More than two years after activists called to defund police departments over accusations of murder, brutality, and other crimes allegedly committed by a few, law enforcement officers say the wounds are still present and painful.

“If you want me to risk my life, it’s one thing to pay me, but it’s another to respect me,” veteran police officer, law enforcement trainer, and public speaker Dave Smith told The Epoch Times.

Smith and other law enforcement representatives say defunding police departments hurt the communities they served and destroyed police officer morale. Sgt. Betsy Smith is a retired police officer, the current spokesperson for the National Police Association, and married to Dave Smith. She said restored funding has yet to do much to rebuild the confidence many officers once had in their communities.

“We’ve had two and a half years of demonization,” Betsy Smith told The Epoch Times. “Many departments are short-staffed.”

Protesters rally outside the Brooklyn Center police station in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on April 13, 2021. (Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images)

According to Betsy Smith, the New York Police Department is short approximately 4,000 officers. She said the Phoenix, Arizona, department held a recruiting event recently that in the past drew 1,000 applicants. This time 35 people showed up. She said Tucson police are down to staffing levels not seen since the mid-1970s.

According to published reports, the Minneapolis Police Department, the birthplace of the defund movement, has 100 fewer officers than its city charter requires. This is where George Floyd died on May 25, 2020, while pinned to the ground by a police officer. Floyd’s death was the primary catalyst for the defund-the-police movement.

Former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of second, and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. He was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison. Chauvin’s conviction and sentencing did little to satisfy activists. Black Lives Matter claimed that Floyd’s death resulted from racism and police brutality.

Some activists wanted to divert funding from police to social service agencies for social workers and others who specialized in de-escalating violence. Several cities heeded the call and reduced funding for law enforcement.

According to a Nov. 24, 2022 story in The Epoch Times, the Los Angeles City Council had defunded the police department by $150 million in 2020 to placate protestors. A year later, the city was beset with increasing violent crime and reversed its decision and increased its police department budget by 12 percent to $213 million for the 2022–2023 fiscal year.

Black Lives Matter Holds Protest In Los Angeles After Death Of George Floyd
An LAPD vehicle is set on fire by rioters in Los Angeles, Calif., on May 30, 2020. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

But officers said the damage had been done.

In addition to personnel cutbacks from the lost funding, many veteran officers left because they felt they were no longer valued. In addition to reducing funding, the activists wanted to “reimagine policing.” Smith said the activists were touting old ideas, methods that many departments used or had tried since the 1970s.

“We had been told to park our cars and walk the streets. We knew to get into the businesses and talk to people and to get to know the communities. We knew all about community policing,” Smith said.

But there was a different twist this time around. Smith said there was a noticeable change in how the news was reported. News stories contained what he called “shallow criticism” and grievances against police based on little or no proof.

“The press has never been friendly (to police), but we had never had the media be so antagonistic,” Smith said.

While the call to defund police gained steam after Floyd’s death, law enforcement sources said the seeds were planted years ago. They claim an ongoing effort to undermine law enforcement has been active since at least 2008.

Epoch Times Photo
Demonstrators walk in front of a police car that has been lit on fire during a protest in response to the death of George Floyd in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 31, 2020. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

“It has been stirred up since the days of Obama. That’s when it really started,” Kyle Reyes, the executive director of police media outlet Law Enforcement Today, told The Epoch Times. The Smiths agreed.

They said President Barack Obama made his views on law enforcement clear when he was involved in Illinois state politics. Dave Smith said that Sen. Obama gained a reputation as being soft on crime. He carried that philosophy into the White House, Smith said. His public criticisms of law enforcement and willingness to get involved in local issues was a red flag to many police, said Smith.

Betsy Smith said Obama’s philosophy on law enforcement was summed up in the 2015 report from The President’s Task Force on Policing, which states that its objective is to develop trust between police and their communities. However, the only new information in the report was repeated criticisms Obama had already made publicly. Complaints, she said, had no basis in fact and served only to denigrate law enforcement.

Reyes said he has been witnessing the “death spiral” of law enforcement in America. Police officer morale is being destroyed by criminals whose conduct is “condoned by liberal politicians and approved by the media.” He pointed to reports from Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon as evidence of the decline.

Dominique Rivera
Dominique Rivera (L), wife of NYPD Officer Jason Rivera, watches as his casket is loaded into a hearse outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral after his funeral service in New York on Jan. 28, 2022. Rivera was killed responding to a domestic disturbance call. Law enforcement representatives say fewer men and women are considering policing due to damage done by activists behind the defund the police movement. (Yuki Iwamura/AP Photo)

In these and other cities, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and other protestors took to the streets to demonstrate against police who were called to protect their right to protest. Reyes said police were ordered to stand by while rioters destroyed property and attacked law-abiding citizens. In many major cities, violent crime has skyrocketed, and homeless encampments now cover large areas.

“We saw criminals walk away with no charges under the guise of freedom of speech,” Reyes said.

In addition, attacks on police increased. According to information from the FBI, 2022 was the third most dangerous year to be a law enforcement officer in the past 20 years. The FBI reported that on average one police officer was killed every six days.

The Officer Down Memorial Page, reports that 229 law enforcement personnel died in the line of duty in 2022. The largest category died of COVID-19, with 73 deaths. The next largest group was personnel who were shot, with 60 deaths reported. The website said that 62 officers were shot in 2021. In 2020, 46 were reported shot.

One of the most recent deaths was Riverside County, California, Sheriff’s Dep. Isaiah Cordero. Cordero was killed during a traffic stop by a convicted felon. Cordero’s killer later died in a brief gunfight with police after a high-speed chase. In a press conference, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco publicly criticized the judge he said granted Cordero’s killer bail more than once for violent felonies.

Epoch Times Photo
Riverside County Sheriff’s Motor Deputy Isaiah Albert Cordero. (Riverside County Sheriff’s Department)

Bianco never named the judge, but he made it clear that he held her responsible for the deputy’s death. The judge’s decision set the alleged killer free to shoot Cordero, Bianco said.

Reyes said the public criticism combined with a justice system that causes anger and frustration that drives many officers from the profession.

“They are overstressed, under-compensated, and perceive no backing from their leaders,” Reyes said.

Lt. Col. David Grossman, U.S. Army, retired, is a psychologist who has studied how killing and combat affect the human mind. He said it should be no surprise that police officers and other law enforcement professionals are leaving their jobs. He said the impact goes beyond just the social issues of homelessness and increased crime. Turning against what had been considered trusted authorities is a sign of what Grossman described as a “malignant” problem.

Grossman acknowledged that law enforcement, like any other profession, has its share of problems. A healthy society will deal with such issues while keeping in mind the critical contribution responsible law enforcement makes to a community, he said. Losing sight of the importance of law enforcement will have devastating consequences, he warned.

“A civilization that sees the crooks as the good guys and the cops as the bad guys cannot survive,” Grossman told The Epoch Times.

Blame ‘Perry Mason’

Grossman said the decline started in 1957 with the famous courtroom drama, “Perry Mason.” As tame as it appears by today’s standards, Grossman said that it was the first program to consistently portray law enforcement in a negative light. Mason was the urbane cultured public defender against an angry, older, sometimes snide police detective and his matching prosecutor. Eventually, the antiheroes became harder, and more popular.

“It’s far more frightening now,” Grossman said.

Such popular movies as “Training Day,” starring Denzel Washington, make police seem like nothing more than criminals with badges. Grossman said Washington is a highly respected actor and admired by many. But in this action film, he plays a corrupt and violent police officer. According to Grossman, most adults can distinguish between Washington’s on-screen character and his true identity.

“But for children, this is real,” Grossman said. “I think ‘Training Day’ is the most evil movie ever made.”

According to Grossman, popular culture has undermined civil authority for decades while denying its impact. He pointed out that corporations will pay millions for 30 to 60-second advertising spots to influence consumers. But broadcasters, filmmakers, and others in the industry deny that the hours of entertainment between those spots have any lasting impact on the culture.

Media Denies Impact

“Hollywood has never admitted the harm that they did,” he said. “We are in the most harmful narrative any society can ever face. It’s vastly worse than we think.”

Grossman said his criticism includes the news media.

“The harm that was done by ‘Perry Mason’ was nothing compared to the media reporting of BLM,” said Grossman.

All who spoke to The Epoch Times said the situation could be reversed, but it will take courage and work. Grossman said the first step is for communities to remember why police officers do what they do and to support them in their work.

“Nobody becomes a cop for the money. They become a cop because they truly want to make the world a better place,” Grossman said.

Betsy Smith echoed Grossman’s sentiments. She said National Police Association polls show that people from all segments of society want police protection.

“The public needs to stand up and fight back. It’s a small minority of people who are in the defund the police movement,” she said.

She said the public could turn things around by getting involved. She said voters must elect officials who enforce the law fairly and without political consideration. Voters must not tolerate prosecutors who allow criminals to run free. And they must make clear exactly what they expect from their government.

“Tell your elected officials to put police back to work,” she said.

Michael Clements

Michael Clements has more than 30 years of experience in print journalism, having worked at newspapers in Alabama, Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma. He focuses mainly on the Second Amendment and individual rights. He is based in Durant, Oklahoma.

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