“Defund the Police” may well go down as the worst slogan of 2020. The apparent meaning of the phrase is that we should cut or eliminate funding for police departments. When questioned, the folks using the phrase are generally asking for funds to be used for various social services instead.
Funding police protection or funding other services is NOT a binary choice. We don’t have to choose one or the other.
I heard on the radio earlier this week that Florida is 51st in the country in funding mental health services. Every other state AND Puerto Rico ALL spend more per capita that we do. That is sad. It does NOT mean that we need to choose between mental health services and police protection. What it means is that we ought to properly fund mental health services, even if it means that state taxes need to be adjusted upwards. Florida has sold itself for cheap for far too long and we need to be willing to make the investments necessary to do things right.
A significant number of the homeless folks we see wandering around have mental health or substance abuse issues. Additionally, both prostitution and property crimes can be traced back in large measure to substance abuse issues.
These issues do not respect city limits or even county boundaries. In my opinion, we need to ask our state legislators to adequately fund mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and initiatives designed to get people off the streets and into safe housing. Pasco County is best positioned to start the process of dealing with these issues in Pasco County at large, and West Pasco in particular.
Only after you have addressed these issues can you realistically ask whether or not our law enforcement budgets are properly sized for our city, county, and state. With the explosive growth in Pasco County, I’d guess that we probably need to look at increasing our law enforcement budgets, not “defunding” them.
Are there places where law enforcement dollars can be better spent? Absolutely. I’m not a big fan of the militarization of law enforcement agencies that we’ve seen over the past three decades. Local law enforcement showing up in Humvees and armored personnel vehicles should be the rare exception. Some vehicles capable of rescues during high water events would be an example of that type of exception. Law enforcement agencies exist to serve and protect the citizens, not act as an occupying army. The equipment used by law enforcement agencies should reflect the mission we expect those agencies to fulfill.
Body cams are becoming more common. They provide a record of officer conduct, but they also provide a record of an entire incident, as opposed to what might have been selectively recorded on a cell phone camera. As recently as this past week, there are cell phone and body cam recordings that provide very different views of a traffic stop in Hillsborough County. Body cams protect both citizens and police officers. I believe that they ought to be universally used. Spending money on body cams instead of armored vehicles makes sense to me.
New Port Richey is about to receive our first new police vehicles through a leasing program that we approved a couple of months ago. Modern patrol vehicles, including some hybrids and electric vehicles, will cut down on both operating and maintenance expenses compared to our current fleet. I’m excited, and I understand that our patrol officers are also excited, to see these new vehicles start replacing the old failure prone cars they have now. In my opinion, money not spent on fleet operations and maintenance can be better spent on other things.
“Defund the police” became a rallying cry after a series of incidents where Black men and women lost their lives because of the actions of police officers. These incidents should rightly shock and horrify good people of all races. While there are bad actors in every line of work, I refuse to believe that our law enforcement officers are overall any more racist than the population at large. The police officers I’m personally acquainted with are, without exception, working hard in the best interests of ALL residents of our city and county. That goes both for members of the New Port Richey Police Department and the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. These are dedicated public servants who are doing their very best under what are sometimes difficult situations. They deserve our support.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor