Lens on Disentangling Police Services

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the Atlantic about the real meaning of “defunding the police.” In addition to dealing with violent crime, many officers are responsible for handling traffic accidents and low-level arrests. Modern policing often involves interacting with people showing signs of mental illness or alcoholism, but the article noted that officers are under-trained to intervene in these cases. Police also serve as “front-line workers for urban homelessness,” Lens explained. “A person who is unhoused interacts constantly with the police, but officers aren’t adequately trained to deal with the issues that those people are dealing with.” The article recommended that cities spend money on homelessness directly, instead of making police responsible for homelessness intervention in addition to other services. Programs in Eugene, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, have “unbundled” police services, instead dispatching medics and mental health counselors to homeless people or others in distress.

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