Defund the NOPD? Yes, and Here’s How

Photo Credit: Abdul Aziz

Defund and Disband the New Orleans Police Department? 

Why yes, Defund and Disband the NOPD. 

Just like we defunded education, defunded healthcare, defunded housing, defunded social services, defunded environmental oversight, and defunded…well, you get the point. 

We’re aware that the word “Defund” sounds scary. What would we ever do without a police force funded at 10 times the rate of other city services? (A lot actually, since policing is a relatively new and always political phenomenon.)

We get it; change is scary. But we can’t advocate for systemic change and get scared when someone actually proposes a systemic change.

If we look at what police *actually* do and how good they are at what they *actually* do, then defunding and disbanding sounds less radical and more rational.
Some thoughts:

1) You don’t go to the plumber for electrical work. You don’t go to the dentist for your toe. Yet mental health, wayward children, and all other kinds of domestic, medical, and non-emergency issues are handled by people with only 6 months of training, and often no specialized training in the issues they’re being asked to intervene in. We don’t need police for these issues.

2) Already-existing agencies would do much of the work police are asked to do more effectively. The funding taken from police could and should be given to schools (including additional social workers, local teacher pay raises, and resources to support children affected by trauma) before and after school programming and bussing), hospitals (mental health supports), job programs aimed at ending recidivism, and other community-serving preventive measures.

3) Yes, there is work that police should do – but much of the work they should do isn’t done well (in 2018 less than a third of the murders in New Orleans were solved) regardless of how much money is thrown at the problem. We disassembled our school system because we said it was failing poor communities of color, yet we throw money at police…only to watch them perpetually fail poor communities of color. This is not at all surprising; it’s done on ​purpose. If crime goes up, we increase police funding. If crime goes down…we increase police funding. Something must give.

4) No one expects the fire department to lower the number of fires. We place that on individual people, building standards and safety measures. Yet we expect police to stop crime. Police are by definition reactionary, and to stop crime you need to fund proactive supports (i.e. the mental health, schools, jobs, recidivism supports from earlier).

5) There is a story about an Black male officer talking to a group of 13 year old Black boys, telling them that he became an officer because “the safest place for a Black man is behind the badge.” That distasteful yet sadly logical ideology is the epitome of the problem. Too many police are culturally and physically separated from the communities they serve with no effective or functional oversight. This lack of oversight isn’t a bug; it’s a feature. We don’t need more of this. We need less. We need to find ways for communities to protect themselves.

6) There are too many laws that are designed to keep people in jail. Drug laws, loitering laws – many largely unnecessary laws enforced in a discriminatory way, utilized by police to validate their pay. These laws do not promote public safety, they are merely holdovers of Jim Crow Era mindsets and reinforce the “need” for aggressive policing. Laws should exist for the protection and benefit of people, not simply institutions.

Police need only enough funding to do the things they should do, and well.

So, what could we do with all that money we took from the police? New Orleans, for example, spends roughly $200 million of a $700 million dollar budget on law enforcement.

How would a city with a defunded, demilitarized police force look and operate? It would work like this:

1. Move funding from the NOPD to the city’s Health Department, and give the Health Department the responsibility of doing all mental health checks.

2. Move funding from the NOPD to the New Orleans Emergency Medical Services​to establish and support a drug overdose strike team and let medical professionals handle these critical cases.

3. Create a permanent funding stream for community-based de-escalation teams regarding minor disputes (nuisance complaints, domestic calls, etc) within communities.

4. Move the traffic accident contractors to the Department of Public Works (if not already there), and move funding from the NOPD to Public Works so they can handle traffic enforcement.

5. Introduce local legislation to block NOPD from taking advantage of the 1033 program ​that allows access to military-grade weapons from the United States Department of Defense.

6. Move experienced, untainted officers into a new police division that focuses solely on crowd control & safety at large events, which are a staple of our city.

7. Create a specialized sexual and domestic violence department staffed by investigators, social workers, and interrupters.

8. Train and educate our call-friendly citizens, specifically those that live in Uptown and Lakeview, on implicit bias & de-escalation techniques instead of calling 911 because someone looks “suspicious.”

9. Demand The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Marlin Gusman to give access to the unused capacity of his $81million kitchen/storage facility​(which can make up to 28,000 meals/day) and fund a meals program for the hungry/vulnerable.

10. Move funding from the NOPD to the NORD Commission, and establish a Police Athletic League component where officers/former officers serve as coaches to children’s teams.

11. Invest in the creation and training of a small, elite task force to respond to violent crime. This task force should be made up of officers who have earned at least a 4-year degree in criminal justice and have zero to minimal complaints on their records.

The focus should always be addressing root causes and avoiding harm.

There are also additional, specific ideas on how we could reprioritize our “public safety” spending. Each of the ideas below reimagine how $100 million taken from the yearly NOPD budget could be reinvested in our community.

1. There are 9,000 kids aged 0-3 in need of child care. We could provide 5,800 of them with a quality, fully-funded spot for $60M, guarantee a $15/hour wage and benefits for all child care workers for $30M and still have $10M left over.

2. We could subsidize home WiFi access for all 150,000 households in our city and make internet access no more than $10/month for every New Orleanian for $90M and we could provide all 48,000 school-aged children with $200 to buy a Chromebook for $10M.

3. We could properly maintain our drainage system for $50M, properly maintain our streets for $35M and give 52 families in Gordon Plaza still living on a toxic waste dump $300,000 each for relocation for $15M.

4. Provide free yearly RTA & Streetcar passes for 80,000 citizens in need for $100M.

5. Provide a $1,000 annual health insurance stipend for our 100,000 hospitality workers for $100M.

6. Provide $500/month rental assistance for 16,000 residents in need for $100M.

7. Pay the $45M our city owes in lawsuit settlements, the $35M we owe in invalid traffic tickets and give every single Orleans Parish resident a free locals Thursday Jazz Fest ticket for $20M (just kidding on the tickets, but could you imagine?)

Let’s be clear – we aren’t experts on policing. We ARE experts in community. We understand that our community’s needs can be supported by creating a new vision for public safety that is not centered in policing. Too often policing is weaponized against targeted and marginalized communities (especially Black people). We also came up with all of this in one hour, so imagine what could be possible if our entire community spent one hour envisioning this future.

So yes, it’s time to defund and disband the New Orleans Police Department.

It’s logical. It’s doable. It’s necessary.

P.S. And no matter what, **** the Falcons.

Westley Bayas III is a political & policy strategist.

Kenny Francis is an educator and community activist.

Kyle Jude Jones is an educator and writer.

Abdul Aziz is a conflict photographer.

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