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Students, community leaders speak on police defunding

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Police - Photo by Will Arndt

Several community members of Bowling Green are calling for the defunding of police in favor of other public services, such as social workers.

With the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, some Americans are advocating for police reforms to help combat injustices by police departments across the country. Among those reforms is a call to defund the police.

Defunding the police, an idea the Brookings public policy group says was once viewed as radical, is being debated not only nationally, but locally.

Aarian Lynn, director of diversity affairs for the BGSU Undergraduate Student Government, is in favor of defunding the police.

“A lot of people are afraid when they hear the term ‘defunding’ the police. They think you mean you’re just going to wipe the police out,” Lynn, a sophomore, said. “To me, defunding the police is reallocating some of the funds the police have … and giving it to social workers, or people who do mental health crisis work,” she said.

Senior Donovan Gaffney, founder and president of One Nation of People Against Racism, shares the same belief in reinvesting the saved money into the community. 

“It’s not 100% defunding and abolishing (the police). It means allocating the funds to places that actually would benefit … our community like healthcare, public schools and housings,” Gaffney said.

Deputy Chief of the Bowling Green Police Department Justin White understands that a large push for police defunding is to have the money invested in social workers. However, Bowling Green and Wood County are one step ahead, according to White.

“Currently, in our city and Wood County, we already have a contract set up with mental health services where they can come to the scene once we’ve secured it,” he said.

Even with mental health services available to help in certain situations, White said the police still need to be involved. 

“The police still have to secure the scene because most (social) workers – one of their stipulations is they won’t come out until we’ve secured the scene,” he said.

According to Assistant Municipal Administrator of Bowling Green Joe Fawcett, the mayor and the police division are open to a dialogue with citizens and “educating the community of what the police division does, and probably more importantly, doesn’t do.” He said they also need to be “understanding the concerns that people may have with our police division and then working with them in a constructive manner to address those concerns.”

Deputy White said open communication is important between the community and the police department.

“I think a lot of times, fear comes from misinformation or experiences in other cities,” he said. “Some of the students, for instance, have come from different cities and they don’t understand how we do things in Bowling Green, so it’s important we get that accurate information out there.”

BGPD has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies since 1993, according to White.

“CALEA Accreditation is a voluntary process and participating public safety agencies, by involvement, have demonstrated a commitment to professionalism ... CALEA Accreditation is the Gold Standard for Public Safety Agencies and represents a commitment to excellence,” states the Bowling Green CALEA assessment report.

“There’s 484 different standards that we have to prove on an annual basis that we are following regarding best practices of the police department,” White said.

In addition to the accreditation, the Division also assigned police Sgt. Adam Skaff as the liaison for communities of color in BG earlier this year.

“This is an opportunity for us to improve things,” Skaff said in an interview with BG Independent News. “We’re here to listen and learn.”

The department is also looking into body cameras, but a cut to the budget may make the purchase near impossible.

In response, Lynn said she would prefer if the money were invested into social workers rather than body cameras.

“I’d almost rather have someone who can go and de-escalate someone with a mental health issue,” she said. “I’m not saying body cams aren’t important — because they are — especially if there is a police brutality issue.”

Both the police division and the mayor’s office invite community members to share their views and ideas regarding police defunding.

“We’re open and willing to have a conversation,” Fawcett said. “The mayor is very excited to engage in conversation with some of the community groups. He and the police chief both have placed a very heavy emphasis on that.”

Those interested in engaging in the conversation can contact the BG mayor’s office at (419) 354-6204. With questions regarding the police division, the non-emergency contact line is (419) 352-2571. 

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