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Letter: What ‘Defund the Police’ Really Means

Everybody wants to feel safe and has the right to feel safe. Many of us associate safety with the police, but some do not. This creates a tension as those who feel safe and protected by the police are afraid that safety will disappear if there aren’t as many police. Recent examples of police brutality demonstrate the need to rethink how we ensure safety for all.

The 3/20 Coalition is a group of community members who united to pursue justice after the wrongful death of Osaze Osagie. We came together to represent those who feel threatened by the police, and we work with the community and the Borough Council to find solutions which will ensure all of us feel safer.

When we say we want to defund the police, we mean we want to fund alternatives to policing which will make us all feel safer and address the root causes of crime (e.g. poverty, mental health, structural racism). The funding of the police is an opportunity cost. What other programs and policies could we fund instead? The 3/20 Coalition supports the reallocation of police funding to go toward building a civilian or co-responder unit, building more homeless shelters and developing more extensive reintegration and reentry programs for the formerly incarcerated.

In regards to the civilian and/or co-responder unit, State College is already envisioning implementing something called the Civilian Mental Health Co-Responder Model. In the winter of 2020, a mental health taskforce created by the State College Borough Council and Centre County Board of Commissioners recommended:  “the creation of a countywide co-responder model involving a combination of law enforcement and mental health professionals or a fully civilian mental health response unit for crisis management.”

Other communities in the United States have employed their own alternatives to policing. One example is CAHOOTS in Eugene, Oregon which has been running for 31 years and is a 24/7 mobile crisis response team that responds to people in lieu of the police when there is an urgent psychological or medical/drug-related crisis. Another example is the Mental Health First Program based in Sacramento and started in January 2020 which similarly deals with life-threatening psychological crises in a non-violent and non-confrontational fashion.

So when we say we want to “Defund the Police” these are the things we mean. We don’t want violence in the streets, as some try to smear us and suggest. For many of our residents, the police already represent that, while for others the police represent order and safety. As the 3/20 Coalition, we seek to bring people together to find solutions to these community-wide problems. We will be a voice for those who feel threatened by the police. Will you add your voice to ours?

Joseph Risi

College Township