Dexter Voisin, dean of the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, said there are currently “no clear models” of what it would look like to dismantle a police force.
But he said community organizers and community-based agencies would need to sit down with civic authorities to “design models that are more inclusive than repressive.”
“It’s going to take deliberate, focused attention and time in order to really make systematic change,” Voisin said.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
In fact, Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, said some smaller Indigenous communities in Canada are already leaning on community groups to do some of the work police traditionally do.
He said in some areas, community groups — not police — deal with minor civil disturbances or civil disobedience. But he noted if a similar model is to be implemented in larger towns or cities, a number of questions would need to be answered.
“To what extent is it going to be citizen-driven?” he said. “And then when it is citizen-driven, who are those citizens going to be? Are they going to be appointed? Are they gonna be elected? If they’re appointed, who are they appointed by?”
Owusu-Bempah said as societies have become larger, citizens and community groups have not had the same role in watching over society.
“And I think in some ways, a move back towards that, where we have more informal social control rather the formal social control, is part of what this is all about.”
Calls to dismantle
Floyd, a 46-year old Black man, died in Minneapolis earlier this month after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest.
The officer, Derek Chauvin, has since been charged with second-degree murder.
Floyd’s death acted as a catalyst, igniting protests against anti-Black racism and police brutality, which have spread across the U.S. and internationally.
Protesters are calling for police reform, with many calling for forces to be completely abolished.
MPD150, a community organization in Minneapolis, has been calling for the local police force to be dismantled for some time, but the group’s advocacy work was pushed into the spotlight following Floyd’s death.
In a statement on the organization’s website, members say they are calling for a “gradual process of strategically reallocating resources, funding and responsibility away from police and toward community-based models of safety, support and prevention.”
“The people who respond to crises in our community should be the people who are best equipped to deal with those crises,” the statement reads. “Rather than strangers armed with guns, who very likely do not live in the neighbourhoods they’re patrolling.”
While there’s not one model for dismantling a police force, this would not be the first time an entire department has been disbanded.
In 2012, with crime rampant in Camden, N.J., the city disbanded its police department and replaced it with a new force that covered Camden County. Compton, Calif., took the same step in 2000, shifting its policing to Los Angeles County.
It was a step that then-Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department was considering for Ferguson, Mo., after the death of Michael Brown. The city eventually reached an agreement short of that but one that required massive reforms overseen by a court-appointed mediator.
Dismantling vs. defunding
While there have been many calls to completely dismantle police forces, others are calling to defund or reallocate money away from them.
This is seen as a less radical approach than dismantling police forces altogether.
Owusu-Bempah explained that over time, there have been cuts made in other areas of society and social institutions.
He said that because of this, police have taken on more responsibility, often putting them in situations they are not adequately trained to handle.
“In the 1980s and 1990s, there were cuts to a lot of services and just welfare generally, which has increased levels of poverty, and so we’ve now got more homeless people and we’ve literally got the police placing homeless,” he said.
“We’ve had cuts to mental health services, of course, so we have more people experiencing mental health problems in public, and the police are asked to respond.”
Owusu-Bempah said this often leads to devastating outcomes.
“The calls for defunding police are not to eradicate, but they’re to take the funding that we’re currently giving to police to do things that they don’t do very well and that increase levels of criminalization (and) of violence, and give it to the social welfare agencies, to mental health agencies, to public health agencies to deal with issues related to drug use, mental health, for example,” he explained.
Voisin said he, too, thinks the conversation about funding allocation is more “interesting and productive.”
Overall, Owusu-Bempah said these protest have provided an “excellent time to re-evaluate our spending priorities.”
“I think every police organization, every jurisdiction needs to have an examination of, first and foremost, what it is that they’re asking the police to do,” he said. “And then secondly, how much you’re spending on that.”
Opposition to defunding, dismantling
Generally, police and union officials have long resisted cuts to police budgets, arguing that it would make cities less safe.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union for the city’s rank-and-file officers, said budget cuts would be the “quickest way to make our neighbourhoods more dangerous.”
Some U.S. politicians have also hesitated to use the phrases. Sen. Cory Booker said he understands the sentiment, but it’s not a slogan he will use.
The New Jersey Democrat told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he shares a feeling with many protesters that Americans are “over-policed” and that “we are investing in police, which is not solving problems, but making them worse when we should be, in a more compassionate country, in a more loving country.”
U.S. President Donald Trump also ramped up his rhetoric on the issue on Monday, tweeting: “LAW & ORDER, NOT DEFUND AND ABOLISH THE POLICE. The Radical Left Democrats have gone Crazy!”
— With files from the Associated Press