Defunding the police: What it means, how it works and why we need it

Illustration by Amanda Dixon-Shropsphire | The Signal

The conversation surrounding police reform has changed with the times. In response to recent events, people have moved from police reform to a new solution: defunding the police.

To some, this idea reflects radical views and a liberal agenda; for many of the same people, it also stokes fear. Modern America has never seen a world without police as we know it. America, however, has progressed beyond the need for an overfunded and corrupt police force. 

Defunding the police can work. 

But what does it mean, anyway, to defund the police? While there was a push for the abolition of police, there seems to be a mutual understanding that if we are to ever achieve a communal form of protection, we have to start by dismantling and reassembling our current system.

Simply put, defunding the police is simply reducing the funds being poured into the police system and reallocating them to more specialized groups. No, it does not mean the police are disappearing, at least not now. 

We are over-reliant on law enforcement to solve problems for which we either simply do not need them or, worse, they are not even equipped to handle.

We involve law enforcement in places where it should not be, such as drug overdoses or suicide attempts where someone properly trained to handle a person in crisis would better mediate a situation. We instinctively dial 911 and risk an officer shooting our loved ones in a manic episode. 

The kindergarten golden rule of always calling the cops when you need help is outdated. We stretch officers thin by giving them the responsibilities of what should belong to social workers and other specialized groups. Accidents are bound to happen, and while it isn’t excusable, it can be addressed. 

Even greater issues like mass incarceration can be dealt with by the reduction of police funds and the creation of specialized units. Given that a situation is determined to be outside of law enforcement, an arrest is less likely to be made simply because there may have never been a reason to arrest the person at all. For police, it’s their only solution much of the time. 

Programs could include things like addressing homelessness, domestic abuse or rape cases that are notoriously ignored or improperly dealt with by police. Introducing professionals trained only to handle said cases guarantees not only faster responses, but also specialized solutions. 

We need to water our communities. By distributing some of the police funds into community healing and social programs, we not only alleviate the hurt of the community, but also the workload of a group that simply was never built to deal with so many things. Law enforcement needs to take itself out of issues that do not pertain to it and invite other groups to better handle what it cannot. 

Do not be afraid of defunding the police. We were raised to trust the cops and to fear a world where they did not exist. But you will still always have someone to call; but, you’ll also know they’re equipped to best handle the situation. Victims of the justice system would have benefited from the recognition that it is not fit to operate as it does now. 

You wouldn’t ask a nurse to also check your teeth for cavities or to realign your spine. If something as simple as specialized health groups can make sense, then you can understand defunding the police.