Happy Juneteenth to everyone. It’s wild that we seem to have just discovered this “holiday”, but in any event, I strongly support replacing Columbus Day – or our “Evacuation Day”, heh – with this day. Today is real.
In other news … I recently attended my first Arlington Town Meeting as a member. It was highly unusual: Outside, on the high school football field; chairs distanced from each other. And the agenda was truncated: Focused on must-pass budget items; tabling everything else. Nonetheless it’s been intriguing (in a very dull and dorky way) to have the chance to look through the town’s finances. (Now I know how much a dump truck with a sander costs.)
In these constrained circumstances, there was an abortive attempt to chisel away at the $8.3M police budget, on pay raise bumps and vehicle spending. And that may be partly inspired by the broad “defund the police” movement; but also because of very local factors that nonetheless are probably quite common.
The Arlington Police Department is a contradiction: On one hand it’s known for progressive, community-policing reforms and instilling a “guardian mentality” vs. a “warrior mentality”. On the other hand we had a police lieutenant proposing in print to “fight violence with violence and get the job done” a mere two years ago.
So to say the least, it’s fair to ask if the “guardian mentality” has taken root in the hearts and minds of the rank and file. And as a broader question, it’s fair to ask what kinds of duties we’ve been assigning to police that would better be taken by someone else — someone working without the implicit threat of violence and coercion. How many public-safety-related situations actually require officers with guns? Do we need a “school resource officer”? Does the PD need a social worker?
Does spending lead to excellence? Look at this report of the top earners in the Town from 2017. The third-highest earner in the entire town was Lt. Pedrini (of “fight violence with violence” fame), due to $79,000 in traffic details and overtime. Bad policing is expensive policing — again, see the top salaries in the City of Boston. We all know that police traffic details are an infamous, expensive boondoggle; but beyond that, how much overtime do cops really need to do? Overtime could well correlate to shoddy police work:
As a public defender, whenever I got a case that was just especially, stupidly made-up (think someone arrested for dealing drugs who was at home with no drugs, money, scales, paraphernalia, or baggies on them) the first thing I checked was the cop’s schedule. Inevitably–seriously, ask, like, any defense attorney about this–when you got a really stupid arrest, it would be within an hour or so of the end of the cop’s scheduled shift. Shift ends at 6pm? This really bad arrest would be at, like, 5:30.Twitter thread, Emily Galvin-Almanza, public defender, Bronx NY
Why? Well, because processing an arrest takes time, but it’s also really easy. So you can make time-and-a-half for sitting in the precinct typing up some papers and waiting to talk to a DA.
This REALLY adds up.
I don’t know to what extent this happens, or doesn’t, in Arlington. But surely it’s a perverse incentive.
So, it’s awkward these days: Even if you completely bought into the “guardian mentality” of your local PD (and you should be skeptical), is this the best way to spend money? Additional scrutiny; a willingness to reconsider roles; and to take on politically-protected sacred cows; all are in order.