Black ex-cop: I understand the anger but don't defund police. It could make things worse.
American law enforcement agencies are changing. Nationwide protests against police brutality, particularly against the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, have triggered a movement to combat police violence and systemic racism. In just over a week, the House of Representatives has proposed a Justice in Policing Act, New York is ready to legislate to reform law enforcement, and Minnesota has launched a civil rights investigation into the actions of its police department. Across the country, city guides and citizens are discussing what police reform looks like. This is clear evidence that peaceful protest can bring about real change.
In the midst of this progress, there are growing demands for "defusing the police". While defusing is designed to force changes in police practice and redirect funds for community development, there is also an element of retribution. The American public wants an overdue decision for anyone killed, injured, abused, and insulted by the police, and seizing departmental money has a certain appeal when we're as angry as we are today.
However, removing federal, state, and / or municipal funds from law enforcement agencies will not make the change that we want. In fact, it could make things worse.
The police can have strong positive effects
I am an African American. I grew up in the time of civil rights and saw firsthand abuse and brutality by the police against people who looked like me. It motivated me to pursue a law enforcement career to be part of the change I was aiming for in the world. This career led me to urban police forces in California, to the FBI, and finally as deputy chief of the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department. During my law enforcement years, I have seen many of the bad qualities of the profession, but I have seen something else - the positive impact that police programs and public relations have on supporting safe, strong communities.
When a reduced budget is presented to police officers, decision-making is easy. They do not reduce personnel and equipment costs. They will reduce the cost of the many programs that police departments offer outside of everyday law enforcement. There are offers such as Cadet and Explorer programs that bring together young people and police officers in the areas of community service and personal development.
The author Erroll G. Southers on the cover of the September 1990 issue of LA West magazine when he was in the gang unit of the Santa Monica Police Department.
These are ways to build the police department of tomorrow. I have had the honor of working with and leading officers from downtown Los Angeles - Asian, Hispanic, and African-American men and women who, like me, wanted to give something back by serving their communities with honor, dignity, and respect. These professionals wanted to become police officers in part because of their participation in the programs offered by the department.
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Other programs include things like the Police Athletic / Activities League, which engages young people and police officers through sports to give children positive access and positive interactions between the community and the police. I was a PAL kid who grew up in New Jersey and I helped create the current program in Santa Monica, California. PAL also includes health and wellness programs for mothers or the elderly, post-school activities, community block parties, and more.
If the police see dramatic budget cuts, these programs will end up on the chopping block. This means that criminal prosecution for the common good no longer applies. The communities that valued the programs will suffer, but another long-term consequence is that the demographics of the future American police force will not be representative of the public.
Preserving the good, exterminating the bad
If you're a black man and the police only see if they respond to a complaint or a crime, this will cement the police's view as an outsider, the heavy, indifferent hand of the law. That doesn't encourage black people to explore law enforcement careers where their unique perspective, experience, and community love would be so valuable to peaceful civil society - and to change departments in a way that we want.
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To this end, budgetary changes that may affect the culture and actions of US law enforcement agencies should maintain and even expand programs and opportunities for police-community interaction that are unrelated to arrest and law enforcement. These initiatives do not require firearms, pepper spray, or armored vehicles. They only require humanity and commitment to the civil service.
As angry as we are about the systemic problems of American law enforcement, we have to be careful to keep the good in the job and to eradicate all the bad.
Erroll G. Southers is a former FBI special agent, professor of national and homeland security practice at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California, director of the USC Safe Communities Institute and director of Homegrown Violent Extremism Studies. Follow him on Twitter: @esouthersHVE
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This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: Defusing the police is not making the changes we need, and it could backfire
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