Abolition of the Police Disguised as Reform

Abolition of the Police Disguised as Reform

By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D

Abolishing law enforcement has been a topic in some academic circles for decades. It seemed so ludicrous to those outside the ivory towers where ideas are churned about that no one in the real world gave any attention to the threat that the idea of ridding America of police officers might become popular.

The defunding of law enforcement has been activated in many jurisdictions, even though many of those are showing regret and re-funding. Police leaders and alert citizens should be aware that defunding was always a means to move toward abolition of police entirely. While some efforts are out in the open, many efforts to abolish the police engage more subtle tactics to achieve the same eventual goals. Although most Americans still trust their police partners and cannot imagine having no policing in their communities, there are active groups still plodding and plotting toward abolition with ideas that seem good but include the seeds of abolition.

Mental health support services are gaining much-needed attention. Several non-law enforcement (NLE) and co-responder programs are claiming success. The delusion of the abolitionists is that police budgets should be cut to fund these programs. Police failure is essential to the abolitionists’ long-term goals, so reducing police agencies ‘ capacity to respond to calls fits the abolitionist agenda perfectly. Diversion and defunding are synonymous. The need for robust law enforcement budgets and staffing will not be reduced by adding NLE responders. While valuable, NLE responders will not be able to handle the volume of calls, nor will they handle calls where violence or weapons are involved.

Citizen oversight of local policing has always been present. When police agency heads are selected by elected officials, and Sheriffs are elected directly, the control of policing is at the ballot box. Calls for more accountability ring hollow when law enforcement is already subject to constant surveillance, court orders, restrictive legislation, and civil liability. No one suggests that police officers should run rogue with no one watching, but the reality is that everyone is watching. Additional community input is important, but red flags toward abolition are waving. when anti-police activists and those with no understanding of the realities of what police officers deal with and the constraints surrounding them have policy-making authority and decisions over treatment of personnel.

In the name of accountability, legislators are pressured to increase liability for police officers by removing qualified immunity and other legal protections and impeding police fraternal and union influence which exist to protect fair working conditions for police officers. The move to prohibit safety equipment such as rescue vehicles and protective gear against assaults, as well as removing options to control violent criminals are ways to dissuade persons from becoming police officers or remaining so. These efforts have gained ground as evidenced by the recruiting and retention crisis in American policing. These efforts are not-so-subtle means of ensuring the demise of law enforcement toward the goal of abolition.

In addition to defunding the idea of non-funding is also a component of abolition. Vociferous objections to any building or renovation of justice facilities replace civil debate with arguments that new jails, police equipment, or update police facilities are simply not needed and would be harmful to society. Every project and its impact on tax-paying citizens deserve scrutiny, but reducing the criminal justice system’s capacity to deal with crime is another attempt to cause failure with an eye to abolition.

Media narratives of police encounters are often guided by anti-police sentiments rather than fact-based reporting. Viral videos are too often accepted as “news”, but more disturbing are biased mainstream media accepting the narratives of those without substantiated facts. Many commentaries make patently false claims and exaggerations about police misconduct and violence that a gullible public fails to closely examine. These narratives are fed by those who claim to be in favor of police reform, but many of whom are just building the case for abolition.

The abolitionist is an idealist who rejects the idea that evil exists, and that people make intentional predatory decisions to kill, steal, and destroy. They believe that destroying existing systems and replacing them with new systems will reduce bad human behavior. They explain all crime as the product of capitalistic oppression or mental illness, which can be eliminated by good vibes, no borders, and expecting everyone to be peacekeeping lovers of their neighbor. There is no precedent for such a society but rather a common-sense expectation that chaos and brutality would be the real result. We must not be led to a disastrous result with false promises wrapped in nice-sounding packages.