Derek Thompson+ Your Authors @DKThomp Writer at @TheAtlantic. Host of podcast CRAZY/GENIUS. Author of book HIT MAKERS. Talker on NPR's @hereandnow and @CBSNews. derek[at]theatlantic[dot]com Jun. 07, 2020 2 min read + Your Authors

What do the police actually do? 

Some facts + observations from this 2015 DOJ survey of 70,000 Americans about their police interactions.

1. 50 million Americans have contact with the police in a given year. The vast, vast majority of them are either calling 911 or getting pulled over in a car.

2. Black Americans are slightly less likely to have "contact" with the police than white Americans. (This surprised me.)

That is almost entirely due to the fact that whites are more likely to call the police—“resident-initiated contact”—to report a crime or medical emergency.

3. Black Americans are 2.5X more likely to "experience force" in a police interaction (e.g., pushing, handcuffing, gun-pointing, pepper spray). The vast majority say that these stops are illegitimate and that police acted improperly.

For the Defund argument:

It’s not clear why you need armed officers to handle 20 million+ medical calls, traffic accidents, and speeding tkts every year. This is where I think “the police”—i.e., a heavily armed law enforcement agency—could be fundamentally reformed.

The Defund Challenge:

Every year, 20 million people contact the police to report a possible crime or to set up a block watch. Let’s say you literally abolish the police. Who’s responding to 20m calls where the voter on the other end of the line sees what s/he considers a crime?

Think of "dialing 9-1-1" as a service with 20 million customers and—this surprised me—extremely high user satisfaction.

Among those who contact the police, 80% of all ethnic groups say police "responded promptly"/"behaved properly" and most say they “improved the situation.”

Now, that chart doesn't make massive police reform unnecessary! It doesn't defeat the argument for defunding elements of policing—which is a giant bundle of services, the vast majority of which don't require threat of violence.

But it brings clarity to one Defund challenge...

How do you replace a popular 911 service w/ millions of annual users? How much political pain is endurable if a city's defunded—or "abolished"—crime enforcement agency routinely fails to respond to many thousands of emergency calls from its scared (or just paranoid) citizens?

I'll end where I started: Policing is a bundle.

The challenge before the Defund movement is separating the most toxic parts of the bundle without destroying services whose abolition will doom the project, politically.

You can follow @DKThomp.


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