Calls are growing to defund police in the US. Here are some lessons from overseas
(Source cnn.com) Alex Vitale, a Brooklyn College professor and author of “The End of Policing,” has been advising campaign groups on defunding across the US for several years, and told CNN there are “all kinds of examples” of how it can work. “In the United States, a huge amount of what police do is managing folks having mental health crises, experiencing homelessness, suffering from drug overdoses,” said Vitale. “These are responsibilities that could be better handled by medical professionals, outreach workers, and frankly the provision of supportive housing and high-quality drug treatment and mental health services. Policing isn’t the right tool,” he added. Many nations have reduced the range of police responsibilities while investing in social programs. This often involves freezing police budgets or cutting their numbers while investing in agencies running programs relating to housing, income, youth, mental health and rehabilitation. The Swedish capital, Stockholm, established a psychiatric emergency response unit to respond to crisis calls from people in mental health distress, which patients say has created a safe environment and space for dialogue.
Vitale also points to Portugal’s decriminalization of drugs and investment in social work in 2001. “They’ve largely removed policing from any involvement with this issue.” Instead, he explained: “They’ve turned it over to health authorities. Health outcomes have improved and civilization has not collapsed.” Police forces elsewhere have embraced training and tactics for de-escalation, which police in the UK say have helped their interactions with individuals with mental health issues. In Scotland, officers are trained in de-escalation methods including identifying danger signs early and approaching a subject calmly. Police set up the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (SVRU) in 2005. The unit now receives $1.3 million from the government annually. It takes a public health approach, employing police, experts and people with lived experience in social programs. The programs include outreach work in emergency wards and enterprises that offer hospitality jobs to people with convictions. Violent crime and homicides in Scotland have dropped by 25% in 10 years. Los Angeles’ Police Commission has announced it intends to complete de-escalation training for the whole force this year. Community policing, which involves partnerships between officers, agencies and communities, is described as a “major pillar” of police development by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).