(The Center Square) – A new study contends increasing community policing in North Carolina could reduce crime and help reduce poverty.
The research, conducted by the Raleigh-based free-market think tank John Locke Foundation, comes a little more than a year after the eruption of Black Lives Matter protests worldwide that, at times called, for the "defunding the police."
The protests were sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Many people outraged by the incident called for rerouting police funding to support other resources.
The Asheville City Council approved a plan in September to cut $770,000 from the police department, reducing its budget for fiscal year 2021 to $29.3 million. The council reallocated the $770,000 for animal control and noise ordinance enforcement, public safety data analysis, broadband for public housing, homeless outreach, communications and public engagement.
Jon Guze, a senior fellow in Legal Studies at the John Locke Foundation, said instead of defunding the police, policymakers should raise police pay and hire more police officers. They should increase spending on police training and support for officers.
The main focus should be deploying police officers as "peacekeepers" instead of only enforcers, Guze said. He believes the approach would prevent crime, decrease poverty and save the lives of many Black Americans, who are disproportionately affected by crime.
"Compared with the punitive approach that was taken in the past, intensive community policing is more effective, more efficient, and much more humane," Guze said.
In the study, Guze points to past crime waves that have led to mass incarceration. Crime in the U.S. started to increase in the 1960s, data shows. The crime waves initiated "white flight," the fleeing of white Americans from urban areas to suburban communities. Most businesses also relocated because of crime, leaving the urban areas to economic decline, Guze said.
"America responded to the crime wave by putting a few more police officers on the streets and by putting a lot more criminals in prison," Guze said.
The approach eventually reduced crime, but it created a cycle of poverty for Black Americans, he said. According to FBI data, Black people were six times more likely to be victims of crime in the 1980s than white people.
The desertion of the urban areas by businesses resulted in higher unemployment rates and more dependency on government-funded programs, Guze said. He believes a better approach to policing would be to employ "well-trained, well-managed police officers" in high-crime neighborhoods that are focused on prevention through engagement and relationship building.
Guze said community policing would not only help reduce the socioeconomic impacts of crime but also reduce mass incarceration.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, the state's general fund spending on corrections increased by 254% between 1986 and 2016. It cost the state an average of $89.30 a day in 2016 to imprison one person, data shows.
The state's offender population at 105,361 is lower than it has been since 1995. There are 28,661 people in prison, and the remainder is under some sort of community supervision. The dip may be because of a recent court order to release or transition inmates because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While studies on the effects of community policy have been mixed, critics argue that distrust of police in high-crime areas could make relationship building difficult to execute. Others argue increasing funding for police departments limits funding for other public services.
The North Carolina NAACP did not respond Monday to a request for comment.