As Minneapolis considers disbanding its police department entirely, many Americans are wondering what this means. Many news sources, such as CNN, have been holding up Camden, New Jersey, as an example of what this could look like. In 2012, they replaced their old police department, deemed corrupt, with a new one that focused on building relationships with the community. It is worth noting that this is not the only potential approach to disbanding the police, so we'll be looking at what Camden did and what the abolitionist movement has been suggesting.
Camden used to be considered one of the most violent areas of the country, and something needed to change. CNN reports of investigations that found that the police department was criminally framing community members, sometimes by planting evidence on innocent people. This happened so frequently that 88 unjust convictions were overturned. That's when the city decided that they needed to start from scratch.
After entirely disbanding their previous police force, CNN notes that Camden moved towards community-oriented policing, which has reduced violent crime by 42 percent over seven years. Police forces are more diverse and are trained in de-escalation, taught to use lethal force only as the last possible option. Police officers interact with the community in group events that are intended to build connections between residents and law enforcement officers.
But Camden is by no means perfect. In 2018, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that policeman Nicholas Romantino was acquitted after being charged with excessive use of force for repeatedly punching unarmed community member Edward Minguela. Apparently, Minguela matched a caller's description of a man with a gun. The Courier Post added that Minguela said he suffered a broken wrist and a concussion because of the attack. Further, in his interview with CNN, Justice Minister Ojii BaBa Madi notes that he hasn't felt an improvement in his personal relationship with law enforcement, although he does feel like police officers are more willing to discuss issues with community leaders, and he agrees that the community feels safer.
Defunding and Abolitionist Approaches
Camden's approach focuses on mainly police reform, an idea being discussed across the country, with initiatives like #8CantWait. However, many voices, such as leadership within the Black Lives Matter movement, are calling for more radical reform, advocating for police abolition, transformative justice, and the reallocation of funds.
The first step here would likely be divesting from police forces, which the Insider reports can make up half of a city's budget. That money would then be reinvested in the community, funding things like education or assistance for individuals experiencing domestic violence. Abolition also asks for a shift in who is responding to calls for help. For example, if someone is calling in need of mental health assistance, perhaps a psychiatrist will be dispatched. The movement also believes that crime results from lack of access to resources, so crime would decrease if resources increased. The New York Daily News notes that New York City's combined spending on the Departments of Health, Homeless Services, Housing Preservation and Development, and Youth and Community Development is still less than the city budgets for its police. Perhaps reallocating this money will discourage crime in a way that isn't punitive. Many abolitionists think that the transition to a world with no police at all will happen gradually, although the decision made to disband the Minneapolis police department means that there will be a perfect testing ground for some abolitionist ideas.
Of course, abolition is also imperfect, and there are a lot of unknowns: What exactly does a world without police look like? Within the abolitionist movement, proponents have lots of different ideas, some more immediately possible than others. Both the progress made in Camden and the bold ideas of the abolitionist movement are sure to inform the decisions being made in Minneapolis in the upcoming months. Either way, America watches with hope.