Might Columbia Defund the Police?
One councilman in Columbia is taking a look at how police reform could look in the City. Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas held a virtual town hall on Sunday night after receiving about 1,000 emails from his constituents looking for change. One of those changes might be a change in the allocation of budget money the police department receives. This according to a report from KIMZ-TV.
In a letter sent to constituents Thomas had the following to say about Columbia's budget priorities when it comes to funding social services and the police department:
The City of Columbia spends about $25 million annually on policing and less than $2 million on social and human services. In my view, these budget numbers do not reflect the values of this community, and many of the problems we ask police officers to respond to are far more appropriate for mental health therapists, substance abuse counselors, and housing agencies.
He also provided an example of what defunding the police could be like using Eugene Oregon as an example. There, 24,000 calls for emergency services are diverted to a program called Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Street (Cahoots) run by the Eugene Police Department and the White Bird Clinic, whose mission is "a collective environment organized to enable people to gain control of their social, emotional, and physical well-being through direct service, education, and community."
Cahoots is also working other places like Denver, New York and Indianapolis according to Vox, that just published an in-depth article on non-police intervention for people with mental health issues.
In his letter to constituents Councilman Thomas says, "We need a community safety program that keeps everyone safe. Black and brown residents of Columbia, those living on low incomes, and other marginalized groups do not feel safe, do not trust CPD to keep them safe, and feel threatened by the officers who have been hired with taxpayer dollars to keep them safe. As we know from recent events in communities across the country, these are perfectly rational fears."
It's hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that some people don't trust or feel threatened by the police. I know several police officers, friends and acquaintances, who would put their life on the line to keep the people they serve safe regardless of skin color. And who would be more than willing to help anyone in their community create a better life for themselves.And I can say without a doubt there are many officers like this across America.
Yet, that's my experience. The experience of others seems vastly different and much less idyllic than mine. And if my experience of dealing with the cops had been one of aggression, profiling because of the color of my skin, seeing first hand how the criminal justice system seems stacked against me. I'm not sure I'd trust any police officer trying to help me or keep me safe either.
For that reason I think it's time to rethink public safety and law enforcement. No one should feel unsafe dealing with police. Let's start with putting more money towards social services and creating a program like Cahoots, letting law enforcement back up other professionals, helping people with their problems. We might not only help the communities that need it, we might find it creates a stronger communities for all.