“Defund the Police” movement needs a reality check

Over the last few days in the wake of the George Floyd riots in the United States and the at times callously excessive Police counter response, there have been numerous calls for the defunding of the Police force there. The calls, which have come from activists, in part seem like a knee jerk response to the violence. In New Zealand some calls for similar have been made as well.

However there are some basic, yet key points that need to be acknowledged, which go towards undermining a potentially knee jerk response to the worst violence to engulf the U.S. in decades.

First, New Zealand is not the United States. The internal policing environment here is markedly different from that of the United States, as is the training regime for the Police, the accountability of their officers, and the public expectations on them as a law enforcement organization. I’ll happily have the New Zealand Police over the United States Police any day of the week. For the vast majority of New Zealanders being a Police officer is still a respectable occupation, and the New Zealand Police force when lined up against those of other O.E.C.D. countries is still very well regarded.

Second a significant problem in the United States that we do not have here is the Second Amendment and the associated problems with controlling the domestic arms trade. There are several notable law enforcement issues that go with the Second Amendment that I will address later as well. Just a few of the major issues with the Second Amendment are below – there are others:

  • It was written at a time when large parts of the American border regions were largely lawless; when frontier towns often dealt with outlaws and – correctly or incorrectly – thought that only the ownership of a firearm would help them ensure their property rights and lives were kept intact
  • No uniform nation-wide protections such as licensing; restrictions on certain weapon types and measures to to stop those with mental illnesses, records of past threats to commit violence and so forth
  • The N.R.A. – an organization that has a toxic level of dislike for individuals, organizations and even countries that do not promote their gun-toting views on gun ownership; the N.R.A. actively fuel division and show little or no regard for shooting victims

Third, American police culture, training, accountability at all levels have systemic issues. It is well known that U.S. Police have a lower threshold for the use of firearms than New Zealand Police. New Zealand Police, perhaps a result of being in a smaller country with less of a range of officer backgrounds have a culture that perhaps seems more able to adapt to change than the culture of the U.S. Police. Unless an offender is armed and/or on drugs and/or unable to be controlled using non lethal means such as pepper spray, baton and Taser, New Zealand Police avoid the use of firearms generally. That is not to say that New Zealand Police do not have issues – we most certainly do, but the fact that the New Zealand Police have given up on the Armed Response Team trial after a massive outpouring of concern tells me that they are considerably more responsive to public concerns.

So, to conclude, I am not going to support in any way the movement to defund the Police. I think in the United States, those places that do try to defund their Police forces will wind up regretting the move and wish that they had maintained them, albeit within a stronger, more accountable and community friendly framework than the one that currently exists.

The New Zealand Police are on the whole better than their American counterparts. The internal culture change needs to co-driven by both U.S. Police and public expectations. But defunding the Police will help no one here, just as it will not help anyone in the United States.

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