Defund the Police not for Idaho 

So another ‘Defund the Police’ rally is scheduled for Boise today–the one day this week predicted to get over 100 degrees.  

Do police have special summer uniforms?  It seems unfair that the demonstrators get to show up in light t-shirts and shorts, but the cops have to wear dark uniforms that absorb the sun’s rays something fierce.

If I sound flippant, it’s not because I don’t appreciate the demonstrators’ concerns nor the police’s defense of their right to speak. 

But Idaho doesn’t need this movement–though we have much in common with places that do.   

Mental health services have been inadequate across the nation since Reagan cut programs in 1981; cuts during the Great Recession 10 years ago have only made matters worse. The Cut, an online newspaper, cites estimates “that law enforcement spends 21 percent of its time responding to and transporting people with mental illnesses.”  That number may be high, but the Boise Police Department has reported that one out of every 15 police calls in 2018 involved someone with a mental health problem. 

Homelessness is also a growing problem. According to idahohousing.com, average housing costs here are rising twice as fast as the national average. Over 9,000 homeless people in Idaho requested assistance in 2019. The Los Angeles Times quoted Peg Richards of the Good Samaritan Home in Boise as saying, “I had a resident who moved in here with 97 tickets on his record, mostly for open container, some for loitering, some for being in the park after dark,” she said. “He’d been homeless for five years.”

And, in 2019, Ada County alone had 5,289 police calls related to domestic abuse, sexual assault and child abuse (wcaboise.org). 

We’re asking a lot more of our police officers than catching the bad guys. 

A former Dallas police chief, David Brown, once said, “Every societal failure, we put it off for the cops to solve.  That’s too much to ask.  Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.” 

The Defund the Police movement is basically saying the same thing. Police officers aren’t trained to handle the wide range of situations they face. We send them out with guns to get a sleeping guy to move his car out of a drive-through lane, and someone gets shot. 

If the only tool you have is a hammer, it’s tempting to see every problem as a nail.  

So why doesn’t the movement fit Idaho? 

There just aren’t a lot of extra funds in police budgets. 

The FY 2020 budget for Los Angeles’ police is $1.8 billion; for New York’s, $6 billion. Even cuts of two percent–$36 million and $120 million–could fund substantial projects. 

A similar cut in the Nampa, ID, police budget would yield a little less than $500,000. Before we make plans for those funds, however, we need to realize the department is just now staffing at the level it was before cuts for the Great Recession.   

Two percent of Boise’s proposed police budget of $71 million would yield $1.42 million. That’s enough to explain why Defund the Police demonstrators are active there. 

But the Boise Police Department has been moving ahead in the very direction that the demonstrators want. It’s  added a mental health coordinator and a behavioral health liaison to its staff. 

In addition, Boise is investing millions to increase affordable rental housing.  A recent Idaho Statesman editorial included an example of one man’s arrests falling substantially after he entered public housing.  It makes sense–no more violations for loitering, sleeping, open container, etc. 

And our state government is investing steadily to expand mental health resources.  

Idaho doesn’t need to cut police funding.  We need to continue investing in police training, low-income housing, and mental health services.  

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