Funding the Right Kind of Change in Policing
Originally published in The Cannon Online.
Do you support law enforcement, or police reform? How about both?
A recent piece of legislation by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the Law Enforcement De-Escalation Training Act of 2022, would authorize $70 million in funding to support law enforcement crisis response. In particular, it would make it easier for law enforcement officers to receive de-escalation training to help them defuse tense situations, and it would support crisis intervention teams, which pair law enforcement officers with mental health specialists to respond to emergency calls.
It’s not hard to see how this would be a win for law enforcement, and, not surprisingly, every major police organization from the Fraternal Order of Police to the Major Cities Chiefs Association has endorsed the measure. Not only would it provide much needed resources to law enforcement, it would do so through a “train the trainers” model. Rather than making state and local agencies forever reliant on the federal government to train every officer, it instead helps local leaders learn the skills necessary to train their fellow officers.
At the same time, additional de-escalation training for law enforcement officers would let prosecutors rest easier at night. Use-of-force incidents, particularly deadly ones, create no-win situations for prosecutors. Whether they choose to indict a law enforcement officer or absolve them of criminal liability, prosecutors are almost guaranteed to fray relationships, anger community members, and spend precious prosecutorial time that could be devoted to other public safety matters.
While some, particularly on the left, get hung up on the minutiae of exactly which situations justify exactly which degrees of force, this frequently is not the most productive approach to minimizing the use of force by law enforcement officers. It invariably involves a balancing of who deserves to shoulder additional risk of injury—police or the public—and understandably results in pushback from all sides. Nobody likes to be told that their health and safety are the ones worth sacrificing.
The better course—the one that de-escalation training takes—is to work to lower the frequency of these volatile, injury-producing situations in the first place. Instead of getting bogged down in debates over when force can be used, we can usually get better results by spending our energy and resources reducing the number of scenarios that call for it. Fewer injuries for the police and the public mean that everyone wins.
It is, of course, no panacea that will end all police use of force. Nothing short of anarchy can do that, which is hardly a price worth paying. There will always be some situations in which police officers will not be able to back down or de-escalate, and we as a society should be grateful for their brave resolve.
But we owe it to those officers to give them the tools and training they need to be in as few life-and-death situations as possible.
And while it will undoubtedly chagrin the Defund the Police crowd, that takes significant resources and support. Change is rarely cheap, yet when it comes to improving policing and protecting public safety, it is well worth it.