It’s 2022: Traffic cams work and police departments are understaffed.

Photo by Berkin Üregen on Unsplash.

Criminal justice reform, all the rage in 2020, seems to have fallen deeply out of fashion in 2022.

As a wave of high-profile property crimes and a rising tide of homicide gripped major cities in the wake of COVID19, the fledging inclination to take a critical look at policing in America crashed back to earth.

One movement in particular caught on after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020: Defund the Police.

For months, activists chanted it in the streets. During the height of the pandemic, with the full-throated blessing of the American medical community including the CDC no less, thousands upon thousands of people carried it on banners and signs, staged marches and sit-ins and protests.

#DefundthePolice took over Twitter and other social media sites. For a time, you couldn’t open a newspaper or turn on the television without hearing some reference to the oddly-specific clamor to reform policing.

After all, there were- at that time- a number of important deliverables criminal justice reform advocates were already working on. Moving directly to the most extreme position; advocating for a police-free society seemed a bit of an untenable stretch.

If you find yourself on a sinking ship, as any good sailor will tell you; stay on it as long as you possibly can. A sinking ship is better than the alternative; just you, a lifeboat and a life jacket- if you’re lucky- and all the perils of the ocean.

Even if you have a lifeboat, a first year Coast Guard cadet can attest; you should only enter it by stepping up into it, out of a larger boat sunk so low into the water as to require you to step up to get out of it. The larger boat is safer, easier for rescuers to find, even when it’s in the process of sinking.

The same is true with the police; we can’t defund or decommission or dispense with the police. The awkward thing defunders are reluctant to admit is that our society still needs police officers, unfortunately.

Most police officers would like nothing better than to live in a world where they are not necessary; they would like to be laid-off because, darn it, there just aren’t enough robberies, rapes, murders, kidnappings, drug trafficking cases and child abuse to keep them busy.

When members of the Fraternal Order of Police are sitting around police stations with nothing to do of a Saturday night; that’s when we can defund the police.

Until then, it is past time to admit that Defund the Police was a failure and a distraction. It was about punishing police officers; it was not about expanding social services for those in need.

Tax dollars for better mental health care, domestic violence counseling, drug treatment programs, restorative justice methods- all the things “Defund the Police” advocates insist is necessary- could have come from absolutely anywhere.

City, state, federal budgets; new taxes: Anywhere. Insisting money to fund these services could only come from police department budgets was punitive and needlessly divisive.

Beat police officers are the lowest paid members of the law enforcement community with the least power over training, budgets, department policies and everything else. That the onus of the “Defund” movement has fallen on their shoulders, rather than on the better-paid decision makers in the organizations says much.

Police officers, union members, were- until the madness of “Defund the Police”- a reliably Democratic Party-voting working class contingent.

Advocating for better funding for social services like mental health care and drug addiction would have seen police officers everywhere join in the effort to make these changes.

Police officers in some communities regularly find themselves rearresting the same people over and over again. These repeat offenders need treatment, medical help, mental health care, drug addiction counseling, social work. That they aren’t getting it isn’t the fault of police officers.

Members of law enforcement would love help with these ongoing problems. Members of law enforcement know our society has real problems: Violent criminals who endanger everyone.

2020, and 2021, were banner years for gun sales. 2022 is almost certain to prove likewise.

As a result of the far-left progressive push to “Defund the Police,” police budgets have been slashed. That budgets have mostly now been restored is all well and good; in many places the damage has already been done.

Police departments from Seattle to Philadelphia are short-staffed. Worse, recruitment is way down. Officers in major metro areas beset by rising crime and overly aggressive bail reform are transferring from those areas.

Understaffed is dangerous for police departments, and the job is already dangerous. Since “Defund the Police” became a household name, officers have been ambushed, attacked, and killed in elevated numbers.

Too few officers means longer shifts, less time for training. Officers stretched thin make mistakes that can cost lives.

Moderate Democrats, like President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, never jumped on the Defund bandwagon, to their credit. As crime has jumped, even most progressives have backed away from the call.

Recognizing that Defund the Police was a costly mistake is only the first step, however.

There is no easy or clear way out of the current crisis of crime and chronic, growing mistrust between police officers and the community members they must serve and protect.

It is going to take decades for police departments and policing to recover, but perhaps there is a silver lining.

For the time being, police departments everywhere will have to learn to operate with the human resources they have. For some understaffed police departments, just keeping 911 answered has become a hardship.

It is clear that for many of these departments, something must change, at least in the short term.

Why not take this as an opportunity to streamline?

There is still much work to be done on criminal justice reform. There are also plenty of noncontroversial policy changes that would result in safer officers and a safer public; all with less manpower and lower costs.

Technology has made certain traditional aspects of policing completely obsolete.

Traffic law enforcement could go virtual.

Traffic cams work, and they work very well to deter speeding and other moving violations. Traffic cam snaps the license plate of the miscreant, traffic court sends a ticket- with a photo just for funsies- motorist pays the fine, the end.

No one needs to be armed during a traffic stop.

As it is, traffic stops are resource-heavy measures made obsolete by technology. Sure, once in a while a rookie cop stops someone for a broken tail light and finds someone wanted for jumping bail or running drugs.

Just as often, that officer, approaching what she believes is a minor traffic violation, would be shot and killed for her trouble.

If police departments are counting on traffic cops to get lucky and randomly happen upon someone breaking a major law or committing a violent offense, that isn’t a very sound strategy.

Traffic cops are usually the least experienced law enforcement members, most prone to get hurt or hurt someone else.

There are satellites over our heads right now that can read a dollar bill from space. Traffic cams are so good now; they are already a fixture in major cities all over the country. They are a safer, more effective way to reduce speeding, reckless driving, and other dangerous moving violations.

There is no reason to continue to put police officers in harm’s way. They always must come armed- by necessity- to what is essentially a civil court matter. Considering every motorist on the road a potential felon is how officers mitigate the risk of walking up to the vehicle of an unknown person and exposing themselves to harm.

Is it any wonder so many traffic stops result in tragedy? Officers are killed in the line of duty, dedicated public servants who leave behind grieving families and communities.

Other times, it is the motorist who is killed getting a traffic ticket. Anytime an American is deprived of their civil rights, deprived of due process of law because they were killed by police officers, it’s unconstitutional.

Everyone deserves a fair trial under the law and someone accused of a crime is presumed innocent until they are proven guilty. To be killed by authorized agents of the government before a verdict or sentence can be imposed is injustice on par with the worst.

Leave the traffic stops to cameras, computers and the court system; police officers will have more time for training, patrolling high-crime areas as a deterrence, and investigating serious crimes.

Leaving traffic law enforcement to computers and cameras won’t make our communities less safe; continuing to do things the way many police departments are currently is making communities less safe.

Something has to give; we need police officers, and we won’t be undoing the damage of “Defund” overnight.

In 2022, the best traffic cops never sleep, never take breaks, and don’t get paid overtime. They don’t even blink.

Cameras and computers are as plentiful as stars in the sky these days; police officers are a rare and precious resource worth preserving.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)