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Alternatives to “Defund the Police.”

With lots of folks down on the slogan, some considering alternatives might be useful.

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.

What Do Police Say about Police Reform?

A brief look at 20-year-old survey results about how police see police abuse.

I tried to find out what police say is the way to reform police. Didn’t find anything.

Did find a report from the National Institute of Justice circa 2000 that showed at least some police in some departments were aware of the problems. See National Criminal Justice Reference Service: National Institute of Justice: May 2000: PDF: “Police Attitudes Toward Abuse of Authority”. It’s based on a National Police Foundation survey.

At least moderately surprised it wasn’t completely one-sided. But would still be interested in hearing what police think is the way to reform, given lots of reporting that they’ve often viewed retraining with derision.

At that time, for example, majorities thought police were permitted to use as much force as needed, that going beyond allowable force was unacceptable. A fifth acknowledged officers in their department at least sometimes used more force than necessary. About half acknowledged the omertà followed by some law enforcement officers.

They also asked about controlling abuse. While about 93% said their departments already took a strong anti-abuse stance, about 85% thought a chief taking a hard-line against abuse would help prevent it. About 90% also said immediate supervisors were important in that effort. But only 55% thought changes in methods of supervision would be effective.

Worse, supermajorities answered that training in ethics, interpersonal skills, and in cultural awareness could reduce abuse—but these are the very sorts of training that are often dismissed as wastes of time or as jokes or unrepresentative of the real world by police.

There is a racial breakdown of results, which shows an expected divergence in views between white officers and Black officers. That divide is muted but still apparent on questions around methods like community-oriented policing and citizen review boards.

But these are 20-year-old results, and they don’t tell us too much about what police think reform should look like. They do tell us, at least then, many saw problems that justify reform. More importantly: lots did not. That is an obvious place to begin efforts of reform: it’s a lot easier to make a system better if more of those involved aren’t in denial about the problems.

This also fits the general pattern that those in the best position to make reforms are silent or in denial of the need, which will ultimately mean a longer road to reform, and reforms that aren’t as well-tailored to the problems as they could be.

Police have a lot of problems. Their profession has the highest suicide rate. The problems policing causes to society, particularly minority communities, is well-documented. Part of the issue is the sort of HAL 9000 effect—that their primary directives are often contradictory, which makes them do a job that often fails to have a full-on successful outcome.

That is, if you have to protect people and punish people, that’s not workable. If you’re protecting them, then the criminals aren’t punished. If you’re punishing the criminals, then they’re not protected. Part of that is due to the system of prisons and jails, which is built to be punitive rather than rehabilitative. Police know that punishment is part of the job, but unlike nurses and doctors, they almost never get to see positive outcomes of arrests. They typically aren’t getting thank-you cards from past arrestees.

Anyway. Point is mainly that I’d be interested to see more data about how police think their jobs can change for the better.

The election comes in fifteen weeks.

Analogies: Better Pocket Protectors

An analogy that speaks to the idea of containment, and the situations where containment is the main strategy versus a minimal part of a larger policy structure.

This is a general analogy. It can apply to police reform, but it’s generally applicable.

The basic analogy is that people used to wear shirts with breast pockets and keep pens in them. Those pens would leak, and it would ruin the shirts. So some people took to wearing pocket protectors—small containers that would be inserted into the pocket and if a pen leaked, it would catch the ink and keep the shirt safe.

The analogy is is for a policy deficiency, where rather than fixing the problem of the leaky pens, there’s a call by some for better pocket protectors. That is, the source of the problem, leaky pens, is not addressed. What are the conditions that lead to leaks in pens? Shoddy manufacturing, poor storage conditions, whatever. But these things, prevention of the conditions that lead to ink being spilled, are left alone. The focus is placed on better pocket protectors.

So, for climate change, for example, the pocket protector might be things like doing geographic surveys to figure out what land will be inhabitable and arable in the future and relocating people, but otherwise not doing anything about carbon pollution.

Or, for police and justice reform, it’s calling for more police and police militarization, rather than redevelopment of distressed areas, better social policies, etc.

Or for wildfire policy, it’s moving mountains to fight fires rather than doing controlled burns and groundfuel management.

For immigration policy, the wall is a very expensive and mostly useless pocket protector. Lacking policies that both encourage orderly immigration and economic stability in other parts of the world is a good way to find out exactly how useless a pocket protector it is.

For pandemic policy, containment was supposed to be the strategy to get control over the caseload while alternatives became available, including testing and tracing. That’s right—sometimes, and usually for a limited time, a pocket protector does make sense. We put a hardcore pocket protector in place to give time to work on tracking leaky pens. But many of the governors and president never actually worked on tracking leaky pens. They removed the pocket protector anyway, and now we see ink running over much of the nation.

We’re also not too picky when it comes to pandemic pocket protectors—we would love to cease every case and be free of this plague, but honestly if a combinations of masks and scheduling and tracing, or a vaccine, or whatever reasonable and practicable policy combination can simply lower the rate of transmission so that it is stopped, that’s what any reasonable government should be working toward.

Or consider the problem of nuclear waste. It is currently stored in what was intended as temporary storage at the power facilities, and a permanent storage was planned, but has never opened. Given the nature and longevity of that particular sort of pen, a pocket protector might be the only viable solution for long-term protection.

The main purpose of this post is to highlight the connection between disparate policy areas. That the same patterns exist in various policies is worth understanding. When possible, common principles should be brought to bear in policy matters and therefore more consistency can be had in regulation and governance.

The particular choice of a pocket protector, instead of, say, tupperware or antimatter containment units, is not particularly important. Depending on the policy area, a different container might be more appropriate.

The characteristics of a containment policy are necessary for the application of the analogy. Taxes and spending policies are seldom meant to be outright containment, and so are ill suited to this analogy.

On an unrelated note, the term reopened early is incorrect. The timing of their opening is not at issue, but the condition in which they did so. Reopened unready would be more apt. The main point here is that these places delaying their opening wasn’t going to magically prepare them any more than they were, and their lack of preparation is the flaw, not how soon or late they took an unprepared action.