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What ‘Defund The Police’ Could Look Like In A City Known For Violent Crime

Activists across the U.S. are calling for cities to defund the police.
Taymaz Valley

Defunding police departments is a major goal for many Black Lives Matter protesters, but for some people, it’s a scary idea — and that’s true for many St. Louis residents.

For criminologist Richard Rosenfeld, who has studied local policing for years, the proposal isn’t alarming. He defines “defund the police” as the outsourcing of certain tasks currently handled by officers to other agencies, like having firefighters conduct routine traffic control or using social workers to respond to calls involving homeless people.

And Rosenfeld thinks it’s a great idea. He believes that other agencies taking on some things currently handled by police could lead to a reduction in violent crime in the region. He specifically pointed to firefighters as underutilized.

“To the degree that other agencies are assuming functions ordinarily assigned to the police, that frees up police time to devote to more essential police functions,” Rosenfeld, the Founders Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, explained Wednesday on St. Louis on the Air. “The question we have to confront is, what are those functions the police now carry out that can be carried out by other agency personnel, without police?”

California-based reporter Abené Clayton joined the discussion to talk about Operation Ceasefire, an initiative that’s been credited with a big drop in violent crime in Oakland. Clayton, a reporter for the Guardian’s U.S. West Coast bureau, discussed what St. Louis can learn from Oakland’s experience.

Hear the conversation:

Do you support calls to defund the local police? Why or why not? Send an email to talk@stlpublicradio.org or share your thoughts via our St. Louis on the Air Facebook group, and help inform future coverage on this topic.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.