarcerate.
There are other options, including focusing on specific subproblems, talking about transformation, talking about improving the labor of policing to become something else. But the main thing sought is alternative labors. That’s what’s wanted and it seems likely what’s needed. Fund alternatives to police.