As America heads into the Juneteenth weekend, the circumstances that the country finds itself in could not be more conducive for reform. The protests following the uncalled-for deaths of African-Americans Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have shaken America with their fundamental aspiration to end systemic racism and rampant police brutality. An idea that was once believed to be radical beyond adoption – defunding the police – is now the resounding cry uniting the voices of Black Lives Matter protestors taking to the streets of America. While neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden seem intrigued by the proposition, defunding the police might just be the key to freedom for Americans.
On June 8, in a roundtable conference with law enforcement officers President Donald Trump claimed that “Our crime statistics are at a level that they haven’t been at,” referencing them as “record setting.” This is where the problem in America begins – misinformation. According to FBI data, the lowest crime rate was several decades ago, and the murder rate in America was lower than it is today in 2014. In order to understand the logic behind the notion of defunding the police, the first thing Americans need is to be informed. We can start with clarifying the misconception that defunding the police means abolishing the police.
What does it mean to defund the police?
The prospect of defunding the police is based on the idea that safe, healthy communities are not shaped by putting more police on the streets, but rather by investing in the public itself.
As opposed to allocating more taxpayer money to the police department, most protestors are of the conviction that in order to build a safe society taxpayer money needs to be taken from the police department and distributed amongst other departments such as education, housing and healthcare. Healthier neighbourhoods will arise not from putting more cops on the streets, but from enhancing the education systems of cities, making affordable housing more accessible, increasing the number of recreational centres, providing capital for small businesses, etc.
Essentially, the idea that more and more money is going to police departments every year, even as policemen and women are still underpaid with a more or less constant salary averaging at 18 dollars an hour, is one that Americans should not accept. Cities like New York that allocate 6 billion USD to their police departments per year and still have high crime rates need to reconsider their strategy towards tackling crime, and reorganise the current incorrigible system.
Why should the police be defunded?
The police in America are responsible for nearly 1000 deaths per year, which is 1000 more than what should be, considering that the police are legally not even supposed to kill people guilty of committing crimes. Despite this, the policing departments in most metropolitan areas receive an exorbitant percentage of 20-45% of state discretionary funds as compared to other crucial community programs. With almost a stagnant crime rate in spite of an increase in policing budgets, it is evident that over-policing, and excessive funding are not the solution to the problem of police brutality in America, but rather the reason why the problem exists.
Furthermore, the concept of defunding the police is not as drastic and implausible as people assume it to be, considering that the Minneapolis city council has already decided to cut its police department budget. After all, if the excess money given to the police departments is not even going into the pockets of officers, why do the departments require it?
Currently in America 9 out of 10 service calls to 911 are for non-violent encounters. Which essentially means that these are situations that do not require force to be dealt with. However, a large fraction of these are also situations involving mental health issues, which the current system of policing ensures policemen are not capable of dealing with. Thus, as opposed to arming the police who go through training that is incredibly insufficient looking at the situations that they encounter, this money could be channelled to employing mental health professionals in police departments or rather building on the access to care in high-crime neighbourhoods.
To further prove the generally acknowledged hypothesis that low-crime rates can be achieved by enhancing community development and quality of life, as opposed to over-policing, we can compare five metropolitan areas with the highest crime rates, with the five having the lowest crime rates.
Cities with the highest crime rates:
- Louis (Missouri): violent crime – 20.82 per 1000 of population, city property crime – 60.41 per 1000 of population
- Detroit (Michigan): violent crime – 20.57 per 1000 of population, city property crime – 45.41 per 1000 of population
- Baltimore (Maryland): violent crime – 20.27 per 1000 of population, city property crime – 49.28 per 1000 of population
- Memphis (Tennessee): violent crime – 20.03 per 1000 of population, city property crime – 62.98 per 1000 of population
- Kansas City (Missouri): violent crime – 17.24 per 1000 of population, city property crime – 45.44 per 1000 of population
Cities with the lowest crime rates:
- Virginia Beach (Virginia) – violent crime – 1.38 per 1000 of population, city property crime – 19.35 per 1000 of population
- Honolulu (Hawaii) – violent crime – 2.46 per 1000 of population, city property crime – 27.74 per 1000 of population
- San Diego (California) – violent crime – 3.67 per 1000 of population, city property crime – 18.43 per 1000 of population
- El Paso (Texas) – violent crime – 3.79 per 1000 of population, city property crime – 18.19 per 1000 of population
- Tampa (Florida) – violent crime – 4.64 per 1000 of population, city property crime – 17.44 per 1000 of population
First off, we can compare the number of police officers per 1000 of the population in these areas:
High crime areas:
- St Louis – 38 officers per 1000 residents
- Detroit – 33 officers per 1000 residents
- Baltimore – 41 officers per 1000 residents
- Memphis – 31 officers per 1000 residents
- Kansas City – 44 officers per 1000 residents
Low crime areas:
- Virginia Beach – 17 officers per 1000 residents
- Honolulu – 21 officers per 1000 residents
- San Diego – 13 officers per 1000 residents
- El Paso – 15 officers per 1000 residents
- Tampa – 25 officers per 1000 residents
Thus, from the above statistics we can clearly infer that despite having more sworn officers on the streets, crime is not reducing in metros like Baltimore, Detroit and Memphis. Instead, crime rates in these areas have been increasing over the past decade. However, the neighbourhoods with lower crime rates have fewer police officers, but more or less stagnantly low crime rates over the years.
Why do these neighbourhoods have low crime? Shouldn’t states invest more money in the areas that are plausible reasons for low crime? Yes, precisely.
We can take the example of public education systems for high-crime neighbourhoods vs low-crime. A consistent trend we see here is that high-crime metros have higher illiteracy rates, and poorer public school systems, whereas low-crime cities have lower illiteracy rates and better schooling systems. Therefore, the only logical thing to infer would be that if we take taxpayer money out of police departments and move it towards funding better education systems, crime will inevitably fall.
High crime metros:
- St Louis –
- Has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the US.
- One in six adults lack literacy skills even to enter simple information on a job application
- St Louis’s public school district ranks 452nd out of 484 districts in Missouri
- Has an illiteracy rate of 47%
- Only 11% of its residents have a college degree – lowest graduation rate
- Detroit public school students had the worst math scores in the 40-year history of the National Assessment of Educational Progress
- 36% of the adult population is in need of basic literacy skill development, according to the National Institute for Literacy in Washington
- Out of the 35 schools in Maryland that received one-star in the school ranking system, 23 of them were in low-income Baltimore neighbourhoods.
- According to the Memphis Literacy Council, a large proportion of adult residents “Can’t read a newspaper headline, they can’t fill out a job application, they can’t read the labels on their medications.”
- Only 8.9% of the residents have a college degree
- The college graduation rate is only 23.70%
- Kansas City:
- Of a population of 484,948 there are over 225,000 low-literate adults in this metropolitan area
- College graduation rate is only 34%
Low crime metropolises:
- Virginia Beach:
- College graduation rate of 93.2%
- Ranks 30th in the list of Cities with the Best Public Schools in America (Niche)
- Ranks 9th out of 131 in school districts of Virginia
- College graduation rate of 90%
- Illiteracy rate of only 5%
- San Diego:
- Ranks 25th in Cities with the Best Public Schools in America (Niche)
- Have 55 schools in the top 25% schools in America
- Illiteracy rate of 16%
- El Paso:
- Ranks 17th in Metropolitan cities with Best Public Schools
- 80% literacy rate
- 35% of Tampa’s public schools are ranked in the top 25% of schools nationally
- 86% college graduation rate
Better education systems and higher literacy rates will not only help reduce crime, but also boost employement, which owing to the pandemic is an issue that is and will continue to ravage the country, and abate homelessness.
To look at another aspect – mental health – we can compare the states with the most amount of crime, with the states with the least amount of crime. Of course, considering the number of people with mental health disorders per state would lead to a heavily inaccurate inference. Therefore, to further our cause, we can look at the access to mental healthcare rankings for various states according to Mental Health America. Through this we can see that the states where citizens have greater access to mental healthcare, have far lower crime rates as compared to states that are ranked lower on the index for access to mental healthcare.
States with most crime – ranking on access to mental healthcare index:
- Alaska – 23rd
- Tennessee – 42nd
- Arkansas – 35th
- Nevada – 49th
- Wyoming – 45th
States with least crime – ranking on access to mental healthcare index:
- Maine – 5th
- Vermont – 1st
- New Hampshire – 10th
- Virginia – 29th
- Connecticut – 8th
From this we can see that moving funds from the policing departments of States and investing that money in the provision of mental healthcare facilities and recreational centres could actually reduce crime significantly. The solution to the issue of lack of safety amongst Americans is not to dump more money on the very people causing the issue.
What is Donald Trump doing about it?
On the June 17, the Police Reform Order was signed by President Trump, which encourages police to employ latest standards for the use of force. Which is a rather superfluous measure considering similar restrictions were in place previously as well.
The order talks about improving information sharing standards, so that officers with poor records are not hired. However, the point that the POTUS is missing, is that what America needs, and what Americans are fighting for, is precisely the opposite – to stop hiring more officers. Instead of spending more money on policing, states need to spend the money on community development which will automatically reduce crime.
While the order introduces certain limited reforms, it does not talk about defunding the police, or re-allocation of funds in any form, thus displeasing Americans.
Presidential hopeful Joe Biden has also elucidated on his police-reform plan, which unfortunately also does not mention the reallocation of funds.
In conclusion, if America wants to see healthier, happier, and safer neighbourhoods, what it requires is not more cops on the street. No child should have to live in fear of their life every single day. Together, by building their communities and nourishing them with the right education systems and healthcare and capital resources, America can put an end to the outlandish concept of police brutality with respect to the deep-rooted, unfortunately prevalent systemic racism in their current society.