“Defund the Police” was about punishing working-class police officers- not improving social services or public safety.

NYPD Police Academy Graduation Ceremony at Madison Square Garden on Monday, June 30, 2014. Credit: Diana Robinson.

When you realize you are standing in a hole, the old saying goes, stop digging.

Though conservatives wept and gnashed their teeth, police unions bellowed, and moderate Democrats threw their hands up in frustration, some members of the progressive left have been determined to “defund the police” for over a year now.

Whatever the cost.

Even as the terrible consequences of this misguided movement to defund, and demoralize, police officers nationwide, become more clear by the day, some far-left progressive activists remain intent on pushing forward.

Why would they do so in the face of indisputable proof that such policies have made life worse for the very people they claim to want to help?

Simple: Because “Defund the Police,” was not a strategy for criminal justice reform, and it was never meant as such. “Defund” wasn’t an effort aimed at improving social services for those in need.

Defund the police was an effort to punish police departments.

The tax largesse of the U.S. government is a vast, deep well. There was no reason for better-funded social services to be tied in with defunding the police; the money for those programs could have come from anywhere.

Police unions and all their members would have happily backed any measures to beef up local social services so that poorly-paid uniformed police officers aren’t constantly left holding the bag on homelessness, drug addiction and a lack of adequate mental health care in America.

Clearing the decks of ongoing cases related to these three issues alone, adding domestic violence to make four, would leave police officers with more time to do what they got into the force to do in the first place: Protect the public from violent criminals.

Turning the issue of robust social services and well-trained police departments into an either/or false dichotomy exposes the “Defund” movement for what it was: A Twitter handle.

It was a protest banner, a bourgeois battle cry. Sounds good chanted; in practice, talk of and attempts to “Defund the Police,” set criminal justice reform efforts back decades or more.

In the wake of defund efforts has come a wave of sharply rising crime. Murder is up 40%; Philadelphia hit a record for homicide in 2021. Worse even than the bad old days of the 1990’s.

From Seattle to Baltimore, Chicago to New York City, violent and property crime rates are skyrocketing. From brazen flash-mob larceny at shopping centers; to casual shoplifters wheeling carts full of merchandise past helplessly watching security guards; to the bridge on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile pulled up as a result of so much theft like an ancient drawbridge; to emptied-out cash registers dumped on the lawn of the Illinois Governor’s mansion: Crime is out of control.

Media outlets and some politicians have been hiding behind a thin veil, dismissing the rising crime as not the worst these cities have ever seen. That thin straw is soon to be ripped away, to the despair of city residents in areas besieged by violent crime and theft.

The high-crime days of the 1990’s are soon to be surpassed and there won’t be any more excusing the rising crime rates by saying things could be worse.

Blaming COVID-19 is all well and good, but the whole world experienced COVID-19: The whole world is not experiencing this sharp rise in crime.

We are.

And we must look beyond COVID-19 for answers as to why things have fallen so far, from the relatively safe days of only two years ago.

Cause and effect is rarely as simple as it sounds. There are often many causes, contributing to many interrelated effects.

But one cause of the sharp rise in crime is certainly “Defund the Police.”

That attitude, and efforts to actually reduce the number of police officers on the streets, corresponds directly to the areas experiencing the highest rates in crime. The more support the police department has had from the community, city and local government over the past year, the better it has fared.

Defund the police hurt departments where no efforts were actually made by local leaders to do anything of the kind. Departments which responded to the massive protests, more than a few of which turned violent, experienced much higher rates of attrition, and have had a much harder time recruiting qualified candidates- as well they might.

In areas where officers are short-staffed, and police departments have all they can handle to keep 911 staffed, the officers who remain are under more pressure than ever. They are receiving less training due to budget cuts and a lack of officers on the job. They are forced to work longer hours, making it more likely that they will make a mistake on the job. Lacking adequate back-up, police officers are being forced into more dangerous situations than usual.

It is difficult to see what, if any, good attempts to defund the police have done. Local governments, like the ones in Minneapolis and Seattle, who have done any defunding of local police departments have been busily refunding them in the months since.

Many progressive officials have since had to go hat-in-hand to their local law enforcement agencies, and even not so local ones, to beg- beg- for as many officers as can be obtained at any price.

Defund the police was a mistake; an embarrassing and deadly one which has made impoverished minority communities more unsafe and hurt the people activists most wanted to help.

That is a failure by any metric.

While many fans of “Defund” are doggedly pushing ahead in spite of these clear indications of failure, many have come to their senses and joined efforts at more sensible reforms already in progress.

Traffic cams should be replacing traffic cops, for instance. Traffic cams are more effective at reducing speeding and other moving violations anyway. Traffic stops are dangerous for uniformed police officers, who are often the most inexperienced members of the force.

Accidental drug busts, discovering a driver with an outstanding warrant: If police departments are counting on traffic cops to deal with drug runners bail-jumpers wanted on a weapons charge, that’s a problem.

There isn’t any reason traffic cams can’t pick up the slack, allowing officers more time to deal with more important work.

For-profit prisons could be ended, post-haste: As could the War on Drugs. Progressives could push the federal government to change its laws on marijuana to match more lenient state laws.

That someone can be breaking federal law while not breaking state law makes no sense whatever. It makes even less sense than it did five years ago when states first started relaxing their laws.

Efforts to end qualified immunity- bound to produce push-back from police unions no end- could be replaced with efforts to end civil asset forfeiture.

Remember when police departments suddenly stopped driving the ubiquitous white Ford Crown Victorias and started driving slick SUVS and BMWs? Civil asset forfeiture is to blame.

With a slight change in the law, police departments were allowed to confiscate property of those convicted for drug crimes. Suddenly, all police departments nationwide seemed to be doing was pursuing drug crimes, because the law of unintended consequences is immutable.

Bust a drug dealer, get an Escalade. Put a rapist in jail, get nothing.

As a result, the mountain of untested DNA rape kits are sitting in police evidence lockers collecting dust and injustice.

Civil asset forfeiture looked good on paper. Why should drug dealers get to keep their ill-gotten gains after all? But it wasn’t a change for the better: Time to change back.

Let the IRS confiscate wealth; let police officers pursue criminals and investigate crimes and never the twain shall meet again.

There is no shortage of work to be done on the criminal justice reform front. The U.S. still incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation on earth. The sooner former-defunders turn themselves to the real work of fixing the broken criminal justice system, the better.

Some remain determined to punish police officers by defunding the police, as if tax dollars to fund better social services couldn’t possibly come from anywhere else.

That poor minority neighborhoods are being punished instead seems to have escaped notice.

Time to look again.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)