A widely anticipated "red wave" of victories among Republican candidates for public office failed to materialize last week, potentially washing away hopes that the 2022 election season may have marked the beginning of the end of the "defund-the-police" movement.
Surveys and polls leading up to Election Day indicated myriad issues—abortion, inflation, immigration, and the war in Ukraine to name a few—around which devoted Democrat and reliably Republican voters fell into party-line lockstep.
Meanwhile, one issue—crime—transcended party lines and captured the keen interest of the independents and undecideds in the weeks before the election.
A Rasmussen poll conducted in early October indicated that 62% of all likely voters "believe the problem of violent crime in America is getting worse." The poll showed that "only 11% think the crime problem is getting better, while 24% think the problem is staying about the same."
A Gallup poll conducted later that same month said that 71% of likely voters believe that crime is either extremely important or very important (40% and 31% respectively) in their vote for Congress this year.
Matters of crime—and punishment, and criminal justice, and policing, and police reform—have been simmering since the summer of 2020, so it's unsurprising that pundits predicted crime to be a major factor in driving the ruling party from power.
What is surprising is the fact that those who predicted a ferocious "red wave" were so incorrect in their forecasts.
With only a few notable exceptions, races were generally close and at times even favored the party that launched the "defund" movement. What does this mean for law enforcement in general and police training in particular?
In short—and in the near term—nothing particularly good.
Redefining (and Defending) Defunding
Even into late 2021—when the midterm elections were still on the far horizon for most ordinary people—the nation still had in its collective memory the in-custody death of George Floyd and the months of protests, rioting, and gnashing of teeth that followed.
The "defund" movement was forged in those fires and budgets for agencies large and small were drastically drawn down. According to Forbes, budget cuts included:
- Austin (TX): roughly $150 million.
- Baltimore (MD): roughly $122 million.
- New York (NY): roughly $1 billion.
- Oakland (CA): roughly $14.6 million.
- Philadelphia (PA): roughly $33 million
- Portland (OR): roughly $16 million
- San Francisco (CA): roughly $120
Traditionally, the first line item to be cut from a police agency budget is training, and although people who championed the "defund" movement simultaneously called for more police training, training budgets did indeed get slashed.
It merits mention that efforts to "reimagine" policing included some well-intentioned ideas to improve training in de-escalation tactics. Increased training for officers in verbal and non-verbal communication skills can only be a good thing. Training to work in partnership with experts in mental and emotional health—various versions of the Memphis Model—can only help.
Widespread calls for "police reform" were seemingly almost answered as two elected officials from opposite sides of the ideological aisle—Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina—sought to pass national legislation aimed at increasing professional standards, enhancing transparency, and improving police-community relations.
Then a group of (mostly aging, mostly white, mostly Democrat) elected officials in the United States Senate and House of Representatives took a knee during an eight minute and 46 second "moment of silence" to "honor" Floyd. They submitted their own piece of legislation aimed at "reimagining" policing—mostly just redefining defunding.
The various attempts at national legislation failed, and the prospect of productive, positive, proactive police reform were drowned in the dark waters of anti-police rhetoric.
All Politics (and Policing) is Local
Historians may one day write that the best possible opportunity to swing the pendulum back in favor of law enforcement was lost in November 2022, as key races at the national level slipped from the grasp of pro-police candidates.
However, if ever there was (or is) any remaining hope for a reasonable, rational, approach to improving policing in America, it most likely lies in the hands of elected officials at the local level and the police leaders who serve their communities. Generally speaking, counties still elect their sheriffs. Municipalities still elect councilmembers and mayors, who in turn appoint police chiefs and commissioners.
These office holders have at least some power/discretion to direct local taxes to police forces and, importantly, their training cadres. These office holders have at least some power/discretion to create an atmosphere in the community that encourages support for their police.
These office holders are "close to home." The're local. They actually live where they hold office.
Thomas Phillip "Tip" O'Neill Jr.—who served as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1977 to 1987—popularized the adage, "All politics is local."
The same can also be said of policing.
What may come—now that the national and statewide election campaigns are finished and the elected prepare to govern—remains to be seen, but at least there is some hope...locally, close to home.