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What Does ‘Defund the Police’ Really Mean?

“ Defund the police. ” The phrase is angstrom complex as it is current. It has been printed in countless headlines and splashed across Facebook feeds in the wake of George Floyd ’ s mangle and global anti-racism protests. City councils across the nation are discussing police reform and reallocating budgets. Some municipalities plan to cut police funds, while others have voted to maintain them .
Regardless of a city ’ s stance, making changes to such a large institution couldn ’ thyroxine happen overnight. According to Statistics Canada, police budgets have generally been on the rise for the death two decades and operating expenditures in Canada reached more than $ 15 billion in 2017-18, the most holocene data available .
about all police services in Canada impute to a community policing model, which focuses on building public reliance and meeting a community ’ second needs over forceful crime control. Those calling for defunding question the potency of this approach, while 68,000 police officers across this nation wonder what budget cuts might mean for them .
For a term that has become then well-known, “ defund the police ” doesn ’ metric ton have a single definition. It covers a spectrum of ideas, from redistributing a part of patrol funds toward social services to abolishing the mental hospital altogether.

nowadays, many Canadians are wondering what “ defunding the patrol ” very means — and what it would look like in their neighbourhoods. We asked lawyer Avnish Nanda, ’ 10 BA ( Hons ), criminologist Holly Campeau, political scientist Malinda S. Smith, ’ 93 PhD, and patrol constable Bruce Phillips, ’ 10 BA .
( Responses have been edited for duration and clarity. Please note, Phillips is a penis of the Edmonton Police Service but spoke to us off-duty as a U of A grad. His views don ’ t necessarily reflect those of EPS. )
How would you define “defund the police?”
Nanda: When I use that linguistic process, I ’ megabyte considering what is achieved through the institution of policing — which is primarily public guard and security — and whether that can be achieved through an institution that is structured on providing security through the use of wedge .
Campeau: The broad conversation is far more nuanced than just defunding the patrol wholly. It ’ mho suggest that a collocate of money that has traditionally gone to police budgets could go to social services that are evenly or, in some cases, more crucial to the plan of community wellbeing. These are things like education, house, employment, child development, syndicate services and, of course, health — both physical and genial. “ Defund the police ” is about reducing the need for condemnable judge intervention .
Smith: When people say “ defund the patrol, ” this encompasses a spectrum of things — from people who are calling to reduce budgets and reallocate funds to social services to others who are calling for the abolition of the institution itself. And that invites us to think about the determination of the police and whether they are serving the populace full. And how they emerged into an initiation that is more generative of fear and anxiety rather than safety, and where people, particularly racialized and Indigenous peoples, feel terrorized by the police .
What are your concerns when it comes to reallocating funds?
Campeau: An significant locate to start is curbing our reliance on an arm of the criminal department of justice system for non-criminal matters. It ’ s excessive to expect patrol to respond appropriately at all times to situations for which they are not properly suited .
Phillips: The mind that prevention is more cost effective and sustainable than cure has a fortune of truth to it. But taking resources away from patrol is likely to have some reasonably negative consequences if you do it rashly and without a draw of evidence. The very people that we are all most refer about, the most vulnerable people in our society, are besides the most likely to be the victims of crime. Reducing our ability to protect them is likely to have damaging consequences. We absolutely should be concerned in creating long-run, sustainable deepen, but if you take away resources from police good now, those vulnerable people are going to be left high and dry .
I ’ m concerned with defunding to the extent that we might not be able to respond to high-priority calls as promptly, or not go to calls that we should be going to, and then people are put in damage ’ south manner .
What is “police culture” in Canada?
Campeau: I define police culture by how police make sense of their employment. What provides them meaning and purpose ? Some ideas are positive, like public service mindsets, while others are more harmful, like paramilitarism. And these will much co-exist, which is baffling .
The media often associates patrol polish with an fanatic sense of deputation, a union, or racist or button-down ideals. My sense, after interviewing conclusion to 150 patrol officers, is that, certain, you can spot these traits among some officers. But you ’ ll besides find officers who are nothing like this. You can find these lapp traits in corporate boardrooms — it international relations and security network ’ t useful to think of police polish this way .
For model, some structures in policing are heavily militarized, which sets the tone of preparing for battle. If a person coming into this line of make interprets their function this manner, rather than as a populace handmaid, they will perceive citizens through a dehumanize lens as “ the enemy. ” then, if you add the ways through which systemic racism and bias manifest, you have a recipe for calamity. You have George Floyd ’ s murder .
Phillips: Contrary to popular perception, there is an overriding hope within police to produce dependable outcomes and aid people. This is the rationality that most cops I know joined the patrol. I think where people perceive patrol acculturation negatively, there is a misperception of what our concerns are. There international relations and security network ’ thyroxine a general desire in our job to punish person who did something bad. It ’ south primarily about trying to protect the victims of crime. And that doesn ’ metric ton get communicated very often, which is inauspicious .
Smith: The patrol have never had a uniform meaning. If you think about the emergence of the RCMP, for example, we need to think about their relationship to Indigenous peoples, residential schools and maintaining colonial order. Or if you think about the manner in which policing emerged in the context of slavery, they were hunting down enslave Black people. We haven ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate given sufficient think to the ways in which policing continues to reproduce colonialism and notions of whiten as normative .
now this mass mobilization is drawing care to systemic inequities, with enough people saying, “ Wait a hour, the way patrol interact with racialized and autochthonal people is not the lapp means they interact with the white community. ” This has to change.

What are your recommendations?
Nanda: I help people who have had regretful interactions with the patrol. That ’ s predominantly racialized, marginalize communities — predominantly autochthonal communities. so I see folks who want to have a patrol force that reflects them, that cares about them and that treats them as person worthy of security .
I see the measure of some traditional patrol approaches, but I think that the mental hospital has to be more holistic and more reflective and engaged with marginalize communities .
Campeau: Officers will tell you they attend excessively many calls for which they are not the proper response — these include non-criminal civil disputes, mental health crises, animal social welfare, and, oh, my personal favorite, parenting ! indeed many officers tell me about parents who call the patrol to scare their kids .
therefore flush where officers feel they can manage these matters, they often concede that early services can share the load. One officeholder I interviewed said : “ You know, I have a accelerator, handcuffs, baton, pepper spray and the imprison cellular telephone, but lots of calls don ’ t require these tools. ”
Smith: Every institution in our club requires rethinking to examine the ways in which they reflect and reproduce systemic inequities. We need to rethink the mobilization of the police. Armoured vehicles, tear gas, tasers — these create a more aggressive violence. So you defund that approach. Some people see the patrol and wear ’ t want to open their doors. They ’ rhenium not trusted. If you can ’ thymine reliance the police how can they ensure public guard ? Police need retraining, including in communications, de-escalation and engaging with communities .
We have besides criminalized social problems. Mental illness is not a crime. Addiction is not a crime. These require public investments in social, reconstructive and recuperative institutions. And that ’ s a social benefit — not only to the people they ’ ra restoring but to families and communities .
Phillips: For community patrol to be effective, better information sharing and more intercede with social services could be a fat step. Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee is starting a pilot project where constables spouse with social workers. There ’ second been a batch of success with programs like the Police and Crisis Response Team ( PACT ) — a partnership between EPS and Alberta Health Services to help clients with mental health needs. Since we already know programs like this work quite well, expanding on them seems like a very useful step that is improbable to create unnecessary risk for anyone .
If you could coin the call to action, would it be “defund the police?”
Campeau: I can see the problems with “ defund the patrol ” because of the perception that the motion is wholly guided by abolitionists. And for some, that is the very estimate, but for others, it is nuanced. But if separate of the goal was to get people ’ south care, possibly it ’ s the right give voice .
Smith: I would say “ defund and reinvest. ” Because it ’ s a double process, going from defunding the militarized institutions that generate fear and lead to the mindless kill of people for minor things to a reinvestment in communities, social services and a focus on justice .
What does successful policing look like to you?
Phillips: It looks like cops investigating crimes objectively and having positive interactions with the community, including with the people they arrest, deoxyadenosine monophosphate much as possible. Police emphasizing de-escalation with words, as opposed to the use of force. This happens in the huge majority of the calls for servicing we go to .
At the end of the day, if we lived in a company that did not require police because there was no violence, that would be a very beneficial thing. Everybody, including police, would want that .
Campeau: I interview arrestees in imprison within 24 hours of their arrest. The biggest thing is that people are looking for dignity. People are looking for dignity in that interaction, and they ’ rhenium looking for recognition that they are function of the community — that patrol is a service that they, excessively, can benefit from .
Police are besides looking for dignity as they do their employment. Police have things thrown at them. They ’ re called all kinds of names. But many officers are in this to help. They rightfully are in this line of work to make a deviation. Everybody is looking to be part of a residential district.

What would a system that addresses current concerns look like?
Nanda: A society where public safety and security are maintained — where people, careless of background, experience or identity, can live freely without fear of being subject to some criminal activity but besides without fear of being subject to some classify of police misbehave .
Smith: We need more creativity in thinking about how to reimagine these institutions and where we should be divesting and reinvesting. My hope is that this movement animates more observation and more reimagining institutions that are for the public good .

  • Avnish Nanda, ’10 BA(Hons), is a sessional instructor in the university’s Faculty of Law and an Edmonton lawyer who takes on cases for people who have negative interactions with the police.
  • Bruce Phillips, ’10 BA, joined the Edmonton Police Service in 2014 and is a patrol constable in the downtown division.
  • Dr. Holly Campeau is an assistant professor of sociology and criminology at the U of A and a research expert in police culture.
  • Malinda S. Smith,’93 PhD, works in the Department of Political Science, is a provost fellow in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusions (EDI) policy and helped the develop the U of A’s strategic plan for EDI.
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