Are you ready for Orange County to #DefundthePolice? If activists have their way, it might happen sooner than you think.
On March 21 the Orange County Human Relations Commission (HRC), a volunteer advisory board to the OC Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), hosted a “Community Conversation” titled “Unraveling the #DefundthePolice Debate”. Panelists included Major Kevin Jones of the OC Sheriff’s Office, Anna Richards of the CH-Carrboro NAACP, and James Williams from NC CRED. Information gathered from the event will be compiled into an action plan to be presented to the BOCC, though no specific dates were given as to when that would occur.
Mr. Williams began by advocating for decreasing police budgets and redirecting those funds to other government functions such as housing, mental health, and addiction treatments. He believes 911 is not always the best response to a crisis, and promoted the idea of having social workers respond first, who would then call in the police if needed.
Ms. Richards also advocated for the idea of reducing the scope of police responsibilities and shifting dollars to meet the needs of the underlying causes of crime. She is of the opinion that police reform has not worked for years, and we now “need a dismantling of the system to have a ‘safe’ environment for all citizens.” To the question of “Are we safe today?”, Ms. Richards said there is a disproportionate percentage of black and brown people who end up in unsafe situations during encounters with the police, and she does not believe you can “police your way out of an unsafe society.”
Maj. Jones said people often suggest that social workers should be sent first in response to calls, but explained that police are uniquely trained to handle volatile, unpredictable, and dangerous situations. Given the current environment, he reported that they are already finding it difficult to recruit, hire and train officers, and that budget cuts would make this even more difficult. Furthermore, he indicated that even if social workers were called first, they would not respond until law enforcement gets on the scene and determines it to be safe.
During the breakout sessions that followed, OC Commissioner Jamezetta Bedford relayed her past experience with police during a family crisis, and characterized Alamance County’s sheriff as “completely discriminating”.
One staff member who works for Orange County talked about her interactions as a liaison with the Latino community, and implied that the police approach Latinos differently than how they approach others, alleging bias.
During the wrap-up, Frances Castillo, chair of HRC, discussed creating a community oversight commission to review law enforcement disciplinary proceedings and ensure transparency. Another proposed objective would be to get statistical information on the types of calls fielded by law enforcement and their attendant responses in an effort to develop some sort of “baseline”. However, it was asserted that data provided by the police could not be trusted because they “could skew it” in their favor.
In closing, Tomeka Ward-Satterfield, another HRC member, said, “People call 911 because of their implicit bias.”
Though billed as a “Community Conversation”, it was a very one-sided conversation, indeed. Residents who are concerned about Orange County defunding the police should contact the HRC before their next virtual meeting on April 12, or email the BOCC (note: emails publicly logged) to express support for law enforcement before it’s too late.