There’s Defunding, and Then There’s Defunding

It’s happened again. The headline reads “A mom called 911 to help her 13-year-old with autism. Utah police shot him” by USA Today’s N’dea Yancey-Bragg. Basically, a mother returned to work for the first time in a year. But her 13-year-old son with Asperger’s syndrome had separation anxiety, which led to a “mental health episode.” The mother did what she thought was best to get help — she called police. Less than five minutes after two officers arrived, she heard them order her son on the ground, then gunshots. Her son lived, but they didn’t tell her that right away. He was wounded in the shoulder, both ankles, intestines, and bladder. He was also handcuffed.

A police spokesperson called it a “violent psych issue” with a juvenile who was “making threats to some folks with a weapon,” even though the mother told the officers there was no weapon and none has been produced.

Another horrific incident involving police. I realize nobody’s asked me, but I think I know what the problem is.

Quite simply, we expect too much from the police. We’ve made them first responders for all the social problems we have been unable, or unwilling, to solve.

Not only are the police responsible for catching the hardened criminals, they’re also expected to deal with the mentally ill, the homeless, domestic disputes, and traffic laws. Those disparate responsibilities require a multiplicity of skills, from conflict resolution to weapons training. Is it any wonder these shootings keep happening? It reminds me of that saying, “If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

Why don’t we give the police a break? Take some of these responsibilities and give them to others, specialists who are specifically trained to deal with these social issues. Then the police could concentrate on what we expect the most from them, and what they do best — catching criminals.

This will probably require some redistribution of funds away from police departments and into these other specialties. Many are calling this “defunding the police,” an unfortunate term that suggests downsizing, or even eliminating, police departments. But what if it’s a way to help law enforcement do a better job? That would make us all safer in the long run.

The original news story is at https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/09/08/utah-police-shot-13-year-old-autism-after-mom-call/5745028002/?

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