“Defund the police” is currently a popular sentiment but an oversimplified approach to solving a highly complex issue.
Having served in municipal public office, I can tell you with 100 percent confidence that the police are tasked with far more responsibility than they should be for one very simple reason: budget cuts — or, if you will, acts of previous “defunding.”
Mental health, substance abuse, family support and even child and family services funding have all been drastically cut at the state level over the past few decades.
Because of this, people who need help — proactive and regular, ongoing help — do not have the proper resources around them to get it.
Because of that, our local police and regional sheriff patrols have needed to become more than the squad that chases the bad guy.
They are now drug counselors, crisis intervention counselors, homeless counselors and mental health counselors, among other roles you won’t find in their standard job description.
The largest mental health clinic in Penobscot County is right here in Bangor — it’s the county jail.
Why? See above. State funding cuts (yes, tied to federal funding cuts) have all but eliminated the majority of consistent, connected centers of proactive help.
We are a responsive society now. And who responds when needed? Our local and regional public safety officers.
And, thankfully, they are there to do that.
And guess who’s paying for those budget cuts? You are with local property taxes. And if you think your taxes are high now, take a look at what they’d be if you wanted your local city or town to fund public health initiatives that state and federal dollars should be funding.
There is no other source to draw from anymore — literally the buck stops here.
State and federal agencies have kicked the can without accountability. Now, people are going without help and cities and towns are paying for things they never should have been asked to pay for.
And police are forced into doing far more than they should.
I guarantee you that our local police would absolutely welcome taking many of their daily crisis counseling duties off their plate.
“Defunding police” is not the answer. That’s simply pointing in the wrong direction.
Cary Weston is a business owner and former Bangor mayor and city councilor.