Don’t defund police; invest in de-escalation

The murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin one year ago pushed to the forefront concerns about police use of excessive force, particularly against Black Americans.

The Defund the Police movement emerged, and it has different meanings. To some, defund means just that — eliminate the police and redirect the money toward the root causes of poverty and crime. Others have taken a more nuanced approach — keep the police but use a portion of their budget for social service programs for people who are mentally ill or have substance abuse issues.

However, some communities have responded not by defunding the police, but rather by supporting police department efforts to simply do their job better and providing the resources necessary to accomplish that.

Last month, Charleston police officers shot Denaul Dickerson during a confrontation where Dickerson allegedly threatened to stab another person and then, following a chase, threatened officers with a knife.

Dickerson survived and is charged with attempted malicious assault on law enforcement officers. The incident prompted Mayor Amy Schuler Goodwin to call on Police Chief Tyke Hunt to develop a “plan of action” to further train officers in the de-escalation and the use of non-lethal force.

Hunt followed up this week with his plan:

◘ De-escalation: This concept has been around for a long time, but now Charleston’s officers are receiving more training on how to prevent a situation from getting out of control. Officers are also getting training in implicit bias to reduce their preconceived notions about race.

◘ Better tasers: Chief Hunt called the taser “an excellent less-lethal option, but it can never be looked at as a single solution.”

The department’s tasers are out of date. He wants to arm officers with the newest model, Taser 7. It is more accurate and can be used from a greater distance (up to 22 feet). It will cost almost $300,000 to equip and support the department with 90 new tasers over the next five years.

◘ Modified shotguns: Hunt said the department will no longer carry shotguns as a lethal option. (Officers will still have their side arms.) The shotguns will fire “beanbag” rounds as a less-lethal option.

◘ Additional body cameras: Hunt said in his response to the mayor that body camera recordings provide transparency that can help build and maintain trust with the community. The city recently approved 90 new body cams with longer battery life and Hunt wants to buy 90 more so that each member of the department will have one. That will cost $41,000.

Mayor Goodwin called Hunt’s proposal “a good plan” that “will provide additional tools our officers will use as they work day-in and day-out to keep our city safe.”

Goodwin added that although the additional spending is not in the current police budget, she will work with the city council and the city manager “to find ways to provide necessary funding for these needed projects.”

Chief Hunt said on Talkline Wednesday that he appreciated no city leader had called for de-funding the police. Instead, they are committed to helping the police to do their job more effectively.

Police protection is vital for the safety and security of all citizens. Instead of defunding the police, communities should follow Charleston’s lead by better training and equipping the police so they can de-escalate and make better use of non-lethal force.

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at hoppy.kercheval@wvradio.com.