U.S. Rep. John Carter: Defunding, dismantling the police isn’t the answer
Washington, DC, June 8, 2020
Tags: Law and Order
There is no doubt that our country is rightfully hurting. Anyone who watched the video of George Floyd’s murder is horrified by the blatant abuse by the officers at that scene.
Originally appeared: Round Rock Leader, June 8, 2020
There is no doubt that our country is rightfully hurting.
Anyone who watched the video of George Floyd’s murder is horrified by the blatant abuse by the officers at that scene. Three officers surrounded officer Derek Chauvin as he knelt with his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, and not one acted to stop this injustice. Now these four officers have been charged, and I hope they are swiftly met with the appropriate consequences for their actions.
In the wake of this tragedy, we have heard voices across the country convey their beliefs on how to prevent tragedies like this one from occurring again. One argument, recently supported by the Minneapolis City Council, is to defund and abolish law enforcement.
After creating a veto-proof majority within the Minneapolis council to disband the police, supporters admitted they don’t have a vision “about what a police-free future looks like” but regardless they would be implementing the “steps towards ending the MPD through the budget process and other policy and budget decisions over the coming weeks and months.”
This solution is not only implausible, it is dangerous. This is a haphazard solution to a problem that requires thoughtful reforms to improve public safety and ensure our nation’s vision of justice for all is realized.
The police, the courts, and the prison system all play a role for that justice system to work properly. Just as we have the separation of powers at the federal level to avoid one branch gaining too much influence, the justice system also has a separation of powers. Simply put, the police act as gatekeepers, they protect and serve. The courts determine if an individual is guilty or innocent, and the prison system serves as the consequence.
When officer Chauvin acted, he grossly violated our justice system, and for that he will face the system himself and be held accountable for his actions. But how do we stop these tragedies from happening again? Not by dismantling law enforcement agencies, but by shifting the culture of law enforcement.
I spent decades as the judge of the 277th district court of Williamson County. Every day, I worked with law enforcement officers. Through these interactions, I strongly believe that most police officers are selfless public servants devoted to keeping our communities safe. These are the honorable heroes that are crucial to protecting our communities against crime. However, one of the greatest dangers to good police officers are bad ones.
Those who fail to do their duty to protect and serve humanely and respectfully, are a danger to the badge, a danger to the justice system and erode public confidence. These bad officers must be held accountable for their actions, and they must be uprooted out of the law enforcement system never to return.
I have not spoken to a single officer since the death of George Floyd who does not agree that the actions of Chauvin were against training, a blatant use of excessive force and totally egregious. These good officers recognize a bad officer.
Here lies the key to change. We must empower honorable officers to speak out against those they know do not rise to the standards of the badge. That means ensuring that the lines of communication between leadership and the ranks remains open. It means ensuring that police officers feel comfortable enough to police other officers. That internal investigations are swift, consequences are immediate and rather than second and third chances, we release those who aren’t fit for duty immediately.
We should also increase training in areas like de-escalation of force, because a well-trained officer is more adept to addressing split-second decisions. As well as improving community and police relations to rebuild trust through open dialogue. This means police should interact with the community outside of law enforcement situations. Finally, there should be a special focus on hiring officers from within a community first, so the police force reflects the community they serve and they are surrounded by the people they’ve sworn to protect even when off-duty.
Defunding and dismantling the police is not the solution to this problem. In fact, it ensures that we lose the opportunity to put real reforms in place that could improve our country’s future in a sustainable way.
I know that emotions are running high in these moments. Our nation is in shock, overwhelmed with anger and hurt, and those feelings are justified. We must use this time to have open dialogue on how we root out the bad and further equip the good officers.
I wholeheartedly agree that there is no room for “bad apples” within the ranks of our law enforcement agencies. It is too important a job for that to be acceptable, but let us charge forward to reform the system rather than dismantling it with potentially dire consequences.
Rep. Carter represents Texas District 31, which includes Fort Hood, the largest active duty armored military installation in the free world. He serves as co-chairman of the Congressional Army Caucus and Ranking Member of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Appropriations. Prior to his service in the United States House, John Carter was judge of the 277th District Court in Williamson County for 20 years.