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"Refund" all the Programs that the Police Shouldn't have to Deal With

Kirk Bangstad

As with most catchphrases, “Defund the Police” doesn’t capture the essence of what is happening in police forces across the country, especially in Northern Wisconsin towns. I spoke with a retired police officer yesterday and learned that there’s a lot more happening behind the scenes than most of us understand.

First, police departments never wanted to become social workers, marriage counselors, public school disciplinarians, taxi services, and countless other things that they now deal with. It was given to them because politicians lack the political will to fund other aspects of our society, like public schools and mental health, for example.

It is no secret that Scott Walker cut public school funding to the bone, not only reducing the state’s share to pay for public education, but also syphoning that money to private or charter schools.

If you don’t have money to pay for a math teacher, how are you supposed to hire a professional school psychologist? You don’t, but guess what, there’s a school liaison police officer that gets paid a lot less than a psychologist that’s already at the school so just let him deal with the kids that are having mental health issues.

Raise property taxes? Are you kidding? The Town of Minocqua under Joe Handrich seemingly derived a sick pleasure from keeping property taxes below the rate of inflation and watching the belt tighten every year. And don’t forget how the Lakeland Times would skewer any town official who dared proposed raising taxes to help fund schools and municipal projects.

Similarly, hospitals don’t make much money from mental health patients given that poor mental health often leads to poverty, and the stigma of mental health doesn’t make it popular among hospital fundraisers. So money flows to cancer or cardiac centers instead, leaving gaps in our system to deal with those suffering from mental health issues.

So what happens? The police have to deal with it. They can be called 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, when there’s no third shift mental health professional available. They often need to sit with a patient or drive them all the way down to Madison to get the help they need because there might not be a proper facility to take them to in the Northwoods.

Let’s not even talk about the rising cost of healthcare that increases the cost of all public jobs. Not the fault of police departments, the fault of political gridlock.

So police department funding increases? It kinda has to, in order to make up for all the decreases in other government or healthcare functions. Conservatives don’t bat an eye at funding “tough on crime,” but constantly downplay the importance of education and the “softness” of social work.

So what’s the answer? Yes, take away some of the responsibilities that the police now shoulder, and “refund” public schools and mental health, among other public programs. But don’t defund police. Switch those cost savings towards police accreditation programs that already have the training and best practices which the “defund” movement is clamoring for. City governments often refuse to join police accreditation programs because they cost money, but that’s exactly what departments need to ensure steps are in place to weed out the bad apples on police forces.

What does this mean? Yes, you guessed it. We as citizens may have to pay a little more in property taxes and state income taxes. But you know what, let’s raise property taxes on homes worth over $1 million and raise income taxes only on the 1%, who already pay 3% less than the rest of us as a percentage of income. We’ve been cutting to the bone for too long and the pendulum has to start swinging the other way.

Written by Kirk Bangstad on 07/21/20

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