The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of only the author and not those of AllOnGeorgia.
Don’t worry – regardless of what you have been reading on the interwebs about what to do with law enforcement agencies around the country, this column won’t be like the last one.
The growing momentum for defunding law enforcement agencies across the country is spreading like wildfire, but ever so troubling is the lack of understanding of what that would even mean by the people calling for it. It seems many have transposed the definition of ‘defund’ to mean reducing or eliminating funding the amount of funds an agency receives while some pundits and experts merely want agency money to be allocated to other government agencies. (Side note: There’s an article in Rolling Stone that somewhat gets this component and is worth the read, but fails to consider some greater issues – especially in smaller communities, less wealthier)
Either way, I contend that cutting the budget for a law enforcement agency is actually worse than stripping it entirely.
Between the misconceptions of how agencies are funded and the short-term memory regarding ‘other related expenditures,’ this conversation is probably best sorted out in a point-by-point approach.
First, let’s take ‘the need of other government agencies’ off the table. Every government entity will tell you it needs more money and can do better work with additional funding even if it has ‘enough’ money.
Second, if you are one of the folks who has advocated for paying politicians more money – specifically those who are part-time politicians – on the premise of “you get what you pay for,” making the argument that cutting police budgets will yield to better services is not one you can make with any semblance of credibility. Please have a seat.
Third, revenue. Unless an agency is operating illegally (looking at you, little municipalities) revenue generated is not sufficient to cover costs of even basic operations. Most government entities consider public safety (police, fire, EMS) a “sunk cost” at least to some degree. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The alternative is policing for profit – enough tickets, fines, and forfeitures to appease the government heart’s desire. Contrarily, a sunk cost forces entities – especially smaller cities and counties that would otherwise establish a police department on top of a county Sheriff’s office – to evaluate whether or not the benefit is greater than the cost.
Worth noting along those lines: in Georgia, “revenue” collected goes to the county government, not the Sheriff’s Office. Additionally, the military surplus equipment some folks oppose, for the most part, is not purchased but instead administered through a grant program with the federal government. (Please adjust your outrage accordingly)
With those things in mind, what exactly do you suggest we “cut?” Certain services must be provided and a minimum standard of equipment is required for liability reasons. Uniforms, vests, duty belts, a firearm and ammunition, a car, insurance for that car, and the standard benefits of any other government employee.
That leaves very little room for cuts unless you prioritize what is important to you. So what’s on the chopping block? Body cameras? Dash cameras? Administrative staff that assist with reports? Public relations staff who answer questions of the public and the media? Technological advancements? Maintenance and improvements at the county jail? A jail with less-than-humane conditions and no mental health resources does not exactly help the case of a holistic approach, does it?
Less than lethal force weapons? No matter the circumstances, every time there is an officer involved-shooting, people ask ‘Why didn’t he/she use a [insert laundry list of less than lethal force weapons]?’ Those weapons have a cost and the state, in trying to limit liability and put a better quality of officers on the street, requires that officers be trained to use those weapons.
One need not look further than any rural agency that lacks an adequate number of patrol officers, sufficient equipment, and supporting technology manufactured in the last decade and a half.
Everyone who is outraged by the lack of body camera or dash camera footage in the recent officer-involved shooting in Evans County should keep in mind the direct correlation to a constitutionally-required Sheriff’s office that lacks adequate funding from a dwindling tax base and simultaneously tries to juggle the operations of a jail.
Travel across the street to the Claxton Police Department where officers are compensated at a higher hourly wage, each one is equipped with a body camera, every vehicle has not one, but two! in-car cameras, and officers cycle on continued training. That is the result of a new chief taking over two years ago and all but demanding enough money from the city council to bring the agency up to the times, to provide a higher level of services to the community, and to implement technology with training that protects both the police and the public.
So, about that training…
Do you know the number one thing underfunded departments lack? Training. But at the first glimmer of impropriety or misdoing, the public is calling for ‘more training!’ when the officers in question barely met the mandatory 20 hour threshold of continuing education.
And no – we cannot just decide to pay them less.
If you want to see the quality of police decline, pay the officers less. Of course there are always outliers, but the lower paying agencies usually have one of three things: ripe new officers who leave after gaining experience, bottom of the barrel officers who could not get hired elsewhere, or both. But even some of the harshest critics of police will concede that paying more for fewer officers would help more than paying less for the same or more.
I’ll tell you one place you can start that will bring about revolutionary change if it was restructured: the political subdivision that is the Georgia Peace Officer Standards & Training (P.O.S.T) Council. The council is made up of political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the governor and other high ranking elected officials. The Council has full autonomy over the certification and discipline of officers, however, the makeup of ‘industry only’ players has resulted in milquetoast disciplinary actions, dozens of “let me just make a call for you,” and ascension based on ‘who you know.’ As a result, good officers and the moral chiefs – the ones you say must speak up when they see wrongdoing – lack an agency that legitimately fields complaints and weeds out the less thans.
- the case of Bryan County Sheriff’s Investigator Mike Fordham who is now running for Sheriff. He was investigated by the U.S. Military Police for aggravated sexual assault and other physical abuses, but the Executive Director of POST is a former GBI colleague of his who helped reinstate his certification. It’s no secret, Fordham recently gloated about it on a podcast.
- the incident with the Brooklet “Police Officer” who was still policing despite having his POST certification revoked – a crime in the state of Georgia. POST was notified but did nothing.
- POST was the same entity that said it does not consider involvement in sex crimes as a juvenile, like in the former Guyton police chief’s case.
- In the interest of the national conversation, Greg McMichael (father from the Arbery case who worked for the District Attorney) went years without keeping his training and certification up. A call from the DA got him a waiver to ‘make it right,’ as if the training requirements came out of nowhere and are overly burdensome.
- And would anyone like to comment where POST stands on the fact that the City of Oliver was found to be illegally operating a speed detection device (radar) and wrongly issued more than $41k in citations? Bueller?
Those are just a few, all of which went before POST at some point, and I’ll be damned if they don’t shine the spotlight on the place we need to start.
The conversation around policing and the justice system is an important one. But it is more important to make sure that we look down the road – past the protests and the political expediency – and consider the root of the problem, for any changes we implement will certainly impact us all.
June 7, 2020 at 8:18 pm
I would like to see an effort made toward six specific reforms in Georgia and throughout the nation. I’m not sure the best place (or the best people) to start with these reforms, but I suspect you might have some ideas in that regard. Let me know what you think.
1. Eliminate Civil Asset Forfeiture – This never should have been allowed to happen in the United States in the first place.
2. Eliminate No-knock warrants – These “legal” devices fail far too often, and normally with deadly results. We’ve seen it happen in Georgia, and most recently in Louisville, KY. Since the intended target is almost always a person of color, the innocent person who ends up killed is ALSO a person of color. This is a negative police encounter that is easily fixed … by eliminating it altogether.
3. End the practice of “Qualified Immunity” … make public officials personally liable for violating the constitutional rights of their constituents.
4. Set up some type of “small claims / traffic court” where citizens can seek compensation for the violations mentioned in item # 3.
5. Reduce the number of laws on the books at the local, state, and federal level. We have criminalized far too many things, which makes frequent contact with police officials a “too common” occurrence. If you’ve ever been to a moving sale or an estate sale, you know how easy it is for people to accumulate lots of “junk” over time. I contend that our laws are very much like that. We need a “spring cleaning” of the legal code, throwing out violations that frankly don’t make sense anymore (and perhaps never did).
6. Reduce the “firepower” and militarization of our police forces. This one may be a bit more problematic than the others, but I think it’s doable. There are countries today where the number of annual police-involved shootings is in double digits or less. I’d love to see us go back to Mayberry, where the sheriff doesn’t carry a gun, and the deputy only has one bullet (which he keeps in his pocket). That’s probably not practical, but I think we could reasonably move toward a less aggressive means of law enforcement.
Thanks for all the things you do. I thoroughly enjoy reading your work, and would love to partner with you on implementing changes in Georgia and elsewhere.
June 7, 2020 at 8:18 pm
Well considered, as usual. May we spend a bit more space on solutions? Your suggestion of fewer, well vetted, better paid officers strikes me as an effective one, with a small addendum simplifying their duties; take it to our legislators to do away with victimless crimes.