David Hochman: ‘Defund the police’ can’t succeed but this could

Significant, beneficial police reform will aid both the police and the citizens they serve

Defunding police is an idea that’s quickly come to the center of our discourse – the subject of countless dinner table conversations, media reports and social media threads.

Despite the newfound attention, the actual policy has very little public support, with only 15 percent of Americans in favor of abolishing police, according to Gallup. And yet the broader sentiment behind the phrase – that we need to decrease instances of police brutality and rebuild trust between law enforcement and communities – is very popular.

Significant, beneficial police reform is possible. It will aid both the police and the citizens they serve. But it requires courage, commitment, communication and creativity. It will also require resources. 

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The vast majority of men and women of law enforcement do an amazing job, in, at times, very difficult situations. Now is not the time to defund the police. It is the time to invest in them.  

What could additional resources do to advance solutions to this challenge?

First, it could provide peace officers with the latest de-escalation training, which has proven to successfully decrease the use of force. Training from experts – like a program our foundation recently sponsored for L.A. County sheriff deputies – cover the causes of crises, the impact of crises on the behavior of individuals and groups, and practical tools that are available to minimize risk, maximize compliance and create the conditions required to de-escalate crises, promote conciliation and resolve conflicts. 

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De-escalation techniques instill the foundational importance of improved communication between law enforcement and their communities – they help shift peace officers’ mindsets from that of a “warrior” to a “guardian”. The inculcation of these skills increases the safety of both law enforcement and communities.

Second, we need resources to help repair the bonds between communities and police. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has a robust Community Partnerships Bureau that seeks to provide a holistic approach to community policing. Their programs include youth intervention and prevention programs, a public trust partnership to gain insights about pressing issues in neighborhoods and significant homelessness services.

These types of community partnerships should be bolstered and further supported by the community. When Los Angeles Sheriff Deputies interact with their communities on a personal level, like reading to students at school, or mentoring young adults, trust inevitably grows through familiarity and common values. Bridging divides takes work and these are vital components that should be expanded through additional funding to law enforcement, not less.

Third, we need to invest in increasing the diversity of our police forces so that they all look like the communities they serve. Research has shown this to be a key component of increasing trust between communities and law enforcement. Police forces should diversify not only along racial lines, but also through varying genders, language skills, educational backgrounds and experience. 

If we think about the institutions needing reform in our society today – the education system, health care or housing – do the policy remedies include defunding?

History has shown that when police forces resemble the communities they serve, the public is more likely to perceive peace officers as fair and accountable, thus increasing trust and bolstering public confidence in law enforcement. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has made progress to diversify its force at all levels. Increasing the diversity of the Sheriff's Department will send a strong signal to the community that significant reform is a priority.

Fourth, we need to invest in the mental health of our law enforcement. Law enforcement professionals respond to feedback just as we all do. For them to perform calmly, efficiently and competently in life-or-death situations, their mental health must be sound.

We’ve ignored the well-being of police for far too long. The stress inherent to police work can be particularly damaging on peace officers’ ability to perform under pressure and sadly, suicide rates among police officers are double the national average. Investing in additional police crisis hotlines, increasing the frequency of mental health checks, and expanding peer mentoring programs, law enforcement professionals will be more resilient under stress and will perform their duties more effectively.

Fifth, we need to invest in state-of-the-art equipment, including body-worn cameras. There are many ways in which body-worn cameras have helped law enforcement agencies strengthen accountability and transparency. By providing a video record of police activity, body-worn cameras have made their operations more transparent to the public and have helped resolve questions following an encounter between officers and members of the public. 

Body-worn cameras are helping to prevent problems from arising in the first place by increasing officer professionalism, helping agencies evaluate and improve officer performance, and allowing agencies to identify and correct larger structural problems within a department. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department began using body-worn cameras as recently as Oct. 3, 2020. All deputies on patrol should be outfitted with body-worn cameras, but budget cuts have taken their toll on this process.

If we think about the institutions needing reform in our society today – the education system, health care or housing – do the policy remedies include defunding? Hardly. We hear “how can we increase educational funding and pay teachers more” or “how can we better allocate resources within the health care industry?” or “where can we invest in subsidized housing to improve societal outcomes for the socioeconomically disadvantaged?” 

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Why should law enforcement be any different?

We know that to improve outcomes in any industry, we need to care for it, provide resources, and invest in it with time and money. Let’s all work toward a more equitable, safer and prosperous future for our communities by committing to invest, rather than defund, the police.

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