Recently, the Madison City Council approved a million-dollar increase in the Madison Police Department’s budget in an effort to combat increased levels of violence — a year after the Black Lives Matter protests which actively demanded defunding the police. But there is a lot of controversy that has come with this increase in the budget.

The recent murder of George Floyd highlighted a historic trend of violent discrimination towards people in America that continues to persist in the 21st century. As many are just discovering, systemic racism in America exists, and much of that manifests in police brutality which requires some serious police reform to change.

The proper purpose of the government is to protect human rights, and the police are supposed to enforce that principle by protecting people from physical violence. The role of the government and the police is to be every citizen’s greatest protection, not their deadliest enemy.

Police officers are sworn on their honor to never betray their integrity, their character and public trust. According to the oath each of them takes, they must always “have the courage” to hold themselves “and others accountable” for their actions. It is their job to maintain “the highest ethical standards and uphold the values of” their respective communities and the agency they serve.

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I don’t think most people believe all cops are bad. Unfortunately, too many officers in America have broken their oath and betrayed their communities and the agencies they are supposed to serve.

Black people — especially Black men — are “disproportionately affected by police shootings.” Between 2010 and 2015, about 8 in 10 of people shot by Chicago police were Black, according to an analysis by the Chicago Tribune.

The sad reality is too many parents in America are forced to have difficult conversations with their children solely because how American systems discriminate against people due to the color of their skin.

An NPR article details how Black parents frequently have to go through scenarios with their children to prepare them for hostile encounters with the police. A psychiatrist who works with adolescents even recommends parents advise their children to “turn off the ignition, roll down all your windows — even if it’s winter, explain where your license, registration and insurance are before reaching for them.”

They have to teach their children to “just comply,” and if they feel their rights are violated to “take down information they’ll need to report them later.”

These are conversations most white children will never have to have with their parents. The reality is that white people generally feel like their rights are much more protected than a person of color’s.

Since violence towards people of color is often a problem within police institutions, critics of the budget increase argue that expanding the budget for this institution funds more of the problem. They cite the money used could have been redirected to other local programs and agencies that could help reduce violence instead of expanding the police force.

But, this is potentially why the increased budget for the police department could be a good thing.

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According to Donald Grady II, a retired police chief with over 30 years of experience, the problem within police departments is “not a training issue.” He states in an article in The Atlantic that it is an issue of who “we’ve decided would allow police our country.”

Grady believes there is a potential solution for corruption in recruiting rather than training and states, “who you hire to do the job makes a difference.” He goes on to describe how he’s known people to be rejected from police departments because they “weren’t aggressive enough” but asks in retaliation, “why are we hiring people to do policing because of their level of aggression?”

Grady states that departments can teach you how to be appropriately assertive, but they cannot pull “unreasonably aggressive tendencies out of a person.” He furthermore states the solution might be to hire more sensitive, empathetic and rational people.

University of South Carolina Associate Law Professor Seth Stoughton has argued there is a distinction between police officers who “adopt the mindset of a guardian” and those who “approach their jobs as warriors.” Generally, the former see their role as “peacekeepers and protectors,” while the latter see themselves as “enforces and wielders of authority.”

There has been a mass exodus of police officers nationally. According to the Police Executive Research Forum, officer resignations were up by 18% in the first half of 2021, and police departments reported a 45% increase in retirement rate over the last year.

Understaffed police agencies can be dangerous for both the police and its respective citizens. With more funding, the city will be able to expand their police force and do so in a reformed way.

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MPD can change how they hire people and what types of people they actually hire. It’s easy to train someone to be a police officer, but it’s hard to train someone to be a good person. Hiring genuinely good people can potentially transform the departments and decrease the level of violence and corruption in the country.

Expanding the police force alone is not going to solve any of the problems in America, however, and expanding the police force to include a diverse population of empathetic and good people may very well do so.

Not only is the budget increase a good move on the city’s part, but it might be an essential part of cultivating police reform.

Jessica Lewin ([email protected]) is a sophomore studying journalism.