A week or so ago, I wrote a bit about my understanding of the idea of defunding the police. To recap: essentially it means to take a bunch of duties away from the police that should never have been given to them in the first place and use the resulting money saved to actually address those problems instead of policing them. I agree with this. If you don’t, we can talk about it, but that’s not what I want to write about today.
Coming at things from a different angle, I look back over my adult life and come up with the idea that my personal (nothing to do with work) interactions with the police have been mostly unsatisfying. Yes, me. A white, middle-class male, one of the people that the system is, essentially, designed to protect, but we’re not going to argue that today, either.
I’ve long been of the opinion that individual police officers can be broadly divided into two groups, recognizing that there’s a spectrum running from one to the other: protect-serve, and bully with a badge.
Most of my interactions have been in terms of ride programs, accident witness and reporting, and random stops while geocaching in a car with my youngest daughter. On average over the last decade, I think there’s been a conversation with a police officer once a year, sometimes twice, that had nothing to do with a ride stop. I’ve had friendly officers, but sometimes even the friendly ones are odd. I’ve been condescended to, growled at, and given orders. I don’t know that I was treated like an adult until I was somewhere in my 30s, and even with the protect-serve group I’ve generally walked away somehow feeling that I’m wasting someone’s time, that they could have been somewhere doing real police work.
I don’t feel like it’s me, though I suppose as a member of arguably the most protected group in our society there could be some of that. Maybe I come across differently than I think. But I smile, I’m polite, I answer questions directly and to the point, and I generally try to make the conversation as easy as possible.
So why am I unhappy with those interactions overall?
Am I just seeing too much of the bad behaviour I never used to, because it’s being reported more and I’m watching more media, and that’s colouring my perceptions?
Have I been passed on the highway by too many cruisers doing 40-50 km over the speed limit? Does that help with my impression that a lot of police officers feel that the rules don’t apply to them?
Have I noticed the gradual increase in arms and armour and wonder why most of that is necessary in the regular performance of their duties?
Am I concerned that I’ve seen five cruisers appear so that a mass of officers can talk to one homeless guy who looked like he was minding his own business before they got there?
Have I seen officers give small groups of teenagers shit for merely being where they are, not bothering anyone?
Do I see the posturing and chest puffing whenever I see an officer interacting with a “civilian”? Some of that has to be my imagination, but does it always feel like the officer has to be ready to pounce at the slightest misstep on the part of the other person?
The answer to all of those is yes. Pile that on to my own neutral to negative overall experience, and I do understand why I’m not fond of how our society has set up policing. And then add on the systemic, and I’m convinced that’s the right word, issues baked into the structure of policing and yes, I’m quite convinced that major changes are needed.
Your mileage may vary on the personal stuff. In fact, I hope it does. I hope my experience is unusual. I’d love that to be the case. But even if it is, does that mean things are good?
Stay safe and be well, everyone.by
Sounds a little harsh to some, a little scary to others, a dramatic overreaction to a few more. It shouldn’t really sound any of those things. It should, once we stop and think about it, sound like a really good idea on some level to just about everyone.
By which you should take it that I’m in favour of the idea.
White middle-class guy approaching 50 is in favour of defunding the police. Somebody out there is just full of assumptions now but stay with my logic chain for a second.
Eighty percent of the calls police respond to have nothing to do with crime. 80%. And dealing with crime is the basic function of the police, right? Not mental health issues, not homelessness, not community outreach, not transit fare checks, not drug overdoses, not a whole bunch of the stuff they deal with on a daily basis.
For whatever reason (and the reasons are legion), it’s become easier as a society to make something illegal or even criminalize it so that it can be dumped on the backs of the police force. We’ve designed things so that the toolbox basically only has one tool and then we’re surprised when things escalate.
Violent crime rates have been generally on the decline since about 1990 or a little before. While we’ve seen a tiny spike in the last few years, we’re still at levels matching up with about 1970. In my eyes, that says that violent crime is at its lowest level in my lifetime.
So do we need the level of policing we’ve got right now with the militarization of police forces across North America?
Wait, I’m not finished yet.
What if we also got rid of the 80% of stuff that police shouldn’t be having to deal with and either develop or pass it to agencies that it’s their job, and then adequately funded those agencies? What if we actually looked at solving social problems that contribute to public safety like education, social services, housing issues, health issues, youth services? What if we actually funded our communities?
Would we still need the same level of policing?
Defunding is a scary word. I get that. Various governments make it their mission to fix things like education and health care and infrastructure by doing things like “finding efficiencies” and “controlling spending”. Those are nicer ways to say “defund” and with not so good results most of the time.
Something to think about.
Stay safe and be well, everyone.by