On Monday I published a blog post called Thoughts on Police Abolition. Abolition was a bad choice of words. People who want to abolish or defund the police force say our current system isn’t working so we need to start again. But few are saying, as their words ‘abolish’ and ‘defund’ might suggest, that eradicating law enforcement is the answer.
Nicholas Kristoff’s Wednesday column in the New York Times was about defining terms like ‘defunding the police’ and his readers in their comments suggested all kinds of creative and improved ways to describe what needs to happen with policing. I’m using their ideas as headings in this post.
Reimagining the Police. Could we reimagine who we accept as police officer candidates? Canadian police officers only need a grade twelve education to apply. What if instead, police officers needed to have university degrees in criminology, psychology, social work or some other related field before they began their training. Norway, Finland and Iceland require police officers to have a university or college degree.
Reforming the Police. Could we reform the way we train police officers? A typical training period for Canadian police officers is seven to nine months. Germany requires two and a half years of training. I looked at the RCMP website to see how cadets are trained. They participate in criminal investigation scenarios. They learn about physical fitness and how to drive a police car. They learn how to use weapons, handcuffs and physical holds. They learn personal hygiene and organization. There doesn’t seem to be much time invested learning about things like systemic racism, the cycle of poverty or the clinical aspects of addictions.
Reinventing the Police. Could we re-invent what policing looks like by adding other professionals to work alongside officers? Perhaps social workers should be walking alongside police officers on the streets. Perhaps nurses should be visiting schools along with police officers. Perhaps psychologists should be going into family conflict situations with police officers. You can read here about a program in Eugene Oregon where social workers respond to 20% of the 911 calls and only very rarely have to call in police officers for backup.
Decreasing the Police. Could we decrease the number of police officers by thinking outside the box in regards to the problems police must deal with? On a tour in Portugal, I learned that in 2001, Portugal turned over police involvement in routine drug cases by small-time users to social workers and provided free methadone from roving vehicles. Their fatality rate for drug use is down to near zero.
Could we provide a basic living wage, and subsidised housing for everyone who needs it? Using innovative programming Medicine Hat Alberta has managed to end homelessness in its city.
Deescalate the Police. Could we deescalate the violence in police encounters with citizens by changing the enforcement techniques police officers are allowed to use? Many countries and cities have banned chokeholds. A group in the American Congress is proposing a ban on the use of tear gas. At least a half a dozen countries don’t allow police officers on regular duty to carry weapons.
I wish now I had used a different word than abolish in the headline of Monday’s blog. We don’t need to abolish the police force but perhaps we do need to reimagine it, deescalate it, decrease it, reinvent it and reform it. And although law enforcement is front and centre right now, many of those same processes need to happen in education and health care and the other major systems that uphold our democratic society.