Congress should spend $6 billion on "highly focused, evidence-informed law enforcement anti-violence strategies" in a standalone bill, violence expert Thomas Abt of the think tank Council on Criminal Justice urged a U.S. House Crime Subcommittee this week in a hearing on "reimagining" public safety. "Our cities need relief right now," he said.
Abt cited surveys showing that most Americans oppose “defunding” the police while supporting reasonable reforms. More than 60 percent of those surveyed believe “violent crime is a big problem today.” He said, "Both the science and the public are saying the same thing, we must improving our justice systems while controlling violence."
President Biden has proposed spending $5 billion on antiviolence efforts over eight years in his "Build Back Better" bill that is stalled in Congress. Abt would add $1 billion to that and separate the issue legislatively from the overall bill.
In Abt's view, "The public conversation about criminal justice in America is hyperpolarized, with the public being presented with a false choice between absolutes: it is all about tough policing and prosecution, or it is the police and prosecutors who are the problem. It is #BlackLivesMatter versus #BlueLivesMatter."
He added that the “us versus them” dynamic "is profoundly destructive to sound anti-violence efforts because everything we know about violence reduction tells us that we need law enforcement, but we need community and other partners as well."
Abt got considerable agreement at the hearing from Charles Lehman of the "free market" Manhattan Institute, who said, "I am here to challenge the idea that 'reimagination' is good. My case is a simple one: police are an effective means for controlling crime. Any significant reduction in their number or responsibilities would come at substantial loss to public safety."
Lehman said that advocates of “reimagination” expect to send police to only the most dangerous calls, but in a nation with 400 million guns, "predicting danger in advance is a real challenge. ... Divvying up police duties among smaller groups of social workers, violence interrupters, and other civilian employees inevitably leads to excess demand for some agencies and slack capacity in others.
To 'reimagine' policing invariably means a new wave of crime, a wave that will crush our worst-off citizens for decades to come.
Also at the hearing, Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia said that, "All stakeholders, including elected officials, must push back on calls to defund the police. Defunding can have disastrous consequences and hurt the communities most in need. The reality is that communities in major cities, especially those most impacted by the increase in violent crime, don’t want fewer police in their communities.
"I have not met a neighborhood impacted by violent crime in Dallas, regardless of language spoken, racial makeup, or socio-economic status, that has ever asked me for less police."