Van Beek: ‘Defund the police’ means what?
People love short snappy mantras. Three words are ideal, and we see them everywhere. The movie, “Free Willy,” sparked huge interest in the “save the whales” movement. “Where’s the meat?” was a popular fast food restaurant’s successful marketing campaign. Now, we have “defund the police.”
As someone in charge of the Eagle County Sheriff’s budget, I am continually reviewing areas where we could be more cost-efficient. However, saving money must not conflict with saving lives.
I began thinking about what we do in law enforcement, and what we wish could be delegated elsewhere. While our community is certainly different than most urban centers, there are still some things that remain constant to all law enforcement agencies, regardless of location.
One area where we have had increased success is in how we handle mental health calls. With few options available for those suffering during a mental health crisis, our choices used to be to either leave the person in their current critical state or bring them to the detention center for their own safety. While it provides physical safety, bringing those having a mental health crisis to the detention center was traumatic and not effective at handling the actual problem.
The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, along with local police chiefs, worked on a plan to provide our community options for more appropriate response and care. Mental illness is not a crime and treating it as such was unacceptable to us all.
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We connected with hospitals, schools, medical programs, faith organizations, nonprofits … anyone who could help us secure the safety of those who are most vulnerable. Fortunately, our community had many who enthusiastically stepped up and today we have a system in place that is continually expanding to accommodate this critical need.
Places like the Hope Center and Eagle Valley Behavioral Health have given us much more effective options when we receive calls involving the psychological health of our neighbors. Shifting funds from policing towards mental health services is something we have actively pursued, and it is reflected in our budget. We would rather these calls go to those best equipped to handle them.
In terms of other “defund the police” demands, I ask that people don’t just repeat a mantra, but actually think about the specifics. Here is a list of some of the calls that law enforcement receives daily. “Criminal activity” has a wide definition, depending on perspective, and we respond to them all. The devil is in the details, and here are some of them.
Common 911 calls for law enforcement include:
- Criminal behavior (suspicious or aggressive activity)
- Traffic (collisions, hit and run, traffic control)
- Disturbances (physical altercations or arguments)
- Medical or mental health calls, where there is a concern for someone’s safety
- Noise disturbances (loud music, parties)
- Public intoxication
- Drug activity
- Missing persons/abduction/runaways
- Abandoned vehicle
- Animal issues (dog barking, wildlife, etc.)
- Suspected arson
- House alarms
- Child abuse or neglect
- Fire, where safety measures are necessary (evacuation, crowd control, etc.)
- Stalking, harassment
- Indecent exposure or other lewdness
- Welfare check or a missing senior
- Stolen vehicles
- Court orders
- School safety
- Community Outreach (Shop with a Cop, community sponsorships, etc.)
- Unauthorized firearms discharge
- Suspicious package
- Mountain or water rescue
- Emergency management (fire, floods, etc.)
- Lost items (stolen or simply misplaced?)
New on the list…
- COVID-19 violations of public health order
Inappropriate but we often still respond …
- Lost pets
- Risky child misbehavior
While no single person has all of these concerns, they have all occurred to someone we may know. What would happen if they called the sheriff’s office or police station and were told that we don’t handle those issues any longer?
On a more humorous note, we will personally start a campaign to defund the following …
- Any call that begins with, “I swear I’m not crazy but…” (usually involving large amounts of liquor or drugs)
- Someone has broken into the house; it’s a mouse
- There is threatening wildlife in the backyard causing destruction … a deer is eating the flowers
- A guy in a uniform is trespassing … he’s reading the gas meter
- The neighbor’s grill is blowing smoke into your window
- A stray cat is on your porch
- Directions to the nearby (fill in the blank)
- Can’t locate the coupon for free coffee and donuts … now that’s an emergency! (OK, I made that one up)
The fact is, maintaining a safe community is complex and extensive, covering areas that most people are unaware of. You being unaware is our goal. A safe community should be something you can take for granted, but it does come at a cost, both physically and fiscally, and we are honored for the opportunity.