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Taya Graham: Hello. My name is Taya Graham and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. As I never get tired of saying, the point of the show is to hold police accountable. To do so, we go beyond the headlines and explore in detail how the system works to bolster, and in some cases, abet ineffective law enforcement. On this show, we're going to examine two facets of this problem. First, we're going to take an inside look at how police unions are gearing up to fight efforts to defund law enforcement. And then we're going to take another look at a case that has circumstances similar to George Floyd's, but has largely been forgotten. But before I get started, I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct, please email it to us privately at email@example.com or you can share it with me directly at Tayas Baltimore on Facebook and Twitter, and please like, share and comment on our videos.
I read your comments, appreciate them and answer questions whenever I can. Now, as anyone who's watched the show knows one idea we have revisited constantly is how the political economy that is the cash that policing generates keeps policing insulated from reform. And that phenomenon has never been more relevant because in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a movement has spread across the country to defund police. This week, the Minneapolis City Council voted to dismantle the police department. They said it was completely dysfunctional. Here in Baltimore, activists called for similar reform from our own city council. As you can see from the images we shot of their protests, but the demands raised two interesting questions. What does it actually mean to defund police? And can it actually happen?
To answer these questions, I'm joined by my reporting partner, Stephen Janis. Stephen, thank you so much for joining us.
Stephen Janis: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Taya Graham: Now, before I ask a question, I want to put a video up on the screen that was obtained by our colleague photo journalist, Cameron Granadino. It's a meeting with members of the Los Angeles Police Department and a member of the city council. The meeting was held after the mayor proposed cutting $150 million from the police budget and investing it in housing and education. Let's watch.
Speaker 3: [inaudible 00:02:04] you bow down to black lives matter. These police officers that are out here protected the city, they're protecting it from [inaudible 00:02:15]. If it wasn't for them, this city would be burned down right now.
Taya Graham: Stephen, what do we know about this video? Who is talking and what does it mean for efforts to cut funding?
Stephen Janis: It's a video of Los Angeles Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez talking to the police department, some officers in one of the divisions about the proposed cuts of 100 to $150 million in the police budget. Now, here they are actually attacking her. One of the officer's attacking her is a vice president in the Police Union, basically giving a field threat that the city wouldn't be safe if indeed they cut funding. So it's been a pretty controversial video.
Taya Graham: What does this video tell you about the fight over funding for policing? It sounds like a very familiar argument.
Stephen Janis: Well, basically it shows you how the dynamic works. Why policing always gets so much money even in cities like Baltimore, where they can't afford it. Because they use the idea and the specter of fear. "You're not going to be safe. We're the invisible line between that fear of others, the fear of crime, the fear of race and the fear of people who are impoverished." And that's how it works. And here you can see, they are trying to threaten her and saying, "Your city would be destroyed right now." Which is not true. It really seems like police during these protests have precipitated violence, not stopped it.
Taya Graham: So what does defunding the police actually mean? How would this process work?
Stephen Janis: Well, what it means is to get policing out of things where policing doesn't belong. We have extended policing into so many facets of our life and of our civic life, for example, dealing with the mentally ill, and putting in into things that would be more productive like housing. People can't be safe if they don't have secure housing. People can't be safe if they don't have good jobs, put into education. But instead, we've expanded police to encompass almost every facet or [inaudible 00:03:53]. The idea is to get police out of that business, make it a more basic functional agency and take that money and invest it in things that are productive.
Taya Graham: We asked the Los Angeles police union for comment, and they said, "Defunding the police would be reckless and dangerous in the city." The fiscal implications of this idea could be profound. As we pointed out before, the cold hard numbers on police spending are revealing. Cities like Baltimore or Minneapolis spend roughly 40% of their discretionary spending on policing, but it doesn't end there. That's because when you add in money for overtime and pensions, that number rises significantly. In the case of Baltimore city, we spend more on post retirement benefits for cops than educating our children by roughly $50 million. Thus, the idea behind this movement is to actually take some of that money and invest it into affordable housing, parks and recreation, and again, education, programs that advocates say we'll do more to reduce crime than policing alone. Think about it. As we pointed out last week, the scenes from across the country show that police are well equipped with what looks like fairly new riot gear, pepper ball guns, and masks.
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