The aftermath of George Floyd's death in the custody of Minneapolis police has sparked a rallying cry from thousands of protesters, politicians and community leaders across the country: Defund or dismantle the police force.
Experts told Fox News people calling for eliminating police forces altogether should be careful what they wish for, but noted that not all advocates seem to be pushing for a total tear-down. Some simply want major reforms, others want more emphasis on community programs and still others do, in fact, seem to want their men and women in blue off the streets.
"The 'dismantle' argument is short-sighted, naive, and shows a shocking lack of understanding," Rania Mankarious, CEO of public safety non-profit Crime Stoppers of Houston, told Fox News. "To dismantle agencies filled with methodical training, operational strategies and tried and true testing – in exchange for community-driven programs that have no experience in these areas – is a ridiculous sentiment at best."
There is at least one precedent, though it was driven by a backlash against police brutality. In 2012, Camden, N.J., gutted its force after officials determined rampant corruption to be "unfixable." A new force was quickly resurrected in the 73,000-person city,
Some defunding advocates say taxpayer dollars could be better used in community projects that address social inequalities and better the lives of residents and minority groups. They question whether a potent police presence makes the lives of locals any safer, and call for funds to be diverted to bolstering schools, hospitals and violence/homelessness prevention programs.
"Defunding the police force is usually intended to take part of the budget and apply it to other social services that could possibly be handled better than by a police department," said John DeCarlo, a retired chief of police and associate professor and director of the master's program in criminal justice at the University of New Haven. "[For instance,] responses to mental illness and other specialized needs of the community that are handled by police departments simply because the police departments are the last agencies in a line when there is no one else to respond."
California prosecutor Wendy Patrick said not all "defund" calls are aimed at starving or replacing police forces. Some advocates simply seek to reexamine the way police departments allocate resources.
"Communities are also calling for a reexamination of whether their police officers are performing functions that would be more appropriately delegated to other types of professionals, such as mental health experts, or school or job counselors, for example," Patrick said. "They point out there are are many types of community disputes that are better solved without the presence of a uniformed officer with a gun."
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted last week that he would "shift funding" from the NYPD into youth and social services, marking the first time that the once esteemed post-9/11 force has had its budget slashed. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has also moved to slash $150 million from his city's police force, earmarking it for social programs.
Yet for many civil rights activists, who have long been lamenting the deaths of unarmed black men and women while in the custody of law enforcement, more drastic measures are necessary. One such group, the Washington-based Black Youth Project 100, held a "Defund the Police" demonstration in the nation's capital over the weekend.
In Minneapolis, the majority of the city council voted to dismantle the city's beleaguered police department as soon as possible. Mayor Jacob Frey does not support the move, and a source inside the Minneapolis Police Department dismissed the proposal as an effort by lawmakers to stay relevant and appeal to the base of deeply upset demonstrators.
"They can't really do that," the insider noted. "What would happen?"
Nonetheless, if a unit is entirely dismantled, the archetype would then be reliant upon community-led public safety initiatives or private security and likely feature a stronger emphasis on social workers and health care providers. That, experts contend, could come with a whole new set of woes.
"The alternative to public police departments, of course, is private police departments or security," said DeCarlo. "Unfortunately, this only works for communities with the funds to afford that kind of private security. The rest of the city would be left without much recourse if they were the victims of crime."
Troy Slaten, a Los Angeles-based criminal defense attorney, warned that this "has the potential for a flurry of dangerous unintended consequences like a rise in private militias, private security cooperatives and vigilantism."
"If people don't have police to rely on, they will take the protection of their family and property into their own untrained hands with potentially deadly consequences," Slaten said. "If we combine strict gun control laws with no community policing to respond to calls for service, it would appear to be a recipe for an explosion in crime."
President Trump has pushed back against the proposals, and during a White House roundtable discussion on Monday insisted that "there won't be defunding, there won't be dismantling of our police." He went on to note that law enforcement officers involved in excessive abuse of power and savagery were "bad actors" and were not indicative of the entire police force. In a Fox News interview on Monday, Attorney General William Barr said defund and dismantling pushes were both "dangerous" and "wrong."
House Democrats are purporting to push through the "Justice in Policing Act of 2020," a new means of police reform legislation that would ultimately ban "federal, state and local law enforcement from racial, religious and discriminatory profiling, and mandates training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement," as well as prohibit "chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants at the federal level and limits the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement," and "mandate the use of dashboard cameras and body cameras for federal offices and requires state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras."
But whether renewed reform efforts will be enough remains to be seen.
Mankarious underscored that while there are essential questions to be asked about how law enforcement officers are trained and governed, oversight protocols – messing with budgets or doing way with departments altogether -- could, in the long-run, have serious side effects.
"We're taking a sledgehammer to deal with an extremely complex issue; for the sake of sound bites and a news-cycle, we are eradicating a system that is not perfect – that needs to be fixed – but should absolutely have the bones to be worked with," she said. "We're disrespecting the thousands of officers who serve with their heart and mind with no regard for race, creed, or color, and we're disrespecting the thousands of officers who have given their lives in exchange for others. And through it all, we're not offering real solutions."