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‘Defund the Police’ is a Political Dud, But Now What?

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

In short, American voters still tend to gravitate to the center in general elections, even if they swing to left or right extremes in the primaries. On an issue as complex as policing, slogans like “Law and order” on the right or “Defund the police” on the left are too simplistic to provide the magic pill we all wish we had to solve all of our crime problems. We have to keep looking.

At least, I’m grateful to see how much this issue has brought out voices that have been heard too little in the crime debate. I’m talking about Black and Hispanic voters and leaders from neighborhoods that want more — and better — policing because their neighborhoods are plagued with the highest crime rates.

And we also need to take a closer look at what we ask police to do. Superintendent Brown, who also happens to be African American, has said in the past that, “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it.”

He was referring to “every social failure” — from mental health funding to rounding up loose dogs. “Policing was never meant to solve all those problems,” he said. We have seen that with the mishandling of mental health cases and others for which police, no matter how dedicated they may be, are not the best trained or equipped to handle.

He’s right. That’s why an apparently growing number of cities and towns are finding ways to reorganize their services to provide specialized EMTs or social workers where appropriate.

Unfortunately, the furor surrounding the “Defund the police” slogan overwhelmed the positive ways defunding has been applied in cities like Camden, New Jersey, which has spent years bringing its crime rate down after a complete overhaul, not by abolishing police but by turning over many functions to the county.

 

Complicated remedies like that don’t always make the best politics in political campaigns. But when they work, they’re worth it.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

©2021 Clarence Page. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

(c) 2021 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

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