This City Dissolved Its Police Department 7-Years Ago, Here’s What It Looks Like Now
Across the country, protesters have been filling the streets and calling to “defund the police”.
What this actually entails is still in debate. Some people are calling for the complete defunding of the police department, which would essentially mean an abolition of the police department.
If they’re not getting any money, they’re not going to work for free. That would be stupid. They don’t get paid enough as is to put their lives on the line.
Some people are saying that it doesn’t actually mean defunding them completely, but instead that it means to cut their budgets severely.
Well, one city in the U.S. has actually done something very similar and reformed its police force.
“What we’re experiencing today in Camden is the result of many years of deposits in the relationship bank account,” says Scott Thomson, Camden’s chief of police until 2019. He led the city’s high-profile pivot to community policing from 2013 until last year and oversaw what turned out to be a steep decline in crime. Homicides in Camden reached 67 in 2012; the figure for 2019 was 25.
Over the past seven years, the department has undertaken some of the most far-reaching police reforms in the country, and its approach has been praised by former President Barack Obama.
The transformation began after the 2012 homicide spike. The department wanted to put more officers on patrol but couldn’t afford to hire more, partly because of generous union contracts. So in 2013, the mayor and city council dissolved the local PD and signed an agreement for the county to provide shared services. The new county force is double the size of the old one, and officers almost exclusively patrol the city. (They were initially nonunion but have since unionized.) Increasing the head count was a trust-building tactic, says Thomson, who served as chief throughout the transition: Daily, noncrisis interactions between residents and cops went up. Police also got de-escalation training and body cameras, and more cameras and devices to detect gunfire were installed around the city.
While many departments define “reasonable” force in the line of duty vaguely, Camden’s definition is much clearer. The department adopted an 18-page use-of-force policy in 2019, developed with New York University’s Policing Project. The rules emphasize that de-escalation has to come first. Deadly force—such as a chokehold or firing a gun—can only be used in certain situations, once every other tactic has been exhausted. “It requires that force is not only reasonable and necessary, but that it’s proportionate,” says Farhang Heydari, executive director of the Policing Project. Most important, “they’re requirements. They’re not suggestions.”
By the department’s account, reports of excessive force complaints in Camden have dropped 95% since 2014.
So it looks like excessive force went down. That’s good. That means that the police are doing better. What does crime actually look like there now?
Terrible. Take a look:
Here are the types of behavior you can expect on a larger scale when you defund the police:
The real virus killing grandma… pic.twitter.com/hBdwxDoUOk
— I Might Be Donna (@Crypsis12) June 10, 2020