Needless to say, there needs to be greater transparency and accountability in all phases of police work, especially in dealing with people of color. But also, since police officers in some locales spend as little as 4% of their time dealing with violent crime, a major shift of funds and functions to other entities seems warranted. That doesn’t mean disbanding the police but changing roles, and that in turn raises the “Then what?” question.
Here are some possible answers:
- Minor infractions, drunk and disorderly conduct, street fights, etc.: Years ago, in New York City and Philadelphia, the Guardian Angels did a lot of that. In uniforms that were distinctive and very un-police. Not armed. Trained to handle situations nonviolently. Able to make citizen arrests. Recruited from the local community, which made it less of an ‘us versus them.’ Among other things, a source of income for young men from the community.
- Street gangs: Again, going back many years, there used to be something called ‘street workers’ (not to be confused with prostitutes, who also get that monicker). These were social workers trained to hang out in a high crime neighborhood, get to know people in the area, and, especially, connect with street gang members. Not doing law enforcement but connecting gang members with sources of everything from jobs to health care to housing, etc.
- Traffic stops: A lot of the problems between police and people of color begin with somebody being pulled over for a minor violation: speeding, missing a traffic signal, failing to replace a tail light, etc. And, of course, accidents when they happen. Not only do these things tie up a lot of police time, but here is where major retraining needs to take place. That and recruiting more people of color. How about developing a specialty called highway patrols, with special training to match.
Where things like this have been tried, crime rates have gone down. That soumds like a win-win for everybody – including the folks doing police work.
-Will Richan, Chester