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The Case Against Defunding Or Abolishing The Police

On the 25th May 2020, George Floyd was killed by the police, sparking protests around the world. One important rhetoric that has been brought up amid these events is the idea of defunding or abolishing the police. This movement has been gaining traction in New Zealand–an article in Newshub shows that organisations such as People Against Prisons Aotearoa have called for the defunding of the police in New Zealand.

This is an issue of utmost importance to both criminal justice and New Zealand society. The goals of the movement would only degrade the criminal justice system and prevent the delivery of justice, effectively creating a lawless, anarchic society.

The defunding or abolishing movements likely stem from a negative perception of the police. Supporting this idea is a study done by Cassandra Chaney, from Louisiana State University, and Ray V. Robertson, from Lamar University. They examined findings from the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project and found that most of the responses held a negative view towards law enforcement.

But is this view of the police warranted? While their opinion does have its merits, it is important to view events of police brutality in the wider context of the role of police in society.

Police officers are trained professionals; their perceptions of situations are different from ordinary individuals. Joel Caplan, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, notes that recruits are taught to be aware of their vulnerability and to always be suspicious. Typically, this results in the police developing cynicism as they often see the ugly side of the world. The police use cynicism as a tool to keep society safe and their worth should not be diminished, to the extent that the protestors do, by the acts of some. To be clear, it is a fact that some police do unacceptable things. However, one must not intertwine events of brutality with the worth of the police as a whole.

According to the Black Lives Matter website, the police should be defunded as they do not keep us safe. But is this true? According to Stephen Rushin, associate professor at the University of Chicago School of Law and Roger Michalski, associate professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Law, research shows that police officers lower crime rates, and defunding or abolishing the police would only increase crime. Indeed, an article in the New York Times found that after budget cuts to the Sacramento Police Force, crime rates increased for most property and violent crimes.

Idealists might argue that, as defunding or abolishing the police has not been tried, the results cannot truly be known. This argument is incorrect. During the George Floyd protests, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), a police-free zone in Seattle, was formed. If the hypothesis that the police do not protect us is true, there should be no increase in crime rates. However, an article by the City Journal showed that CHAZ had a homicide rate 50 times that of Chicago, a city dubbed the 'Murder Capital of the US' by BBC News. In the absence of law enforcement, gangs and untrained anarchists took up the mantle of policing. Ironic, that a police-free zone ended up with worse forms of policing. What can be reasonably inferred is that if CHAZ, the society wanted by the protestors, becomes realised on a larger scale, it would only expose society to unnecessary danger.

In an article in the Washington Post, criminologists Justin Nix from the University of Nebraska and Scott Wolfe from Michigan State University give some suggestions on how to reform the police. They similarly state that hasty defunding will lead to more crime. Any promising police reform should involve the government holding agencies accountable for their spending, making sure that the resources are properly used to fund evidence-based policing and training programs. They also state the responsibilities of the police should be lowered in certain areas, such as for mental health crises. Such changes appear more beneficial and safer than defunding or abolishing the police.

Defunding and abolishing the police does have its basis. However, the protestors focus too heavily on individual events without looking at the wider picture. It is my hope that the people of New Zealand will consider the effects of the proposals on society as a whole. The police do need some reform but defunding or abolishing the police is not the right answer. Instead, it'll just cause more brutality, just this time, not at the hands of police officers.

Reference (Apa Format)

BBC News. (2013, January 16). Chicago: Another shooting victim in America's murder capital. BBC News. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/av/magazine-21034470

Black Lives Matter. (2020). What Defunding the Police Really Means. Retrieved from https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-defunding-the-police-really-means/

Caplan, J. (2003). Police cynicism: police survival tool? The Police Journal, 76(4), 304-313. doi:10.1350/pojo.76.4.304.25821

Chaney, C., & Robertson, R. V. (2013). Racism and police brutality in America. Journal of African American Studies, 17(4), 480-505. doi:10.1007/s12111-013-9246-5

Goode, E. (2012, November 3). Crime Increases in Sacramento After Deep Cuts to Police Force. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/us/after-deep-police-cuts-sacramento-sees-rise-in-crime.html

Jackman, T. (2020, June 19). Guest post: Defunding or disbanding the police is a dangerous idea if done hastily. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/crime-law/2020/06/18/guest-post-defunding-or-disbanding-police-is-dangerous-idea-if-done-hastily/

Molyneux, V. (2020, June 10). People Against Prisons Aotearoa calls for 'bloodstained' police to be defunded following Armed Response Teams trial. Newshub. Retrieved from: https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2020/06/people-against-prisons-aotearoa-calls-for-bloodstained-police-to-be-defunded-following-armed-response-teams-trial.html

Rufo, C. F. (2020, July 1). The End of Chaz. City Journal. Retrieved from: https://www.city-journal.org/end-of-chaz

Rushin, S., & Michalski, R. (2020). Police Funding. Florida Law Review, 72(2), 277-330.

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