I’d like to take this opportunity to invite anyone from Minnesota, especially those from Minneapolis, to come to Oklahoma. Here's the thing: you’d better come fast. Once your police force is dismantled, and unless it is immediately replaced by another suitable law enforcement organization, how long do you think will it be before your city will quickly resemble a third world country, a dystopian hellscape, or perhaps the mythical old west? It’s not difficult to imagine, in a city with no police force, a scene from The Dark Knight Rises becoming a reality.
Oklahoma is far from perfect. Our police are far from perfect, just like our citizens. We’re trying to be a top ten state. We haven’t met that goal in all areas yet. But we are also not in danger of declaring the rule of law dead and buried. We realize that lawlessness and anarchy are not better for society than even an imperfect police force, especially one constrained by law and disciplined by courts. Our police have made mistakes. But in Oklahoma, we know that even major reforms do not require disbanding the police entirely.
I could understand if a city felt that their police department was so corrupt or so dominated by union culture - culture that protects even the bad cops above ordinary citizens - that they needed to start from scratch like Camden, NJ did. It is worth noting that even in Camden, not every officer in a corrupt department was bad. 100 officers from the old force were rehired onto the new force. If your police department is fundamentally corrupt, then by all means, clean house.
Rebooting the police, up to and including transitioning to an entirely new entity with new people in charge, without collective bargaining, and with the right people in place to make sure that cops police each other as well as the citizens they are hired to defend, sounds like the starting point for fixing a clearly broken institution. Defund the police, on the other hand, sounds like the kind of empty demand your petulant daughter screams before she slams the door to “run away” from home. She knows her demands won’t be met, but it feels good to scream. And it does feel good to scream in the wake of horrific crime and abuses.
Your daughter comes home because she’s not allowed to cross the street. Cities will come back because the “cure” of anarchy is worse than the disease. If the police are truly disbanded, and not replaced with an equivalent force, the city will either burn or be left to outlaws. The upstanding citizens will flee. Food will become scarce as grocers and restauranteurs look for a safer place to do business.
Defunding the police - not cutting funding, but defunding into oblivion - is so patently absurd that it allows whole swaths of the country to ignore serious criticisms and solutions. Serious problems deserve serious people proposing serious solutions. Indeed, many have been proposed, and were gaining traction. But when these groups are pressured into apologizing for their reasonable solutions because they are not extreme enough, many will dismiss the entire cause. The only people who can afford to take police abolition seriously are either criminals or those who live in high-income and gated communities (which are overwhelmingly white) with private security. The attention of the nation is firmly on the racial and police problems facing the country. Don’t waste the opportunity for real reform by pitching a ridiculous utopia that can never exist.
Many serious proposals are not only justified, they are moral imperatives. For instance, reducing qualified immunity so that people hurt by police can seek justice in civil courts is a critical change. So too is union reform that decouples politicians overseeing police from union control, and allows bad cops to be fired and prosecuted as a matter of course, rather than only when communities riot. Using de-escalation to avoid using force, and reserving deadly force for the most extreme circumstances as a very last resort are so obvious, it’s a wonder they haven’t always been the norm. But when the absurd is cheered and chanted, it gives those who could be persuaded by serious proposals an excuse to turn their attention elsewhere, ensuring that nothing gets done.
I don't think that’s what the defund-the-police crowd wants. I hope they are not agents of chaos, sowing the seeds of perpetual unrest. I fear we are seeing a few dogmatic zealots reciting a creed, and a multitude of frightened followers, who feel they must bow to avoid being labeled racists. To them I would ask, what do you hope to achieve? If it is positive change, please rethink your actions. Create pragmatic proposals for effective restructuring and help us figure out how to root out evil. Give people reason to listen and act, not turn away during this time of absolute need. If the serious people with the serious proposals are afraid to contradict the zealots, and temper their fervor with reason, their good ideas will never be heard over the noise.
I would also like to take this opportunity to specifically invite any good police officers whose jobs are being eliminated by the Minneapolis City Council to our great state. Oklahoma City has a shortfall of police officers. So does Tulsa. What do we mean by “good” police officers? Those who respect the rule of law. Those who will protect all citizens regardless of color or political views. Those who will stand up to bullies - in their own ranks and elsewhere. Those who do not use force out of cowardice, but only when it is truly warranted (as it sometimes sadly is). Those who will create a culture where good cops prosper and bad cops are kicked to the curb, or arrested. Good cops: we know you’re out there. We invite you to join the many good cops already serving Oklahoma.
Mike Davis is a Research Fellow at 1889 Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.