This quarter I participated in a project where I analyzed the idea of defunding the police and whether it had any validity or not. In my research I found that the statistics of police brutality are alarming, and have deeply rooted racial undertones that do not seem to be going away anytime soon. I also found that police forces have widespread instances of corruption, including theft of property and physical violence. It is a huge problem that affects the feeling of trust civilians have in their police force, and also their safety. In fact, the overall trust in the police is at an all time low, as only 48% of people have confidence in the police (Gallup 2020). San Luis Obispo is not free from blame in this problem of police mistrust. Instances like that of former Officer Russ Griffith of the San Luis Obispo police department, who held a student in a choke hold in 2017 are indicative that SLO is not exempt from this. And another case involved a sheriff stealing bicycles from the jail that were donated to the bikes-for-kids program. It is problems like this that contribute to feelings of wariness about the police force. This is a large issue for the SLO police department.
Protests in SLO have made it clear that many people want to see change. As I'm sure you’re aware, a slew of Black Lives Matter protests have been occurring in SLO ever since the death of George Floyd in May 2020. One of these protests was led by Tianna Arata, who was charged with 13 misdemeanors due to leading a crowd of people onto a freeway. While her actions were dangerous, SLO has still not addressed the very problem that Arata and fellow protestors were fighting for: societal change. SLO could be a large part of this change that is being demanded. Camden, New Jersey, for example, is a city that made beneficial changes to their police department. Camden was experiencing extremely high rates of police violence and corruption. The local government decided to take the step of focusing on community based policing, where guns and handcuffs are to be used as a last resort for police officers. This method significantly reduced crime rates in Camden. Take the Republic of Georgia as another example. At the turn of the century, corruption was rampant in the police force resulting in a lack of trust from civilians. The country then took the drastic step to dismantle its entire police department and replace it with a better trained, corruption-free police force. This change successfully altered the perceptions that many had about the police. Germany is another example of model policing. The training for its police officers is a rigorous process. Requiring a lot of school and time to become a fully trained police officer. The average time it takes to become a police officer in Germany is two and a half to four years. The United States pales in comparison to this with an average time of 21 weeks to become a police officer. German police training also empathizes de-escalation tactics and lethal force as a last resort. Germany has a significantly lower rate of police brutality than the United States (Serhan 2020). It is these methods that could be implemented to create a safer, more equal SLO.
When examining policing, it is important to recognize that police are meant to “protect and serve”, and when that motto is not being carried out, we have a huge problem on our hands. However, this will not be a quick fix. Policing is very decentralized in the United States. Because of this, change cannot come from the government, it must come from individual police departments. If systemic change is to actually occur, SLO could be the place to do it, and become a model to create change throughout the rest of the country. Applying the same changes that Camden, Georgia, and Germany made, but in SLO, could be the first step in creating noticeable societal change. This solution would give validity to both sides of the argument because it is not a black and white issue. It would be a middle ground that could allow everyone what they want. We all want the same thing: a safer city for everyone. So, this is why I urge you to consider these solutions and change the ways of the police department for the better.