Reform, don’t ‘defund’ police
I was shocked and horrified by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and I stand by my opinion that racism is still a scourge in America that won’t go away without honest introspection, open dialogue and a greater effort toward mutual understanding.
I want to be very clear about one thing, however: Just as it’s an injustice to judge all black Americans by the color of their skin, it’s an injustice to judge all law enforcement officers by the horrific acts of a disgraceful few.
I still believe that the vast majority of law enforcement officers in America are people of honor and integrity who feel called to protect and serve their fellow citizens. That should not be lost or forgotten, even as we work toward improving relations between law enforcement and people of color.
One consequence of the Floyd murder has been a call to “defund” police departments across the country. “Defund” is an unfortunate choice of words — a summation of what actually is a much more nuanced strategy to redirect a portion of the money now allocated to enforcement. The redirected funds would go toward mental health services and other efforts to reduce crime from a proactive, rather than reactive, approach.
My concern, which I don’t carry alone, is that “defund” will be a term that easily lends itself to political fear-mongering aimed at voters who don’t understand the aforementioned nuances. But that’s a discussion for another day.
I understand the need for a more proactive approach. Certainly, greater access to mental health services could improve quality of life for many Americans and in turn reduce at least a bit of the burden on police.
But if part of the way we improve relationships between the police and public is evaluating the way we spend our tax money, I believe we also need to take a long look at the way law enforcement officers are trained and compensated.
Law enforcement is a critically important job, yet there is a relatively low standard of training in comparison to other professions. An attorney spends three years in law school, yet a police officer can be completely certified in just a few months. And a career in law enforcement promises a relatively low starting salary with limited potential upward mobility.
I wonder what things would look like if law enforcement required a much higher degree of training, which would then be rewarded with a commensurate salary. As I said, law enforcement is an incredibly critical function in our society, so why not make more of an effort to attract the best people to it?
As it stands now, the best and brightest have a whole lot of other options that offer far more financial reward and stability, along with a lot less risk. Some feel called to law enforcement, but who can blame those who don’t?
Low police salaries — like teacher’s salaries in many cases — are another example of misplaced societal priorities.
We need good police officers. We need to recognize their importance to society. We need to weed out the bad ones, absolutely. But we also need to appreciate the good ones. We need to train them and we need to pay them.