Potomac Local: Defunding the police is a bad idea
By D.J. Jordan and Scott Martin
We join millions of people around the nation, and the world, in denouncing police brutality and injustice in America, and we grieve the senseless murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others.
Unfortunately, we have both experienced the scourge of racism as African American men, yet we are committed to a better America, where all people are treated equal, and where everyone can enjoy Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, no matter their ethnicity or socioeconomic status.
As the nation deals with racial unrest and the grief of these murders, many are understandably turning to ideas to keep injustices like this from occurring in the future. In years past, instances of police brutality have spurred intense dialogue in communities across America, but this moment feels different. Maybe it is the stress from health care disparities highlighted by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe it is the string of fatal stories and traumatic video, back to back.
It’s important for Americans to have these conversations about change. While the overwhelming majority of police officers are good civil servants, the conversations must lead to real reform to stop the few bad people from abusing police power.
One of the latest proposals that has spread from activists is the #DefundThePolice movement. This idea stems from the belief that funding should be reallocated from police budgets to government programs and services that will reduce inequality and increase opportunity. While we support measures to reduce inequality and increase opportunity for all, defunding police is the wrong approach to addressing police brutality. For various reasons.
First of all, defunding the police reduces funding for vitally important training and ongoing professional development that needs to occur to address bad policing tactics. Police brutality usually occurs when overly aggressive policing tactics are implemented in dramatic fashion, or with evil intent. Although police abuse of power is rare overall, just one time is too many.
To reduce this type of violence, we should reevaluate policing tactics and make sure our police are trained in the most effective de-escalation skills and techniques possible. If the intense training that police must undergo gets cut back, we will see a sharp rise in bad use of force decisions and abuse of power. Good policing requires a commitment to robust training that must be ongoing. This requires funding.
Secondly, defunding the police will harm our force’s ability to recruit and retain good officers. Many activists and legislators have talked about the need to have a diverse police department that reflects the demographics of the communities they serve; if we want to recruit more minorities into policing, we must ensure a competitive living wage. Cutting the starting salary of about $52,000 in Prince William County, which is less than half of the County’s $107,925 medium income, will further intensify the problem for the recruitment of viable talent.
Police departments across the nation already have a problem recruiting minorities, especially from the African American community. According to a 2019 Police Executive Research Forum study, localities are not only having a difficult time recruiting officers, fewer young people today have an interest in policing, and in many cases, law enforcement officers are leaving the policing profession well before they reach retirement age. Defunding their budgets will only exasperate this problem.
Lastly, defunding the police could reduce employee benefits that address emotional resiliency and other mental health issues that can lead to Post Traumatic Stress. The need for professional therapy and counseling and a critical incident stress management system is vital to help maintain quality of life for both the officer and his or her family. Due to continued exposure to high risk, high stress, high volatile situations on a daily basis, the profession is considered hazardous. According to various rankings like CNBC and TIME Magazine, law enforcement is always ranked in the top five for most stressful jobs in America.
So, you may be asking. What do we do to stop police brutality and address the need for police reform? We need real criminal justice reform that is focused on improving public safety and making the system fairer. The law enforcement community, as a whole, must work with legislators to reevaluate tactics and training. Law enforcement captains and leaders should evaluate whether their officers have empathy for the community they are sworn to protect. Localities should also perform better oversight of police departments.
In 2015, a Federal Task Force on 21st Century Policing, created by President Barack Obama, issued various recommendations to improve policing, including the utilization of best practice methodology for police tactics and techniques. Defunding the police was not part of their recommendations.
Another important factor that must also be addressed is the legal doctrine known as qualified immunity, which has been used to shield police officers from allegations of misconduct. There are various bills at the federal and state level that would reform the use and standard for qualified immunity defense in a lawsuit; we believe these ideas deserve a vigorous debate in legislatures and communities across the nation.
Dialogue about this important topic must continue. The overwhelming majority of police are good and decent people who should not be stereotyped as bad cops. But lives lost at the hand of the government is a grave injustice that must end. One life is one too many.
There are many reforms that we must debate, study, and analyze. However, defunding the police should not be one of them.
D.J. Jordan is a former candidate for the 31st House of Delegates District, and former Chair of the Virginia State Board of Social Services. Scott Martin is a 26-year professional law enforcement officer. D.J. is a Republican while Scott is a Democrat and they both live in Prince William County.