California spends more than $41 billion on law enforcement at the state, county and municipal levels. This at a time when rates of violent crime are at historic lows. Even property crime, which has edged up in some jurisdictions such as San Francisco, remains extremely low.
Of course, no one is suggesting these communities zero out their policing entirely, but it raises questions about local priorities and how police are best deployed.
Law enforcement dispatching records show police being assigned tasks they are not equipped for – wellness checks, mental illness, drug overdoses, dealing with the homeless – on top of traffic accidents and citations. The Los Angeles Police Department’s dispatches throughout 2018 show that only 12% of dispatches were for violent crimes, compared to almost 40% for nonviolent complaints and 38% for property crimes.
Los Angeles’ police dispatches also reveal that, although only a small fraction of the total, almost 10,000 dispatches involved juveniles. Rather than sending police, it seems social workers or others with appropriate training should respond.
Ultimately, police are not equipped to deal with most non‐criminal issues. Too often, police involvement turns otherwise non‐violent situations deadly, as in the case of Stephon Clark, whose killing by Sacramento police spurred reforms to California’s police use of force law.