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Opinion: We must fund before we even think of defunding the police

(File photo: KSL TV)

This is an editorial piece. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with the KSL newsroom.

This week we saw multiple stories from around the country about crime rates growing while police forces are shrinking. In Seattle, police are resorting to juggling schedules to try and meet community demand. In Salt Lake, you can report theft or minor crime yourself online if there is no immediate danger, thereby freeing up 9-1-1 for more pressing emergencies. 

It is my opinion that criminal justice reform is well-intentioned. I often read about the need to redesign or reimagine policing, to take some police functions away from law enforcement and give them to social services, functions like dealing with the mentally ill, those experiencing homelessness or people addicted to substances. It is here that we need to understand history, or we will most certainly repeat it. 

You may recall how mental institutions closed all over the country in the 1970s. States were unwilling or unable to pay for the care of our mentally ill, so they turned them out onto the streets. Who wound up dealing with them? The police.

What about the homeless? Does the state sufficiently fund those who are homeless? Not for most of the last 50 years. So who has to say “move it along?” The police.

And what about those with substance disorders? Are they all in treatment programs, cared for by hospitals, in good housing until they’re sober? Of course not. They’re on the street where the police are left to deal with them.

As former New York, Los Angeles and Boston Police Chief Bill Bratton explains in his book The Profession: “Police departments around the country would be pleased to pass along many of these responsibilities and focus on more traditional policing concerns, but they cannot do that until some other fully capable entity is prepared to step into the breach.”

Therefore, we must fund before we even think about defunding police departments. If we start cutting police department budgets before we fund social services in a big way, we’ll have exactly what we’re having now–rising crime rates and slower response times, larger homeless populations and addicts on the streets.

This is not the quality of life we want in America. We can do better. Chief Bratton says, “the only one standing at the bottom of all society’s safety nets, when people fall through the holes because they are frayed and worn down or purposely ripped open, is the cop. And the country got very comfortable with that.”

Well, we’re uncomfortable now. Let’s make the most of our discomfort. Let it motivate us to do the right thing, fund the right thing, support the right things, including our cherished police officers.