Don’t abolish police departments, defund instead

John McQuaid '22, Opinion Editor

In the wake of the death of George Floyd, many of the protesters called for police departments to be defunded to reform the system. This has become a rather divisive argument in the debate over police reform, with groups on both sides vigorously debating it. 

The original point of the calls to defund the police is often forgotten or ignored by those on both sides. The point is not to completely remove funding from police departments, but rather to redistribute some of the funding from the police to other social services.

Here in San Francisco, our police department received a budget of $611,701,869 in the 2018-2019 financial year, 65 percent of which went to paying the salaries of police officers according to sf.gov. If the city could redistribute some of that money away from the police department and towards other social services, we could have people ready with specialized training to deal with situations that the police are not trained to handle.

Even when police departments train their officers to respond to drug overdoses or cases of domestic abuse, they will not be quite as capable as a person trained to deal with this exact situation. Nurses specialize in dealing with problematic patients who need urgent attention, but when 911 is called, the police show up instead. Social workers are taught specifically to deal with difficult family situations, but a 911 call often leads to police action instead.

For some reason, some citizens of this city cannot wrap their head around the concept that the police would not have to respond to all of the calls they currently have to if other social services had the funding to do their jobs. 

We are currently stuck in a vicious circle, where responding to so many calls forces the department to stretch themselves thin or hire more officers. Hiring more officers forces the city to redirect funding away from other services, and defunding other services prevents them from doing their jobs effectively, which in turn forces the police department to respond to some of the calls other services normally would.

Even ignoring the dangerous power and lack of accountability held by police officers, they are not trained to do everything, and sending them out to do what they are not trained to do leads to increased stress and poor decisions when faced with unfamiliar situations. Defunding the police would end up helping the police more than hurting them.