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Breaking down ‘defund the police’ and what that means locally

In recent months, the phrase “defund the police” has become a rallying cry for protesters in the wake of George Floyd’s death. The phrase appears anywhere from masks and T-shirts to protests in the street, but what does it actually look like? And what would it mean in Fort Collins?

At its core, the movement to defund the police advocates for the reallocation of some funds from police departments to community resources, such as mental health services, aimed at preventing crime from happening in the first place. This means that existing police systems would remain intact, just with reforms intended to increase safety and decrease the use of deadly force.

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Dylan Tusinski, a sophomore and the president of Rams For Progress, supports the movement.

“Obviously I think what we need to do is defund the police and, you know, focus more on community-based policing,” Tusinksi said. “So don’t have police try to be jacks-of-all-trades. Have specialists for mental health crises for people … on drugs, those kinds of things. We shouldn’t have the police dipping into every kind of category and not being able to effectively do their jobs wholeheartedly.”

Change is already being enacted at the federal level.

In June of this year, the Congressional Black Caucus introduced the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, aimed at reforming the U.S. policing system in the interest of improved safety and justice.

The bill, which included reforms such as the banning of chokeholds and the classification of lynching as a federal crime, was passed in the House of Representatives and awaits further action in the Senate. 

Congressman Joe Neguse of Colorado’s 2nd congressional district, who helped introduce the bill, said in a press release that “it’s time we create structural change with meaningful reforms.” 

However, the movement to “defund the police” and shift to a focus on community services raises concerns, especially regarding how police departments would function in the face of a decrease in funds. 

“I don’t think defunding the police is gonna ultimately make or break society,” said Kira Carmical, a CSU freshman. “I think we need to keep our police, keep aiding them, but again, we’re still going to need that money to do that. Their main goal isn’t to do some of the things we’ve seen in the news.”

At CSU, plans are being made to implement the incorporation of mental health professionals “when responding to situations when a police presence alone may not be the best approach,” wrote Wendy Rich-Goldschmidt, Colorado State University Police Department interim executive director of campus safety and security, in an email to The Collegian.

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Further, she wrote, officers have undergone trainings to understand “human bias related to ethnicity and race, gender, sexual orientation, body shape and age and how those biases impact policing and skill training for using a fair and impartial lens.”

“Colorado State University Police Department is committed to equitable treatment of all members of our University and broader Fort Collins and Colorado communities,” Rich-Goldschmidt wrote. 

As for the City of Fort Collins, changes have already been implemented with the Fort Collins Police Services Mental Health Co-Responder Program, which aims to increase safety in policing by sending mental health “co-responders” to “join officers on scene to assess and refer community members to appropriate services,” according to the FCPS webpage. 

In an email to The Collegian, Kate Kimble, a representative for the FCPS, explained that Through collaborative partnership, team members have successfully coordinated long-term care solutions for individuals instead of relying solely on short-term tools like jail and the hospital emergency room.”

Efforts at reform don’t stop there, however. The City’s plan for integration of this program features multiple iterations.

As explained in the email, “The first iteration was traditional co-response with a primary response model, in other words, the clinician rode with police rather than dispatching from the department after the call.”

Now in the second iteration, an advanced practice paramedic along with a licensed clinician respond to calls along with police and other first responders to ensure that community members are matched with an appropriate response for their situation, according to the email from Kimble.

In the future, Kimble says, FCPS plans to create a Community Behavioral Health Unit to pair officers with a medic or clinician. These teams “would field all calls for service with a behavioral health and/or medical etiology” in order to maintain the expectation of police response while acknowledging that outside intervention may be necessary. 

“Officers are not trying to be, nor did they sign up to be, medical or behavioral health personnel,” Kimble continued. “They signed up to ensure we have safe communities. FCPS’ innovative approach to the needs of the community is one to celebrate, as it represents a future and community-oriented mindset in which de-escalation isn’t just a tool they utilize when needed, it is a mindset and a core value.”

Natalie Weiland can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @natgweiland

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About the Contributor
Natalie Weiland, News Director
Natalie Weiland is a sophomore political science student with a minor in legal studies and a fierce love of the Oxford comma. Weiland grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and served as an editor for her high school’s yearbook during her senior year. She credits the absolute chaos of the 2016 presidential election for introducing her to — and getting her hooked on — the world of politics and journalism. Her journey with The Collegian started in the fall of her freshman year when she began writing for the news desk.  In her spare time, Weiland enjoys reading and attempting to not have a heart attack every time The New York Times sends a breaking news update to her phone. She has two incredibly adorable dogs (that she will gladly show pictures of if asked) and three less-adorable siblings.  As news director, Weiland's main goal is to ensure that students trust The Collegian to cover stories that are important to and affect them, and she hopes that students are never afraid to reach out and start a conversation. Weiland is excited to see what The Collegian has in store this year and hopes to explore the campus community through reporting. 

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