By P.K.Balachandran/Ceylon Today
Ever since city after city in the US started to burn in reaction to the killing of a Black American George Floyd by a White Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin on a street in full public view on May 26 this year, there is much talk about “defunding” the police and/or introducing “community policing”. But studies show that these are not magic wands or panaceas. They do solve some problems but create problems too.
According to Sam Levin, Los Angeles correspondent of The Guardian a dozen city governments in the US had reduced their police budgets by more than US$ 1.4bn in response to the widespread demand from the “Black Lives Matter” movement for defunding the police. Among the cities which cut funding were New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Philadelphia. School officials in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Denver, Oakland, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle and Philadelphia followed Minneapolis’ lead, voting to reduce police presence in schools. The overall trend is to diminish “unnecessary interactions between police and community members.”
Defunding is not new to the US because the US had become an international leader in incarceration and police killings in the last 50 years. Police budgets had tripled to $115 billion in four decades. However, a series of bureaucratic obstacles, political and police union opposition are posing major challenges to the execution of the defunding movement. There is cheating too Levin says. For example, in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to cut $1 billion, but critics said that he was only reshuffling funds, presenting misleading or false information and relying on “manipulated math”. Blasio claimed to have cut $300 million from overtime payments, but an independent budget watchdog noted that overtime spending had actually exceeded the limit set.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced he would be downsizing the police budget by $150 million and “reinvesting in Black communities”. But the cut came out of a proposed increase in the budget and that the overall police budget was still a whopping $2 billion!
Levin notes that in most cities, police unions have warned that a rise in crime will definitely follow the cuts. After the protests in May-June, some cities like Phoenix, Houston, San Diego and San Antonio had resisted demands for cuts. In Phoenix, police even received a $24 million increase, despite a deadly record and repeated brutality scandals.
In her article on community policing in the US in freethink.com Natalia Megas says: “The desire to solve crimes by fostering greater cooperation between the police and community has been evolving since the 1960s when urban riots exposed the weakness of traditional law-and-order policing, a model that emphasizes strict hierarchical organization over relationships. In response, President Lyndon Johnson instituted the 1967 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice and the 1968 Kerner Commission on Civil Disorder, also known as the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders.”
“In particular, the Kerner Commission looked closely at how fear between police and citizens played a role in the violent 1967 riots that killed 43 people in Detroit, Michigan, and 26 in Newark, New Jersey. As a result, the commission recommended forming the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), a federal organization designed to support better communication between citizens and police.”
“The movement really got a boost in 1994 when President Bill Clinton committed billions of dollars to hire and train 100,000 community policing officers through the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. However, community policing fell out of vogue shortly after.” President Barack Obama revived the community policing movement by making it a buzz word.
Dr. Charlotte Gill, Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University, points out that community policing involves the building of trust first and that will take a long time. Community policing has meant many things.They range from embedding police officers in the community to conducting foot beats and outdoor roll calls and in some cases, having police officers move in to the neighborhoods they patrol.
“Community policing can address the root causes and longer-term conditions that bring about public safety concerns,” she stresses. Gill’s research conducted in 2014 found that community policing strategies had positive effects on things like citizen satisfaction, perceptions of disorder and police legitimacy. But the effect on crime and fear of crime were limited, she adds.
However, Gill is not perturbed by this. She says: “ Community policing is a philosophy that doesn’t have to depend on crime rates. There are a number of other issues and outcomes we should be thinking about too. Community policing does increase satisfaction with police. It increases people’s perception of the legitimacy of the police.”
Joel Shultz, a former police chief from Colorado is quoted as saying that a hyper-dependence on police to solve every problem, is itself a problem. “In general, the police shouldn’t be the end all. Communities could consider accepting the equal probability that somebody else at the table can resolve that problem without any additional police activity,” Shultz says.
Police officers, under community policing strategies, are expected to do more than keep law and order, they’re expected to be a social worker, psychologist, and arbitrator, among other roles. But they are not qualified or trained to do these things. Crime fighting with force is their special area of competence, and skills in this area are needed to tackle dangerous criminals.
Mushrooming Of Private Security Agencies
Candice Bernd, writing in Truthout on September 1, 2020 says that defunding of the regular police has resulted in the use of private security agencies. She points out that AGB Investigative Services of Chicago has been doing roaring business since the riots in May. The firm employs more than 750 security guards throughout 12 states and Washington DC. Its clients include government agencies, businesses and individuals.
“During a weekend in June, Chicago spent up to $1.2 million to hire AGB and two other private security firms to supply more than 100 unarmed guards,” Bernd quoted Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office as saying. Tifair Hamed, AGB’s vice president of marketing and communications, said that business had increased by about 25%.
Portland, Oregon, has also hired private security amid the burning and looting since May end. The city approved a $10 million contract with the firm G4S Security Solutions just for security at City Hall last year Bernd points out. Like Chicago, Portland levies a special tax on property owners in certain business districts for services including extra police, transportation, graffiti removal, and private security, she adds.
Bernd further states that federal private contractors were deployed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to repress Portland’s uprisings in July. “One DHS unit deployed by the Trump administration this summer, the Federal Protective Service (FPS), employs 13,000 security guards nationwide through its contracts with private security firms. In fact, FPS spends $1.5 billion on incident response to contract security guards to conduct crowd control at federal properties, such as those FPS was tasked with protecting in Portland. Many of the agency’s contractors come from security firms like Triple Canopy, which merged with Erik Prince’s Academi, formerly Blackwater.”
The ranks of security officers began to outnumber those of public sector cops in the US after many police department budgets saw cuts following the economic crash of 2008, Brend recalls.
However, those cuts did not result in less policing but rather an overall shift toward privatization. “Today, the US has more than 1.1 million private security guards, compared to 666,000 police officers. Private security workers outnumber police in more than 40 countries, according to The Guardian. The industry now dwarfs what is spent trying to end global poverty,” Bernd points out.