© 2021 Boise State Public Radio

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact us at boisestatepublicradio@boisestate.edu or call (208) 426-3663.
NPR in Idaho
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

ENCORE: History, Culture Of Policing In Idaho Prompt Calls To "Defund"

Idaho Statesman

Amid the protests against the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black people by police in the the past months and years, people around the country been asking tough questions about policing in America  including in Idaho. Activists quickly formulated one central demand: Defund the police. 

While this doesn’t mean law enforcement would disappear altogether, calls to ‘defund’ argue that the current system is broken and must be replaced by increased funding to social programs that address root causes of inequality in our community. 

In this two-part interview, we first talk with Katherine Macfarlane, a professor of law with the University of Idaho who formerly worked with the NYPD and Boise State University interim Dean of Public Service and criminal justice professor Andrew Giacomazzi. From the current structures that make policing the police so challenging, problems with recruitment and training of new officers, and the laws and culture surrounding police work in Idaho and other states — there's a lot to talk about. Macfarlane and Giacomazzi help us consider what these issues mean for people of color who are disproportionately affected by police violence. 

Then, we're joined by Boise State criminal justice professor Bill King who helps us understand the basis of the ‘defund the police’ argument. Then we take that theory and ask two leaders of Boise service-based nonprofits to consider what this would look like in practice. Interfaith Sanctuary Executive Director Jodi Peterson and Women’s and Children’s Alliance Executive Director Bea Black talk about the opportunities and concerns with defunding (or “reallocating”) police in Idaho's most populous city.  

Read the full transcript here:
GEMMA GAUDETTE: You're listening to Idaho Matters, I'm Gemma Gaudette. After the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police back in May, people all around the country have challenged the idea of policing in America. Later in this hour, we will explore the calls to defund the police, what that means and what it could look like in Idaho's largest city. But before we get to that, we do want to talk about the current structures that are in place that make policing the police pretty challenging here in the United States. From the recruitment and training of new officers to the laws and the culture that surround police work. Our guests today will help us think through these issues and what they mean for people of color who are disproportionately affected by police violence. Katherine Macfarlane is a professor of law with the University of Idaho and formerly worked with the NYPD. And Andrew Giacomazzi is a professor of criminal justice and the interim dean of public service at Boise State University. I want to thank both of you for joining us today.

ALL: Thanks, Gemma. Thank you,

GAUDETTE: Andrew. I'd like to start with you. Can you take us back in time a little bit to where the modern idea of policing here in the United States came about? When exactly was that and what did policing look like at that time?

ANDREW GIACOMAZZI: Well, Gemma, thank you. It's a really long and complicated history when we go back to policing. And, you know, I'll try to do my best to distill this down the best I can. But if we think about policing, over one hundred years ago, it was really a service orientation for the police. There were very little standards in policing, very little training. In fact, if you got a rule book that was thrown at you and said, go, go about your job, that was quite a bit. And police were appointed not based on standards, but really more so on whether or not you voted for the current mayor that was in the city. And so the recruitment standards were very, very low when it created a lot of problems. Fast forward about 100 years ago, maybe about 90 years ago or so, the Wickersham Commission, which was a national commission, was put together and came up with national recommendations that were adopted throughout police departments in the United States. Those recommendations were very interesting in that the recommendations were for police departments to have a crime control focus in the face of rising crime and social unrest that they were to use motorized patrols, single patrols, because that was going to be more efficient in order to fight crime, that there would be training, that there would be selection and recruitment based on standards, and that overall the ideal of efficiency was going to replace the ideas of responsiveness. And so what emerged after these national recommendations were police departments adopting these. And the unintentional consequence of putting police officers in motor vehicles was an "us versus them" culture that was created in many, many departments across the country, this idea of going from incident to incident, reactive policing, incident driven policing in that the only real reactive problems that really counted in the official numbers were law enforcement problems. But one of the things that we know from a lot of research over the years is that we call the police for a lot of different issues. In many of those are not law enforcement related. So it got us also into a culture not only of an "us versus them", but of a you know, unless this is a major crime problem, that's not really my role as a police officer. And then over the years and we can talk about this later, community policing developed as a response to really acknowledging the service aspects of policing. But a lot of what we're facing today in terms of strained relationships in many areas between police and the community really stems from both the social and physical isolation that police had from the individuals who they were serving through the use of the patrol car.

GAUDETTE: Well, then, Andrew, I mean, you teach young people, some of whom are interested in going into law enforcement. I'm curious, what do you hear from them, you know, about not just their interest, but how their perception is of policing? Do you think their perceptions need to be corrected or are they often correct?

GIACOMAZZI: No, I think, you know, when I teach policing in both of the undergraduate and graduate level, I think a lot of my students and those students of others who teach policing as well really get an eye opening examination of not only the history of policing, but the critical issues of policing and what really policing is across the United States. I mentioned before a lot of a lot of individuals think that what police officers do on a daily basis is, you know, make arrests. Some of them think that, you know, use their service revolver or other uses of force. And that's just really more the exception than the rule. Some of the numbers that are coming out from the Boise Police Department, for example, show that in 2019 out of a 153,000 interactions that they've had with with with citizens, only 111 or so of those interactions had any use of force whatsoever, which really highlights that, that really police officers and their job is much more in the realm of providing quality service for a lot of times non-law enforcement related issues. And that tends to be a really eye opening experience for for my students, who, when we do our readings and examine what police actually do, really felt like, you know, policing is much more law enforcement, if we get that a lot through shows that really are supposedly reality shows like Cops, for example, which tend to really focus on the law enforcement piece of policing rather than the peacekeeping function.

GAUDETTE: So then, Andrew, can we talk a little bit about recruitment and training, especially in regards to issues of bias and racial injustice. In your mind, what do you think needs to to change in order to make sure that the right people are being recruited? And not just that, but then they're trained properly to to go into this profession?

GIACOMAZZI: Yeah, let's maybe start with recruitment, because that in and of itself is an interesting issue that we could talk a little bit about training as well. Recruitment in law enforcement, because of the local and fragmented nature of our thousands of police departments across the United States has been just that. It's been kind of all over the place in terms of who we try to bring into policing. You know, my recommendation is to really be looking at successful police officers, track those individuals who are doing well in the community, who are responsive to citizen needs, who have the fewest number of police complaints and really develop these profiles so that we can kind of determine who are the best people to bring into law enforcement. An interesting thing that's going on these days is thinking about the difference between what are called the 'warriors versus guardians.' There seems to be many police departments over the years that have really wanted to have a bit of aggressiveness, at the very least when it comes to new recruits and bringing those individuals in. The idea is that when you're in that law enforcement role, even though that's not the case all the time for police officers, you want to have individuals who have the ability to use use of force when it is absolutely necessary and appropriate. And so a little bit of aggressiveness in that warrior piece is at least the conventional wisdom has been is necessary. But many of the more progressive departments now are looking more for individuals who are considered to be guardians, those individuals who view themselves not as law enforcement officers in policing, but rather those individuals who are more of the peacekeeping function, thinking of themselves as peace officers or service providers, with the idea being that you can teach guardians to be aggressive when absolutely necessary and when the circumstance warrants that. But it's more difficult to take the aggressiveness out of the Warriors. So I really am a big fan of being much more systematic about how we recruit and select police officers these days based on who are successful police officers. What are their characteristics? Some of the things we already know: they're problem solvers. They're critical thinkers. They're self starters. They're college graduates. And we can begin to develop those kinds of profiles. The thing that is concerning these days, however, is that just at a time when we're seeing a lot of retirements in law enforcement throughout the country and the need for new quality, problem solving police officers, we see recruitment levels very, very low. In other words, years ago and I used to do this myself with my students at Boise State working with recruiting and testing, physical and written testing of police officers. And we would have hundreds of individuals in the Boise, Idaho area come out and test with us. And five years ago or so, that dwindled down to, you know, 20, 30 individuals. And so for whatever reason, the interest in going into the law enforcement profession, the peacekeeping officer profession has dwindled over time.

GAUDETTE: I think that's so interesting just to see, you know, the difference in warrior versus guardian. I mean, it seems simple, but there is distinct differences when we think of it that way. And before I turn to Katherine, Andrew, can I ask you just one more thing about the need to have police officers actually live in the community they police. And what I mean by that is we know, like in the case of George Floyd, we learned that Derek Chauvin, who is the white former Minneapolis police officer who held Floyd to the ground for almost nine minutes with his knee on his neck, doesn't actually live in Minneapolis, let alone in the precinct where he killed Floyd. So. I mean, how important is it that our police officers actually live and experience life where they police?

GIACOMAZZI: I think that can be very helpful, Gemma. There are some unintended consequences of doing that. And, you know, the ideas of community policing and problem solving, and this is stuff that came out back in the early 90s, was if you're going to do community policing right, you need to make sure that your officers live in the communities where your constituents, where your customers actually reside. Not a bad idea as they can maybe better understand the local nature of the problems that they're needing to address. So there's an argument there for that. The unintended consequences of that, though, have come out over the years. Officers then are known in their neighborhood as the 24/7, 365 individual who is always on call, so their neighbors know that, well, you know, if I have a problem, I'm not going to call the police. I'm going to go to my neighbor who's a police officer under community policing principles, and they get burned out really quickly. And so the jury's still out on that. One thing we can say is that it could help, but it certainly isn't a panacea in terms of this will solve the problem in terms of police community relations.

GAUDETTE: Katherine, I want to turn to you now. You are currently a law professor, University of Idaho, but you have previous experience with the New York City Police Department. Can you tell us what you did there?

KATHERINE MACFARLANE: Sure. So police officers, law enforcement officers can be sued for money damages under a federal law called Section 1983, which was actually passed in the Reconstruction era as the 1871 Civil Rights Act. And the idea is that if you have your constitutional rights violated during a interaction with a police officer, you have the ability to sue for money. So when I was in New York, I represented police officers in federal court in these suits in which individuals that had some sort of negative experience with police, be it false arrest or excessive force, were suing both the police officers and the city of New York in order to recover money damages. Since then, I've often write from a more plaintiff perspective and look to the challenges that individuals face when they try and recover any money from law enforcement officers and these same kind of lawsuits. And the barrier that everyone's been talking about recently is a defense called qualified immunity, that allows a police officer essentially to say, well, there wasn't any clearly established law that it would be fair to impute to me to let me know that this was actually a constitutional violation. So I've seen this from both sides, having done quite a bit of work on the plaintiff's side. Right now, it's just so incredibly difficult to have any kind of civil rights accountability following an interaction that involved either false arrest and certainly use of excessive force and often deadly force.

GAUDETTE: Do you think that qualified immunity supports systemic racism within certain police departments?

MACFARLANE: I think it makes it easier to put a label on actions that are certainly the result of systemic racism without actually calling it out as systemic racism. So even in the classroom when you teach Section 1983 or you teach civil rights actions against police officers, you don't have to say race. You could talk very abstractly about about these doctrines. But this is all about race. The 1871 Civil Rights Act is also known as the KKK Act. It was passed in order to ensure personal safety for former slaves who were the victims of violence committed by their own local law enforcement officers, as well as the KKK, who are often acting in concert with local government. So right from the inception of this law, race plays a factor. When you're in federal court and you're trying to impose liability upon law enforcement officers as you just face incredible barriers. There's a tendency to believe law enforcement officers, it's easier, for example, for a federal judge to identify with a law enforcement officer than someone who may have been arrested or have any kind of criminal record. And once you throw race into the mix, unfortunately, I think qualified immunity allows us to hide what actually is a result of so socialization that causes people to irrationally fear people of color during police interactions.

GAUDETTE: And we should note, qualified immunity is a federal law. But there is a bill right now in the Senate that is looking to end it. But Katherine, when it comes to Idaho's laws, what stands in the way of people for people to to sue the police if they feel that they have been treated unjustly?

MACFARLANE: So your best avenue, even in Idaho, is going to be to use Section 1983, the federal law. However, if you want to sue a law enforcement officer for intentional infliction of emotional distress, for example, you still have to post a bond. So you gonna have to put up money as a security before you even initiate a lawsuit. And when it comes to claims, for example, battery or assault, there are laws that forbid under state law any kind of lawsuit of that nature to be brought outright against a law enforcement officer. So the federal law is supposed to give you some sort of avenue to challenge state action in a federal court under the assumption that you'd have a better chance in a federal court where judges are appointed for life and not subject to the whims of the electorate. But still, we have all these barriers that make it so difficult for any kind of accountability. And so if you have a lawsuit that in theory allows for the recovery of money but doesn't actually, in fact, do that, it doesn't work as a deterrent.

GAUDETTE: I want to give our listeners a quick history lesson for those of you who might not know about Boise's policing problems from the 1990s. The capital city experienced a string of deadly police shootings of civilians in that decade, which created a rift between the police and the community. Eight people, including a police officer, were killed in a 16 month period back in the late 90s. Residents really felt like officers were not being held accountable for those killings, and police were on edge after one of their own was killed. Relations were bad, to say the least. Even as the department was moving to a community policing model. In fact, the city appointed the first and only civilian ombudsman to investigate the police. That position existed from 1999 to 2014. Now, of course, Boise is not the only place in Idaho where law enforcement has killed civilians. And the issue did not stop and the ombudsman position was eliminated. According to The Washington Post, 42 people have been shot and killed by police throughout our state since 2015. Just to clarify that.

So, Andrew, I want to talk about this idea of policing the police and the culture of secrecy that can happen in departments.

And, you know, I remember when the ombudsman role was was put into place here in Boise. I covered that as a reporter. And I remember having to look up what an ombudsman was even, because this was something that was kind of cutting edge and new, but outside of an ombudsman role because the city of Boise does not have that anymore, is there a better tool to hold officers accountable and to keep the community safe?

GIACOMAZZI: Well, there are a number of ways to do this, and I want to go back to my earlier comments because I think the best way to ensure that we have low levels of police corruption and brutality is really to hire and train the right people. And I think that that can go a long way. On top of that, though, of course, as you mentioned, we have police auditor systems like the police ombudsman system that was in place in Boise after a string of critical incidents involving police shootings. And that was an independent auditor essentially who was outside of police. Typically, these kinds of systems are in place when confidence in the police has become so low that there is very little trust in an internal affairs unit at a police department with a common saying that how is it possible for the police to police the police, and those internal affairs units typically are other police officers or civilians who are working in the police department investigating those. And so there is a time and place for internal affairs for sure, and in particular when citizen confidence in their local police department is quite high. There are other mechanisms as well. Civilian review boards is another one that cropped up in the 1970s and continues in some jurisdictions today. What's the best? That's really hard to say. Right now, we have a combination of internal affairs at the Boise PD and then also an individual who acts independently from the police department who investigates complaints. There's an analyst and investigators as well, and they report directly to the Boise mayor. So probably some sort of a combination of the two is best for accountability.

GAUDETTE: And then where does community policing come into this? And, A), what is it? Because we hear the term people may not know exactly what it means, but there are some challenges to it.

GIACOMAZZI: There sure are. You know, if you go back to what I was talking about earlier in terms of the history of policing, we get ourselves up to the 1980s and 1990s where in some communities, police, citizen relationships were so strained. And a lot of this came from, again, that that us versus them mentality that developed in some departments. We also had at that time a lot of social science research showing that police by themselves actually do very little in order for their ability to actually control crime. In other words, we're saying at a time where police do simply law enforcement, that's their main priority, we were getting a lot of research showing that crime rates are at an all time high. If you call the police and you ask them to help solve a burglary, you know, they will come out and take a report. But their ability to do an effective retrospective investigation and actually get your property back and make an arrest was very limited. And so the idea was, let's do something different. Community policing back in the early 1990s when it came about, was really to try to do something different in law enforcement, to move it from an incident driven reactive operation to one that really embraces community and police partnerships, collaborative problem solving. And in the process, the organizations in policing, the thousands that we have, would have to change from a mission that was much more law enforcement reactive related to one that is more about problem solving, that engages the community, where proactive crime prevention would prevail, where customer service is key and using data to actually solve problems. And that really is the crux of community policing. And over the years, as we get up to our current times. Community policing was implemented in different ways. So there was really no recipe book for doing it. Some departments used specialized units that were just a few police officers who were the community policing officers. Other departments tried this system wide philosophical change from We The Police are the ones responsible for crime and disorder in the neighborhoods, to one that was more "We're all in this together." But right now, at this moment in time, we really need to think seriously about the principles of community policing, again, that were first introduced and really have local police departments look at themselves, become learning organizations, interact with your communities, ask those questions, those pressing questions right now about community needs and figure out ways to work together to solve problems. That becomes the crux of community policing in 2020.

MACFARLANE: And then I think we have an example of this here in Boise. So just last week, on Tuesday, I believe we had a Black Lives Matter protest met by a greater number of people who were in opposition to Black Lives Matter, I guess that's the best way to summarize it.

GAUDETTE: So that's a very nice way of saying that, because many of them were wearing actual Nazi tattoos and things like that. 

MACFARLANE: Yeah, meant to very expressly invoke white nationalism and Naziism. So there's been criticism of the Boise Police Department's reaction to that event. Right. There were acts of violence committed upon the Black Lives Matter protesters. So what does community policing look like in that situation? Well, we have a Facebook page run by the police department asking for information from the community regarding identifying the individuals that were assaulting some of our BLM activists. Is that effective? I don't know. There's also been a lot of criticism that there was a hands off approach in the throes of violence actually happening. Whether the police department was able to interact, to intervene immediately or not, I suppose you'd have to be there. But this is an example of what actually does it mean to be present in the community? It means something more than being physically present. And I hope that there's some sort of review of exactly what happened on the ground and whether it's appropriate to ask for community involvement via the Facebook page. And to sort of hold off on arrests and even to announce that some of the arrests were going to be for misdemeanors as opposed to a more serious crime. That influences trust, right?

GAUDETTE: Right. And I think Katherine, too, you bring up such a good point because there's video, right? I mean, we saw the assaults happen. And then you sit there as a community member wondering like, well, why has not more been done?

MACFARLANE: And so I think the messaging that you get as a member of a community that feels like they were assaulted is that, well we're going to sit and we're going to wait and we're not going to react as quickly as we might have in other situations.

I will applaud the mayor's reaction to this event. And she did something very savvy when she talked about our Black Lives Matter protesters, she said "we." She talked about "our" right to protest and "our" right to protest safely. And she, by doing that, you know, cloaked all of the people that were there for peaceful reasons under the umbrella of this is who the city is. I thought that was very clever and very compassionate and effective.

GAUDETTE: I am running out of time for both of you, but very quickly. I wish we could go the whole hour. But we are going to get to the defunding part with some other guests. But before I let you two go, we have a brand new police chief. Boise officially got a new chief, Ryan Lee, formerly of the Portland Police Department, just last week. Quick note. We will have Chief Lee on Idaho Matters later this month.

Can each of you just tell me quickly, maybe one opportunity that Lee has to change or improve the culture within BPD? And Katherine, I'll start with you.

MACFARLANE: Yeah, I think we are very well aware of the growing Latino population in Idaho. And there could be a directed effort to hire more Latino officers and ensure that there is a significant number of officers on the force right now that know how to speak Spanish. I think Nicole Foy at the Idaho Statesman has done some excellent reporting about the need to interact more meaningfully with a Spanish speaking and Latino community.


GIACOMAZZI: I would say, I'll just broaden that out a little bit and just say that, you know, any police department, no matter how good it is, can always do better. And what I'm hearing from Chief Lee in his press conference is that he is willing to go out there and listen to not only his internal constituents, but his external constituents and come up with a comprehensive plan to become better. And I'm hoping what that leads to is the Boise Police Department and others to really become these learning organizations where they're constantly looking at quality improvement, whether that comes to training, whether that is about recruitment and selection, their internal policies that are facilitating these of these practices that are really getting at really strengthening police community relations.

GAUDETTE: I want to thank both of you so much for coming in and talking with us and giving us your expertise. Up next, we are learning from police reform to the idea of defunding. This is Idaho Matters.

GEMMA GAUDETTE: Amid the protests against the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless other Black people by police just in the past months and years and decades, activists quickly formulated one central demand: Defund the police. Now, while this doesn't mean law enforcement would disappear altogether, calls to deep fund argue that the current system is broken and it needs to be replaced by increased funding to social programs that address root causes of inequality in our community. We're joined right now by Boise State Criminal Justice Professor Bill King to talk about the basis of this 'defund the police' argument.

So Bill, let's just get right into this. In response to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May, Black Lives Matter and other activist groups have called for the defunding of police departments, claiming that the system we have is broken right now. So, first off, can you talk about what they mean when they say the system is broken?

BILL KING: Sure. Thanks for having me on. My read is that the defund movement is a range of options. On social media I see people talk about disbanding the police. I don't see a lot of people talking about that. And then a lot of it is just less funding for law enforcement and incarceration. Getting police out of schools. Not criminalizing mental health and demilitarizing policing seems to be the reforms that funders are pushing for.

GAUDETTE: Well, with that being said, Bill, I mean, you know, there is part of it right there that when you talk about the idea of mental health and all of that, we know police officers have to take these mental health calls. They are not mental health experts. Right. I mean, that is not what they've been trained fully to do. So part of this argument is, you know, take some of that money and allocate it to social services and potentially have someone go with police. And does that seem to make much more sense? Because, you know, you can argue that police officers are also overwhelmed.

KING: Oh, certainly yes. A lot of the -- we rely on the police to handle a lot of tasks that other agencies or organizations can't or aren't willing to do. And isn't that the police necessarily wanted to take over handling mental health issues on the street. They have models for collaboration between either community mental health organizations and the police. There are programs, CAHOOTS in Eugene, Oregon has been doing this for over 20 years. Portland, Oregon, just created a response unit that's not the police, it's funded by the city. And other cities have done this, either they are a hybrid between police and mental health or their mental health and medics like Denver's new program that don't involve the police. They might be more ideal. They they still cost money and need a car and a van. You need to train and supervise people. But, yeah, it's an option for some places.

GAUDETTE: The word defund, I think can be a little scary or potentially even maybe misleading, because it's not completely accurate when we're talking about this idea of defunding the police. Is it fair to say that the word 'reallocate' would would fit better within this movement?

KING: Oh, certainly, yeah, yeah. Or maybe 'less funding if you were militant and on Twitter.' What one issue with police agency budgets is about 90% of their budget is for personnel costs. It's to pay for the employees, whether they're sworn or civilian employees. So there isn't a lot of -- you can't cut very deep before you start to hit the bone. And so if you're going to defund, you're talking about having fewer police employees. It's just, you can't get a bunch of money out of the budget unless you're not going to hire or you're gonna start to lay officers off.

GAUDETTE: We're going to stay with Boise State criminal justice Professor Bill King. We're going to keep talking about the concept of defunding the police. After the break, though, Bill will stay with us. We're going to continue this conversation and bring in two community organizations in Boise and get their thoughts on this idea of defunding. You're listening to Idaho Matters.

More Idaho Matters right now. We're continuing the conversation of policing here in Idaho and the newer conversation about defunding. So what would defunding actually look like in Idaho's largest city? Boise State Criminal Justice Professor Bill King is returning with us and he is joined by the executive director of Interfaith Sanctuary, Jodi Peterson, and the executive director of the Women's and Children's Alliance, Bea Black.

So, Bea, as I mentioned, you work for the Women's and Children's Alliance. This is an organization that works to protect and advocate for victims of sexual and domestic violence. So I want to ask you this question: What is the current role of the police in the lives of those that you serve?

BEA BLACK: Thank you, Sam [Gemma], and good afternoon. It's a really important role that they play. We consider them to be critical community partners. One of the most dangerous calls that a police officer goes on is a call that they receive about domestic violence or where there's interpersonal violence between two individuals that are living together. So we work very closely with them. We do training. We [inaudible].

GAUDETTE: Well, and then, Jodi, I wanted to ask you the same question, because one of the arguments that I think that's made by a lot of activists, and Bea brought this up right, with the training of police, with all these other things that they have to go on, these calls, is that police are expected to wear so many hats, and maybe too many, and then they're expected to respond to just so many things. So, Jodi, you work with Interfaith Sanctuary. This is a homeless shelter. What is the role that police play in the lives of the folks that you serve?

JODI PETERSON: So, I mean, we work so closely with the police department, particularly during the day, the bike patrol. We have an amazing community relationship and they know most of our homeless as well as we do and really try and use everything possible before they actually use law. And I think they're a great example of what we need more of. And I do think that they're asked to do certain things that just don't fall within their purview. And it would be easier if there was some different kinds of options for how we serve our homeless, that doesn't require calling a police officer.

GAUDETTE: Right. I mean, because Jodi I mean, you within Interfaith Sanctuary, you some of your guests deal with mental health issues. And, you know, I would say that -- and I mean and you are the expert on this -- when someone is having a mental health crisis, I mean, do they need a mental health expert or do they need, you know, that stereotypical police officer to come in?

PETERSON: And they definitely need a calming person to come and talk to them, and quite honestly, as much as we love our police force, there is something really daunting about a uniform and a gun. And when someone who is homeless and in our shelter who is experiencing either a mental health break or is feeling suicidal or has just taken too much substance, I don't think it's the proper thing to call the police. I think it actually makes the situation worse, not better. I think when we're able to sit down and quietly talk to someone with someone who's a mental professional, it's a totally different conversation and it's a totally different outcome.

GAUDETTE: You know, Bill, it seems like that's kind of a good example of this nuance that we have with this whole defund movement. So kind of from a theoretical perspective, can you talk about how the variance and how community groups rely on the police? And what I mean by that is, you know, like Jodi just mentioned, if you have someone suffering from a mental health issue or even like a mental health break, they need that calming influence. And I'm sure if an officer shows up, that can be more stressful. Yet, if you're dealing with a domestic violence issue and you have someone who is dangerous, you might need the police to arrive. So can you kind of talk in terms of, like, you know, just those varied needs of a community?

KING: Certainly, I think the issue is the people have generally always relied on the police to deal with problems, whether their crime or disorder or concerned about someone in my neighborhood who doesn't look like me, and especially with 911, we expect the police to come out and then they have to sort that out. Is a crime, is a disorder, does someone need service? So they've become our go to for everything, whatever the problem is, outside of our homes and inside of our homes. And we leave it to the police to sort those issues out. And you can see how sometimes conflict gets baked into these interactions.

GAUDETTE: So, Bea, we know that non-violence education early in life helps prevent some of the issues that you work to address within the WCA. So what sorts of reallocation do you think would be helpful in serving your mission?

BLACK: Well, I really think that it's a two pronged approach. I don't think it's an either/or, with respect to funding. I think our community needs to fund what it considers to be important. And if you ask any community member, what's the number one issue, they want safety. And I would say that is completely true about our clients. And as we work to be more out there with respect to preventive action. Absolutely. Hopefully things are going to change and we're not going to have individuals find themselves in so many abusive and dangerously manipulative relationships. But until such time as we can make good inroads there. And I think it also goes along with what Jodi was saying. We need to do the same with respect to funding more programs for individuals who have mental health needs. So I don't think you can do either/or. I think we need to continue to fund and educate and help to further provide partners to work with law enforcement, come alongside them in some of these really dicey situations while we also put more money into some of the things that are going to prevent homelessness, hopefully prevent domestic violence issues and hopefully prevent and help individuals catch them earlier if they're dealing with a mental health issue. I don't see it as either or.

GAUDETTE: And, you know, Jodi, I think Bea brought up a good point, right, about this idea of where do we put the money for services? And something really interesting happened at Interfaith over the last few months. Because of COVID-19, you actually had to move several of the most medically fragile guests into rooms at a local hotel. Can you talk a little bit about what you saw when it came to funding social services like housing and health care? I mean, maybe kind of starting with what your guest relationships with police were like before housing them?

PETERSON: Yeah, I mean, it's so dramatic what occurred when we were able to move our most medically fragile, who turns out as our most chronically homeless and have utilized emergency services so often because of their health and lack of places to be. You know, it's hard to be a senior and not have a safe place to be all day. And so they're exhausted and their health is just terrible. So when the city helped us to move this particular population into the hotel, I think the average calls for a 911 for this group and our shelter was at least two to three times a day. And since we've been at the hotel and we have not dialed 911 once. I have to change that stat [inaudible] because we did have a very sick guest that was picked up by an ambulance the other day. But literally we have not dialed 911, because they have a safe place to be, because we make sure that their medical care is updated, consistent, they're getting their meds and everything like that. And I can't even imagine what that has saved the emergency medical system. And just to speak to the mental health piece, you know, so often our homeless people are going to jail for being mentally ill and they're not getting served at all with what they need, which is stability and reduction in trauma and a safe place to be to get stable enough to start working on what's causing the health issue. So, yeah, funding into programs that really identify these specific needs would be, I think, beneficial to everyone, including the police.

GAUDETTE: Well, that is a real life example of this whole idea of of defunding/reallocating. That argument of if we can reallocate some of that to where it's truly needed, then police can focus on, you know, what they are hopefully being trained to do. I want to thank all of you for taking time out of your day. I know how busy you all are to come on and talk with us about about this issue. We have been talking with Bea Black of the Women's and Children's Alliance, Jodi Peterson of Interfaith Sanctuary. And Boise State criminal justice professor, Bill King about what the defund the police argument could possibly look like in Boise. Thank you all so much. Appreciate your time today.

Have a question or comment for the show? Tweet @KBSX915 using #IdahoMatters





Frankie Barnhill is the Senior Producer of Idaho Matters, Boise State Public Radio's daily show and podcast. She's always interested in hearing surprising and enlightening stories about life in the West. Have an idea for Idaho Matters? Drop her a line!
Molly Wampler is a newsroom intern at Boise State Public Radio. Originally from Berkeley, California, she just graduated from the University of Puget Sound in Washington state. There, Molly worked for her university's newspaper but is stoked to try her hand at and learn all there is to learn about radio journalism.