Thoughts on Defunding the Police by Richard Bleil
The Phantom F-4 is my baby. She’s big, she’s tough, and she just looks mean. She’s so tough, in fact, that I’ve been told that pilots will often stay with her rather than ejecting because the survivability of a crash is higher than ejection. I can’t say that this is true, but it is something I’ve been told.
Introduced in the Vietnamese conflict in 1961, the Phantom was the hottest thing in the air taking out Migs at a ratio of about 3 or 4 Migs for each Phantom lost. (I’m finding it difficult to get exact numbers or statistics; this is about the most reliable I can find, but almost all are better than 2:1.) To be fair, the philosophy between Russia and the US was, at least then, very different. Russia built larger numbers of aircraft expecting great losses but attempting to overwhelm their adversary, while the US put the emphasis on protecting each pilot. Still, it was striking.
Every time a new fighter was designed, it was put up against the Phantom. Fighter after fighter, innovation after innovation, the Phantom F-4 would win, but anything that stood up against the F-4 for at least a while was considered to be a good design. Finally, a fighter beat the Phantom; the F-16.
Some 17 years later, in 1978, the F-16 took to the air. It was the first aircraft that could actually beat the F-4. Sleeker, smaller, it simply had greater speed, and greater maneuverability than the Phantom. Originally, she was designed as a short-range fighter, and only carried, by design, two side-winder missiles and one machine gun. This kept it light, which translated to fast and maneuverable. Still trying to protect the pilot, the idea here was a hybrid of American and Russian philosophies. Not only was she well-built and hard to shoot down, but she was relatively inexpensive, so more could be built and deployed rapidly. With two air-to-air missiles, she would deplete her ordinances quickly and would need reinforcement to retreat if the mission was not accomplished.
Then something happened.
The F-16 was such an effective fighter that the air force, in the wisdom of American politicians, wanted to adopt her for other duties as well. An external fuel tank was designed to convert her from a short-range fighter to medium range. She was modified to carry more and newer air-to-air missiles so they could stay in the fight longer. The Maverick missile was designed for her for air-to-ground attack capabilities. More and more and more ordinances and modifications were made, and she became heavier and heavier, to the detriment of the speed and maneuverability for which she was designed. Only four years later, in 1982, the F-20 began replacing the F-16.
American politicians have a habit of over-extending. I suppose it makes sense, to want to have fewer systems, fewer specializations, and therefore fewer things to keep track of. The F-16 had great capabilities in the air-to-air arena, so maybe she can replace fighter-bombers or other types of aircraft as well. But the problem is that when you lose the specialization, you lose what make it special.
The American police department suffers the same problem. There are three major emergency support systems; the police to keep law, the fire department to fight fires and other disasters, and medical for emergency medical care, but if that’s all we have, we lose out on so many other areas.
People will sometimes try to compare police and fire departments. The argument is that fire departments do their jobs better because nobody is protesting them. It’s not a fair comparison; fire fighters get to do the kind of work that people see as helpful. They rescue people from burning buildings and kittens from trees, while police are tasked with enforcing laws. Sure, people appreciate the police when they are rescued from a hostage situation, for example, but whenever somebody gets a speeding ticket, or is busted for theft, they never blame themselves. They blame the police. It’s not my fault for breaking the law, it’s their fault for arresting me, and it gets worse because the family members and loved ones often blame the police as well.
The reality is that most police (there are exceptions that are bad police officers that do break the law, just as there are bad fire firefighters who break the law) are in their profession for the right reasons; they want to help, and they do their best ethically and abide by the law. Unfortunately, their job is basically to be the “bad guys”, the strong arm to enforce those laws whether they agree with the laws or not. I’ve known police who would say they think marijuana should be legal, for example, but their job is to enforce the law, not to make it, and not to judge those they have to arrest. And for the most part, they do their jobs well. The proof of this is that for the dozens of bad, unethical and illegal police actions of which we hear, we do not hear about the millions of police interactions that go as they should.
But because we hear of the bad ones, and because when they go bad, they can go terribly bad, now people are calling to “Defund the Police”. This is a horrible name for this movement and fails to capture the real problem.
Over the years, more and more duties have been placed on the shoulders of our police officers. Originally to enforce laws, they are now responsible for a plethora of social problems. If somebody is threatening suicide, we call the police. If somebody is intoxicated, we call the police. In the city where I was a civilian employee, the police took on additional roles that were frankly over the top. They were in charge of building a community garden. They are in charge of running a homeless shelter. They were in charge of civil activities like an annual car show.
Participating in activities like this is good. It gets the police out of their cars and interacting with citizens without anger and violence. But as the government defunds programs like on-call counselors for mental health, or civic centers to feed and house the homeless, or city engineers to make parks safer, they all land on the shoulders of the police. The police budget then swells, giving them more money for the kinds of things that they want (like militarized equipment and vehicles), while the things the money is meant to support gets absorbed into the general budget. To “defund the police” doesn’t mean to dismantle the police (yes, I’m aware there have been a few people who have called for that as well, but they’re a very small group). What it means is funding social programs and taking those things off of the plates of the police department which, in turn, means the police won’t need that in their budgets any longer. If we allow specialists, like social and mental health workers, to do their job by funding their activities, the police will lose these funds, and at the same time will lose those burdens. Don’t confuse “Defund the Police” with “Dismantle the Police”, and don’t let the fear mongers convince you that this is what is meant.