WASHINGTON: There is no doubt that American society needs major reform of how our police departments operate. The killing of George Floyd and other unarmed black men and women indicates a serious problem. The response to these real problems, unfortunately, has led some to advocate not the real reforms that are necessary but the defunding of the police and, in some cases, the abolition of police departments entirely. While the Minneapolis City Council and New York’s Mayor De Blasio may think there is merit in such ideas, few others do. The vast majority of Americans, of all races and both political parties, recognize the necessity of the police.
Prof. Steven Pinker of Harvard notes that:
“If the police are indiscriminately crippled, whether it be by defunding them, or simply making them more reluctant to intervene, then the rates of violent crime will go up…They have in the last couple of months. Far more people are killed at the hands of their fellow civilians than by the police.”
Even the concept of abolishing the police, argues Pinker, is “stark raving mad” because “it means that we leave people to defend themselves with private armies and mafias and vigilantes and gangs of thugs.”
When it comes to policing and crime, black attitudes elude simple explanations.
Polling within the black community shows that respondents express disgust with police racism but support for more funding for the police. A 2015 Gallup Poll found that black adults who believed police treated black people unfairly were also more likely to desire a large police presence in their local area than those who thought police treated black people fairly.
Black Americans favor a strong, but fair, police force
A 2019 Vox poll found that despite being the racial group with the most unfavorable view of the police, most black people supported having more police officers in their community. A June 2020 Yahoo News/YouGov survey, taken after the killing of George Floyd, found that 50% of black respondents still said, “We need more cops on the street.” Even as 49% of black respondents said that when they personally see a police officer, it makes them feel “less secure.”
Last year in Baltimore, more than 300 people were killed, almost all of them black, as were the killers. John Hudgins, a columnist for the Baltimore Sun, writes that
“This is a devastating plague acutely affecting black communities across the country. We must realize that some black people are a much greater threat to other black people than the Ku Klux Klan or the White Citizens Councils. The number of blacks gunned down in the streets by other blacks parallels our memories of the many blacks lynched in communities across the U.S. after Reconstruction. This is a devastating plague acutely affecting black communities across the country.”
According to Princeton sociologist Patrick Sharkey, the best scientific evidence available shows that police are effective in reducing violence. Those who argue that police have no role in maintaining safe streets are arguing against strong evidence, Sharkey points out. One of the findings in criminology is that putting more officers on the street leads to less violent crime. (Pastor RB Holmes: “We Do Not Support Defunding or Dismantling the Police Department”)
After the unrest around the deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, police officers stepped back from their duty to protect and serve. Arrests of all kinds of low-level offenses dropped, and violence rose.
Criminologists Juston Nix and Scott Wolfe, writing in The Washington Post, note that,
“We have enough research evidence to be concerned about the immediate impact of drastic budget cuts or wholesale disbanding of police agencies. Crime and victimization will increase.”
They state that if this were to happen,
“More people will arm themselves…the increased crime will disproportionately harm minority communities. Cities that have more police officers per capita tend to have lower crime rates.”
They argue for community-oriented policing which has been shown to reduce crime and improve community-wide satisfaction.
The reason we need police, or the government itself, is because of the essence of human nature. John Adams declared,
“Whoever would found a state and make proper laws for the government of it must presume that all men are bad by nature.” In The Federalist Papers, James Madison wrote, “What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal restraints on government would be necessary.
In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed, and then in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
If men were angels, those who call for defunding or abolishing the police might have a strong case. Since men and women are imperfect by nature, it is essential that we live in a society in which all are protected.
The latest polls show that two-thirds of Americans oppose the campaign to defund the police. They understand that real reform of the police is necessary and it is to reform that we should turn our attention.