According to the 2020 Police Violence Report, 1,126 people were murdered by law enforcement personnel in 2020. Only 16 victims had their perpetrators face charges and 620 murders were the result of police officers responding to non-violent offenses or no reported crime. These acts of police brutality represent ongoing oppression against minorities in the United States, especially communities of color. But just one of these incidents, the murder of George Floyd on May 25th, was the impetus for the national upheaval against police brutality and institutionalized racism that led to greater calls for “Defunding the Police.” The movement focuses on the view that money should be shifted from policing to other local government-funded institutions. Police departments should be divested of the significant resources usually allocated to them, we could instead shift that funding in the direction of alternative approaches to public safety and security. A few of these alternative approaches include investing in community-oriented solutions to better hold law enforcement accountable and redistributing some of the functions performed by law enforcement.
When it comes to holding law enforcement accountable for their wrongdoings, justice is rarely accomplished. Analytical findings have shown that only one in every nine civilian complaints of police misconduct have been deemed valid. A way for communities and their residents to have a voice in holding law enforcement accountable is by establishing civilian oversight of police. Unfortunately, the struggles to cement this form of oversight have not always been a success story. New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) was first established in 1953 and originally composed of police officers. Its decision to add civilian representation in July 1966 enraged the powerful Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), a police union that successfully removed civilians from the CCRB. This does not mean, however, that the battle to establish civilian oversight is over. The National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) has provided a thorough analysis of nine case studies of civilian oversight agencies in the United States. Their research helped them develop recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of civilian oversight. For example, the “Thirteen Principles for Effective Oversight” were established to provide for a better and more flexible approach to successful and effective civilian oversight. One of the most important principles in civilian oversight is “Independence,” meaning the complete and total absence of actual or potential influence and interference from law enforcement, political actors, and special interests. Information provided by non-profit organizations such as NACOLE may give communities the chance to structure a framework that can make the goal of seeking justice for wrongdoings realistically possible.
Police agencies and officers have always faced the overwhelming responsibility to address social problems in the United States, leading to an overreliance on law enforcement to respond to situations for which they are ill-equipped or lack sufficient knowledge and training. This overdependence has led lawmakers to have a greater willingness to reduce funding for public mental health and addiction treatment systems, as data has shown. These very systems being defunded are the ones uniquely competent in dealing with huge social issues such as drug abuse and mental illness. To adequately address these complex situations, we must redistribute the functions related to mental health and substance use that are normally given to law enforcement. This would allow medical responders, social workers, crisis counselors and mental health specialists to treat both the causes and effects of homelessness, mental health crises, and substance use disorders. In turn, the possibility of diverting funding to these areas can result in a decrease in the annual crime rate, as one investigation concludes. The findings of that investigation indicated that the decision to enhance Medicaid coverage resulted in a 3.3% reduction in both violent and property crime.
Over a year since the murder of George Floyd, it is no secret that there will continue to be clandestine processes and draconian expenditure plans across the United States with the goal of maintaining “law and order.” However, we must realize that waging this “War on Crime” has perpetuated systematic racism and discrimination in our nation. It is time for communities to start using the tools available to successfully hold police officers accountable and to ensure security within their neighborhoods.