l understand why "Defund the Police" has become a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter protesters. But it can be misunderstood as calling for the abolition of police departments, which very few people really want to do.
"Reimagine the Police" strikes me as both more accurate and more politically palatable.
A Washington Post opinion piece, Don't "Defund the Police". Reimagine the Police. makes a case for the latter slogan.
“Defund the Police” is candy to the one-liner simpletons. It’s a cry that launched a thousand memes about the lawless anarchy to come. It’s a loping softball to the grumping Trumpers who swat it away with a red hat.
Just like the “Abolish ICE” outcry that followed our nation’s shameful treatment of immigrants meant “Open the borders and let every criminal in” to too many folks, “Defund the police” sounds like “Get rid of all police everywhere and let anarchy reign” to anyone who doesn’t want to figure out what’s really going on.
The needed change isn’t about defunding the police. It’s about reimagining the police.
And that's what two members of the Salem City Council are proposing at next Monday's (June 22) meeting. Here's the motions that Tom Andersen intends to make, as shared in a Facebook post.
Here are two motions I will make at Monday's Council meeting. I believe that the City IT will have arranged a way for citizens to speak via zoom. If not, send an email to the Council and we will read it. The agenda items are 5.a (first one) and 5.b. Each motion is just the starting point for serious discussions on these issues to be shortly followed by appropriate action.
First motion relates to police in schools:
I move that City Council schedule a work session to consider the issue of Salem Police Department officers in Salem schools.
DISCUSSION The work session may include as discussion of the City’s agreement with the District, statistics showing the number of contacts within the school system that result in criminal charges, statistics showing the percentage of officer contract between Caucasian students and students of color, and the percentage of students in each class whose contract resulted in criminal charges, input from the District administration, and any other appropriate issues.
Second motion concerns use of police for non-criminal matters:
I move that Council schedule a work session to discuss the use of City funds for various non-criminal matters that are currently handled by the Police Department.
DISCUSSION The work session may include items such as mental health services, addiction services, and any other appropriate topics, and the potential to shift these and any other appropriate responsibilities to agencies other than the Police, such as a Cahoots type service.
And this is the motion that Vanessa Nordyke is proposing.
I will be making a motion at the next City Council meeting for a performance audit of the Salem Police Department, to be completed by the next Citizen Budget Committee Meeting. Here’s why:
Around the country and right here in Salem, people are demanding change in policing. Our society faces multiple public health crises, like racism, homelessness, opioid addiction, mental illness, and more. Many times, these trigger 911 calls. But not every 911 call is best handled by a police officer. You need the right tool for the right job.
In places like Eugene, a mental health professional and a paramedic can be dispatched at a fraction of the cost of dispatching a police officer in a program known as CAHOOTS. It allows persons who are too traumatized to talk to police, to talk to someone else. And, it frees up police to focus on higher acuity calls.
The call for change is ringing loud and clear across the city. But how do we do it? How do we involve stakeholders? How do we get buy-in? How do we avoid unintended consequences? In other words, how do we get lasting, positive change? By having a transparent, accountable, and public process. We need time to do it right, and with the benefit of public input, especially from marginalized communities and others who have not been heard.
Change should be informed by a systematic, impartial, evidence-based review of policing in our city. Performance audits can do that. They evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs with the goal of making them work better. We can amend budgets as appropriate once we have reviewed and discussed results as a community.
Change is coming, folks. Let’s open the dialogue and decide, as a community, what we want public safety to look like in Salem.
I'm inclined to prefer Nordyke's approach, though Andersen's idea for City Council work sessions could be part of the Salem Police Department performance audit Nordyke is calling for.
Also, Councilor Jackie Leung said at the previous council meeting that she'd be making a motion to eliminate funding for school resource officers in the Salem Police Department budget -- which is part of the City of Salem budget for the next fiscal year that will be voted on at Monday's meeting.
It'd be great if the City Council approved each of the motions by Andersen, Nordyke, and Leung.
Andersen and Nordyke want to take a measured let's-think-this-through approach to reimagining the Salem Police Department and reallocating funds that currently go to the police. That makes a lot of sense, but it will seem unduly bureaucratic to those who want to see immediate change in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests.
After all, for many years there has been a lot of talk about reforming the police but little action. That's why I think the City Council would be wise to take a small chunk out of the Police Department budget -- money for school resource officers -- as a sign that councilors are serious about changing the way policing is done in Salem.
Then engage the community in a year-long Reimagine the Police effort, the performance audit Nordyke is calling for, that would be completed in time to make potentially big changes to the police budget in the fiscal year that follows the one being voted on next Monday.