We recognize and value the essential role of our police officers who faithfully fulfill their duty to keep us safe. We have asked these officers to protect our communities from crime and violence, and we rely on them to ensure public safety, as to which they only responders: we are asking them to be first and sometimes the only responder on every scene, even when others may be better trained to respond. Mental health, substance abuse, homelessness, and domestic violence are just a few examples of challenges as to which we, as city leaders, must ensure that we are responding to our residents’ needs in the best way possible.
Our police are vital to crime fighting and public safety, and we need them. Many of our cities are challenged by spikes in criminal activity. We need to keep our communities safe, and we cannot do this if we defund or materially cut the budgets of police departments.
The phrase “defund the police” means different things to different people, but actual defunding is not the path to better public safety and enhanced public trust. But we should be thoughtful about whether to use the police, as opposed to other resources, in a given circumstance. We believe that these are good questions to ask: Are the police the right responders on certain types of calls? Should they be augmented with other responders? How can we reinvest in the social services our residents need?
In order to assess the community’s needs, cities and police departments should regularly analyze calls for service to determine who should be the responder in different circumstances. Piloting co-responder models where, for example, the police are partnered with mental health providers on appropriate calls or other social service providers would be an important step.
Cities should assess community needs and allocate resources to the public safety ecosystem in proportion to the elements that are most effective in addressing particular needs. This discussion should not be about “funding” or “defunding” the police but more about what tools are necessary to build healthy, safe, and vibrant communities, and allocating scarce resources accordingly. Local police will always be an important part of the public safety ecosystem, but what this moment has shown is that there are other important elements as well. Thoughtful public safety policy recognizes this reality and provides sufficient funding for all of the elements to be successful in their respective missions.
These reforms should not come at the cost of smart investments in our police departments to provide the staffing, equipment, and training they need to keep our communities safe.