What does defunding the police actually mean?

Published: Jun. 10, 2020 at 7:01 AM MDT
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"Defund the police!" has become a common refrain at protests in Colorado Springs and across the country.

Some have heard the chant and thought something like this:

"Oh my gosh! We are all going to be in danger and it's going to be anarchy!"

But the idea, according to CU-Boulder law professor Aya Gruber, isn't about neutering law enforcement. It's about removing some of the hats officers wear, she explained to 11 News reporter Spencer Wilson, and passing them to someone else.

"Police are expected to fulfill all of these social service functions, right? So when we have people in the community that are having mental health breaks, or experiencing problems in the family, or are experiencing drug dependency, what happens is that someone calls 911, and the 911 routes to the police. Then we have this real enforcement armed mode -- sometimes that can work, but a lot of times that can be escalatory.

"And a lot of the times that can have tragic outcomes, especially when you factor in the racial element where you can have police officers who due to conscious and unconscious biases are assuming that African Americans are a threat when they shouldn't be."

What defunding proponents are usually seeking is taking away some police funding and some responsibility and give it to another source.

"If we could farm out some of those social service calls to, for example, mental health experts, people who are trained in de-escalation, not only would they be better suited to serve the community but their service would not come with that extra potential cross of a fatal encounter."

Gruber says people misinterpret the concept to mean getting rid of law enforcement officers altogether.

"If you defund the police, and somebody comes to your house to burglarize it, who are you going to call? Right? Are you just going to open your door and give them your property? So they are taking defunding the police to mean that you are going to completely get rid of the police forces. There is going to be no security for the community, there is going to be no investigations of crimes, and no social services that the police would provide.

"... I think defunding the police doesn't mean defunding any government agency that is there to provide services and protect the community. It is defending police in the way that we are funding them and prioritizing certain functions of the police right now."

In the latest budget, 50 percent of the general fund in Colorado Springs goes towards police. Protesters say moving that money elsewhere could be an effective change, where other promises haven't come through.

"People will keep using the same lines, that it is 'just a few bad apples, the good cops will take care of us,' but the good cops aren't arresting and standing up to that violence," one protester told 11 News.

Gruber argues that's why we continue to see the same story play out -- a controversial death at the hands of law enforcement, followed by protests -- because there hasn't been real change.

"When we see the video like the Floyd video, when we see something like Breonna Taylor, when we see these stories over and over again, there is no other choice than to be open to change."

Any change would have to come at the local level and would likely take a long time. Gruber says she sees some signs of progress.

"One thing that is very promising about this moment is people are opening their minds to the possibilities of how this delivery of service could be better."