Cato Institute: ‘Defund the Police’ Is a Bad Slogan, but Some Aspects Are Worth Considering

Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Michael Tanner at the Cato Institute has an article on how it may be better for different agencies to respond to certain non-violent incidents in ‘Defund the Police’ Is a Bad Slogan, but Some Aspects Are Worth Considering.

As a branding idea, “Defund the Police” may be the worst slogan since New Coke, but as a policy matter, it is something most California communities should consider.

California spends more than $41 billion on law enforcement at the state, county and municipal levels. This at a time when rates of violent crime are at historic lows. Even property crime, which has edged up in some jurisdictions such as San Francisco, remains extremely low.

Of course, no one is suggesting these communities zero out their policing entirely, but it raises questions about local priorities and how police are best deployed.

Law enforcement dispatching records show police being assigned tasks they are not equipped for – wellness checks, mental illness, drug overdoses, dealing with the homeless – on top of traffic accidents and citations. The Los Angeles Police Department’s dispatches throughout 2018 show that only 12% of dispatches were for violent crimes, compared to almost 40% for nonviolent complaints and 38% for property crimes.

Los Angeles’ police dispatches also reveal that, although only a small fraction of the total, almost 10,000 dispatches involved juveniles. Rather than sending police, it seems social workers or others with appropriate training should respond.

Ultimately, police are not equipped to deal with most non‐​criminal issues. Too often, police involvement turns otherwise non‐​violent situations deadly, as in the case of Stephon Clark, whose killing by Sacramento police spurred reforms to California’s police use of force law.

The officers who killed Clark were using a helicopter to track a suspect accused of breaking car windows. While theft and vandalism are obviously wrong, using deadly force and a helicopter to track low‐​level crime suspects can hardly be considered fiscally sound, let alone justice.

This is especially salient when new technologies give police myriad non‐​lethal options – why, then, does California’s default response to so many crimes involve lethal weapons?

Moreover, police response to non‐​criminal calls are more likely to occur in low‐​income or communities of color, which often aren’t equipped to deal with these problems through other mechanisms. This causes ongoing friction between the community and a police force that often resembles an occupying army.

When people talk about defunding the police, they are suggesting that not every domestic disturbance, traffic mishap or truant youth needs to be confronted by someone resembling RoboCop. Mental health professionals and social service personnel – without guns – may well be better suited to dealing with non‐​violent, non‐​criminal situations.

Therefore, what “defund the police” really means is reducing police budgets, while transferring funds, where appropriate, to alternative programs and responses. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposal for police reform is perhaps closer to the slogan, with funding for health, jobs and other programs paid for by cuts to LAPD’s budget. While the $150 million from police budgets is more than half of the $250 million he is proposing for new programs, it constitutes less than a tenth of the city’s $1.7 billion fiscal year 2019 appropriation for policing.

In recent years, California has made tremendous strides toward criminal justice reform. The state has shifted away from incarceration, and crime remains low. Propositions 47 and 57 seem to be working. And, by legalizing recreational marijuana, California removed one source of over‐​criminalization. The state’s 2019 law reforming police standards for using deadly force is already a nationwide model, although it did not go as far as some reformers hoped. In some ways, California is a model for criminal justice reform nationwide.

Still, the state started with such a severely flawed system that reform is not done. Recent demonstrations are not just a reaction to events in Minneapolis, but to ongoing injustices and disparate treatment across California.

Clearly the police are not going away. Nor should we simply throw money at mental health, education and other social welfare programs without taking a hard look at their effectiveness. But a little police defunding might not be the craziest thing California communities can do.

See also, Intelligencer: Why Police Abolition Is a Useful Framework — Even for Skeptics

Cato Institute: H‑2A Visas for Agriculture – The Complex Process for Farmers to Hire Agricultural Guest Workers

The Cato Institute has a lengthy article explaining the H-2A agricultural worker program – H‑2A Visas for Agriculture: The Complex Process for Farmers to Hire Agricultural Guest Workers

Congress created the H‑2A program in 1986 to allow legal foreign workers to temporarily work for U.S. farmers who were unable to hire qualified Americans. However, illegal immigrant workers came to dominate the industry in the 1990s, and the H‑2A program was rarely used. While it still supplies only about 10 percent of farm labor, H‑2A employment has increased fivefold since 2005.

The H-2A program needs reforms, but productive reform is only possible if policymakers understand how the system currently operates. This brief explains how the H-2A visa program works. Its main findings include the following:

  • The H-2A program has more than 200 rules and is bureaucratically complex.
  • H-2A minimum wages are higher than every state’s minimum wage by, on average, 57 percent.
  • Americans accept only 1 in 20 H-2A job offers, and most later quit.
  • H-2A expansion is likely responsible for much of the large decline in illegal immigration from Mexico.
  • Violations of H-2A regulations are generally minor. An average of only 0.27 percent of farmers per year have been barred from the program because of serious H-2A violations.

H‑2A Program Rules

The H-2A program is an employer-sponsored temporary worker program, meaning that farmers initiate the process, not the workers. The H-2A visa program has no numerical cap but is restricted to temporary or seasonal jobs lasting less than a year.1 This requirement significantly limits participation and effectively bars dairies and most animal farms that demand labor year-round.2 H-2A’s most widely used predecessor—colloquially known as the Mexican Bracero Program (canceled in 1964)—had no such limitation.3 The H-2A program also narrowly defines “agriculture,” excluding most meat packers and processors.4

Figure 1 broadly outlines the H-2A process. The Government Accountability Office has found that the “complexity of the H-2A program poses a challenge for some employers” because it “involves multiple agencies and numerous detailed program rules that sometimes conflict with other laws.”5 In 2014, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) ombudsman characterized the H-2A program simply as “highly regulated.”6 Appendix Table C details a noncomprehensive list of 209 H-2A rules that apply to workers and farmers, and Text Box 1 is a short summary of those rules.

IRBP Text Box 1

To start, when farmers have jobs that they want to fill with H‑2A workers, they must first receive a labor certification from the Department of Labor (DOL).7 They must antic­ipate a worker shortfall and initiate the labor certification process 60 days before the job’s start date by submitting job orders to State Workforce Agencies (SWAs), which are state‐​run entities that help unemployed U.S. workers.8 The SWAs guarantee that job offers comply with H‑2A regulations and inform unemployed Americans about the job opportunities.9 Farmers meanwhile must contact former U.S. employees and advertise the jobs.10

If too few U.S. workers apply, DOL will again review the jobs and certify the farmer to hire foreign workers for the remaining positions. The law requires DOL to make certifications at least 30 days before the job starts.11 Delays have cost farmers millions of dollars in lost crops.12 But the internet has improved DOL processing: it deployed online applications in 2012, and by 2019, about 94 percent of applicants used it.13 As a result, the department moved from completing just 63 percent of labor certifications within 30 days in 2011 to completing 97 percent in 2015 (Figure 2).14 In 2019, however, delays reemerged as DOL had the lowest rate of timely approvals (86 percent) of any year since 2013.15

If DOL grants the labor certification, the farmer pays fees of $100 plus $10 per worker, up to $1,000 total.16 Even after H-2A workers start, however, farms must continue to accept U.S. workers until half the job period has expired.17 … (continues)