More than two years after activists pressed for the defunding of police departments across the nation over accusations of murder, brutality, and other crimes allegedly committed by a few in law enforcement, officers say the wounds are still present and painful.
“If you want me to risk my life, it’s one thing to pay me, but it’s another to respect me,” Dave Smith, a veteran police officer, law enforcement trainer, and public speaker, told The Epoch Times.
Smith and other law enforcement representatives say defunding police departments hurt the communities they served and destroyed morale among officers.
Funding that has since been restored in many municipalities still has much to do in rebuilding the confidence many officers once had in their communities, according to National Police Association spokesperson Betsy Smith, a retired police sergeant who's married to Dave Smith.
“We’ve had two and a half years of demonization,” she told The Epoch Times. “Many departments are short-staffed.”
The New York Police Department has a shortfall of 4,000 officers, according to Betsy Smith. She said Phoenix recently held a police recruiting event that in the past drew 1,000 applicants; this time, 35 people showed up.
She said police staffing in Tucson, Arizona, has fallen to a level not seen since the mid-1970s.
Minneapolis, where the "defund" movement began, has 100 fewer officers than its city charter requires, according to published reports. The city is where George Floyd died on May 25, 2020, while in police custody. Floyd’s death was the primary catalyst for the movement.
Former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. He was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison.
Chauvin’s conviction and sentencing did little to satisfy activists. Black Lives Matter claimed that Floyd’s death resulted from racism and police brutality.
Some activists sought to divert funding from police to social service agencies for social workers and others who specialize in de-escalating violence. Several cities heeded the call and reduced funding for law enforcement.
The Los Angeles City Council defunded the police department by $150 million in 2020 to placate protestors, according to a Nov. 24, 2022, story in The Epoch Times. A year later, amid an increase in violent crime, the council reversed its decision and boosted its police department budget by 12 percent to $213 million for the 2022–23 fiscal year.
But officers say the damage has been done.
In addition to personnel cutbacks from the lost funding, many veteran officers left because they felt they were no longer valued. The activists also wanted to “reimagine policing.”
Smith said the activists were touting old ideas, methods that many departments had used or tried since the 1970s.
“We had been told to park our cars and walk the streets. We knew to get into the businesses and talk to people and to get to know the communities. We knew all about community policing,” Smith said.
But there was a different twist this time around. Smith said there was a noticeable change in how the news was reported. News stories contained what he called “shallow criticism” and grievances against police based on little or no proof.
“The press has never been friendly (to police), but we had never had the media be so antagonistic,” Smith said.
While the call to defund police gained steam after Floyd’s death, law enforcement sources said the seeds were planted years ago. They claimed that an ongoing effort to undermine law enforcement has been active since at least 2008.
“It has been stirred up since the days of Obama. That’s when it really started,” Kyle Reyes, executive director of police media outlet Law Enforcement Today, told The Epoch Times. The Smiths agree.
They said President Barack Obama made his views on law enforcement clear when he was involved in Illinois state politics. Dave Smith said then-Sen. Obama, who gained a reputation as being soft on crime, carried that philosophy into the White House. His public criticisms of law enforcement and willingness to get involved in local issues was a red flag to many police, he said.
Betsy Smith said Obama’s philosophy on law enforcement was summed up in the 2015 report from the President’s Task Force on Policing, which states that its objective is to develop trust between police and their communities. However, the only new information in the report were repeated criticisms that Obama had already made publicly.
The complaints had no basis in fact and served only to denigrate law enforcement, she said.
Reyes said he has been witnessing the “death spiral” of law enforcement in the United States. Police officer morale is being destroyed by criminals whose conduct is “condoned by liberal politicians and approved by the media.” He pointed to reports from Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon, as evidence of the decline.
In those and other cities, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and other protestors took to the streets to demonstrate against the police who were called to protect their right to protest. Reyes said police officers were ordered to stand by while rioters destroyed property and attacked law-abiding citizens. In many major cities, violent crime has skyrocketed, and homeless encampments now cover large areas.
“We saw criminals walk away with no charges under the guise of freedom of speech,” he said.
Attacks on police also increased. According to information from the FBI, 2022 was the third most dangerous year to be a law enforcement officer in the past 20 years. The FBI reported that, on average, one police officer was killed every six days.
One of the most recent deaths was Riverside County, California, Sheriff’s Deputy Isaiah Cordero, who was killed during a traffic stop by a convicted felon. Cordero’s killer later died in a brief gunfight with police after a high-speed chase. Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, at a press conference, publicly criticized the judge who he said granted Cordero’s killer bail more than once for violent felonies.
Bianco never identified the judge, but he made it clear that he held her responsible for the deputy’s death.
Reyes said the public criticism, combined with a justice system that causes anger and frustration, drives many officers from the profession.
“They are overstressed, under-compensated, and perceive no backing from their leaders,” he said.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Grossman, a psychologist who has studied how killing and combat affect the human mind, said it should be no surprise that police officers and other law enforcement professionals are leaving their jobs.
He said the impact goes beyond just the social issues of homelessness and increased crime. Turning against what had been considered trusted authorities is a sign of what he described as a “malignant” problem.
Grossman acknowledged that law enforcement, like any other profession, has its share of problems. A healthy society will deal with such issues while keeping in mind the critical contribution responsible law enforcement makes to a community, he said. Losing sight of the importance of law enforcement will have devastating consequences, he warned.
Blame 'Perry Mason'Grossman said the decline started in 1957 with the famous courtroom drama “Perry Mason.” As tame as it appears by today’s standards, he said it was the first program to consistently portray law enforcement in a negative light. Mason was the urbane, cultured public defender against an angry, older, sometimes snide police detective and his matching prosecutor. Eventually, the antiheroes became harder and more popular.
“It’s far more frightening now,” Grossman said.
Popular movies, such as “Training Day,” starring Denzel Washington, make police seem like nothing more than criminals with badges, he said. While Washington is a highly respected actor and admired by many, in this action film, he plays a corrupt and violent police officer.
According to Grossman, most adults can distinguish between Washington’s on-screen character and his true identity.
“But for children, this is real,” Grossman said. “I think ‘Training Day’ is the most evil movie ever made.”
He said popular culture has undermined civil authority for decades while denying its impact. He pointed out that corporations will pay millions of dollars for 30- to 60-second advertising spots to influence consumers.
Media Denies Impact“Hollywood has never admitted the harm that they did,” Grossman said. “We are in the most harmful narrative any society can ever face. It’s vastly worse than we think.”
He said his criticism includes the news media.
“The harm that was done by ‘Perry Mason’ was nothing compared to the media reporting of BLM,” Grossman said.
The situation can be reversed, but it will take courage and work, according to all who spoke to The Epoch Times. Grossman said the first step is for communities to remember why police officers do what they do and to support them in their work.
“Nobody becomes a cop for the money. They become a cop because they truly want to make the world a better place,” he said.
Betsy Smith agrees. She said National Police Association polls show that people from all segments of society want police protection.
“The public needs to stand up and fight back. It’s a small minority of people who are in the defund the police movement,” she said.
The public can turn things around by getting involved, Betsy Smith said. She said voters must elect officials who enforce the law fairly and without political consideration and must not tolerate prosecutors who allow criminals to run free. They must make clear exactly what they expect from their government, she noted.
“Tell your elected officials to put police back to work," she said.