It’s been more than a year since protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody raised a debate across the country about how we conduct oversight of police. An ill-conceived “defund the police” mantra arose from some far-left circles in 2020, but voters have had time to consider the idea for a while now, and they’re overwhelmingly rejecting it in every vote.
The city where Floyd was killed, Minneapolis, put a measure on the ballot this fall that would have replaced the city’s police department with a vaguely defined “Department of Public Safety,” while eliminating the city’s statutory minimums for funding the police. The measure was rejected by 56% of voters.
Earlier this year, Democrats in the New York City mayoral race were defeated by Eric Adams, a former NYPD officer who has taken a more moderate stance toward police reform. In Buffalo, self-described socialist mayoral candidate India Walton won a sleepy, off-year Democratic primary in June against longtime incumbent Byron Brown. Walton was coy about plans to defund the Buffalo police, preferring to avoid the word “defund.” Her policy platform, however, included a plan to reduce the department’s budget by $7.5 million and scaling back the duties of officers. Brown hammered her position in his write-in campaign, and won overwhelmingly; Walton conceded after 59 percent of the votes were write-ins.
Seattle is known as one of the country’s most liberal cities, with a municipal government controlled almost entirely by Democrats. If there were ever a place where “defund the police” could succeed, it’s Seattle. The concept had a vocal advocate in city attorney candidate Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, a far-left firebrand who envisioned that her path to power would come through insulting police on Twitter. When Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz posted a holiday well-wishing message on Christmas Eve last year, Thomas-Kennedy responded “eat some covid laced s**t & quit ur jobs.” In another tweet, she stated: “I’m way left but atm (at the moment) can only tweet about my rabid hatred of the police. I currently read like a single issue law enforcement abolition anarchist.”
When asked by the Seattle Times if she wanted to apologize, Thomas-Kennedy refused, saying she didn’t choose her words carefully because “I am not a political insider.” Her opponent, Ann Davison, was a Republican running on a law-and-order platform, and she won with 59 percent of the vote.
But setting aside from the politically suicidal nature of “defund the police,” it’s simply misguided, reckless policy. There is certainly some merit to the argument that police have too much on their plates, and that some of this burden could be shouldered by other municipal departments. And those who decried the Pentagon’s transfers of surplus combat gear to police raised important questions about whether such equipment is appropriate for civilian settings.
But the challenging nature of police work requires skilled professionals, and they deserve to be paid accordingly. Experts on corruption in developing countries have known for some time that low pay and benefits for police (and legislators, for that matter) create an incentive for bribery. Make these jobs desirable, and they will be filled with desirable candidates who don’t want to risk losing them.
And most of us understand the misery that comes from lacking the staff or resources to do a job right. In our city, Oneonta Police Chief Christopher Witzenburg urged the Common Council on Tuesday to provide him with an assistant chief and an additional officer, lamenting that the burdens of the last year on his department have been exacerbated by a lack of manpower.
Voters expect their police to be held to high standards. But the verdict is in: candidates who misinterpret this as a sign that police aren’t wanted at all are bound to fail at the ballot box.