By Lisa Hough-Stewart
The surge of the Black Lives Matter movement in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder is calling the conduct of police forces into focus around the world.
What is the purpose of policing – and what should it be in a wellbeing economy? Fundamentally, policing should be about serving the communities to ensure every resident feels safe. As with so many other sectors of society, our economic and political systems tend to position policing as cleaning up or dealing with problems rather than proactively creating the type of environment where we can all thrive (check out the WEAll Old Way to New Way resource for more examples like this).
This is the principle of failure demand – and when it is culturally endemic within institutions like police forces, the worst ramifications are rampant discrimination and brutality, as we’ve seen far too often in recent years.
As communities across the US and beyond contemplate meaningful police reform, one successful case study is gaining prominence. In Camden, New Jersey, a historically violent city, Camden, New Jersey, the police force has been rebuilt from the ground up with community cohesion and de-escalation as its priorities. According to this PBS report (watch below), “the new procedures aim to bring police into closer face-to-face interactions with the people they serve in order to foster good relationships.”
From my vantage point in Glasgow, Scotland, this case study makes me think of the success in recent years of reducing violent crime in my city by treating it holistically as a public health issue. Once the “murder capital of Europe”, the work of the Violence Reduction Unit has seen homicides and violence rates drop drastically since 2005.
The Scottish Government states upfront that it works to “tackle the causes of violence, not just the symptoms“. This is the approach to policing needed in building wellbeing economies – as set out by the Defund the Police movement in the US.
The police abolition movement has a long history, but for many it is coming to prominence only this year in light of current events in America. Fundamentally, it calls for funds and resources to be reallocated from policing in its current form to other services including public health, youth work and community support.
The example of Camden, New Jersey shows that “defunding the police” and building back better can really work. Centring wellbeing in any new police strategy has to involve a systemic approach to reform. Unless any new approach is deliberately, proactively, anti-racist the old problems are bound to continue.