Commentary: Defunding the police – what could it mean?         

Brutality by some in the police force is not new, but the overwhelming demand for meaningful institutional change to overcome this gives me hope. However, calls for “defunding” the police as the answer gives me pause. So far there does not appear to be a clear roadmap to the changes that follow and how those changes will maintain public safety. It is possible, however, to lay out a realistic plan.

Twenty years ago, while deciding on the 2000 year King County budget, the county council was faced with the reality that in the near future, without any changes, we could expect to spend 60% of our operating funds just on criminal justice – police, prosecuting attorneys, courts and jails.

True, the overall county budget has a better ratio, but that is in part the result of special levies to pay for some of the health and human service programs. Special levies mean more taxes and even these services remain underfunded.

After talking with all the stakeholders, a colleague and I proposed that all King County departments that had anything to do with social and health services and criminal justice carefully study their annual budgets and identify at least 1% each year that could be directed to programs focused on prevention and intervention that addressed root causes of arrests and incarceration. The heads of all the departments, including the sheriff, prosecuting attorney, district courts and county jail strongly supported it. Ten out of 13 Council members passed this bipartisan proposal. Unfortunately, the county executive vetoed it, citing budget constraints. This was unlikely given all departments were on board. Now, the percentage of the King County operating budget going to the criminal justice system looks like it has increased to 74% (Currently, here in Edmonds about 30% of our general fund goes to police, courts and probation.)

Institutional racism is partly enabled and perpetuated by chronic underfunding of and unequal access to basic human social, recreational, educational and health services, including mental health.  We need an aggressive but realistic approach that governments can use to find and fund real solutions. In order to do that we have to commit to three things:

  1. All stakeholders should be at the table.
  2. Money is shifted incrementally to programs that emphasize prevention and intervention rather than incarceration.
  3. The stakeholders commit to an evidence-based process for funding programs

A modest 1% a year shift of funds will no longer cut it. A greater percentage needs to be identified, agreed upon, and directed to programs and policies we know work. Commitment to real change and analysis should drive decisions.

It helps to see this as a triangle. The first triangle below represents where we are in terms of amount of investment vs. the second triangle which is where we should be.

The medical community stresses prevention, intervention and considering the whole patient along with their family. Diet, exercise, stress reduction and wellness checks are part of our primary care visits because physicians know they improve wellness and can decrease the need for expensive treatments. It’s beyond time for our governments to do the same when it comes to social and criminal justice. Dysfunctional politics, expensive consultants and unnecessary studies have no place here.

Our region is blessed with many members of the community who have been working on these issues for decades and can point to successful programs and resources to get this work done.

Let’s also make sure we engage those working directly in the field, on our streets, in the classrooms, in the community centers, in the faith communities and with the courts and detention facilities.  They have great insight as to what works and what does not. Many young people are also eager and willing to be called to serve.

The budget of every government and business is a reflection of their values – the true test of where their hearts and minds are. Change is hard but it is possible. It is imperative. All our children and their children deserve it. President Nelson Mandela stated it simply:

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

— By Maggie Fimia

Edmonds resident Maggie Fimia served as a King County Councilmember from 1994 – 2001


6 Replies to “Commentary: Defunding the police – what could it mean?         ”

  1. Maggie;

    What works in the Medical Community may not work for long term alcohol and drug dependent homeless populations. Many will just walk away, only to return for another ‘dry out’ later. I suggest using the Rhode Island solution as detailed in the video, “Seattle is Dying”.

    Prevention is the answer, but it might require incarceration in order for addicted individuals to get dried out, counseled, retrained to be productive citizens, and supported long term. That includes those who stumble out of Night Clubs, and proceed to shoot up people and neighborhoods. Some have different agendas, but that can be determined during incarceration. McNeil Island could be utilized as a State facility.

    If it takes additional taxes or a Bond Issue to accomplish that, I think many in the State will endorse it gladly, in order to remove the waste and human eyesore that homelessness has become in our area.

    Defunding the Police is not the answer.

    Seattle PD has been under a Federal order to improve policing, and has made great strides. Currently there are only a few instances of abuse, and even those are unacceptable, but Seattle is way better than most other areas of the country.

    Incarceration is also the answer to Antifa thugs that loot and destroy property.

    Law and Order is needed in a civil society.


    1. I agree with much of your comment, Mr. Clements. I’m not suggesting by any means, that there should be no funding for “treatment” whether that be in the form of mandatory rehab or courts and jail when people break the law. I thought the documentary, Seattle is Dying was spot on. Just as with medicine, prevention and intervention will take us only so far, some times heavy duty medication or surgery is needed. Yes, law and order will always be needed in a civil society but currently, we spend so much money on courts and jails and get minimal return – massive incarceration is certainly not the answer either. The terrible damage to people, families and communities from our very unbalanced investments can be prevented or at least mitigated with incremental and well thought out plans and policies and in partnership with our police and other much needed social, health and safety partners.


  2. ‘Defund the Police’ is a deadly, devastating, and frankly racist policy masked in altruism. Most of it is based on catch phrases, pseudoscience, and outright denial of facts. Unfortunately it is going to take a large number of unnecessarily killed people for community members to realize how damaging it is, and counterproductive to truly meaningful social reform.

    The Seattle council members are pushing this policy on their city without caring about the data that shows how damaging it will be for the people they are pretending to support. Data from cities like Memphis have shown a dramatic increase in violent crime when police departments are cut for budget reasons. However, when larger cuts are made for defund purposes, the results are MUCH worse.

    In Minneapolis, where the council voted to abolish the police, crime is up 95% from the same time last year. There have been 32 gunshot victims Between July 13th – July 27th. Many of these have been directly attributed to the planned loss of officers and departments focused on fighting violent crimes.

    Many of these cuts in Minneapolis directly match the veto proof majority of cuts planned by the Seattle city council. We absolutely will see many of the same increases in murders in Seattle, and should expect the increased crime impunity there to spread to other nearby cities as well. Gun sales throughout the region are skyrocketing, as residents are preparing themselves for the violence.

    People use the hip ‘defund the police’ term often to make themselves feel better so they don’t have to feel personally responsible about the systemic racism problems that plague our Nation. However, it will devastate the communities it is trying to help, and will be one of the worst things for those trying to adopt meaningful social reform.


  3. I’m concerned about the spillover affect of less law enforcement, it’s clear to see crime increase when that happens.
    I know racism does exist. I hear the term systemic racism used a lot lately but so far have seen few specific examples in the connection of the use of that term relating to the current issues that are clearly connected to the color of a person’s skin. Please be more specific where that is occuring vs a broad brush use of the term..

    Willingness to discuss the root cause of crime is critcal to begin real change, other measures continue to be wasteful bandaids on the problem. It’s the devalue and breakdown of the traditional family. It’s about the loss of relationships. We need more love and less hate.


  4. I am not sure how best to approach this situation, but my perception when I read or hear about de-funding police is that the objective is to chastise them. From there the picture becomes vague. In my mind, that is not the underlying problem. Many of the current responsibilities of the police have been pushed onto them over their objections because other agencies could not or would not accept the task. In many areas the police are not equipped to deal with many social problems, and they know it. But they must; for we have made them our solution of last resort. This is not right or fair for anybody.

    For one example, our legislators decided long ago that mental patients could not be kept under lock and key indefinitely (I agree) but provided inadequate alternative support. The result is that they end up on the street with no help – until they break the law. Then police are forced to step in for there is no one else to do it. By that time both society and the individual who was arrested have suffered needless harm, ultimately irreparable harm. The same story goes for drug usage, panhandling, homelessness, and all those problems.

    We face two critical problems that need immediate resolution. Now it is the responsibility of legislators and citizens to transfer social and chronic misbehavior problems from the police department to appropriate existing or new departments (or agencies, etc.). At the same time, review budget commitments for all departments from base zero, not from last year’s budget. Of course, the police will end up with less because their responsibilities will be less. This will be realistic funding in a positive sense, not police de-funding as proclaimed to high heaven today.


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