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Manteca has already started to ‘defund the police’ with the city’s homeless effort
“Defund the Police” is an inflammatory slogan that obscures what needs to be done.

Defund the Police.

It sounds ludicrous taken at its face value.

And when it’s chanting is followed within an hour or so of looting, wholesale vandalism, violence, and mob mentality rioting it comes across as promoting anarchy and lawlessness.

In reality we have already started to “defund the police” as being a purely enforcement agency.

Manteca is a prime example in terms of how the police are approaching the homeless problem from a law enforcement perspective.

Before we get into the specifics of that, you need to get an understanding of where responsible activists challenging how we police our communities are coming from.

Without a doubt the marquee issue is the need to weed out officers that are not worthy of the uniform and the trust they have been given. This is not to say in all instances where encounters between officers and a suspect become violent or deadly that blame can be assigned to the officer, far from it. Being a “peace officer” is a tough and often thankless job. Those who prey on others in a criminal manner that meets all the nuances that meet the criteria of an ironclad felony aren’t angels. At the same time it is clear neither are all officers.

The underlying problem is how we as a society approach policing, what we expect, and what we are willing to do as individuals working in concert with neighbors to make our communities safer and more livable places for everyone.

We don’t get there by floating a catchy and clearly inflammatory phrase such as “Defund the Police” and batting it into orbit via chanting in the streets and mindless tweets. Those pushing for true changes aren’t going to get it with rhetoric that is not conducive to change but further cements everyone into their perspectives.

Those three words fires up those frustrated that society as a whole doesn’t see the shortcomings of policing and demand changes but it also convinces others that the bottom line is not a lawful and just society but anarchy.

To understand what a different approach to policing and what we fund consider how Manteca’s approach to homeless issues has evolved.

First, police departments as well as bureaucrats with criminal enforcement authority such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service exist so laws and rules put in place so we can function as a civilized society are followed.

We were getting nowhere quick when the police — the only large scale funded agency that deals with the homeless day in and day out — simply enforced the laws.

Argue as you may like but simply arresting and re-arresting the homeless for quality of life crimes they often commit in order to simply survive was getting us nowhere plus costing a lot of tax dollars.

The state imposed pandemic order not to roust illegal homeless encampments aside, Manteca’s approach for the past four years has been much more effective although it is far from perfect. The linchpin of the effort was the creation of two community resource officer positions charged with working the homeless beat every day not simply as an enforcer of laws but as agents of the city to work at addressing solutions. Manteca’s model relies heavily not just on buy-in of homeless advocacy groups but the police working with those organizations on a daily basis as they build trust among the homeless and work to encourage them to take the steps to get off the streets.

Manteca is not funding police to fight homeless crime. They are funding efforts to reduce the homeless problem. That may sound like the same thing but it’s not. The “traditional” way is what science fiction movies such as “Robocop” are modeled on. What Manteca is doing sounds like a hybrid approach of social work and police work because it is.

Departments across the country do that to a degree with drug prevention efforts and even traffic enforcement. When you get pulled over for a driving transgression and you are let off with a brief lecture and a warning, police are “educating” which is as much social work as it is enforcement.

Manteca opted to spend upwards of $300,000 for two officers to do more than simply police. In doing so they “defunded” two regular police officer positions. That doesn’t mean in a pinch when there if a severe manpower shortage, an armed robbery in progress and patrol officers need back up, and other significant incidents the department won’t call on the CROs. They do. The difference is in focus.

Manteca Police Department’s homeless effort is much like the city’s philosophy behind traffic enforcement as it is based on the three “E”s — engineering, education, and enforcement.

The CROs have come up with numerous ways to “engineer” solutions for homeless problems that the city has implemented. Two quick examples are the fencing off of the library courtyard that eliminated ongoing vandalism and the placement of a portable bathroom along the southwest side of Library Park for the homeless to use instead of doing the No. 2 in bushes and behind downtown buildings.

The “education” factor relies on first building trust and then constantly reminding the homeless of options they have including the officer reaching out to family that may be willing to take them in and securing the means to get the homeless there.

Enforcement speaks for itself and — in less egregious situations — is used when all else fails.

The more cities invest in the three “E”s instead of just enforcement, the more likely the root of a large segment of criminal activity can be checked.

It’s not a cure all. Thanks to the existence of evil in the world, a police force in the traditional sense is still needed to secure law and order.

In a way, defunding the police really means reducing our tendency to treat officers as if they are weapons in an arms race to keep evil of all sorts at bay.

The answer isn’t shifting money from police departments to other agencies to get at the root of what ails us when it comes to crime.

There is a need to fund police agencies to be more effective at preventing crime through engineering and education efforts working with the community and specific target groups of concern well as the same time staying in the enforcement business while doing a better job at getting rid of those not fit to serve and protect.

Police forces are best suited to take on more holistic approach because they are the only public agency that is 24/7 on the streets in our communities.

At the same time we all need to be part of the solution instead of fanning the flames on social media and mindless embracing an “us” against “them” mentality

We don’t need to defund the police. What we need to do is “fund peace officers” while working as a community to address what ails society by not simply screaming at each other but instead talking and listening.

It also means we work as a community on issues instead of simply passing laws and demanding the police enforce them.