Police reform, reallocation of resources, defunding.
All the new buzzwords among the antipolice set. The discussion may drift from talking point to talking point, but the sentiment is the same. Some cities that consider themselves “progressive” have actually succeeded in stripping funds from their law enforcement agencies.
The argument has been made that what “defunding” really means is redirecting resources from law enforcement entities to other social services. (There are countless examples of political activists who clarify that “defunding means defending …they don’t want any more law enforcement, but we will save those for another conversation.) For our purposes here today, what I want to convey to those outside the world of law enforcement and social services is that these two subsets of society do not stand alone and perform tasks free of outside influence. In layman’s terms, social workers and law enforcement often lean on each other to achieve the goal of a safer society.
On a daily basis police go to calls that may or may not be directly related to a crime. Many have said that social workers can replace police for these roles. In reality, that usually does not work well.
Our officers regularly answer calls for patients in a mental health crisis of some type. Often it is medical or social service staffers who are the ones that call police, usually due to the violent outbursts or potential violent behavior of the person or people involved. This does not mean that the situation will end with police violence. It just means that all the parties involved know that tensions and emotions are heightened and de-escalation is paramount … with the security on having someone who can inject physical control if it becomes needed.
In the real world, trying to maintain a safe and orderly society is not a black-and-white issue where problems fit neatly into one box or another. The lines between mental health, addiction issues and criminal offenses often are blurry ones. A not uncommon example might look like the schizophrenic who has not taken his medication, dabbled in street drugs and has now committed a theft or assault. Issues in which police, mental health and social workers may all have a role. Police are called and, while criminal behavior ultimately must be addressed, officers typically know that focusing on a mental health crisis takes a higher priority than taking someone to jail.
These situations are not rare ones.
Yesterday alone in our small city, JPD responded to multiple separate calls that crossed the boundaries involving mental health, criminal activity and drug use. Not because our city is unusually dangerous, but because this is the norm in America in 2020.
Our officers, and those around the nation, have attended and continue to attend training for how to deal with those in a mental health crisis and in the vast majority of cases are able to find a peaceful solution that involves protecting the public and getting the right medical, mental health or social services to those involved.
There are other occasions when it is the social service staff who need protecting as they go into homes and situations that place them in peril. These are situations where officers are merely there to protect all parties, but they are there. And then we have the scenarios that most of us have seen in the news in which someone, due to drug use or mental state, arm themselves and threaten harm to themselves. Most people understand these are obvious situations that medical and mental health workers cannot casually walk into, and it is these situations that you often catch a glimpse of in one or two sound bites on the local news when something goes wrong.
What you rarely see until you take a deep dive into the facts is that during the rare occasions when events turn tragic, it is only after tremendous energy and effort has been spent trying to navigate a peaceful resolution. I have never seen or even heard of a police officer who wakes up and leaves for work looking to bring harm to someone during his shift.
We as police value our partnerships with the social workers from various agencies. We rely on them and we work with them daily with great appreciation for the efforts they make to provide services and solutions. Ultimately however, when certain behaviors present themselves, even social workers want a police officer present.
Policing is far more than writing citations and taking people to jail. It is one piece of a larger mechanism that works together to let us live in an orderly and mostly peaceful fashion. We would be at a huge disadvantage if it were not for the mental health staff, CPS and APS staff and school staff who team with us to keep Jourdanton safe.
They say, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Instead of pitting one entity against the other, social justice leaders might consider how to help work with those in the public safety sector to implement mechanisms that help our entities work more efficiently together to bring long-term solutions that benefit everyone.
ERIC KAISER is the Jourdanton Chief of Police and holds a Master Peace Officer License.