America is experiencing a movement, the likes of which we have not seen since the Civil Rights era. This summer we witnessed a few bad police officers act in a way that blemished and brought shame to officers in police departments across our nation, the majority of whom are good cops.
In Georgia, Ahmaud Arbery was hunted down like an animal by two men while out for a jog. In Minneapolis, George Floyd was killed in broad daylight after a law enforcement officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. In Louisville, Breonna Taylor was murdered in her home after police executed a “no-knock” warrant.
Following these events, I was proud to support legislation creating a uniform system to increase transparency and enhance police training.
However, as our country debates what further actions should be taken, we also must call out the rioters and looters who have detracted from the mission of peaceful protestors. Just as police violence against minorities has no place in modern America, neither does vandalism, looting or destruction. The indignation is justified, but should be channeled into more productive means of change.
Some believe this moment warrants “defunding the police.” Clearly I am not one of these people. Instead, I believe we should root out the bad cops who hurt the reputation and dignity of so many good cops.
Stripping police departments of funding is not the answer. We cannot leave the battered spouse with nobody to call. We cannot cease investigating child molestation, rape or murder, which is precisely what defunding the police would do.
Often the first units to close up shop as a result of budget cuts, let alone holistic defunding, are community engagement programs. I am a firm believer in the power of community policing. We need to get officers out of their patrol cars and into the communities to build lasting relationships with those they are there to protect and serve.
I believe we should fully fund police departments and give them the resources they need to implement reforms.
Funding should be prioritized for departments that enact meaningful reforms and maintain a standard that deters police from violating fundamental rights and using unnecessary force. Police departments should be given the funding to hold themselves accountable and independent review boards should be established to ensure that changes are made. If state and local governments fail to implement change or conduct oversight, the U.S. Department of Justice must be given the authority to audit police behavior and overhaul departments as needed.
We also need to consider the responsibilities our police and first responders have taken on. We must make substantial investments in mental health services, drug treatment and prevention, and homelessness. Social workers or mental health professionals should be available for every police department in the event they are needed to deescalate a situation.
To truly make America safe, we must also think beyond law enforcement. We have to allocate more resources for our citizens. We need to invest more in public education, affordable housing, homeownership, access to capital for small businesses, and health care. These are investments that have proven to curb criminal behavior in citizens and communities.
Taking care of our citizens and providing for them is what makes Americans and their communities safe.
We are seeing, now more than ever, the urgent need to reform our policing system. The answer to this moment is not defunding the police. Rather, it is about making substantial changes and investments in training that impact the way policing happens in America. That vast majority of law enforcement officers are upstanding, honest, and lawabiding individuals.
We should always support and protect law enforcement officers who serve and defend our community.
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez represents Texas Congressional District 15, which extends from Hidalgo County to Bexar County.