Evan Saugstad: Defund our police?

saugstad

As the Black Lives Matter protests continue, the background noise of calls to defund the police grows.

As usual, when a new cliché is coined, the ten-second sound bites from politicians grow accordingly. What’s next? Will it happen? Can it happen?

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When one first thinks about whether we can do with fewer police and police services, we tend to think the concept is crazy. But as with most ideas, some parts have merit, and some are truly off-the-wall.

First though, I must ask why so many are using the word “police” when they refer to a story about an officer committing a criminal act against another person? Why do we keep throwing all officers into the same pile and tar them with the same brush as the person committing the crime?

We shouldn’t, but we do.

Our police forces are made up of individuals. They are someone’s son or daughter, someone who grew up in our community. They are citizens of our country. Individually, they are no different than us, other than the job we ask, or demand them to do. 

And yes, some need to be singled out and condemned for their actions.

Although there are differing versions of what a “defunded” police model would look like, the general concept is that some of what we ask our police forces to do could or should be left to others.

I agree, but the concept is bit like turning the Titanic around. Transferring responsibility for parts of our public safety to others is not as simple as it sounds, and will take time.

Some may remember when our courts found that committing a person to what were then called “insane asylums” violated an individual’s rights. Those institutions were closed and many of their residents were turned out onto the streets. Remember what the police departments said then?

Over time, police departments have received bigger budgets and more personnel, but the problems and issues never went away. 

No matter the spin, police budgets and personnel keep growing because we demand it. I know of no one who wishes to be accosted on the street, have their homes, property, or businesses vandalized and looted, or watch helplessly as their sons and daughters are being abused, or introduced to a life and world of illegal drugs.

Almost universally we demand action, demand those who perpetrate crimes be apprehended and punished. We just differ on how to get to a better world.

Despite the obstacles, things can change, but like most societal change, it takes time, planning and some intelligent politicians driving the process. Change cannot begin with bluster and a budget cut to police services, while politicians dither in figuring out what the alternatives to police action may be.

A popular place to start is to reduce what we demand our police do in relation to addictions and drugs, mental health, and domestic disputes. 

I agree, others can do some of this work, but that requires changing some federal law, and provinces assuming and providing financial responsibility, training, and resources to accomplish that. Changes of that magnitude must take time and be thought through as how they can work.

Getting it wrong could result in a different set of workers being on the firing line with no real change in outcomes.

As usual, and from my simple rural flat earth view, I have my own perspective on all of this.

Local government elected officials and senior management used to be encouraged to spend a night on patrol riding with members of the local police detachment to get an appreciation of what goes on in their community after dark.

Of those who participated, I never did hear anything other than the experience being an eye opener and a positive in how they related to policing within their communities.

Unfortunately, the powers to be thought this was too risky and stopped the program.

Go figure.

Ask local government to be responsible for policing and policing actions, then forbid them to see what's happening.

My parting words in this most bizarre of times: Just how can we ask police to respond to violence, or threats of violence, and not be prepared to use violence in return?

One quote in our national media, attributed to a protest organizer, was that the police’s job is to protect and serve their constituents, just as a teacher’s job is to teach.

I agree but for one difference.

Students that misbehave are told to go home and they must obey. We do not afford the police the same courtesies.

Evan Saugstad is a former mayor of Chetwynd, and lives in Fort St. John.

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