ATHENS, Ga. — As calls to defund the police are painted on streets like the one leading to the White House, and in front of Atlanta Police headquarters, the idea has taken shape in one local community.
Athens-Clarke County commissioner Mariah Parker is working to get the community to buy into her plan before a budget vote next week.
The commissioner has the support of at least one other commissioner and the ACLU of Georgia for her plan to partially defund the Athens-Clarke County Police Department
“I ran on a platform of investing more resources in the community,” said Parker, who has been a commissioner in Athens since 2018.
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She believes now is the time to reimagine public safety.
“(I am) recommending the deauthorization of 5 currently vacant police officer positions and making those vacancies permanent, so instead, not hiring any new cops, but instead hiring a new mental health co-responder team,” said Parker.
Her proposal, she calls the 50/10 plan, would cut the police budget by half and put that money into ‘mental health crisis response’ teams and community and social services. It is a plan that has been effective in some parts of the country.
“The data is already there to show us that mental health advocates, and first line responders can be the solution to many of the ills that we see in these police departments,” said Dr. Christoper Bass.
Bass was the former psychologist for the city of Atlanta, and was often called by police for SWAT situations or other calls where de-escalation or mental health assessment was needed.
“Police officers aren't necessarily trained to work with those populations, they're there to stabilize,” said Bass.
And while Bass says reallocating funds for mental health when it comes to crisis response has proven effective, Georgia State’s Criminal Justice Department Chair, Dean Dabney, says from police unions to the Courts to Congress, a bill to defund police would have lots of hurdles to overcome.
“Even if the police chief says he wants to do it,” said Dabney, “if there's a police union or collective bargaining agreement, it doesn't matter. It's kind of like executive orders at the federal level can only go so far without being blocked with an injunction.”
Parker says she admires the training and dedication of officers and knows there are times when an armed response is needed. But she says she believes a more compassionate approach is the best prospect for the future.
“I think we need to go about this in a very thoughtful, measured, well researched and cautious manner to make sure that we’re not replicating current systems of systemic racism” said Parker.
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