Monday, June 8, 2020

Refound the Police

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images, Camden, August 2013, from Slate coverage of President Obama's 2015 visit to Camden in support of de-militarizing the police, another negative slogan that hasn't paid off.

I for one cannot understand why anybody would want to use a slogan like "Defund the police."

As if the police were a kind of rightwing equivalent of PBS that you could humiliate by taking away their dollars, forcing them to rely on the charity of their wealthy admirers.

There are some terrific ideas out there for what could be done to fix the relationship between communities and police forces, most of them tied, I think, to the experiment inaugurated in 2013 in Camden, New Jersey, across the river from Philadelphia, at the time the poorest city in the US, with a poverty rate of 52% and an unemployment rate of nearly 20%, and one of the most dangerous:
In 2004, 2005, and 2009, Camden was ranked America's "most dangerous city" by CQ Press, which ranks cities based on reported murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft data.[16]
In 2008, Camden had 2,333 violent crimes for every 100,000 residents, compared to the national rate of 455.[16]
On October 29, 2012, the FBI announced Camden was ranked first in violent crime per capita of cities with over 50,000 residents, surpassing Flint, Michigan.[17] That year, there were 67 homicides in Camden.
The local police department took much blame for the crime rates, not so much on account of brutality as incompetence, corruption, and an incredibly high absentee rate among the officers (nearly 30% of the force out every day), but it also cost far too much for the city's tax base because of luxurious provisions in the force's union contracts, including the leave policy that made the absentee rate possible, and the city decided to disband it, and replace it with something cheaper, built out of the not-yet-unionized Camden County force, which would enable them to ditch the Fraternal Order of Police contract and cut the $60-million budget by around 25%. So you could definitely say they were slashing funding, but defunding means something different:

Along the way, they found themselves doing something else, which they referred to as "reimagining" the police under the principles of community policing, as described by longtime chief J. Scott Thomson:
“For us to make the neighborhood look and feel the way everyone wanted it to, it wasn’t going to be achieved by having a police officer with a helmet and a shotgun standing on a corner,” Thomson said. Now, he wants his officers “to identify more with being in the Peace Corps than being in the Special Forces.”
A conversation with Thomson about community policing is likely to involve many such catchy maxims. “Destabilized communities,” he told me, “need guardians, not warriors.” (Sarah Holder/
And it worked, spectacularly well, though it didn't in fact save any money (the police budget was $68.45 million in 2019). (I should add that it was supported by the beastly Norcross brothers who run Camden, and the New Jersey legislature, for what frequently seems like their personal benefit.) Murder rates were down from the 2012 peak by 63% in 2019, and robberies, aggravated assaults, violent crimes, property crimes, and non-fatal shooting incidents were all radically lower as well.
Camden is now something of a showroom for community policing techniques. Officers are trained to use handguns and handcuffs only as tools of last resort. To increase accountability, members of the department are equipped with GPS tracking devices, and many wear body cameras that were designed in 2016 with community input....
“It’s more of a protect-and-serve approach to dealing with the residents, rather than kicking down doors and locking our way out of the problem,” said Moran.
Etc., etc., please just read the Citylab piece, and this report on related projects in Stockton, Gary, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Minneapolis (uh-oh, but they definitely didn't disband it), and Birmingham, but the general point is they did not defund the force: they reinvented it.

I'd have thought we'd have learned from experience in 2017 with "Abolish ICE", and "decriminalize border crossing" in 2019. 

Nobody wanted to abolish the functions of ICE, at least the legitimate ones. We'd like it to lay off families, students, military recruits, and the all-round nice people who pick our fruit and dismember our chickens and wash our restaurant dishes, who should all have a "path to citizenship", but there needs to be a mechanism for deporting others; it just shouldn't be ICE, but something more like we used to have before 9/11 and the founding of the Department of Homeland Security within which ICE and the CBP were invented. But Republicans and journalists heard us as saying all enforcement would stop if Democrats had their way. 

Nobody wanted to make it legal to cross the border anywhere you want without permission; the idea was in particular to go back to the 90-year tradition of making it a misdemeanor and to stop arresting asylum applicants (in contravention of federal and international law) and putting them in cages, separating children from their parents. But Republicans and journalists heard us as saying there shouldn't be any enforcement at all: "Dems want open borders!"

Negative slogans have negative results. Prefixes in de- focus voters' minds on what you're going to tear down, not what you're hoping to build up. The slogan we need for what we want to do with the police should use a prefix in re-, referring to doing things over when they weren't good enough. Reimagine (as they said in Camden), reinvent, reconstruct, restart. 

Can we try that please, this time? Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.

No comments:

Post a Comment