August 3, 2021 – By US Rep. Kim Schrier
People rightly expect some basic services from our government: good public schools, improved infrastructure and public safety. That last one includes law enforcement. We all deserve to feel safe in our communities.
Unfortunately, when it comes to policing, our national discourse has devolved into three-word bumper sticker phrases that do nothing to make our communities safer. The call by a small but loud group to “defund the police” is just one example.
My response continues to be: absolutely not. I do not believe in defunding the police, and have never supported efforts to do so.
I have spent time the past year riding with local officers to hear their perspectives on how to keep our communities safe and build trust with communities of color. If more people would pause to listen, we could make policing work better for everyone.
There are two pragmatic measures highlighted by officers in our conversations, and also widely supported by the public, that would improve safety as well as accountability
The first is broad adoption of body-worn cameras. The second is using expertise from mental health professionals where appropriate.
Body-worn cameras increase accountability and transparency. They offer law enforcement the comfort of knowing footage can be used to show how they handled a situation and why. For the public, body-worn cameras help everyone see exactly what took place during an interaction.
Unfortunately, these cameras are expensive, making them inaccessible for smaller departments with smaller budgets. In Pierce County, for example, the city of Roy faced significant financial hurdles outfitting its two-person department with body cameras.
With regard to emergency mental health calls, we ask officers to handle complex situations that fall outside their primary training to fight and prevent crime.
Officers agree. The ones I spoke with supported a larger role for social workers in calls related to non-criminal activity, like mental health crises, addiction, or homelessness – either by accompanying an officer, or responding on their own when safe to do so.
Based on those conversations, I worked in Congress to include two amendments in the upcoming government funding bill.
The first increases funding for local police departments to purchase body-worn cameras — especially smaller departments, like Roy’s, that face an uphill battle securing the thousands of dollars needed.
My other amendment gives police departments more resources to hire mental health professionals. With the right policies, we can strategically and safely deploy mental health workers, allowing police officers to focus more of their attention on fighting crime.
As America continues this discussion, it is critical that elected officials listen to law enforcement and community members to understand how we can support police in their mission to keep communities safe, while protecting the fundamental rights of all citizens – no matter where they live, or the color of their skin.
Outfitting departments with body-worn cameras and including mental health professionals on crisis calls are two commonsense solutions we can all get behind.
Rep. Kim Schrier represents Washington’s 8th Congressional District, which includes parts of East Pierce County. The Democrat is serving her second two-year term.