To: Rep. Josh Gottheimer – 203 Cannon HOB, Washington, DC 20515
Rep. Mikie Sherrill – 1414 Longworth HOB, Washington, DC 20515
Rep. Andy Kim – 2444 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC 20515
The undersigned organizations are sending this letter as a response to your recent calls to legislative leadership to further increase funding to police departments. This is despite the fact that police department funding is already at historically high levels. We take exception to the basic premise of the letter sent by you, our elected representatives – that more funding to police departments will make us safer. This premise is completely out of step with the widely held consensus among social science and public safety experts, who have unequivocally shown that more police do not make us safer.
Police react to crime – all too often – after it has been committed. it. And most crimes are never solved. Even as we have invested more and more money in the police, their rate of closing cases has continued to fall. Part of the reason why is because violent, racist, militarized policing has lost the connection to the communities they purportedly serve. Many of those same communities are experiencing crime rates among the lowest they’ve seen in decades, a trend that may reflect investments in education, social services, and the communities themselves, not a return on investment in police.
Our Black and brown neighbors are increasingly being forced to live in fear of the police because of aggressive plainclothes policing, police violence, and a system that is driven by fines and incarceration, not restorative justice and working with communities. So who is made safer? Too often, rich white communities “feel safer” when their police forces are deployed to aggressively police Black and brown bodies. This policing is a modern-day extension of a long history of racist redlining and socially discouraging families that don’t look like them from moving into town. But more often than not, the answer is: no one is safer, but Black and brown bodies bear an ever-increasing risk from the weight of the system as we continue to pour in funding.
Unconstitutional pedestrian and vehicle stops, along with targeted individual harassment are the outcome when police forces continue to be well-funded despite police misconduct and public outcries regarding significant financial deficits in the community. Furthermore, our tax-funded police are being utilized for traffic accidents, mental health, addiction, and homelessness issues that they have no skills or training to handle. We are putting the burden of public health on law enforcement rather than public health services. When funding is driven by actions – calls for service, stops, arrests – it creates the perverse incentive to do more of those things. This means that we criminalize social problems and the overfunded police spend only 4% of their time responding to “violent” crimes. This imbalance places our overpoliced communities at both the highest risk of crime, due to decades of disinvestment in social programs, and the highest risk of being harassed, injured, or all too often, killed, by those very same police officers who are historically overfunded in the name of safety. We essentially create a vicious circle: More crimes and arrests mean more funding. More funding means more crimes and arrests.
While everyone isn’t in agreement with the exact term to ensure that we create a safer, more equitable and just system that funds experts to intervene in the areas where police are ill-equipped, the consensus is that the current system doesn’t benefit the community. We must provide adequate resources to the professionals in these areas who have done the work, and have the knowledge and experience to know what works best. Pouring more money into an already militarized, regressive, occupying police force isn’t the solution. When we’re finally brave enough to listen to our local communities that know themselves best, what solutions have they proposed?
- Invest in mental health, addiction, and social work professionals so that they, instead of the police, can respond to times of crisis and despair. They have the training and ability to provide help and care, not harassment and punishment.
- Invest in community-based violence interruption programs which have been proven via rigorous studies to actually reduce violence, unlike undercover units, street crimes task forces, and criminalizing poverty.
- Invest in our communities, not outsiders coming in to act as a hostile occupying force. Refurbishing schools, building community recreational centers, increasing homeownership, providing food assistance, eviction prevention, direct income stimulus, and universal medical care all require investment — and all have proven to decrease crime and recidivism without spending another dime on failed policing strategies.
It is clear that funding the professionals and supplemental services is far more effective and socially beneficial, and it also actually helps the police as well as residents. We’d avoid burnout and mistake-inducing overtime for police officers. We’d also hugely reduce the risk to our communities and families that stem from sending police into situations they’re not trained for or the most effective at.
The facts are on our side. If we want to put in the work – if we want to push back on a media built around sensationalist headlines and uncritical parroting of police narratives crafted by well-funded propaganda departments – then we need to stop listening to the lobbyists, the police unions, and those driven to justify injustice. Instead, we call on you, our elected officials, to listen to your constituents. You must hear our neighbors begging you to stop paying for armed men to jump out on them, or shoot them in their own cars, or in their own apartments. You must hear them asking for you to invest in their communities now, not invest in police to “clean up” their communities later. You must hear them asking for you to not support the one-way ratchet that criminalizes their poverty, or their very existence. You must hear them asking for you to support them, before the next encounter with over-extended, over-militarized, “Us vs. Them” police forces.
We urge you to hear your constituents, and to validate the lived experiences of the people in our communities. Instead of reinforcing and emboldening unaccountable, harmful police systems in ways that will not make us any safer, act to protect our communities in ways that your constituents want- ways that have been shown to be effective. Only a commitment to investing in our communities as the top priority can equitably and effectively make us safer.
LIST OF SIGNATORIES:
Our Revolution New Jersey
Southern Burlington County NAACP
House Of Hearts Organization
Indivisible NJ 5th District
Ironbound Community Corporation
Latino Action Network
Make the Road NJ
March for Our Lives New Jersey
New Jersey Institute for Social Justice
New Jersey Policy Perspective
New Jersey Working Families Alliance
Newark Communities for Accountable Policing
Perth Amboy Area NAACP
People’s Organization for Progress
Salvation and Social Justice
South Jersey Progressive Democrats
St. Thomas A.M.E. Zion Church
Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair
Unitarian Universalist Faith Action NJ
Voters of Tomorrow New Jersey