What did you hear in the cry “Defund the Police”? First thought only, please. Reasonable people everywhere cringed. Three words sends a message the listener wants to hear, not necessarily what the speaker meant. If I was a person who felt police had unfairly treated me, I would listen to an argument that ‘no police’ is an improvement. While most other Americans view ‘no police’ as preposterous, the argument that it is possible to improve police can be universally agreed. Moreover, improving every system, method and organization is part of the foundation of America. America is the land of better, faster, fairer, cheaper.
How can Westminster improve police and policing? Have police do good things. De-escalation of ugly situations is a good thing. For example, as long as community policing does not become ignoring criminal conduct, community policing is good thing. Westminster has the opportunity to discover a transformative way for police to do another good thing.
Westminster is a full-service city. Our taxes pay for everything, so it makes no difference which city employee provides the service. One of the universal good things our city does, about 20 times a day, is provide emergency medical services (EMS). What would happen if police provided EMS?
We have 6 fire stations with EMS/ambulance response teams. Twenty times a day Westminster Fire is profusely thanked and deeply appreciated by citizens who called for help. Two police EMS ambulance teams and paired police EMS in 6 patrol units would give Westminster citizens 8 response teams. Twenty times a day Westminster PD would be profusely thanked and deeply appreciated by Westminster citizens.
Importantly the police EMS are still police. They would not be co-responders or auxiliary. They would be sworn police officers. They would come with guns, body cameras and compassion. I see having police officers give potential life saving aid as transforming to police as much as to our citizens. Imagine having police officers join in the joy and appreciation, the success and victory of helping people in frightening medical situations. And this would happen to individual police officers at least every week, perhaps every day.
There is no free lunch and the costs would not be just dollars. Westminster Fire has distinguished itself as one of the finest 200 fire departments in the country and this idea would take EMS away. The transition time to convert fire EMS to police EMS will take time and money. Federal, ethical and medical requirements are a standard, not a barrier. More than any other cost of this responsibility transfer is department and leadership buy-in.
There can be savings. While Westminster would shed 4 ambulance transports, 80% of our EMS calls do not need transport and our 911 operators have the experience to anticipate true needs. With 6 paired patrol/EMS teams, current capacity is maintained. Moreover, Westminster could tailor police EMS staffing with time of day/week needs for EMS. This is an advantage which current fire staffing cannot provide and could result in savings and deeper EMS coverage.
While there is a potential to reduce costs for Westminster in providing EMS services, the far more important potential is the transformation of the way Westminster citizens view, respect and cooperate with police. Nearly everyone can cite a news story about an individual police officer exercising great courage, giving medical aid or showing compassion. Police EMS would make those stories a common event. Police might see a reduction in some of the animosity they experience. Receiving a heartfelt, genuine ‘thank you’ is very rewarding. We may make being a police officer a better job and have more candidates to be police officers.
Bruce Baker is a member of the Westminster City Council.
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