This post was published in Rochester’s daily newspaper, The Democrat & Chronicle, on June 21, 2020
Will Hurd is the only black Republican in the House of Representatives. In a Wall Street
Journal op-ed, he laid out his proposal for reforming the police. Included was the implementation of best practices for police departments to be eligible to receive their portion of the $2 billion the federal government provides to police departments annually. Implicitly, Rep. Hurd is saying Congress will defund police departments that don’t meet federal standards.
The clarion call to defund the police sounds like one end of a binary choice: either eliminate police department budgets or leave things as they are. Of course, neither of those options are acceptable.
At a local level, defunding the police will take a different form in every community. In 2013, the city of Camden NJ dissolved its unionized police department and signed a service agreement with the county to provide shared services according to Bloomberg News. The police were trained in non-crisis intervention and provided with body cameras. The result has been a reduction in crime and improved community relations. Last week, Camden police marched in solidarity with #blacklivesmatter protestors.
Would Camden’s solution work in Rochester?
The best approach is for each city to adopt solutions well-suited to their specific communities. Can the federal government extrapolate a single, one-size-fits-all solution for the nation? Would connecting that solution to funding have its intended purpose? It’s unlikely.
There are effective resources the federal government can apply to assist communities. However, the very nature of large, well-funded federal programs attracts influencers who would undermine its intent and render it ineffective. By the time lobbyists for police unions and lawyers for social justice organizations got through with it, there would be nothing left of Rep. Hurd’s good intentions. Bureaucrats would create a set of rules, mayors would declare themselves in compliance, police chiefs would issue carefully worded policies, and nothing would change.
How about this? Eliminate the $2 billion in federal funding altogether. The overall system of taxing Americans and redistributing the funds through federal programs is inefficient, ineffective and unresponsive to the needs of our communities. It would be better to leave the funds in our communities and trust local leaders to affect change. They would be more responsive and more likely to craft something that works.
Of course, that’s my libertarian fantasy. It’s not as though eliminating $2 billion in funding would return that money to taxpayers or the cities we live in. Two billion dollars is a rounding error on a federal deficit funded by funny money created by the Federal Reserve. So, we must have our portion of the $2 billion. But I would rather trust our African-American mayor and local community leaders address our need for reform. Central planning doesn’t work. Never has; never will.