USA. Defund the police. It’s the slogan on everyone’s lips these days, begging the question, “what will replace them?” Despite the enthusiasm for defunding, the answer remains vague. The city of Minneapolis, for instance, has voted to disband its police department. When City Council president Lisa Bender was asked on CNN who you should call if your home is being burglarized, she skirted the question entirely, responding that that question “comes from a place of privilege.”
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has agreed to cut $1 billion from the NYPD’s $6 billion budget. Instead of the safety and security of New Yorkers, those funds will be redirected towards things like youth summer programs, social services, education, and public housing.
And, early this month, the Los Angeles City Council approved cutting the LAPD’s budget by $150 million. The council also instructed city employees to develop an “unarmed model of crisis response”—i.e., a non-police alternative for handling calls for help in nonviolent incidents.
While the South African police services haven’t been “defunded,” per se, they are essentially non-existent to middle-class citizens of their respective countries.
Emma Freire tells the story:
All the South Africans I talked to told me they considered calling the South African Police Service (SAPS) to be a waste of time. One study suggests that in South Africa, as many as 84% of burglaries go unreported. When South African citizens were asked why they had no faith in SAPS, roughly 80% cited slow response times. Nearly 60% of South Africans polled said the police are lazy, and over 50% said stolen goods are never recovered.
I lived in South Africa between 2015 and 2017, in a small city called Potchefstroom, about 2 hours from Johannesburg. The local private security company, Mooirivier Beskerming, acted like a private police force. The majority of the residents in the city center relied on their highly affordable services. A basic package could start for as little as $25 per month. The company offers a wide variety of services; most of their subscribers have some sort of monitored alarm system. One friend told me the neighborhood cats regularly set off his alarm, but each time Mooirivier Beskerming agents come out and check for intruders. As a customer, he can call their agents any time he feels unsafe and ask them to search his property—even if the alarm hasn’t gone off. Mooirivier Beskerming offers CCTV and an armed response team that can be deployed quickly. Their agents even occasionally shoot and kill suspects.
The company even offers ala carte service to nonsubscribers. One man I knew in Potchefstroom described a night when he came home and suspected there might be a burglar in his house. He did not have a subscription with Mooirivier Beskerming. He called them anyway, and their agents came out to search his property, and he was billed a modest one-time fee for their visit.
During my years in South Africa, I often saw Mooirivier Beskerming cars out patrolling the streets. Importantly, I never saw SAPS—except when they were issuing traffic tickets. For a smaller municipality like the one we lived in, these traffic fines are a significant source of revenue.
Mooirivier Beskerming is also active in stopping crime. For example, on June 14, the company posted on its Facebook page, “At around 13h30, Our CCTV monitoring team spotted a suspect in Reitz street robbing a female victim. Reaction was immediately dispatched and cought (sic) up to the suspect in Dwars street. The Suspect tried to escape and managed to stab one of our officers (multiple times) with a knife. Nevertheless, our reaction officers still arrested the suspect.” (At that point, of course, Mooirivier Beskerming had to hand him over to the actual police. The company doesn’t have authority to charge or imprison suspects).
DEFUNDING POLICE MEANS DOUBLING THE COST OF SAFETY
In South Africa the middle class pays for their security twice. Once in taxes for public police – who don’t show up, and once for their private security – that does.
And yet, despite this heavy cost, crime is rampant in South Africa. Around 58 people are murdered in South Africa every day.
This will likely also eventuate in America. The massive police budget cuts in New York and Los Angeles are being directed into other programs, and politicians are deciding what will keep taxpayers safe — even though taxpayers may have very different ideas about that.
Private gun ownership also plays an important role. Law-abiding Americans can defend themselves using firearms. South Africa have highly restrictive gun control laws.
However, South Africa provide some lessons about what life is like in a country where police are essentially absent. Ordinary citizens will have to find ways to protect themselves and their property. And if police departments are defunded, private security for the middle class will become a bigger part of life in America.
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