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What Does 'Defund The Police' Mean?

Speaker 1: 00:01 In the wake of the George Floyd, killing the calls to abolish and defund. The police have been growing louder across the country. And here in San Diego, the Minneapolis city council voted to dismantle its force over the weekend. And house Democrats in Washington are taking up the police reform issue today. Defunding police is a new and perhaps misunderstood concept in the long history of police reform efforts. Joining me to discuss this as the author of an op ed column and today's Washington post Christy Lopez is a professor at Georgetown law school and co-director of the school's innovative policing program. Welcome to midday edition. Speaker 2: 00:36 Thank you for having me Speaker 1: 00:37 well in San Diego today, the council is expected to vote on the city budget police funding, and some community activists are calling for the council to reject a proposed increase to police funding. And when it comes to this larger movement to defund the police, what's the general idea behind it. Does it mean getting rid of police departments all together? Speaker 2: 00:55 Well, as with any movement, uh, different people mean different things, but generally speaking, no defund, the police does not mean zeroing out public safety. It just means thinking more creatively and expansively about how we achieve public safety. We can't keep stretching, policing this thin and keep putting them in a situation where they have to respond to crisis after crisis and expect them to respond equally well to, uh, this variety of, uh, types of circumstances that no one profession in any other context is required to respond to please cannot be social workers and mental health workers and responders to active bystanders and school counselors. These are all things that we should be funding separately for those people who have that training to do. Speaker 1: 01:40 And even police have been saying that for some time, have they? Not that we're expected to do too much in this society? Speaker 2: 01:47 Yes, please. Um, have long been saying that they're expected to, to do too much, they're expected to deal with the problems created by a lack of housing, by a lack of adequate education, by a lack of adequate medical care and drug addiction treatment. All of these things create problems, um, that are allowed to rise to crisis level at which point the police have to come in. Um, so please get nervous. Of course, when you start talking about defunding policing, um, but when you really get, when you really start having the conversation about what that means, they recognize that there's a lot in it for police as well. Speaker 1: 02:21 And what are some of the jobs police officers do now that you believe might be handled by somebody else? And who would that person be? Speaker 2: 02:28 Well, some things that please do, um, should just be ratcheted down. So for example, police make 10 million arrests every year. There's a lot of research indicating that many of those arrests could be citations. Um, and we would, there'd be no hit the public safety and there'd be a tremendous savings in terms of incarcerating people. And of course, with all the consequences of incarceration, even short term, losing your job, et cetera. Um, so that's part of it. Others, of course, you know, um, mental health is one of the most obvious examples of where if we were to shift some funds to health, we might prevent people from falling into mental health crisis. Those crises are often some of the most dangerous calls that police respond to. And by failing, by helping people not fall into mental health crises, we can help them live happier, more fulfilled lives anyway. So they're just there any number of, of shifts that we can make. Um, so that we can, if we start thinking more expansively about how to achieve public safety, we realize that we've over relied on law enforcement to achieve public safety. And some of these other, um, programs and services can help us do that better and more efficiently. Speaker 1: 03:31 I can imagine this will be politicized as so many things of course are in our society, the whole phrase defund the police. Uh, it seems to me to be, uh, somewhat fraught. Uh, what about the argument that police have a very difficult, dangerous job? They have to assume nearly everyone they encounter could well have a gun. Speaker 2: 03:50 Well, I think there's a lot of truth to that. Um, and I think that speaks to one of the reasons we're in this situation. And one of the reasons, um, one of the ways in which we need to think more expansively about public safety, and again, um, you do wander right in the thicket of politicized issues. Um, I do think that it makes police officers' jobs more difficult that we live in a country that has done so little to regulate gun ownership in this country. Um, and, and that's one of the things we probably need to look at instead of putting police in a situation where yeah, um, they're good. They're going into situations where people have a lot of guns and a lot of ammunition that makes their jobs more difficult. Speaker 1: 04:25 And you mentioned earlier 10 million arrests. I'm not sure many Americans realize just how many people are arrested shot and killed and injured by police every year. What are some of these key numbers and what do they tell us about the status quo? Speaker 2: 04:37 So there are about a thousand people killed by police every year. Um, and that has number has not changed much over the years. Oh, in recent years. Um, in addition, a black man in the United States has a one in 1000 chance of being killed by the police during his lifetime. That is a chilling statistic that we should, that should concern all of us. Um, we're, we're really in an untenable situation and it's a situation we don't need to be in. We can provide better public safety to people. We can allow police officers and others to have much more satisfying jobs, and we can move away from a society of mass incarceration. Um, and this really, um, avoidable and tragic loss of life among people of color in particular. Speaker 1: 05:24 And you said the abolition language is important. Why do you feel that way? Speaker 2: 05:28 I think abolition, um, is important for a couple of reasons. Police abolition the way that most police abolitionist use it. My understanding, um, from what I've read and when I've talked to people, is that what that refers to is abolishing policing. As we know it and abolishing our reliance on policing so that we don't rely on mass incarceration and 10 million arrests every year and the criminalization of poverty and addiction. But the other piece of police abolition that's really important to be mindful is that we do have this thread in our history of using state power to control the bodies and the lives of black people. That's a history that goes back to slavery. It extended through Jim Crow and we've allowed policing to some extent in some places to con do perpetuate that, uh, inappropriate control by the state over, over the lives and bodies of black people. And that part of policing must be literally abolished. Speaker 1: 06:25 And these protests over the George Floyd killing have gone on far longer than many people expected. Do you think there's a rare opportunity right now for real meaningful reform? Speaker 2: 06:35 There's absolutely an opportunity for meaningful reform and is unique. The question is whether we will squander it, we've had these opportunities in the past and we haven't always taken them home. And I think that's in part because it's scary because it, it takes a lot of work. Um, but hopefully we'll see that we've got to start somewhere in this inner, we start the better Speaker 1: 06:53 now in an ideal world, what critical police reform is would you make right now? Speaker 2: 06:57 I would implement training for officers on things like peer intervention, um, actually training officers, how to intervene. We expect that they will, but they don't always, and it's hard. It's harder than we than we think I would also train officers. Um, I'd reorient them in the ethos of guardianship policing rather than warrior policing to roar. Who's a sheriff up in Washington state. A former sheriff has been working with on that with her Academy. Um, and I would absolutely push campaigns. Zero's a can't wait campaign. Um, there's some very sensible restrictions on use of force there that we can and should be implemented immediately. Speaker 1: 07:36 I've been speaking with Christy Lopez, a professor at Georgetown law school and co-director of the school's innovative policing program. Thanks very much. Thank you.

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Christy Lopez, a professor at Georgetown Law School and a co-director of the school’s Innovative Policing Program, says "defunding the police" doesn't mean zeroing out budgets. It means to reduce the demands placed on police and shift funding to mental health care, housing and other social programs.
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