It's time to redefine our expectations of police

Updated 6/23/2020 10:30 AM

It is time we take the long view on how policing has gotten to where it is today.

Starting in the 1960s, we made several significant societal changes. We invented high-rise low-income housing projects. We defunded and deinstitutionalized mental health care. And we asked the police to absorb, manage and respond to the results.


Since then we have defunded or underfunded preventive family crisis intervention, preventive child welfare services and social services in the schools, among other things. In turn, we have required police to become the first line of response to family violence, child protection, truancy and numerous other social ills. Yet we still require police to respond to identifiable crimes.

No one group of people should be expected to respond effectively to such a divergent array of problems. We have known for over 100 years how to mitigate many of these ills. It is time we bring back a diversity of social services, well-integrated to relieve many burdens we have placed on police. The "defunding" movement has serious merit when we realize how we've burdened police with responsibilities for which they are not well-suited.

We are long overdue to respect the contributions and value of a diversity of social services which can intervene and support people in need before they become police issues. Now is the time to look back on what used to work and deliberate what we can apply moving forward to a constructive approach to broad-based social well-being.

It is also the time to respect the police for what they can and should be doing for our society.

Jamie Smith


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