Message from our CEO: This is an Opportunity to Connect the Dots
June 22, 2020
By Patricia Marrone Bennett, PhD
Like countless others, I am frustrated, disappointed, saddened, and angered by the continued and mounting number of Black people needlessly and unjustifiably killed by the police. The police system is so overtly broken that millions of people, not just in the US but across the world, are calling for its abolishment altogether. While eliminating the police entirely is not realistic in the foreseeable future, tangible and immediate reforms can be implemented, including:
- Increased accountability: including employment termination and loss of pension for officers who harm those that they come into contact with
- Demilitarization: eliminating the purchase and deployment of military-grade weapons by police departments
- De-escalation as a first resort: prohibition of chokeholds and comparable methods
- Scope reduction: transitioning responsibility for responding to nonviolent offenses to community-based organizations
Let’s keep in mind, though, that police departments are not the only problematic aspect of our public safety system that must be reformed; racism and discrimination permeate our entire correctional system. Whites are underrepresented and Blacks are overrepresented in the incarcerated population compared to the US population. The numbers of people incarcerated pre-trial simply for being too poor to pay bail, in conjunction with the numbers who are locked up primarily due to substance abuse or mental health issues, has resulted in our jails being filled with people who do not belong in a custody setting. In fact, there are more people who have not been convicted of anything sitting in our jails than people who have been convicted of crimes. When you overlay these facts with the significant cost of incarceration to taxpayers,,  it elucidates the necessity of reforms to our larger correctional system.
Jails and many policing functions are run by elected county sheriffs, not by appointed city police chiefs. Also, counties typically fund health and human services and nonprofit service providers, which are necessary to reduce the scope of city police departments. This county/city structure complicates the much-needed discussion of public safety system reform. To note, county sheriff department spending dwarfs city police department spending. For example, the Los Angeles Sheriff Department’s 2019-2020 adopted budget is roughly $5 billion higher than the budget of the City of Los Angeles’ Police Department.,  Notably, even when counties have reduced incarceration, sheriff department spending has not correspondingly declined. For example, Alameda County’s jail population has decreased over 40% since 2011,,  yet from fiscal years 2010-11 to 2019-20, the Sheriff’s Office budget has risen from over $305 million to over $431 million. To create truly lasting positive change toward equity in our public safety system, in addition to rethinking policing, we must question and help transform sheriff departments, too.
In this pivotal social change moment with global support saying “enough is enough,” let’s remember that it’s not just city police systems that need reform. Transforming larger county correctional systems must also be encouraged and supported by the masses.
One Small Planet
It is impossible to look back over the events of the past year and not viscerally feel the interconnectedness between ourselves, our families, our communities, and the rest of the world. The struggles of other countries, even other states, that once felt like distant concerns confined to the evening news now take on a different meaning. The pandemic and its economic devastation; the urgent cries for racial justice; the ever-increasing threat of wildfires, hurricanes, and other climate-change-driven disasters: these challenges belong to all of us.
Moving from Crisis to Chronic
Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are still operating in crisis mode. We are exhausted, and the items we put on the shelf are starting to stack up. It’s time to revisit our triage plans, no matter how planful or ad hoc, and re-evaluate our priorities and resources.