Defunding the Police

By: 
Stephen Downing

Defunding the police is the new conversation arising from the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

The range of this new conversation is extreme, emotional and – at the moment – chaotic.

But – as the saying goes – from chaos comes order – and what we end up with in the new order when all the listening sessions, debates, proposals, initiatives and final actions occur is going to depend upon how we define the many problems that contributed to the current state of racial injustice and oppressive policing.

What counts now is how we fix those problems.

I certainly don’t have all the answers nor am I locked into how a “re-imagined” institutional approach to public safety should end up.

But, I do have a few ideas about some of the problems that got us where we are today – and the band aid approach underway by the Long Beach City Council and their “reconciliation listening” sessions or the city manager’s ‘fresh look” at the failed Citizen Police Complaint Commission (CPCC) is not going to fix them.

Let’s look a few items that may be more important to a real – and lasting – fix.

Problem # 1 – People Don’t Vote

All of us really need to think about how involved we were in picking, choosing, advocating and voting for our representatives before we finally woke up to the current outrage surrounding the cumulative horrors of black people being maimed and killed by police.

Let me just say this: I hope we stay awake long enough to fix this problem before we hand it back to the politicians to do what they do in response to the influences that take over when the electorate goes back to sleep.

Problem #2 – The Politician’s Narrow Focus

Politicians properly consider themselves problem solvers. When new problems arise they look for a solution.

The problem in finding the right solution is they rarely think outside the police box when legislating.

Got a new problem? Pass a law, make it a crime, adopt a policy and hand it to the police.

Problem solved.

Next?

Homelessness, graffiti, drug addiction, drug and alcohol regulation, mental illness, prostitution, gambling, quality of life, family arguments, child abuse, neighborhood disputes, traffic, DUI, accident investigation, parking violations, etc., etc., etc. – all of it ends up being handed to the police to solve.

And then, when it doesn’t work out the way the complainers think it should work out, the response is predictable – blame the police.

When the shouting calms down the new solution seems always to be more training – for the police.

Ante up more grant money for training.

Increase recruit training.

Increase in-service training.

Increase supervisory and middle management training.

Pump up the academy budget.

Assign more police personnel to academy instruction. (Measure A paid for nine academy instructors – and no patrol officers or detectives).

Take the cops off the street for more and more hours to retrain, refresh and learn more and more about new advances in psychology, interpersonal relations and all the new findings that pour out of the multiple disciplines of advanced education and research that our politicians think the average street cop (entry level requirement being a high school education) can absorb in a few refresher courses – usually taught by other (trainers) cops who have to fake their way through an update of their instruction manuals.

The politician’s solution is never to ask the question: Is this a function that should be assigned to the police?

Is the person we hire to become a police officer psychologically, mentally and educationally fit to take on this new responsibility?

Does this function belong somewhere else in our governmental institutions?

Do we need a new institution to handle this new social-welfare problem that we are about to make a crime so we can keep our public and private prisons overpopulated at a cost of $65,000 per prisoner per year?

It seems to me that we would be better off if the principle activity of the police was focused on core law enforcement functions like property crime and crimes against persons, with an emphasis upon expertly and constitutionally solving those crimes when they occur so that ALL crime victims have a higher degree of trust in the police side of the criminal justice system.

Problem #3 – Talking Responsibility for Crime Prevention

As to crime prevention – that’s where Sir Robert Peel’s Principles of Policing come in:

“The Police are the People and the People are the Police.”

When the cop on the beat behaves like – and is considered – a neighbor, rather than a warrior/guardian – and those of us who live in the neighborhoods accept a greater responsibility for preventing crime and resolving our own petty neighborhood disputes over calling the police for every difficulty in life – that too will be a big step toward solving the myriad problems of policing as well as cutting police budgets so that more of our tax money can go to institutions that can better contribute to the overall good – like our schools and social service institutions.

So, my advice is: Put your guns away, get to know your neighbors and try listening to each other rather than calling for armed assistance from the police.

Problem #4 – Police Unions

Since the killing of George Floyd we have seen full-page ads being purchased across the country by police unions expressing their shock and condemnation of his grotesque murder by suffocation.

But were those ads and other expressions of shock sincere or were they designed for self-preservation?

I think the latter.

Over the past 50 years the police unions – the LBPOA included – have come to see the clout of their treasuries, understand its power and used it to accomplish a great deal more than the original aim of collective bargaining, “better working conditions and wages.”

They have used that clout to enrich their memberships beyond reason, protect their memberships beyond reason, pass “tough on crime” legislation beyond reason, maintain mass incarceration beyond reason and they have buried reasonable transparency of their misconduct into the deepest, darkest pits that can be mined.

Most egregious, they have taken control of city halls across the nation – Long Beach included – with their bountiful banquets of campaign money while employing the fictitious, but well-established “Hero Myth” by posing for campaign mailers with the politicians whose power they purchase to legitimize the devil’s bargains they make in the smoky back room of city hall.

Long Beach is a perfect example. LBPOA money is responsible for the election of a majority of our council members and the mayor.

LBPOA money is behind all of our recent tax increases.

LBPOA money keeps the LBPOA contract negotiations secret until taken to the council for a vote.

LBPOA money is used for illegal campaign fliers and buys immunity from disciplinary measures taken to correct.

LBPOA money buys local legislation to counter state legislation that they disagree with.

The backroom message the police unions are delivering to those in power to make change is: “Back the troops. If you don’t, the POA treasury is going to be dry as a bone next time you come calling.”

If we The People don’t neuter that power and do something about the politicians who listen to the POA message when this is all over, nothing is going to change.

Problem #5 – The Warrior Mentality

Militarism has its place – in the military.

A soldier is taught that he/she has an enemy.

A soldier is taught to kill the enemy.

A peace officer has no enemy.

A peace officer’s taking of a human life must be only as a last resort.

Every person with whom the peace officer comes in contact – whether that person is a wanted bank robber or serial rapist – is entitled to the protections of the U.S. Constitution and due process.

That’s the difference between a warrior and a peace officer.

It is a difference that is not taught in our police academies.

It is a difference that is not a part of the organizational culture in our police department.

It is a difference that must be changed or nothing else involved in “re-imagining” the police service in Long Beach will matter.

Problem #6 – The War on Drugs

The war on drugs has become a war on the people.

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: The antiwar left and black people.

John Ehrlichman – a Watergate co-conspirator said, “We knew we couldn‘t make it illegal to be either against the war or black people, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana, and the blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

And that is exactly what they did – using American law enforcement to pull it off. And they are still at it.

The solution to repair the countless ruins of social devastation, brutal policing and the shredding of our constitution created by Nixon’s war on the people will be found in the political will of the people and our politicians.

The complex solution is simple: END THE WAR ON DRUGS

Stephen Downing is a resident of Long Beach and a retired LAPD deputy chief of police.
stephen.beachcomber@gmail.com

Category:

Add new comment

Beachcomber

Copyright 2020 Beeler & Associates.

All rights reserved. Contents may not be reproduced or transmitted – by any means – without publisher's written permission.