by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Progressive protesters envision a future where unarmed “de-escalators” and “violence interrupters” replace police—but the evidence indicates those practices would be no match for violent crime.
The burgeoning movement to defund police has in recent days produced a bevy of proposals for replacing cops, from hiring more drug counselors to creating unarmed traffic officers. Asked how to address the 1.2 million violent crimes that occur every year, police critics have argued that funds should be redirected to unarmed agents trained to stop violence with words: so-called interrupters or de-escalators whose job is to peacefully defuse potentially violent situations.
These ideas would expand on policies already adopted in part by police forces in New York, Chicago, Baltimore, and elsewhere. But, as local lawmakers consider replacing cops wholesale with unarmed counterparts, a closer look at the evidence indicates that such alternatives are erratically and questionably effective at stopping violent crime.
Although it is widely used, there is surprisingly little high-quality evidence to support de-escalation as a tactic. Violence interrupters are more widely analyzed, but the results of numerous pilot programs are mixed at best, with some neighborhoods actually seeing increases in crime under their auspices.
Though they may sound like a good idea to those who fear police violence, it is hard to conclude that the nonviolent alternatives currently being trumpeted have much to back them up.
Calls for replacing police with unarmed “violence interrupters” are growing louder. Sociologist Patrick Sharkey, writing in the Washington Post, mentioned “conflict mediators” and “violence interrupters” as part of a hypothetical nonviolent policing alternative. Nashville-based protest group Gideon’s Army has argued interrupters are an effective alternative to police. …
… Just because a policy has support among activists or lawmakers, however, does not mean it works.