DETROIT – Local leaders are weighing in on the national conversation about defunding police departments.
“Well, I’m totally against defunding the police,” said Detroit Police Chief James Craig. “Dismantling a police department, what do you replace it with? Who then goes out and handles an armed and violent suspect, an active shooter?”
The response from officers and lawmakers on both sides has been overwhelmingly the same.
“You talk about taking money from police departments, most departments across this country, anywhere between 70 and 80 percent of a department’s budget goes to staffing, and so to take funding away means to take away police,” added Craig.
At its most basic level, defunding police means taking money away from a department to give to another government agency.
It allows agencies to handle specific non-emergency situations such as mental health, non-violent domestic and homeless calls to name a few.
“If we could remove certain kinds of calls from the police tablet and say this is what we need police officers for, and these are the most critical of situations, and use community workers to respond to help with those kinds of situations, it would lighten the load on police officers,” said Ike McKinnon, former Detroit police chief.
McKinnon knows the day-to-day tasks and struggles of Detroit police. He served in the department for more than two decades, and worked as police chief during some of the city’s most turbulent times.
Recently he has been working with Minneapolis police as the city and police department navigates on what comes next in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“A police officer should not be the stewards of everything that’s going on. I think that’s the situation now in most communities,” said McKinnon.
University of Michigan Criminology Professor, Dr. Christian Davenport, says he believes the issue of defund the police goes further than money, and more into investment in communities through education and housing programs.
“Why do the police end up addressing a bunch of topics that they’re not trained to deal with? Well, that’s because systematically a bunch of resources were taken from other agencies or organizations or individuals which basically left them to carry that burden,” said Davenport.
In 2019, the city of Detroit spent $294 million of the general fund on the police department.
That’s more than the fire, housing, law, health and economic development departments combined.
Dr. Randall Wyatt, a sociology professor at Oakland University, says that if done right, defunding the police would help officers.
“The best way to help police deal with those problems would be to get the people who are more equipped to deal with those more specific problems to deal with them, to invest in those things. Because police are not psychologists. Police are not social workers. Police are not educators. But we contract them, and have them respond to calls as if they are,” said Wyatt.