Protesters in the US are calling for law enforcement defunding, but that would hardly solve anything since the problem lies with how the state manages the policing system, Travis Yates, a police commander in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said.
Many Americans that have joined the protests against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by a cop are not demanding the authorities defund the police or abolish the law enforcement system entirely. This idea has been declared the “main goal” by anarchists who created an “autonomous zone” in Seattle and was even supported by some celebrities earlier.
However, the anger is largely misplaced, Yates, an officer who spent 27 years in police service, believes. “Law enforcement in America is not well funded now,” he told RT, adding that most of the funding goes to salaries.
If you start talking about a 10-percent level or 15-percent level defunding, you are going to be losing officers on the streets.
While some might see this as good news, it wouldn’t change anything, as society would just have to create a substitute to fulfill police functions. “If you are going to defund police they will be unable to respond to the calls and you will still need somebody to investigate crimes,” Yates said, warning that criminals are certainly not going to abandon their old ways just because there is no one to catch them.
More socially oriented programs needed
The police commander maintains that the problem lies not with law enforcement itself, but the fact that the government has given police tasks they cannot – and should not have to – handle.
“Where we have gone astray in America is that law enforcement is now being tasked with doing things that we never had to do,” Yates explained, adding that the state system of care for the mentally ill became “so broken” that police were sent to deal with them and became “the final straw” in this situation.
We used to hardly go to these types of calls 20 years ago. [Now], we have to go to them all the time. That is not because there are more mentally ill, that is because the funding has been cut so much to the mentally ill section of our society. And the same thing with all sorts of different areas.
The officer said his colleagues do not always know who they are dealing with “on the front end” and that it leads to a situation in which a significant percentage of police shooting victims turns out to be mentally ill people. Yates sees the solution not in taking money from the police, but in investing money in other socially important programs.
Treatment of police has become ‘mob rule’
Yates said that the perception of police officers has significantly changed in recent years – and certainly not for the better. The police commander partially explains it by the influence of social media and viral videos of incidents involving officers, but also by the narrative propagated by the news media.
“We have to look at the individuals when they do bad behavior. That is really unfortunate that we look at the groups as a whole,” he said.
If something happens in Minneapolis, all of law enforcement is responsible for this. It is unfair. There are some very good police officers and excellent police agencies. We feel assaulted by that.
According to the officer, the negative view of law enforcement has become a new – and dangerous – trend. “If it was another profession, ethnicity, or group, and people were routinely treating them like this, we would take it very seriously, but unfortunately it has become just another day of the week for law enforcement.”
He also denied that there is “systemic racism” within law enforcement, but recruiting practices, which differ in various departments, do need improvements since they allow some individual racists to slip through. “Most police department make exhaustive background checks when they recruit someone. We still need to do them on the front end because once they [racists] get into the agencies it could take time to figure that out.”
Yates, a veteran police officer, recently drew controversy after he told a local radio host the police “were shooting African-Americans about 24 percent less than we probably ought to be, based on the crimes being committed.” The comments, which appeared as America was still reeling from the death of George Floyd, an African American who died at the hands of police, sparked an outpouring of criticism on social media and prompted Yates’ department to launch an internal investigation against him.
The police commander, who was not suspended for the duration of the probe, argued that his words were taken out of context and he was “talking about the data” from statistical research on police shooting. He also said that he finds the very idea of police shooting people for no reason “simply outrageous.”