The Call to Defund the Police Requires a Worldview Shift

When George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis at the end of May 2020, a rallying cry to defund the police emerged. This cry was heard and picked up in many places in the world with a voracity not previously experienced. It caused consternation amongst people who support the police and fear for public safety.  It also opened up possibilities for needed change in a system that has, for as long as we can remember, systemically oppressed people of colour whether through racial profiling, disproportionate violence or arrests or the differences in sentencing in the legal system for crimes of a similar nature for white people and people of colour.

Which Communities Feel Supported or Not by Police is a Worldview Experience

Which communities feel supported or not by police is, in itself, a worldview conversation. It seems that primarily white communities feel supported by police and communities primarily of people of colour do not feel that same level of support. The meme “Karen” has come into common usage as a stand-in for how white women will use their white privilege, threatening to call the police on people of colour who are essentially minding their own business in places they are entitled to be – at home or work, in community or public spaces, in rental homes or hotels.

Whether Police Presence is Helpful or Harmful Depends on Historical Perspective and Experience

Whether police and police departments are helpful or harmful is a worldview based on individual and collective experience that has shaped how individuals, groups and communities have come to understand their relationship with police. Police and police departments also have worldviews that are relevant to the discussion.

Defunding ≠Abolishing Police

Some people equate defund the police with abolishing the police. Most references to defunding do not mean abolish.  Defunding the police refers to rethinking how cities provide for public safety. This could mean a redistribution of resources and a paring back of police responsibilities to what they were originally intended to be.

While some people object to the term ‘defund’, other descriptions might cause equal alarm as there is no succinct way to say this. And, no matter how it is said, it feels most threatening to white people who have never had a run in with the police or have never experienced what it is like to be part of the non-dominant culture – something we talk about in our book Building Trust and Relationship at the Speed of Change. Although studies have been done which show that if the words “defund the police” are not included there is broader acceptance of the ideas behind it, of rethinking how public safety is provided.

The exploration and possible legislative changes around defunding the police are worldview explorations about what public safety means. Shifting worldview perspectives are necessary if resources are to be reallocated around crime prevention and community health and protection. All of the intersecting community groups and involved organizational structures need to be involved in these worldview conversations.

A Systemic Approach is Needed to be Successful

Actions taken need to be systemic, meaning the whole system must be taken into consideration when change takes place. Otherwise it is a kneejerk reaction that will have unintended consequences and will likely not lead to sustainable solutions. This comic by Mud Company does a great job of teasing out aspects of the system of prevention and protection and may still be missing a few. The worldviews of each aspect of this system will be oriented toward the need and purpose they are intended to address. There will be some commonalities in worldviews and some differences – in some cases significant differences.

Alignment of Worldviews Around Need and Purpose

Aligning varying worldviews around a collective need and purpose and then supporting desired changes in behaviours and outcomes with appropriate and adequate structures and processes will go a long way in bringing about sustainable changes that support healthy, safe communities.

Rethinking Roles, Responsibilities and Outcomes

Rethinking the role of police in our communities and questioning our worldviews around their role and the roles of others will be essential. Some would argue that policing is not about crime prevention. It may be more about interrupting crime as it is happening or investigating it after it happens.

Policing does seem powerless to prevent domestic violence, the outcomes of which can often include the subject of the domestic violence being killed. In April 2020, Nova Scotia experienced the largest mass shooting Canada has seen. The perpetrator was known to be violent, an abuser, a predator and a drug dealer. He was known to have guns. He was reported to police many times by neighbours but nothing was done to prevent him from doing more harm.

The police are not sufficiently trained to address mental health crisis and nor should they be; but that lack of skill too often results in the death of the person who has called out for help. When people question the safety of a mental health professionals going into potentially life threatening situations, if the person in crisis is armed, as a reason for why we need police, perhaps this points to the need for greater inter-disciplinary collaborative efforts and adequate training all around.

Arrest Quotas?

The system of policing in some places and particularly in larger cities has been known to create crime or at least the illusion of more crime and of crime-filled communities. Quota systems promoting arrests for certain violations are viewed as signs of success instead of celebrating decreasing crime rates. In many cities police are rewarded for inflating crime records and particularly crimes that involve people of colour. This is a systemic issue with real consequences that needs to be examined.

There are predictable systemic outcomes and consequences of reward systems. Maybe it is deliberate, maybe unconscious. Many would say the systems are broken, but systems are perfectly designed to get the results they are getting. However, defunding the police does not result in more crime as has been proven in cities where police have been defunded. Camden, NJ has been highlighted recently as a seven year success story and there are other places following in that city’s footsteps.

A Long View with Intermediary Steps is Needed

Choices to defund, redefine or reimagine policing are not one-off discussions or decisions. In the end, discussions among all impacted stakeholders focused on what is best for all the communities coming under the jurisdiction of police departments or authority will have the highest possible degrees of success.

As we wrote in our posts about inclusion and diversity, decisions to shift the power structures in our organizations and communities is not easy work. But social and racial justice, the health and well being of our communities, demands it of us. And it is being demanded now.