Hamblin: There are demands about defunding police. That seems like a far cry from where we are. Are there concrete things that people are asking for?
Vitale: There’s kind of a continuum for understanding what “defund the police” means, and it doesn’t really mean that tomorrow the police budget is zero. There are actually dozens of campaigns that were underway before the events in Minneapolis that were calling for defunding policing, but [they] took the form of things like we want to halt new hiring, we want to get a handle on overtime, and we want to close down certain problematic programs, like the gang unit, and shift those resources into community needs.
So this is not about: Tomorrow, there are no police. There are folks, though, for whom defund the police is also about thinking about a bigger vision of a kind of world where we don’t rely so heavily on policing and prisons, and that comes out of the prison- and police-abolition movement that’s emerged over the last 20 or so years.
Hamblin: You describe trivial reforms like inherent-bias training where maybe people have to watch a YouTube video for 90 minutes and then they’re no longer racist. Would a department foreseeably be like, Well, we lost some money, so we’re gonna cut our implicit-bias training, and we’re gonna cut some other things, which you made us do before, and it actually doesn’t solve the problem?
Vitale: Cutting some of these training things would be a great place to start. And unfortunately, one of the things we’re going to see is, they’re going to ask for more training. They’re going to trot out the same idea that the problem is we don’t have enough money for training. We need more resources for policing, more professionalization. They’re going to want to increase police budgets.
The American Public Health Association about two years ago voted on a position that said that the way policing is conducted in the United States is a public-health problem—that police violence is a public-health problem, that 8 percent of all [male] homicides in the United States are committed by police and that the solution to this is not more training. It is reducing our reliance on policing.
Hamblin: So you think that there is no role for this sort of educational training program?
Vitale: Some of the research shows that officer behavior gets worse after these anti-bias trainings.
Hamblin: Like they resent it?
Vitale: Exactly. They resent it. And not unreasonably, because it’s ludicrous. They have absolutely no results to point to that say that, whether in a workplace or for police, the behavior gets better.
Wells: I’m going to ask you about counterarguments. There are examples of places that have made cuts to their police departments. For example, several cities after the 2008 recession. It doesn’t necessarily seem like public safety was all of a sudden fixed. Minneapolis, you’re saying, has done a lot of these programs that you’re saying are ineffective, but it also funds public works more than it does police. It seems like even their budget might be in the direction of the distribution you’re talking about. So we know that funding [police] doesn’t work. But how do we know that defunding them would work?