ROANOKE, Va. – Police reform is a conversation happening across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. The questions are whether defunding or disbanding police is the right call and how it would work.
Former police officer and criminal justice expert Dr. Tod Burke said that police reform falls on a spectrum. Disbanding a police department, as in, getting rid of it altogether, is at one extreme end.
“Who’s going to respond to the armed robberies? You know, are you going to have the community doing that? Who’s going to do the criminal investigations if you have a homicide? Who’s going to have access to the information that is sometimes confidential?" asked Burke.
If a department is disbanded entirely, the idea is that community-led public safety would take its place using mental health providers, social workers or other citizens.
Defunding police departments is a different story.
“What you’re talking about is taking money away from the police and putting it into other areas, such as social services, health services, where it could also be needed,” said Burke.
That’s what the Black Lives Matter movement is calling for: Investing money that would have been spent on law enforcement, instead, on funding schools, hospitals, domestic violence or homelessness prevention programs, particularly in minority communities.
Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea said disbanding the police department is not an option.
“The police officers play a critically important role in our city and I want the citizens to know that we’re not talking about what they’re doing in Minneapolis with regards to eliminating police. That’s not on the drawing board here,” said Lea.
Lea did say city council would look at the budget to see if they could reallocate some funding to things like social services or education.
Councilman Bill Bestpitch wants to give the new police chief Sam Roman a chance to make change.
“He is in the process of reviewing all of the police department policies and procedures to see where improvements might be initiated,” said Bestpitch.
Burke said that police reform can take many shapes, but it’s got to involve the community
“Police-community relations is the way to go. Find out, listen to what the public is saying, listen to what they want and have the police respond," said Burke.
Bestpitch added that city council plans to discuss forming a new advisory board for equity and empowerment in the city during their next meeting on Monday, June 15.