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Instead of defunding police, we should reinvest in social services

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A protester holds a sign calling for the defunding of police at a demonstration on Saturday, Aug, 1, 2020, in Los Angeles.

Christian Monterrosa, Associated Press

One of the more divisive topics in politics these days is police reform and accountability. This topic is especially important to me because, as a prosecutor, I technically work in law enforcement. Daily, I work with police officers toward the common goal of protecting Murray City, which is also part of the legislative district that I represent.

I respect our law enforcement officers for the difficult work they have to do. I have been representing House District 44 for the past two years, and as a Democrat running for reelection, one of the questions I get most often from constituents is my take on “defunding the police.” 

Honestly, the only thing I appreciate about that phrase is that it starts a conversation. Other than that, I think the slogan is misleading and creates further polarization that is so present in our political discourse. Truthfully, there are some people that truly want to defund or abolish the police. But I think most people, and most Utah Democrats, do not hold that extreme view. 

For many, “defund the police” is about different things. It ranges from no longer arming our police with military-grade equipment to investing less in warrior-type trainings that many feel make our police overly aggressive. If I were to define a better slogan, defund the police would instead be “re-fund social services.”

It is easy sometimes for people to vilify police for their response to a situation when it has a bad outcome. But we, as a society, need to examine how we got to this point of asking our police to respond to these difficult situations in the first place. Over decades, our governments at every level have underfunded or cut social service budgets. Because of this, police officers are asked to fill those needs. They have to respond to school discipline problems, overdoses, mental health crises and custodial disagreements, to name a few.

We ask them to not only be responsible for public safety, but to also provide mental health care, crisis responses, marriage and family counseling, and many other roles that they are not adequately trained for. Our men and women in uniform take on these various duties because it has become part of their job. But it does not have to be this way. 

Instead of defunding the police, we should prioritize reinvesting in our social services. What if our local governments had social workers to help on some of the noncriminal issues that police deal with every day? What if we adequately funded our mobile crisis outreach teams so there were more people who were trained specifically to deal with mental health crises? What if we were able to hire more DCFS workers and pay them what they are worth?

All of these suggestions cost money. And until we decide as a state that we are willing to invest in our social services, we are going to continue seeing the same outcomes.

Rep. Andrew Stoddard represents District 44 in the Utah State House of Representatives.