Police Abolition: The Experts

Introduction

Demystifying our call to defund the police

Found yourself in the throes of argument? This is a compendium of talking points, collated from experts on the matter of police abolition. The goal is to better equip you, dear listener-reader, with facts and expert opinions enough to confidently wade into what is for many a very scary conversation. A world without the police? There are a few approaches to that discussion, many angles and roundabouts along the way, so we’ll start with the conclusions, and then show the math. This post will be updated.

Key Talking Points

That police are all that stand between proper society and savage chaos is a right-wing myth.

Community-based professionals should replace police in responding to issues related to homelessness, mental illness, young people.

Divesting from the police is investing elsewhere, toward the social factors that prevent crime.

Breakdown of Talking Points

That police are all that stand between proper society and savage chaos is a right-wing myth.

“Most crimes are not reported to police, and most reported crimes are not solved.” (Gramlich)

In its annual survey, BJS asks victims of crime whether they reported that crime to police. In 2018, only 43% of violent crimes tracked by BJS were reported to police. And in the much more common category of property crime, only about a third (34%) were reported. There are a variety of reasons crime might not be reported, including a feeling that police “would not or could not do anything to help” or that the crime is “a personal issue or too trivial to report,” according to BJS.

Gramlich

“Police spend roughly 4% of their time addressing violent crime.” (Rice)

After James Smith noticed the door of his neighbor’s home was open and the lights were on, Smith called the police, hoping an officer would conduct “a wellness check” on his neighbor. Instead, Officer Aaron Dean shot and killed Atatiana Jefferson in her own home as she played video games with her young nephew. 

Rice

The link between crime rates and police effectiveness is tenuous, imprecise.

Studies of New York City records between 1970 and 1999 showed that as the police force in the city grew, less crime was committed. A change in a city’s police force, however, is usually tied to its economic health. Normally as unemployment rises, city revenues decrease because fewer people are paying taxes. This causes cutbacks in city services including the police force. So a rise in criminal activity may not be due to fewer police, but rather rising unemployment.

Law Library

Community-based professionals should replace police in responding to issues related to homelessness, mental illness, young people.

“Law-enforcement professionals themselves have highlighted this problem, and some alternative programs point toward solutions.” (Editors)

community-based violence-prevention groups such as Cure Violence have lowered shootings and killings in cities such as Baltimore and Philadelphia where they have operated, according to policing researcher Alex Vitale of Brooklyn College. And programs such as CAHOOTS in Eugene, Ore.—which routes emergency calls about mental illness to social workers instead of the police—and the Denver Alliance for Street Health Response offer models for other cities to explore.

Scientific American

Divesting from the police is investing elsewhere, toward the social factors that prevent crime.

This is the area we’ll need to flesh out, with a focus on the causes of crime and what the experts are saying where to redirect that ungodly sum of taxpayer money.

For more on police abolition and racial justice, visit our Features page.

Sources

Causes of Crime.” Law Library.

Editors, The. “Three Ways to Fix Toxic Policing.” Scientific American.

Gramlich, John. “5 facts about crime in the U.S.” Pew Research Center.

Hochman, Nate. “The Origins of ‘Defund the Police’.” The Dispatch.

Rice, Josie Duffy. “The Abolition Movement.” Vanity Fair.

Ryley, Sarah, Singer-Vine, Jeremy, and Sean Campbell. “Shoot Someone In a Major U.S. City, and Odds Are You’ll Get Away With It.” The Trace.


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