Defund the police is defunct, obsolete. There are other ways. Let’s move on.

Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash.

The movement to defund the police appears to have reached an impasse. Most of the cities that experimented with the controversial policy in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in 2020— like Minneapolis and San Francisco — abandoned it after one election cycle in the wake of sharply rising crime rates.

Many city governments sympathetic to the viewpoint, if not ready to wholeheartedly adopt it — like New York City — have since come under new management campaigning under a tough-on-crime banner.

While it was more like a “tougher-on-crime-than-my-predecessor” banner, Democratic politicians vowing to clean up America’s suddenly meaner streets did reasonably well in the last election cycles.

Because compounding the failures of defund the police is the thorny fact that most low-income, predominantly minority neighborhoods benighted by the current crime surge that began in 2020 want more policing in their neighborhoods — not less.

Attitudes about defund the police in the wealthier upper echelons of Democratic Party society remain unchanged. These attitudes have, if anything, hardened in the wake of 5 Memphis police officers charged last week in the beating death of a man in their custody.

Attitudes about defund the police on the ground — working-class neighborhoods in Democratic Party strongholds like Chicago and New York City — are firmly against it.

New NYC Mayor Eric Adams carried every borough with his tougher-on-crime message — except Manhattan.

The reason is simple: Most crime occurs in low-income areas. Poverty-stricken people are more vulnerable targets than their wealthier counterparts, and thus more tempting to criminals.

Wealthy neighborhoods and commercial centers have gates, guards, private security, and advanced surveillance systems monitored by security companies.

Modern burglars fear one thing above all others in our advanced technological age: Real-time, off-site monitoring.

They fear the movie scene in which the would-be burglar triggers a silent alarm and police are on the scene in less than 5 minutes — lights, no sirens.

Wealthy homes are protected by similar systems. Robbing a wealthy person’s house is hard. Robbing a bank is very hard. The FBI generally gets involved in bank robberies. The types of victims that average, petty criminals seek out often never report the crime to the police at all.

The people who commit crimes in real life aren’t the way they are portrayed in popular media.

They aren’t criminal masterminds who have months — and mountains of cash already — to plan the perfect heist. People who commit crimes are often uneducated, desperate, and struggling with addiction, generational poverty, or mental illness.

Smart, well-educated people with prospects aren’t likely to become criminals because the risk/reward ratio is too unfavorable. Most people wouldn’t risk jail when there are so many other ways to make a living.

There’s no question that the root causes of crime in America need to be addressed. The real question of “defund the police” was always whether or not those funds have to come from police budgets.

They don’t.

Not when there are so many other ways to make a living. Tax dollars for education, rehabilitation, community intervention, restorative justice programs, et al could come from anywhere. Proposing to take them from police budgets was too suggestive of punishment.

Defund the police hurt the neighborhoods it was ostensibly trying to help. By many metrics, the movement failed utterly. By others, it might have been so successful as to be now redundant.

While the public was distracted by debates about police brutality, defunding the police, and rising crime, police departments in many municipalities suffered catastrophic staffing shortages.

A shortage of police officers in cities around the country continues to be a major problem and one of the likely drivers of rising crime in some places.

It wasn’t defunding; there is money to pay police officers. But police departments have shrunk nonetheless — there are fewer cops to pay.

After 2020, plenty of city-beat cops took early retirement, transferred to smaller departments, or left the force for work in the booming private security sector. Recruitment is way down, too. There aren’t enough cadets to fill police academy rosters.

If this trend continues, police departments nationwide will be forced to adopt some criminal justice reforms out of pure necessity. For instance, the proliferation and improvement of traffic cameras have made it theoretically possible to do away with traffic stops in many major metro areas.

Stop-light and speed cameras never sleep, they see everything, and everyone gets a ticket in the mail. Higher-level offenses — like outstanding warrants on a weapons charge with two legal-system strikes already — shouldn’t be forced on traffic cops anyway, as they are often the least experienced. Scofflaws who ignore the mailed tickets can expect to meet the groaning vicissitudes of the U.S. legal system in all its triplicated glory in due time.

Not only did defund the police hurt police morale and recruiting, but the election of progressive prosecutors in cities like Chicago and Seattle similarly undermined policing in America.

Police officers are less likely to engage a criminal suspect, pursue a fleeing suspect, and arrest a resisting suspect they know won’t see the inside of a prison cell in any case.

It’s the same reason plenty of merchants in San Francisco have stopped calling the police amid an alarming rise in shoplifting. Stealing merchandise worth less than $1,000 is only a misdemeanor and nothing will happen to the shoplifter, even if they are apprehended, which they probably won’t be.

The failures of the short-lived movement to “defund the police” are no reason to abandon criminal justice reform. On the contrary, many long-time criminal justice reform advocates decried defund as a distraction from more immediate, proven, and achievable goals.

Ending for-profit prisons would be an excellent place to start. The concept isn’t compatible with a free market economy, never was.

The U.S. drug laws, federal and state, need reforming. Federal and state laws governing the use of marijuana in states which have decriminalized or legalized it are at odds. Someone running a legitimate grow business in Colorado is simultaneously obeying and breaking U.S. drug laws.

This kind of incongruity sows distrust in the legal system, ultimately undermining it. Forcing the public to correctly identify which laws can be safely flouted and which ones must be obeyed is a recipe for lawlessness and vigilantism.

Ending no-knock warrants is a simple, straightforward criminal justice reform measure a vast majority of the public can get behind. No-knock warrants are dangerous — for suspects, bystanders, and police officers. Given improvements in technology, no-knock warrants are largely unnecessary.

Like planting a tree in your backyard; the best time to take these sensible measures was 30 years ago.

The next best time is now.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)