Defund the Police: An Audit and Analysis of Police Brutality, Corruption, Inefficiency, and Waste

“Mama … They’re gonna kill me … I can’t breathe.” — George Floyd, May 25, 2020.

I remember my first day during a visit to New Zealand in the late 90s. It was early morning, and I was walking around downtown Auckland, the most populated city with about 1.5 million residents. We were a bit lost, and there was nobody around but a lone cop on the beat. We approached him for directions with map in hand. What amazed me was not only how friendly, smiley, and helpful he was, but the fact that he had no weapons of any kind on him! I asked him if he was a regular police officer and why he wasn’t equipped with any weapons, just wearing slacks, a short sleeved button-up shirt, and a patrolman’s hat (over the past two decades, they’ve added bulletproof vests, tasers, and batons, but still not guns). He explained that that’s just how cops are outfitted in New Zealand, and that they are trained to protect and serve the populace rather than intimidate or harm people. Protect and serve: what a quaint notion, I thought. We should try that here in America, right?

First, the Good News …

In a few conscientious cities in our country such as Denver, Oakland, and Portland, we are seeing this kind of progress thankfully. In Eugene, Oregon, an extraordinary program founded decades ago is making headlines and being touted as a model for our nation’s policing reform at this critical moment. It’s called CAHOOTS, “Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets”, and it works with local law enforcement to handle mental health calls that would otherwise have been fielded by police.

As reported last week by Assistant Editor Anna Smith in High Country News, “When police show up, situations can escalate, and the use of force can be disproportionate, especially towards Black people; a 2016 study estimated that 20% to 50% of fatal encounters with law enforcement involved someone with a mental illness. […] Under the [CAHOOTS] model, instead of police, a medic and a mental health worker are dispatched for calls such as welfare checks or potential overdoses. In 2017, such teams answered 17% of the Eugene Police Department’s overall call volume. This has saved the city, on average, $8.5 million each year from 2014–2017, according to the White Bird Clinic. Though CAHOOTS uses the police department’s central dispatch, it is distinct from the department. Employees do not carry guns or wear uniforms; instead, they wear casual hoodies and drive vans with a dove painted on the side. CAHOOTS’ methods are designed to prevent escalation, Black said. “If an officer enters that situation with power, with authority, with that uniform and a command presence, that situation is really likely to escalate.””

The Face of the Crisis

Over a thousand cops in the USA are arrested each year for committing crimes. Almost half of those are for violent crimes. Does that sound like a lot? Consider this: each year, police in the USA make over ten million arrests. That means that of those arrests, .01% are of cops suspected of crime. There are nearly 700,000 federal, state, and local law enforcement officers in the USA. Not so many cops are arrested after all.

Yet every day this week during the George Floyd and Black Lives Matters (BLM) protests, we are seeing more recorded video of cops seemingly breaking the law by committing police brutality against protesters and criminal suspects. On June 2, 2020, a 9-year veteran cop was caught on a door-cam running over a suspect with his SUV in Missouri. The suspect was wanted for drug-related charges. Also last week, a 75 year-old peace activist in Buffalo, NY was shoved to the ground by riot cops, causing blood to pour out of his head and rendering him unconscious. When the cops were suspended by the mayor, the local police union urged all 57 cops to resign (which they immediately did) from the riot squad in protest of the suspension of the 2 cops who shoved the old man.

This department-wide response points not only to the systemic problem with police departments such as Buffalo’s and so many cities around the nation, but also to the power of the Thin Blue Line: the implicit agreement that cops support each other no matter the situation nor the consequences, even when the law is broken by a fellow cop. It is this same code of silence that problematizes the internal investigations of community complaints against police officers, especially when community oversight committees have limited access to police records and lack any real power in investigating and punishing bad cops.

A 2019 published study of civilian complaints lodged against the Chicago police department found a direct correlation between civilian complaints and corrupt cops working there, and that cops in the top 5% of most civilian complaints end up costing the police department the most in civil rights litigation payouts. For example, page 257 of the study states that the worst 1% of police offenders in the department cost the city taxpayers about $6 million in civil rights violation lawsuit payouts between 2009 and 2014, not including legal costs and fees.

The study on page 258 concludes by stating: “Finally, the results suggest that the investigation of civilian allegations should be taken more seriously. At present, many cities devote few resources to investigating civilian allegations and make little use of the results of an investigation. A more serious investigatory process would have the benefit of screening out frivolous allegations, improving the signal quality contained in allegations. Currently in Chicago and other major cities, civilian allegations are investigated slowly, few are sustained, and fewer still result in sanctions or disciplinary action. Our results, of course, do not provide guidance on how investigations should be conducted or what sanctions are warranted. However, the institutional disregard for civilian allegations is at odds with the finding that civilian allegations can predict serious misconduct.”

“The practice of walking unarmed patrols is an established fact of police life everywhere in the U.K. apart from Northern Ireland: Since the 19th century, British officers on patrol have considered themselves to be guardians of citizens, who should be easily approachable. There are far fewer incidents of deadly clashes between police and suspected criminals. While there were 461 “justifiable homicides” committed by U.S. police in 2013, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, there was not a single one in the United Kingdom the same year.”

— “5 countries where most police officers do not carry firearms — and it works well”, Rick Noack, Washington Post, 7/8/16.

Police Killings

When any person is killed, it is a terrible event. When discussing police killed on the job, we need some context first to fully appreciate the numbers. The United States has the 6th highest number of total intentional homicides in the world with 16,214 killings reported by the FBI in 2018, the most recent year when final results were available. The overwhelming majority of these killings is of young black or brown men.

In 2019, about 98 law enforcement officers (including military police, police guarding banks, border patrol, federal, state, and local police) in the USA died on the job from causes arguably related to crime fighting activities and fewer still related to intentional homicides with 48 cops killed by hostile gunfire. That was a typical year for such stats.

In contrast, counting only fatal gun shootings and no other forms of killing, such as the illegal restraints on breathing that killed Eric Garner, George Floyd, and Manuel Ellis, police shot and killed 1,041 people in 2019 in the USA. That’s a typical year for such killings by on-duty cops in our nation, and African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be the victims of police shootings. So much so that, according to a 2019 published study by Rutgers, U. Mich, and Washington U., death by cop is the 6th highest cause of death for African American men between the ages of 25 and 29 inclusive with a mortality rate of 1.8 per 100,000.

So let’s summarize our nation’s yearly police killings stats above:

  • 16,214 intentional homicides
  • 48 police killed by hostile gunfire
  • 1,041 civilians killed by police gunfire

What conclusions do you draw from this information?

“No more internal power struggle. We come together to overcome the little trouble. Soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionary, cause I don’t want my people to be contrary.”

— Bob Marley, “Zimbabwe”, 1979.

Team Cop vs. Team Cop-Killer?

The way that cops treat, injure, and kill African Americans in our nation is a reflection of the contempt and fear they hold for this minority group, a people that have been historically vilified and seen as predators or super-predators by politicians on the Left and Right.

In a racist and ignorant attempt at deflection that utterly misses the point of the Black Lives Matter movement, police and their unions are trying to equate the number of cops killed by African Americans to the number of African Americans killed by cops. Various so-called Alt-Right news organizations and other media outlets are promoting the “Blue Lives Matter” movement as a counterprotest to BLM. Of course the Trump administration is supporting this racist counterprotest, most vociferously through Trump’s own Twitter feed or via his mouthpiece of the moment, McEnany, his newest press secretary.

So if this baloney is to be taken seriously enough for a moment to analyze it, consider this: If as Trump supporters seem to see it, there is a Team Cop on one side allegedly composed of mainly good people with a “few bad apples”, and a Team Cop-Killer on the other side ostensibly composed of the rest of the USA’s population of civilians with its “first string” team being racistly defined as “African Americans”, then let’s look at how this hideous death-match is doing at half-time.

There are 330 million people in the USA and thus that many members on Team Cop-Killer, as the Blue Lives Matter Us vs. Them trope implies. There are 48 million African-Americans in our nation. That’s 68 times the number of African Americans in the USA to the total number of law enforcement officers.

In this disgusting implicit or explicit proposition of Blue Lives Matter that seeks to equate the deaths on “both sides”, then Team Cop-Killer’s “first string” death squad allegedly consists of 48 million African Americans who’ve managed to kill some fraction of 48 cops last year.

Meanwhile, 700,000 federal, state, and local law enforcement officials that same year while acting in the line of duty killed 1,041 civilians. So what’s the score? 1,041 to 48! Game over?

One more time: In 2019, 700,000 members of Team Cop killed 1,041 civilians while 48 million African Americans on the seemingly “first string” team of Team Cop-Killer killed some number less than the total 48 cops killed by civilians.

1,041 to less than 48? Not a very close god-awful game, right Blue Lives Matter folks?

At the rate that cops kill civilians while policing, if there were as many cops as African Americans in the USA, all other factors being equal cops would kill 71,000 civilians per year.

That means if Team Cop’s total members and Team Cop-Killer’s African-American members were equal in population size, based on the typical annual stats from 2019 the death tally would be 71,000 killings of civilians by Team Cop to 48 killings of cops by all members (regardless of race) of Team Cop-Killer.

That doesn’t even include a Team Cop-Killer that consists of everybody else in the nation regardless of race. So if Team Cop and the entirety of Team Cop-Killer (namely all of the US population) were equal in size, then all other factors being equal the death tally would be 491,000 killings of civilians by Team Cop to 48 killings of cops by the entirety of Team Cop-Killer, as there are 471 more civilians in the USA than law enforcement officers. 491,000 to 48.

Team Cop would kill 491,000 civilians vs. Team Cop-Killer’s 48 killings of cops, if the number of cops and civilians were equal and based on typical annual stats.

So what’s the purpose of this grim exercise? These disgusting statistics provide us a few key conclusions.

First, the trope of African-Americans or people of color being somehow more predatory or murderous in comparison to cops is absolute garbage, even if you heavily discount the number of allegedly justified killings of civilians by cops. By the count of the FBI, cops commit about 400 justified killings per year — a number that is highly suspect given the historical diffidence by police departments to sanction their own cops or the lack of legal recourse or political will by prosecutors to bring criminal charges against cops.

Second, the number of people that cops kill in the line of duty each year is a horrifying number, especially on a per capita basis. When you amplify the numbers to show equal numbers of members of each side of the equation, the disparity and the problem become crystal clear: there is something deeply wrong at the root of policing.

“For decades, police departments have acquired military weaponry like grenade launchers and armored vehicles for little cost through a controversial Defense Department program called 1033. The program has sent over $7 billion worth of excess military equipment to more than 8,000 local law enforcement agencies across the country”.

- How police departments got billions of dollars of tactical military equipment, Marketplace.org, 6/12/20.

This should come as no surprise given the military and predatory outfits, weaponry, resources, training, and frequent prior battlefield experience of so many cops. Does police work attract this type of predatory personality? It is a well known statistic that cops commit 2 to 4 times more domestic violence than the general population. It is also argued that policing work attracts people with authoritarian personalities. It certainly does not take much formal education to become a cop as a high school diploma and 60 college credits with a 2.0 GPA (or 2 years in the military) will suit you to join the NYPD. Being too smart can even be a disqualifying factor in one’s effort to become a police officer as one Connecticut man found out when he scored too high on an IQ test (specifically, a middling score of 125) in the eyes of the New London, CT police force!

Unfortunately there is little scholarship on the subject of police brutality, crime committed by police, racism among cops, and related issues because of the code of silence that is implicit and explicit in police departments around our country. But regardless of whether cops have a predisposition to such work that results in this level of illegal brutality or whether they are trained to be racist, sexist, dehumanized, and predatory by their experiences, colleagues, and workshops, clearly a change is required on a systemic level. It is important that good cops and society at large recognize these problems in order to solve them. The time of the Thin Blue Line must end.

Police Unions Exacerbate Police Criminal Behavior

There is substantial research that evidences that police unions help to create contracts that increase police pay while reducing police oversight and punishment when they commit crimes on the job. As a result, police brutality statistics get worse. As one of the lead authors of such research, University of Victoria economist Rob Gillezeau states: “What does change? We find a substantial increase in police killings of civilians over the medium to long run (likely after unions are established) with an additional 0.026 to 0.029 civilians killed in a county each year of whom the overwhelming majority are non-white.” That tallies to 60 to 70 civilians killed per year in the nation, almost all of whom are non-whites and primarily African-Americans.

Standard police union contracts are focused on protecting cops who are alleged to violate policing policies and the law, as the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police (“FOP”) union contract does.

“The FOP contract includes provisions that virtually codify the so-called police code of silence. It is among the worst police contracts in the country. Among its provisions are:

  • People making complaints must file a sworn affidavit, and their names are turned over to the officer they are accusing. The U.S. Department of Justice said this creates a “tremendous disincentive to come forward with legitimate claims.” A provision permitting investigators to override the affidavit requirement is rarely used.
  • Police are allowed to wait 24 hours before making statements after police-involved shootings, and they can amend those statements after seeing and listening to video or audio evidence.
  • Rewards for police officer whistleblowers are banned.
  • Police misconduct records are destroyed after five years.
  • Interrogators are limited in what they can ask officers during investigations of alleged misconduct.”
  • - “Rewrite Chicago’s police union contracts to restore a shaken public’s confidence”, Chicago Sun-Times, June 7, 2020.

The Defund Police Movement

People are protesting every day in cities all around our nation shouting “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice No Peace”. The Defund Police Movement has become a major political action point. There’s more to it than these killings of civilians by cops. This is a public health and safety issue as well as an issue of systemic racism.

Our nation spends upwards of $115 billion per year on policing at the federal, state, and local levels, a number that has tripled over the last 40 years. This ever increasing police budget is $20 billion more than the national food stamps (SNAP) budget for 2020, 9 times the budget of the Social Security Administration, 10 times the budget of the CDC, 13 times the budget of the EPA, and 38 times the budget of FEMA. The 2020 national expenditure on mental health services is $238 billion.

What if we spent more money on these public health and welfare budgets and less on police budgets — i.e., more preventative care and less police-based reactive efforts: this is a central question of the Defund Police Movement.

In large part, it is the wanton public funding of police brutality, racism, and corruption that has inflamed the national response to the killing of George Floyd over the past week. In addition to local political efforts to defund police departments such as that in NYC, Congress is proposing legislation to combat police brutality by setting national policing standards, something activists such as myself have been strongly promoting since well before the current round of BLM protests.

Critics of the Defund Police Movement cite concerns about escalating crime and increased workplace injury to cops if policing budgets are reduced, but police union contractual negotiations related to budget increases have not been relevant to reducing either of these factors, Mr. Gillezeau’s research shows. An opinion piece in The Federalist last week states: “Fallon and Wilkinson and others like them seem completely unaware that these other forms of security — the mafia, cartels, armed militias — are far less accountable than the police. If you want to know what that form of security looks like, look at Iraq, or Somalia, or Libya.”

Mr. Trump’s campaign website talks along similar lines: “Around the country, Biden’s backers are taking “unprecedented” steps to “defund the police.” If they’re successful, these Democrats will leave Americans, particularly minorities, dangerously vulnerable to violence and theft. […] When police officers were being assaulted and killed in the streets by left-wing Antifa thugs, Joe Biden sided with their attackers. He betrayed police officers who are rhetorically — and literally — under fire by the radical left.”

Mr. Biden’s campaign today stated that he opposes the Defund Police Movement, though he supports increasing funding for social services groups to relieve cops of such duties. His Criminal Justice Reform program proposes increasing funding for police, stating: “Biden spearheaded the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which authorized funding both for the hiring of additional police officers and for training on how to undertake a community policing approach. However, the program has never been funded to fulfill the original vision for community policing. Biden will reinvigorate the COPS program with a $300 million investment. As a condition of the grant, hiring of police officers must mirror the racial diversity of the community they serve. Additionally, as president, Biden will establish a panel to scrutinize what equipment is used by law enforcement in our communities.” Clearly this kind of funding of the police is opposed by the Defund Police Movement.

The Defund Police Movement is about reimagining public safety by not only limiting the budgets of police departments but also redefining the role of police in our society.

As Rep. Ilhan Omar (Minn.-D) stated at a Defund Police Movement protest on June 7, 2020: “Not only do we need to disinvest from police, but we need to completely dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department. The Minneapolis Police Department is rotten to the root. And so when we dismantle it, we get rid of that cancer, and we allow for something beautiful to rise, and that reimagining allows us to figure out what public safety looks like for us.”

NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer has called for a $1.1 billion budget cut to the NYPD. As reported by Streetsblog NYC on June 4, 2020: “Stringer, a likely mayoral candidate next year, went beyond the NYPD’s involvement in such issues as providing services to homeless people in the subways, saying, “The brutal, senseless murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmed Aubrey are the most-recent reminders of the longstanding need for racial justice and reform in policing. We must call out racism in all its ugly forms to break this painful cycle … with accountability and concrete action.”

Reiterating that a budget “is a reflection of our values,” Stringer specifically called for:

  • a hiring freeze and reduction of police officers to 35,000 by June, 2022 — which would approximate the headcount before Mayor de Blasio took over.
  • a 5-percent cut in police overtime, which would amount to roughly $26 million — or $15 million more than the NYPD offered at a recent hearing.
  • Better disciplining of police officers to start reducing brutality settlements, which hit $237.4 million in FY 2018.

“It is unconscionable that services for black and brown New Yorkers are on the chopping block while the NYPD’s budget remains almost entirely untouched,” Stringer said. “This is a bold and achievable roadmap to immediately cut millions and instead invest those critical dollars in underserved communities and the programs that will uplift those New Yorkers who need it most.””

Mr. Stringer’s plans for the NYPD budget reflect the general goals of the Defund Police Movement which, like Bernie Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 presidential campaign platforms, focus on dramatically increasing spending to social services, public health, and education so as to improve community conditions and thereby reduce the conditions that promote crime, namely poverty, unemployment, mental illness, addiction, and despair. The Movement demands radically altered police training and community oversight standards, the demilitarization of police departments, and the substantial reduction of police officers employed by departments.

The 8 Can’t Wait website provides a solid outline of the measures required by BLM and the Defund Police Movement for police reform, including banning chokeholds, requiring de-escalation methods in police training and policies, requiring cops to issue warnings before shooting, forbidding cops from shooting at vehicles, requiring cops to exhaust all other alternatives before shooting, requiring other cops to intervene when they see cops breaking the law, and other crucial measures. The 8 Can’t Wait protocol is based on a 2016 study on police use of force published on the Use of Force Project website, which also offers a Model Use of Force Policy.

Police Inefficiency

What makes matters worse is that our nation’s police are statistically inefficient not only at serving and protecting the public health and welfare but also at arresting criminals. According to Brooklyn-based Vera Institute of Justice, there were just over 10 millions arrests in 2016. From the mid-80s through 2012, that number ranged from 12 to 15 million with the peak reached in 1997 at 15.2 million arrests thanks to “tough-on-crime” politics espoused by Republicans and Democrats alike in the 80s and 90s.

Of those 10 million arrests in 2016, the Vera Institute reports that just 5% were for violent crimes whereas about 80% were for low level offenses such as drug crimes, prostitution, failure-to-appear warrants, local ordinance violations, vandalism, loitering, and the like. That year, only about 22% of serious crimes (excluding arson) were cleared by police. That’s typical for our nation’s police departments, as they don’t do a great job of clearing their cases for various reasons ranging from police incompetence to delay to the existence of insufficient evidence. A case being “cleared” means the police’s arrest and investigations of the suspect were sufficient enough to lead to prosecutors bringing criminal charges against that person, regardless of whether that defendant was convicted or not.

The Defund Police Movement is not concerned with the causes of low clearance rates, but rather focuses on the effectiveness of police departments in reaching their goals. Is the public expenditure on police worth the price in tax money spent each year, in dead and injured civilians each year, and in the damage to our civil rights?

One would think that the police’s clearance rate of crimes surely must have increased over the decades of increased national spending on police budgets. It did not.

Although the police department budgets more than tripled during that time period, from 1964 to 2016 the police clearance rate on these serious crimes increased by only 5%.

Lest you think the numbers were somehow manipulated by the Vera Institute (they weren’t), ponder this set of facts. According to the FBI’s own 2017 publication of Crime in the United States, national policing clearance rates were terrible: 62% for murder, 35% for rape, 30% for robbery, 53% for aggravated assault, 18% for property crime, 14% for burglary, 19% for larceny, 14% for vehicle theft, and 22% for arson.

Bear in mind that many crimes go unreported for various reasons, including 20% of victims believing that the police could or would not help. In a five year study from 2006–2010 inclusive by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 42% of serious violent crimes remained unreported (including 65% of rapes or sexual assaults), simple assaults at 51%, property crimes at 60%, and violent school crimes at about 75%.

How Police Spend Their Work Hours

According to the Associate Dean of the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University: “While the average officer would have made about 14 arrests in 2011, less than one of these arrests would have been for a violent crime and fewer than two arrests would have been for property crimes. In fact, 12 of the arrests made by our “average” police officer would have been for petty crimes like minor drug or alcohol possession, disorderly conduct, and vandalism. These figures, like the research on police activity, suggest that police work involves far less crime fighting than one might expect.” More specifically researched in a national study sponsored by the UK government in 2001, cops there spent about 43% of their time in the police station doing paperwork and processing arrested suspects. Though there are no studies I could find on the issue related to policing time spent on paperwork in the USA, according to a popular police forum online, our nation’s cops also complain of spending too many hours each day doing paperwork at the station or in their cars.

One user on the forum, in detailing typical law enforcement (LE) daily hours, states: “Paperwork makes the (LE) world go round. Pretty much everything you do as an officer will be reflected in some kind of paperwork. So, if you want to get into LE, get used to your paperwork. Get good at your paperwork. Love your paperwork. Paperwork is the only constant in this unpredictable profession. And, as annoying as the piles, reams, and stacks of paperwork are, they will also cover your butt and put the bad guy’s butt in jail. If you want a quick and easy answer to “how much paperwork do you do,” then I can tell you that I have spent entire 8-hour shifts doing nothing but catch-up paperwork from a particularly busy shift the previous day. It isn’t always like that, but it happens more often than you’d think.”

Another user states: “It really depends on the assignment and how busy you are. If you’re in patrol and you’re just a call taker, even if you’re in a busy department, you won’t have as much paperwork as someone who’s just in patrol but makes his own calls between taking calls. If you’re in investigations, you’re going to have a lot more paperwork. And if you’re in a supervisory position, you’ll have paperwork concerning everyone elses [sic] paperwork.”

Noting that police pay is strictly defined by thick police union contracts, it becomes apparent that the way cops in our country spend their time is be design to ensure their safety from pursuing violent crimes and to ensure their increased pay based on rewarding arrest quotas. As reported in a January 2019 article in The Intercept with noted Defund Police Movement activist and Brooklyn College sociology professor Alex Vitale, “While that seems far too high a price, police continue to focus their attention on the enforcement of low-level offenses and noncriminal behavior, reinforcing a cycle of mistrust. That’s in part in response to arrest quotas and other incentives police get for productivity, as well as financial gains for agencies and municipalities that rely on punitive enforcement for funding. Vitale pointed to the controversial “collars for dollars” practice, by which officers will sometimes make arrests toward the end of their shifts in order to earn overtime pay, as they are required to remain with the person they arrested through the booking process. “A marijuana possession arrest at the end of the shift can be worth several hundred dollars for the officer,” he noted.”

What Would We Do Without Police?

In consideration of the tally of countless civilian injuries and over a thousand civilian deaths caused by cops each year; cops’ severe damage to our civil rights which we can see in times of protest and in times of peace; their silencing of civilian review boards and the damage to community peace which that causes; the more than hundred billion dollars they cost American taxpayers each year; and the startling inefficiency of their crime clearance rate and of their use of daily work hours, we must ask why we need police in the first place?

In a 2017 study of the consequences of proactive or “broken windows” policing published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, the authors examined the 7-week work slowdown by the NYPD in 2014–15. They write: “our study analyses an aberration in NYPD strategy, in which police sharply limited foot patrols, criminal summonses and low-level arrests in a manner unrelated to the city’s underlying crime rate. In the midst of a political fight between Mayor de Blasio, anti-police brutality protesters and the city’s police unions, the NYPD held a work ‘slowdown’ for approximately seven weeks in late 2014 and early 2015. Within New York City (NYC), the most proximate cause of protests against the NYPD was the strangling death of Eric Garner in Staten Island. While there was considerable fallout from the incident itself, the conflict intensified when a grand jury declined to indict the involved officers on 4 December 2014. Thousands of protesters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge, while others blocked portions of the West Side Highway as well as the Lincoln and Holland tunnels. Then, two weeks after the non-indictment decision, two NYPD officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were fatally shot by an anti-police extremist. Because they are legally prohibited from striking, NYPD officers coordinated a work-to-rule strike. Officers were ordered to respond to calls only in pairs, leave their squad cars only if they felt compelled, and perform only the most necessary duties. The act was a symbolic show of strength to demonstrate the city’s dependence on the NYPD. Officers continued to respond to community calls for service, but refrained from proactive policing by refusing to get out of their vehicles to issue summonses or arrest people for petit crimes and misdemeanours.”

The authors report their conclusions as such: “Analysing several years of unique data obtained from the NYPD, we find that civilian complaints of major crimes (such as burglary, felony assault and grand larceny) decreased during and shortly after sharp reductions in proactive policing. The results challenge prevailing scholarship as well as conventional wisdom on authority and legal compliance, as they imply that aggressively enforcing minor legal statutes incites more severe criminal acts.”

When NYPD stopped working for 7 weeks, major crimes decreased.

The Future of Public Safety

So what does society look like when we defund the police? Will it be the Trump Army vs Antifa? That is what police unions, private prison corporations, gun corporations, defense contractors, and the politicians and lobbyists who financially benefit from them would have you believe. But as Sophia Petrillo, the granny character from Golden Girls, would say, “picture this”: New York City, 2023. Self-driving traffic carts, traffic cams, and smart meters patrol the streets and highways, delivering violation tickets by mail or electronically. Speed limits are a bit higher so that they reflect the speeds that we all actually drive, but they are enforced 100% of the time. Social workers and therapists with specialties in addiction, domestic disputes, and mental illness respond to related crises to de-escalate the situation and bring help and resolution to afflicted parties, sometimes with a couple cops in tow playing a backup, on-demand role in potentially dangerous scenarios like domestic violence calls. Drugs and prostitution are legalized and regulated, nearly vanquishing illegal cartels who rely on such illicit trade, and bringing therapy and safety to addicts and those in the sex trade. Street cams and door cams (accessed with owner permission) capture property crimes such as vandalism, theft, and burglary; and the footage is reviewed and investigated by NYC civilian employees with sufficient legal training who in turn issue a violation summons to the suspect to appear in court to face punishment. NYC, like other progressive cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle, and Washington DC, continue to lead the nation as a model for universal health care, universal basic income, unemployment insurance benefits, universal pre-K and public childcare facilities, free public college education, and other social welfare services funded by increased income tax on the wealthiest 5% and by increased effective corporate tax rates. And for handling violent crime which as NYC stats show is a slim percentage of all the crime in the city, the NYPD is a slimmed-down version of its former self, no longer with military style vehicles, weaponry, and attitudes, but rather a well-hired, well-trained, and well-supervised group that remains dedicated to the 8 Can’t Wait protocol that now dominates progressive law enforcement.

Rest in Peace, George. We got you.

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