As we examine reforms to certain policing practices, we must also recognize the value of a properly-funded police force.
The overwhelming majority of our police officers, deputy sheriffs and state troopers serve their communities with honor and enforce our laws above reproach, however, the death of George Floyd clearly demonstrates that bad apples do exist.
There must be accountability in every case where basic human rights and dignity are destroyed.
At the same time, the idea of “defunding the police” is idiotic, absurd, completely misguided, and just plain nuts.
Taking away funding for local, county, and state law enforcement will lead to an increase in crime, drug overdoses, violence, vigilantism, and inequality.
If you don’t believe it, just take a look at the city of Huntington.
In 2001 and 2002, Huntington slashed its police budget to balance the city’s books. Five officer positions were eliminated in the first year. Another 22 were cut a year later.
That left Huntington with about 75 officers to protect a city hovering at around 50,000 people.
The end result was a shortage of police officers and a tangible spike in crime.
The five years that followed brought Huntington an influx of drug-related offenses, and its violent crime rate rose by 32 percent – underscored by the May 22, 2005, shooting deaths of four teenagers on prom night.
Out-of-state drug dealers, often from major cities like Detroit and Columbus, Ohio, took advantage of the lack of law enforcement and established open-air drug markets to peddle their poison in Huntington and other parts of the state.
Huntington’s police department wasn’t fully staffed at its pre-2001 level until 2009.
Similarly, the West Virginia State Police did not hire any new troopers between 2014 and early 2018.
I called out our previous governor for the cancellation of trooper academy classes because I was deeply concerned about the impact on our substance abuse fight.
In the Eastern Panhandle, two state police detachments lost about 40 percent of their manpower in just three years and felt the impact.
“Defund” is a strong term that gets attention, but public safety is not something to toy with.
It is definitely proper to examine the need for reforms with police interaction – particularly in communities of color. However, gutting police departments is not the answer to a much deeper problem.
Police officers save lives. Having more cops on the streets has been shown to reduce crime.
A working police force that is large enough to meet a community’s needs is vital to protecting life, liberty, and property.
Imagine an intruder robs your home. You call the police, yet it takes officers hours to respond since the defunded police force where you live is stretched too thin.
Would you feel safe then? Or would you be left wishing for a better staffed department?
The men and women who wear a police uniform put their lives on the line every single day.
Yes, there are bad apples in every bunch. Any officer, deputy, trooper, or agent who abuses his or her power must be dealt with accordingly, but these hardworking public servants who take on immense risk deserve the tools and the funding to do their jobs.
Public safety, keeping the peace and law and order with real justice that is blind to color, economic status and other factors must be a fully funded priority for local, county, and state governments.
By keeping a strong police presence in our state, we can prevent a rise in crime and help West Virginia reach her full potential.
Patrick Morrisey is the Attorney General of West Virginia.