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EDITORIAL: Progressives divided on the meaning and merits of defunding the police

“Defunding the police” is such a bad idea that not even Joe Biden or Gov. Steve Sisolak are interested in it.

After the horrific killing of George Floyd, there is a growing call among leftist voices across the country to “defund” the police. What this actually means is anybody’s guess — and has been continually evolving — but at least some proponents surely mean financially hampering law enforcement.

The idea is catching on quickly in progressive strongholds. On Sunday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he wanted to shift some police funding to social services. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently proposed up to $150 million in cuts to the Los Angeles Police Department. He said the money would go toward “reinvesting in black communities and communities of color.”

It unclear how or whether this reallocation of funds will keep residents safe. Harvard economist Roland Fryer has found a connection between decreases in police-civilian contacts and increases in homicides. Black communities are the hardest hit. He shared those findings in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

It’s not surprising that defunding the police is well outside the political mainstream. That’s why many top Democrats are so far unwilling to embrace it.

“No, I don’t support defunding the police,” said Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democrat presidential nominee.

“There’s been no discussion about defunding the police here,” Gov. Sisolak said earlier this month.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, said, “It’s crazy, and anyone who talks about that is nuts.”

Al Sharpton tried to square this circle by saying the “slogan may be misleading without interpretation.” He then suggested the term really means more money for mental health and “intervention that does not involve policing as we know it.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York congresswoman who doubles as the poster child for Democratic radicalism, suggested that “defund the police” means redirecting money from police to education in “black and brown communities.”

The tap dancing is predictable. But make no mistake: A vocal and energetic segment of the progressive movement really wants to do away with traditional concepts of policing and law enforcement, viewing them as inherently racist enterprises. Some mayors in heavily Democratic areas have gone along with that, forcing Democrats who need to attract independent voters to distance themselves. That’s left people such as Mr. Sharpton and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez trying to come up with creative ways to split the difference.

There are reforms that need to be made and that may indeed necessitate a debate about the proper allocation of resources. Police departments shouldn’t be immune to budget scrutiny. But “defunding the police” — starving law enforcement so it is unable to do its vital job of protecting life and property — is a dangerously poor substitute for serious policy.

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