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Fairfax citizens’ group debates redirecting police funding

A citizens’ group devoted to battling racism in Fairfax County, Virginia, held a discussion about redirecting police funds to other agencies during an online forum Wednesday.

As racial justice protests have erupted following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and sparked growing calls to “defund the police,” the Fairfax Communities of Trust Committee sponsored an online forum which, among other topics, featured a discussion about the idea of redirecting funds away from police agencies and toward other government programs.

“We have to rethink what we call a crime and we have to re-imagine how we respond to the community on public health issues,” said Claire Castanaga, executive director of ACLU in Virginia.

“We can’t be sending the police when somebody has a mental health crisis … We shouldn’t be asking the police to address homelessness by arresting people for vagrancy and trespass. We shouldn’t be addressing substance abuse disorders by criminalizing our way out of it.”

Another panelist, a former parole officer in D.C., struck a cautious note against calls to defund the police, insisting that everyone should understand the need for policing.

“Of course we need to divert money from police departments, but I also think about the other side of the argument where people may say ‘who is going to come when you call 911 in the middle of the night?'” said Wiliam Ware IV, deputy chair of the Air Force Clemency and Parole Board.

Ware said some police funding should be reallocated to social service programs.

“When it comes to mental health crisis, different social service needs, I think you do have to invest in those social services within underserved communities, poor communities,” he said.

Other panelists said overhauling police funding could free up money to address the root causes of some problems that lead to contact with police, particularly mental health issues.

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