The End of Policing

Reviewed on , book by Alex S. Vitale

In May/June at the peak of the Floyd/BLM protests, the term ‘defund the police’ was thrown around. It was unclear to me what that meant. One of the main sources on the topic appeared to be Vitale’s ‘End of Policing.’ His intro sums up the narrative well: The author got interested in the topic after his city, San Francisco, announced that they would stop funding various programs to assist the homeless and instead redirect the funding to the police. How does it make sense to sense? This leads to the criminalization of homelessness and mental illness. It’s giving up. Someone passed out from overdosing? Let the cops deal with it, because we haven’t funded trained personnel, recovery programs, and/or safe injection sites. Misbehaving kids in school? Implement a 750MCopsinSchoolprogram(28kkidswerearrestedin2004),insteadofspending750M Cops in School program (28k kids were arrested in 2004), instead of spending 750M on programs to assist the kids causing trouble. Stray dogs? Let the cops chase them.

All this clashed with the authors intuition. Letting problems fall to the bottom of the barrel is almost never most effective. And he was right. Again, and again studies show that funds are much more effective in the hands of social workers and specialized programs. It costs more to have cycle people between jail, emergency room treatment, and shelters than it does to provide them subsidized housing. Of course, increasing police presence is more politically palatable because it’s visible to the general population, whereas a program for at-risk youth is not.

There’s much more to this book, for example, how the War on Drugs has a serious track record for racist use.

In Vitale’s words: The best kept secret of police is that they don’t prevent crime.