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If we’re going to talk about police funding, we have to listen, too

I’m not certain how giving Wheeling police new cruisers without, say, lightbars contributes to a better relationship between law enforcement personnel and the people they’re supposed to serve and protect.

Nevertheless, city Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum has a point about police/public relations — as long as it doesn’t extend to “defunding” law enforcement.

During a meeting last week, city council members were asked to approve spending $55,992 to equip police cruisers. They don’t come ready to go from the factory; certain equipment such as the rooftop bars containing emergency lights has to be bought and installed. Ketchum was the only council member to vote no.

After the meeting, she told our reporter that, “I feel at this point we as a city council should do everything we can to carefully consider what we are doing to outfit our law enforcement departments.” City officials should “reimagine” how public safety works, she said, adding, “This is our opportunity to take part in a conversation that’s currently happening across the country.”

Yes it is, but much of the “conversation” is coming under the banner of “defunding” law enforcement agencies. In turn, that movement evolved from widespread anger about the death of George Floyd at the hands of a few Minneapolis police officers.

In New York City, officials are pulling $1 billion out of the police department budget. A Seattle councilman wants to slash 50 percent. A majority of Minneapolis council members want to dismantle the police force entirely. And on and on it goes.

Of course Wheeling — and every other town, county and state — ought to be nitpicking law enforcement budgets. We ought to be using fine-toothed combs on street, water, garbage disposal, recreation and every other government budget, too. Curbing waste in government is neglected too often.

But that’s not what the “defund” movement is about. It’s about taking a financial shot at cops, purely and simply.

As far as relationships between Wheeling police and the community, local officials already do some good things, some of which were the brainchildren of police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger. There are neighborhood watch meetings attended by officers. There’s a police auxiliary staffed by volunteers. Some cops serve as resource officers in schools.

All of this is good and productive. Could we do better? Almost undoubtedly. Perhaps Ketchum and Schwertfeger could discuss her ideas on that — and I don’t mean that sarcastically. Talk is always good, as long as it’s a two-way street.

Heck, Schwertfeger and his officers may have some good relationship-building ideas. Perhaps they ought to be given a few bucks to try them out.

Or maybe critics of the police department should be handed detailed line-item budgets and asked to pick out exactly what they want to “defund.” That’s an exercise used commonly to bring home the difficulty in reducing government spending. Invariably, cynics trying the game find it’s more difficult than expected.

Adversarial relationships, often fueled by prejudice, almost always are a bad thing. There are all kinds of prejudice. Keep that fact in mind when you think about the “defund” movement.

Do we really want safer communities or just weaker law enforcement? Is our goal progress or mere collective punishment?

By all means, let’s talk about this — and listen, too.

Mike Myer can be reached at www.theintelligencer.net.

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