Most people, including me, who favor "Defund the police" aren't calling for no police at all. We just believe there is plenty of room to reduce the amount of taxpayer money that is going into the budgets of police departments.
The first step toward doing this is getting away from the indefensible notion that police are so special, taking a close look at what they do and how they do it shouldn't happen.
Actually, and obviously, police officers are just people.
Their job can be difficult. So are almost all jobs. Their job can be dangerous. So are lots of other jobs. There's no reason to morally elevate police over other professions that also are important to society just because they generally carry a gun in this country.
With that first step out of the way, we can move toward considering the "why" and "how" questions that are basic to budgetary decisions in both the public and private sectors.
Why is this program or policy important? Why is it valued? How are those goals best achieved? How could things be done more effectively and efficiently?
As I called for recently, the Salem City Council needs to take a close look at the FY 2021 City of Salem budget for the police department because that's by far the largest line item in the general fund budget. Black Lives Matter protesters have raised valid questions about whether police budgets around the country should be cut, much less raised, as the City of Salem is proposing.
Here's a graphic shared by local activist Jim Scheppke that shows how public safety, police and fire, suck up about 60% of Salem's general fund budget. Sure, public safety is important. But is it that important?
As far as I know, only Councilor Jackie Leung called for a reduction in the police department budget at the June 8 City Council meeting where the FY 2020-21 budget was on the agenda. Leung said she would propose at the June 22 meeting that money for police school resource officers be removed.
But as a Salem Reporter story says, there were plenty of public comments calling for a partial defunding of the Salem Police Department, with that money being re-allocated to other community needs.
Notably absent from the councilors’ discussion any reference to nearly 30 letters of public comment demanding to shift part of the police budget to community and social programs.
It’s part of a larger call nationwide to defund the police and instead use taxpayer money for other areas of need in cities.
Christine Shanaberger wrote in her submission that councilors should revise the budget to reduce police spending as the department takes about a third of the general fund.
A Salem-Keizer school board meeting about next year's budget was much more heated regarding police presence in schools, as another Salem Reporter story pointed out.
The school board postponed action on the billion-dollar budget until June 23 to give more time to consider the outcry to remove school resource officers.
It seems to me that on June 22 the Salem City Council would be wise to defund the Salem Police Department's participation in the school resource officer program for these reasons:
(1) It sends a message that the Council is committed to making changes to the police department in line with the nationwide calls for less militarization of police and more attention to concerns of people of color about how they're treated by police.
(2) Since students are leading the call to do away with school resource officers, and those officers supposedly are there to serve students, it makes sense to end that program.
(3) It appears likely that either the school board or Superintendent Perry will end the school resource program. So the City Council should take a stand before this happens, since taking a stand afterward would be an empty gesture.
Police Chief Jerry Moore announced his retirement at the end of 2019, but is staying on until his replacement can be hired. Some city councilors might be thinking that it would be better to hold off on changes to the Salem Police Department until a new chief is on hand to oversee them.