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Dear Editor, 

Time to Deflate the Defund Movement

The recent letter to Wave by Alex Jacobs demonstrates how hollow the Defund the Police movement is.  It is time to face the facts:  Drastic reductions to law enforcement will increase crime, violence and death – especially in our minority communities. 

We know this from our city’s history. Thirty years ago, laissez-faire policing contributed to horrific annual murder totals. We know this from what’s going on around the country today.  Rollbacks in policing have contributed to surges in big-city violent crime and murder rates across the country, disproportionately impacting our poorest communities.  Defunding the police does the most harm to people who are already living in difficult circumstances. 

So why does this ill-advised movement still have wind in it sails?  Because a) It promotes the false notion that excessive police budgets prevent cities from investing in other necessary social services; and b) It steals energy from the racial justice movement by promoting the destructive idea that black people “have targets on their backs.”  Each of these may be a compelling sales pitch but neither stands up to the facts. 

Unlike what Alex Jacobs implied, a smaller NYPD budget will not reduce student homelessness nor would it have saved a single person who died from COVID. The assertion that an overfunded NYPD is leaving the rest of us “in the dust” does not stand up to the most basic analysis.  New York City spends about 11% of its budget on the NYPD (including a big chunk for pensions).  That is far less than other major cities like Chicago (37%), Los Angeles (26%), Minneapolis (37%) and Atlanta (32%).  In recent years, spending on education and social services has grown faster than spending on police – and that was before de Blasio made further cuts to mollify the “Defunders.”  In fiscal 2022, the social services budget will be more than double the police operating budget and the education budget will be almost six times that of NYPD. The alleged tradeoff between funding law enforcement and funding social services is a false one. 

As for exploiting the race angle, sure it works in the short run but the damage it does to our country is bad for everyone in the long run. The numbers speak for themselves. Last year, police officers across the United States killed more than 1,000 people or about 20 people per week.  It would be great to reduce that number, regardless of the dead person’s skin color. Of those 20 per week, on average 10 are white, 5 are black and 3 or 4 are Hispanic. On the surface, that’s disproportionately high for blacks but when you factor in poverty and neighborhood crime rates, it is clear the overall numbers don’t reflect malice from the police.  They are a function of society’s ills.  I am talking about serious inequality issues that require serious ideas, not slogans like “Defund.” 

Solving serious problems also requires engagement across the spectrum.  The ongoing Defunder tactic of changing the facts to fit a narrative undermines that engagement.  Case in point: Alex Jones’ claim said that DA Melinda Katz refused to prosecute a cop that was recorded strangling a man.  That strangulation never happened.  Don’t believe me, believe the video…and the alleged victim.  Untruths like this are one reason why so many good citizens call BS and disengage from necessary conversations about reform. 

Does that mean racism doesn’t exist or we shouldn’t try to improve policing?  Of course not.  We citizens give up some of our rights to self-defense and retribution in exchange for policing that meets our needs and standards.  Those standards should always be improved…and the NYPD has done so.  Look at the statistics for police shooting and conflicts in NYC.  They have consistently gone down over the last two decades, as has crime until recently.  We need to build on and accelerate this progress, not tear it down.  If the police budget does shrink, it should be in response to progress, not extremist ideology.  Most importantly, we need to address the root causes of society’s ills.  They have little to do with the NYPD.   

Defunding the police will not magically improve social services. It will not alter police behavior in day-to-day interactions with citizens. It will not improve standards for use of deadly force. It will not encourage felons to comply rather than flee or resist arrest.  It will not improve police hiring. What it will do is lead to higher crime rates, lower quality of life, and more deaths. 

Paul King