Since the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minnesota on May 25, calls to reform, defund, and even abolish the police have taken center stage in the United States.
In response to mass civil unrest, the Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed a resolution on June 26 to replace the city’s police force with a community-led public safety system that takes a “holistic, public health-oriented approach”. City Council members specified that funds will be redirected from the police to a variety of programs including the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP), located within the city’s health department.
Multiple public commentators have championed this turn to the health sector. In a viral social media post, US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested that the prioritization of “youth, health, housing, etc” and restorative measures such as community service will naturally reduce reliance on police and carceral institutions.
The now popular book The End of Policing offers similar solutions. Citing the example of the United Kingdom, American sociologist Alex Vitale treats improved mental health resources as an alternative to modern law enforcement. Though acknowledging the inadequate training of many Mental Health Liaison Officers in the UK, Vitale nonetheless argues that the “overall attitude [of mental health policing] is one of care rather than threat neutralization”.
While these approaches urgently seek to disband the police as we know it, they fail to address how the violent work of policing requires the participation of countless state and non-state actors beyond uniformed rank-and-file officers. Through intricate government programs like Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) in particular, policing and public health have come to converge in dangerous new ways, making policing a community-wide affair.