Letters: Don’t add funding to the Missoula police, fund a response to social ills

We all know being a cop is a tough job, and it seems like the police’s responsibilities keep expanding. Not only do police respond to and investigate crime, but now also take active roles in such diverse areas as: school safety and discipline, monitoring individuals experiencing homelessness, responding to domestic disputes, and assessing mental health and addiction. Police’s responsibilities seem endless.

The main question to pose is this: is it fair to keep overburdening police departments like this?

There has been a great deal of controversy around the George Floyd protests, specifically around the rallying cry of “defund the police.” Many seem to believe this is a punitive measure taken against police who bear no responsibility for the murderous actions that occurred in the Minneapolis police department, or the brute force displayed across this country.

Nothing could be further from the truth; this proposal is not punitive. It is mitigatory.

Diverting funds from police, in order to supplement them with civilian experts in mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, de-escalation, restorative justice, and domestic abuse, takes the burden of these social ills off the police’s plate and ensures help to those who need it.

It returns police to their habitual work of preventing, investigating and responding to crime, and ameliorates tense situations in which an armed authority figure may escalate them, which jeopardizes the officer’s safety as well as the vulnerable individual’s.

Building a robust public services safety net alongside a nonviolent response team will keep impoverished people out of the criminal justice system, reduce the amount of petty crime police respond to, and allow vulnerable people to reintegrate into the fabric of society.

Finally, this approach is more cost-effective than our current model of policing. Calls to the police, EMTs, and emergency room services cost taxpayers considerably. Building a preventative social service network to treat and house individuals experiencing homelessness will save the city money, as public officials in Salt Lake City found.

Providing housing, mental healthcare, case management and substance treatment services to the city’s most vulnerable cut emergency services in SLC by a third, and allowed those receiving city assistance a measure of dignity and hope for the future.

We cannot keep heaping every social problem on the cops. Police often do not have the time, training, or inclination to exceed their mandate of responding to criminal activity. Using police funding to expand social services and to build a team of expert responders keeps citizens and police safe, assures vulnerable people such as abused children and mentally ill people greater help and protection, and reduces costs for the taxpayers. Talk about a winning proposal!

For the sake of our police force, for the safety of our citizens, and for a more dignified, efficient social administration, we cannot afford to keep relying on a model that has outlived its usefulness. We must push against Mayor Engen’s and the city council’s plans to increase police funding and instead propose a civilian intervention force to respond to the myriad social ills now on the police’s shoulders. Taking money from the police budget is not a punishment for the cops; it is a step forward for the city.

The budget vote is scheduled for August 24th: contact your city council members today, and don’t let up until the vote!