Defund Some of the Police

Posted on by Owen Lynch

The hot topic nowadays is defunding the police. I see some people talking about how it will stop the school-to-prison pipeline and some people saying that the reduction in crime from aggressive policing has been a huge benefit to the black community. As I have no lived experience or empirical data, I really have no idea what defunding the police would do. And its unclear to me why people writing angry thinkpieces on either side could be anywhere close to certain that they understand society enough to predict what smashing a large part of it would do.

However, I do see something that has been left unsaid. Why don’t we /experiment/? Instead of demanding that all police departments are defunded, why don’t we say that we randomly pick 10% of police departments to be defunded, and check back five years later? Or 10% fully defunded, 10% half defunded? If the Black Lives Matters protesters are correct that police defunding will improve outcomes for black communities, then after 5 years we will have the data to show this. If the Black Lives Matters protesters are wrong, and the 10% of communities that have defunded police departments turn out to be really bad after 5 years, then we will have avoided making a huge mistake. Either outcome is better than the worst-case scenario in the case we defund the police, or the worst-case scenario if we don’t defund the police. Additionally, we will have 5 years of experience in managing policeless communities so that if we want to defund more communities, we can do it better.

I also know that when there is big systemic change that doesn’t work, minorities are the ones who pay the price. All of my white friends who are clamoring for police defunding, they will not be the ones who are hurt the most if drugs become much easier to sell, if businesses in poor neighborhoods have to close because of shoplifting, if cop murders are replaced by regular murders.

And finally, the silent majority of people who are not active on social media have many doubts about police defunding. People of all colors have friends and family in the police, and personally know good, upright police officers. The battle for full police defunding seems unwinnable at this point, and because of this, the demands for it on social media seem more like performative wokeness than well-founded activism.

Right now Black Lives Matters has momentum and has power. I think that a randomized controlled trial of police defunding is an attainable goal in 2020, and if we do it right, it could make hugely positive difference in the life of minority communities.

Please contact me with thoughts and feelings.

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